/ Technology

Do you miss the printed instruction booklet?

Big book leafed through by woman

These days more and more gadgets don’t come with printed instruction manuals, but I think that for certain gadgets nothing beats a handy paper guide you can refer to when needed.

The disappearance of printed manuals has happened fairly quickly, and I blame the CD.

Back in the early 90s a copy of (the then revolutionary) Microsoft Windows 3.1 came with a bible-sized tome – the 650-page “User guide” and the relatively lightweight “Getting started…” guide, itself stretching to a mere 96 sheets of densely-printed black and white text.

Had a problem with your Windows? The answer lurked somewhere within one of those guides. And although there were no internet help forums in those days, we survived – book open on the desk, flickering monitor in front. The acronym “RTFM” became commonplace, strongly encouraging people to turn to the user guide when stuck.

Then we took a giant leap forward. The box you brought home was somehow lighter, emptier, devoid of gravitas. The answers to your questions, the troubleshooters, the setup instructions – were all uprooted from their paper and crammed onto CD-Rom bundled in with the software.

This, of course, meant a whole new method of head-scratching. Now you had your troublesome software in one half of the screen, while you simultaneously read about how to fix it in the other.

Manuals missing from gadgets

But it’s not just about software – printed manuals are now disappearing from cameras, mobiles, printers etc. And if you are lucky enough to get one, only five of the pages are English with the other unwieldy 50 pages assuming you’re happy to make life a bit more interesting by reading the instructions in Polish, Czech or Swedish.

Other devices come with a quick start guide – perhaps a single sheet that optimistically attempts to summarise the workings of a gadget more technologically advanced than early spacecraft into perhaps 100 words and a couple of pictograms. Less is not always more.

There’s even a digital equivalent of the chicken and the egg conundrum. Need to know how to turn on your new ebook reader? The instructions are supplied as an ebook, stored on the reader itself. Admittedly e-reader’s aren’t the most complex of tech gadgets, but they’re perhaps not intuitive to all buyers.

Of course, the environmental argument is clearly against hefty printed manuals. But many of us, myself included, actually enjoy having a paper manual in front of us. Cameras, especially, encourage experimentation and having a booklet to browse is part of that experience.

Giving us a CD and expecting us to print off our own user manual is often both tiresome and even more wasteful of paper. But maybe you’re glad to see the back of good old fashioned printed instruction booklets?

Bostonian says:
25 January 2011

Let’s hope that this appearing in Which? means that this topic will be taken up in such away as to have an effect on manufacturers. Clearly many people need the printed manual as well as the CD or internet one. Do take up the fight for us.

Many products should be intuitive to use and not need manuals at all. For more-complex products with lots to learn, like digital SLRs, printed manuals every time, please. For a start, I’d rather read text on a page than a screen, especially a phone screen. And I like to browse manuals on the train, in bed, in front of the TV and other places where I’d rather not use my laptop. I do like softcopy too – great for searching the contents – but first priority is a printed manual.

sussexking says:
25 January 2011

I have just purchased a new Apple I-Pad, which contained only a 6″x4″ postcard pointing to the Apple website for a 188 page manual. I really did not feel able to use the thing until I had purchased an I-Pad made simple guide from Amazon. Please, please bring back printed manuals.

Mike Hahn says:
25 January 2011

I recently bought a Siemans Gigaset DECT Phone (Which Best Buy).
What a joy! It had a user;s manual, complete and ONLY in English.
Some companies can do it. They merit support.

Richard W says:
25 January 2011

I’m heartily fed up with just ‘Quick Start’ instructions; the full manual for my slide scanner was highly complex – more like a high-end DSLR. I had to print out some 98 pages to have an easier way of flipping to and fro (which was frequently needed) to follow through an image adjustment process. And my DSLR manual (fortunately printed!) has 293 pages!

Jim Hodge says:
25 January 2011

I feel that if the gadget is fairly uncomplicated and there is no need to have an instruction book to hand when on the move a CD or a short leaflet is fine.
I am into photography, however, and would say that as some cameras can be more than just point and shoot a ‘paper’ instruction book that can be carried in one’s camera bag or on one’s person is a definite prerequisite.
Additionally not everybody has (or wants) a computer. What about them?
Not all progress is good!!

David Bright says:
25 January 2011

The problem appears to be that manufacturers automatically assume that everyone who buys their product has access to a computer which is not always the case particularly where elderly people are concerned. I recently purchased an LG television; there was no instruction manual available to lead me through the set-up process. Fortunately I have a computer and was able to access the information I required but the manufacturers website was not at all helpful and their list of online manuals available never even mentioned the model of TV I was setting up. I also found it impossible to contact their ‘helpline’. I wish manufacturers ‘cost cutting’ didn’t extend to dispensing with a basic manual.

