/ Shopping, Technology

Do you miss printed instruction manuals?

Tablet and book

Is our relationship with new technology all the more fraught now that printed instruction manuals seem to have been confined to room 101?

One of the greatest evolutions in tech products has been how much smaller and lighter they’ve become with every subsequent generation. And this year’s slimmest laptops and tablets will no doubt look corpulent compared to what’s coming next.

But in an effort to slim down what’s inside the packaging when you first take out your new device, it seems a little extra weight has also been shaved off. I’m talking about the instruction manuals that you’ll no longer find tucked inside.

Tablets are great once you’re up and running with them. But it’s no fun being left to figure it all out for yourself when the manufacturer has stinted on the printing and left you to find a manual online, or to print one out for yourself.

Missing printed instruction manuals

When my colleague Andrew Laughlin wrote about the disappearance of printed instruction manuals, 60% of you voted that you couldn’t live without them. Only 8% of voters said they could. Hazel commented at the time:

‘I have a digital camera (not a point-and-shoot, quite a complex piece of equipment) where the only manual provided was on a CD. That’s not much use when I’m out taking photos!’

Although the following isn’t much help if you don’t know how to use your tablet, Terfar had this advice:

‘Any important manual that I need, I usually download the PDF version to my tablet and use a tablet’s pdf app or the Kindle app to read and navigate it. Currently I have the manuals/handbooks for my new car, smart TV, washing machine, bridge camera, mobile phone and the tablet’s own manual sitting on my tablet. The pdf versions are usually easier to navigate, have a search function, don’t get lost, don’t wear out and don’t use trees. Win. Win. Win. Win.’

Neville responded to Terfar:

‘Jolly good – if you’ve got a tablet. Personally I haven’t got one and I wouldn’t want to lug it about on wildlife trips. Gimme the manual manual – in ONLY my language please.’

Getting help to use tech

We’ve put together a number of helpful videos on how to use your tablet, from the initial set up to navigating menus and installing apps. But I thought I’d leave you with this little piece of advice from JR:

‘My youngest daughter once replied to my email asking what on earth she was talking about with a step-by-step set of instructions on how to text on our newly acquired first mobile phone. The last line in the instructions was “should you still be struggling, ask any passing eleven year old”. Maybe that’s the best bit of advice for all of us over 70.’

Do you miss printed instruction manuals? Even if you do get hold of a manual, do you still find they’re full of jargon and hard to understand?


We miss printed instructions with new products.

Chris B says:
21 February 2016

An even more annoying situation – I bought a new Sony TV last year which had very cursory instructions (basically how to switch it on and the main use of the buttons on the remote control) so went on-line to find the full manual only to find that all I could get was exactly the same bit of paper. For anything more detailed I have to get in touch with Currys from whom I bought the set.

I have never liked “reading” a computer when the document is of any length. I like to be able to flick through, browse, and have instructions with me at all times. I’m a dinosaur – no tablet, no smartphone – so printed stuff please.

My car needs an extensive instruction manual, well two actually (driving and communications), not really to drive it but to find my way round all the gizmos that it has, from setting the heat distribution on the front seats to instructing the radio how to work. These sit in the “glove box” and are instantly available when I want to know something (providing I’m stationary). They also can be made to appear on the screen, but I’ve not used that method (yet).

Camera – just a bridge but it is not intuitive so I need to read about a feature I haven’t used before, of have forgotten. Why have to load up a manual on a tablet?

However, there are (were?) silly ways of producing printed manuals. My Canon printer has two; one to set it up and one as a quick start guide. The combined thickness of thin A5 pages is 50mm (2″ to dinosaurs). Why? Not because the instructions are particularly lengthy but because they are reproduced in every conceivable European language.

Nevertheless, printed manuals for me, even if I need to print them on my Canon printer from the software.

I bought a bridge camera and the instructions that came with it are useless,why should we have to look on the computer for better help? I have just bought a tablet,and need a proper booklet to work this thing! If we have proper instructions in a booklet you can take them with you simple!!

I think the answer is for manufacturers to provide a quick start guide containing essential safety information and brief instructions to help with the main features, plus the option to order a full instruction manual at little or no cost and in the language of choice. I do hate these manuals in all the languages of the world, which are a waste of time and waste of space.

In most cases I avoid the printed manual – if I get one – and rely on a pdf version from the manufacturer’s website. What I like about pdf manuals is the opportunity to search for words or phrases. Sometimes I print out selected pages for reference or to add notes.

I’m having a grand clearout at present and have found unused instruction booklets for cameras and computers that I no longer use or have disposed of years ago.

Whatever my personal preferences, it is essential that we accommodate the needs of everyone.

I have got used to reading instruction manuals on screen and find pdf versions very useful using the “Find” command instead of wading through pages and pages. Had to keep at it but now am very happy with online manuals, especially with a folder called instructions both on my laptop and in the cloud.

I prefer to have a set of printed instructions – particularly where the device needs to be used in a particular way in order to be safe.

Printed instructions also don’t need PDF viewers.

I suspect the ‘quick start’ manual is always a useful item to have. But tech products these days are evolving so quickly any printed manual might well be out of date by the time you buy the item.

There’s no doubt we’ve moved into a different era: many things have become extremely simple and intuitive to use so manuals are almost superfluous. The other aspect is that the only reason many manuals are needed is for reference, so a large, printed tome is probably redundant, not to say unnecessary. For instance, an iPad pro is almost certainly one of the most complex pieces of technology you can buy, and a manual which detailed its entire set of functions would be around 2″ thick. Conversely, it’s also one of the easiest items to use, so a detailed manual is redundant. The half-way house is a quick-reference online ‘manual’.

There’s also the fact that numerous studies over the years have demonstrated pretty conclusively that the worst way to teach anyone how to use something is with a written manual. ‘Playing’ with something for some time is the fastest way to learn how to use it…unless, of course, you’re dealing with high explosives.

The consistent intuitive design of Apple products is what I enjoy about using them. I was quite impressed by a Panasonic Lumix compact camera because I have really struggled with the user interface of Panasonic products in the past. After three years of hard use I was happy to buy a similar Panasonic Lumix camera, but though the buttons were in the same place, the menus were very different. On one camera, the battery cover was opened by sliding it to the left and on the other camera you slid it to the right. Despite the hassles I managed to use both cameras successfully without the aid of the user manual. I have a more complicated Olympus camera and I do need to refer to the manual.

I do indeed miss the printed instruction manuals. There are occasions when available access to an electronic version with it’s superior searchability is preferable, but in most circumstances the manual is indispensable.

A second complaint is that the Manuals, irrespective of e- or tree form, are increasingly poorly written and incomplete.
Poor writing slows down resolution of the problem for which help is sought, but the omission of information on many of the equipment’s features is inexcusable and increasingly prevalent.

Keep the manuals please. I find it really difficult to use onscreen instructions and flicking back and forth on screen is not easy.

I would prefer a printed manual with every product and in ONE language i.e. English. This is how it used to be, before today’s cost-cutting measures.

Most homes have recycling boxes, so if you don’t need the printed instructions because the product is no longer usable, you can still recycle the instruction book. If you sell or give away the product, you can also pass on the instruction book to the new owner.

You won’t get an instruction book included because the manufacturers like to cut costs in every way possible. Yes I remember when printers would come with a good quality instruction book, but printers used to be more expensive. Maybe more expensive items still have instruction books?

Oh I do miss printed instructions as I tend to only look for what I need at the moment when it is onscreen, whereas in a printed manual I tended to sit and browse it at leisure and then discover the many more wonderful things my gadget can do

I’m split, especially regarding those manuals for video games and DVDs – I’m all for paperless manuals, and I’m familiar with browsing them digitally if need to. Although, it’s not the same as enjoying to read through those hard-copy manuals 🙂

Personally I’m sorry to say what I do is look up the manufacturer on my PC, look up the model, look up the on-screen instructions, buy a packet of A4 paper (500 sheets if necessary, as it sometimes is), put new black ink into the printer, PRINT OUT THE WHOLE SHE-BANG , insert it all into polythene page holders, print out the index (IF I can find one), buy a ring-binder, label it, insert everything into said ring-binder and discover my bookshelves have insufficient space left to house the result, which can weigh anything up to two kilogrammes.
All this because, the gadget maufacturers tell us, they are anxious not to waste the earth’s resources. Are they really?

I prefer PDF manuals because I can search hundreds of pages for a word or phrase in a second. With a printed manual, I have to read through pages and pages to find what I want.