Patrick Turbitt says:
25 January 2011

I recently bought a mobile phone on the internet and it arrived with a tiny booklet of “‘quick start instruction”‘ but had no web link or CD. I thought it might be so intuitive to use that as soon as I “‘think”” of a use I will be able to perform that function, but I have discover NO

colnik says:
25 January 2011

I bought an HP printer from an associate of Amazon. It came with a printed manual but in four different languages, non of them English. On contacting the seller I was told that there was a link to a website on the set up CD where I could download the manual in English. Not very helpful!
How crazy can things get? I personally like a printed manual but in English of course.

Personally I think all gadgets no matter what they are large or small should come with a resonable sized instruction manual in English

wildwolf says:
26 January 2011

I think all gadgets should come with a printed manual – especially cameras. And it should be in one language. Not everyone has access to the internet – there should be something in the box to get the most out of your purchase. I am sure this would encourage more brand loyalty and more positive recommendations to others to buy the same product – surely that’s good for business? I would gladly pay a few pounds more if a well-written, comprehensive manual were included.

Les Moss says:
26 January 2011

Printed manuals are essential for the complicated SLR cameras. There are so many hidden menu items which require regular study to get full use of all the facilities. Not every keen photographer owns a computer/laptop and if you do it takes 100 plus pages to print a manual from the CD copy.

Tom Vaughan says:
26 January 2011

I much prefer to have a paper copy an instruction manual. Computer based manuals often lead you on a trail from one screen to another and I finish up printing all of them. Using the paper version I can tag the pages which makes them easier to refer back to which saves paper.

Sony Collins says:
26 January 2011

Have recently purchased “best buy” Sony television.
Am I getting the best possible performance from the television?
I don’t really know because the on-screen manual is fragmented, frustrating, slow and minimal.
Manual required or I revert back to Panasonic next time.

I have really struggled with a Panasonic DVD recorder that I bought as a gift for a friend with a Panasonic TV. No problems with the performance, but I feel the machine was poorly designed and the instructions were about the worst I have encountered for many years.

My own Philips DVD recorder was much easier to set up and use. The manual was easy to understand, but I don’t think I have used it more than once.

Hugh says:
26 January 2011

Having purchased an LG Tv recently and being “ancient” (92) I do need a Printed User Manual–the Cd is useful BUT no comparison

Anthony Wood says:
26 January 2011

I recently bought a Panasonic Lumix TZ10 camera which came with a CD instruction manual. Now this camera is very complicated, if you want to use all of its features the CD needs a healthy short term memory to avoid keep referring back to earlier pages. At 83 with a dodgy memory the CD is not ideal so my daughter kindly printed the 178 pages on one side A4 for me. This wad of paper is a lot less pocketable than the camera so I suspect that i am going to leave it on automatic. A printed manual on thinner A7 or even A6 used to the norm. Manufacturer: please bring it back even if you make it an optional extra.

Hugh says:
26 January 2011

I recently bought a LG TV— BUT I really needed a Printed User Manual –the CD is OK but being ancient (92) it is not as useful !!!

Bernie says:
26 January 2011

I bought a £1000 Sony TV at Christmas which has lots of features I wouldn’t have a clue how to access if I didn’t have kids around who are familiar with Playstation menus etc. The TV has no manual, no CD, no online manual. I wish I’d kept the sticky label on the box that told you what features the TV has, then at least I’d know if I’ve missed something!

Peter Ford says:
26 January 2011

I agree. This is the real problem that we consumers have to guard against – devices not having any kind of detailed manual at all. The issue of whether the manual is electronic or paper pales in comparison.

One example is the Samsung S3100 mobile phone, whose manuals (electronic and paper) only deal with about 5% of the functionality. The rest you are supposed to guess from the menus.

chris phillips says:
26 January 2011

I have a new HP Pavilion Laptop, without a paper Manual.
A complete nightmare!!! I am still trying to find my way to operate it.

Fergy - Maghull says:
27 January 2011

Last 2 items bought had only scrappy instructions and no CD.Needed to go online and print out user guides.
Nokia X6 phone – user guide 227 pages
ipod touch version 4 – user guide 228 pages and still needed to download Which “Apple itunes tips and tricks” to sort out some of the problems.
So much for forests and global warming!!