Well – I have looked at all the above – and it really dosn’t answer my problem.

The last time I bought a product, the instruction manual appeared to have been written in Egyptian glyphics circa 5000 BC. (and for those of you who are struggling to catch up – that is 7,000 years ago).

I wouldn’t mind – but a dictionary of the pictographics wouled be appreciated.

I do not have a clue what these diseased and uneducated persons assume.

However, bearing in mind the old addage of asses and you and me.

If they ever have the unfortunate experience of encountering “me” – I think that “Life-changing-Experience” is about to ocur to these individuals.


and for anyone who wishes to complain about my spelling – it is either my keyboard or my fingers – take your pick – for ocur – read occur – ap- ol -oggies – Brian

This comment was removed at the request of the user

We bought a TomTom Go 5100 and it has to be one of the most frustrating things to use.

The manual is 111 pages in pdf. Do we really want to print that lot out and keep it in the car? Where do you hide it from view when it is A4 size or fold it in half so it gets tatty and needs printing again?

Some things like cameras and sat navs need printed manuals. You can’t hold several pages open with your fingers on a screen.

I would happily pay another couple of quid for a printed manual for some things that I need to reference frequently.

I got to know my TomTom by taking it into the house and playing with it when reading the instructions, presumably on the screen. I need to do the same with my newish Garmin because though I prefer it, I sometimes manage to turn up a screen and have no idea of what I did to achieve it.

Our old TomTom was fairly self-explanatory. Once we knew what it could do, even if we didn’t touch it for months, we could still find what we wanted.

If we don’t use the new TomTom for a couple of weeks, we need the manual to work out how to use it again. I wish our old TomTom still worked as this one is definitely not an improvement.

recently moved from Blackberry to an android phone, Lost my contact list on the way and sspent hours of trial and error (mostly error) trying to get basic functions to work. Online “how to” didn’t answer the queries I had.

I empathise with most of the comments above. I do like a printed manual so I can have it open in front of the machine/gadget wherever it is situated, particularly if there are multiple connections to be made or routines to follow. What is annoying is when the manual is available on line, but the actual source is hidden among the pages of the manufacturer’s web site. There follows a search for the correct page, the correct model (often designated by an obscure serial number located at the back of the casing.) and a button that says “download”. When it doesn’t, that’s another half hour wasted. There are times when I’m in the kitchen and don’t want to fire up the computer, I just want to know how to make everything do what it’s supposed to do, there and then.
My sister’s Samsung television has the instructions as part of the set up menu, but you have to know where to look and while they are being displayed the set is redundant and can not be used to try things out.
Having said all that, I am guilty of turning the thing on and playing until I get stuck. I agree with Renee, above, who said that it was good to browse the instructions and discover the features that were not immediately obvious. I also agree that reading from the computer as one experiments is harder than flipping through the paper version. I don’t see why I should have to print it out though. The cardinal sin, of cardinal sins is, however, the scanty manual that came with my car. How dare they expect me to get that on line, or from my in car screen!

The dearth of printed manuals really annoys me. In many, one repeatedly refers to a few pages than can be easily earmarked. If the products were only worth a few pounds, I can understand the reluctance. However when a product such as a Tv can cost over £1,000, I know I am being taken for a mug! Stuff your tablet, I like a manual. Why should I have to download and print my own when they could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost to me. Makers will say it is to reduce costs, as purchasers are very cost sensitive. I say it is to increase profit margins and is of no benefit to the consumer. Who cares about customers? Just treat them as mugs the same way the bankers do!

Dorothy Flint says:
27 February 2016

Yes,I really miss written instructions. How can you do a complicated thing on screen and not have the guide in front of you? and sometimes it refuses to print them anyway. so often “help” ios useless. Either jargon I cannot understand or boxes to tick that dont cover my query, or you are referred to an equally obscure site.
As for videos, They rattle on so fast.
, often with an extreme american accent and might as well be in greek.

Ann Smith says:
28 February 2016

I had the same problem as another subscriber, with a new phone . the print on the paper in the packaging was too small to read and when I sought additional information online it was EXACTLY the same, and again, unreadable.
If there’s no instruction manual, in future I won’t be buying it!
Perhaps WHICH could do a survey and let us know which gadgets DO have usable instructions