Saturday, March 26, 2016

Taking the Plunge

Several weeks ago I took the plunge and bought myself a cell phone.  This leaves my brother as possibly the only person in the USA who doesn't have one.

Many years ago I bought cell phones for both my wife and daughter.  But I scoffed at the idea of using one myself.  "No one wants to talk to me," I'd say.  As for emergencies, I'd say, "Everyone else has a cell phone.  I can ask someone to call for help."  And I could send texts via e-mail for free to my daughter's cell phone from my tablet.

So why get one now?  My motivation was not self-interest.  I got one so that my chronically-ill wife could get in touch with me easily in case she had a flare up.  As well, the tablet could send e-mail only when connected to a Wi-Fi network, so I'd have to struggle to find free public Wi-Fi in order to text my daughter.  Now that I have a cell phone, I can exchange texts with her wherever I happen to be.

Which cell phone did I choose?  Which plan?  Naturally, this Luddite was compelled to look for the cheapest and most basic phone and service.  But the Geek in me tempered that with technological requirements.  For example, since we already had two cell phones in use at our home, I looked for a device that would connect to the same (GSM) network.  I also wanted a device that could be charged through a microUSB port so that I could use a generic charger.  And I wanted push buttons, not a touchscreen.

I decided that for my needs, a pay-as-you-go plan would be far cheaper than a contract.  So I researched the plans and found out which providers used the network we were already using.  And I kept my eyes open at drug stores for those providers' phones.  And then I found a push-button phone, discounted 50%, for $4.99.  I bought it, despite the fact that I couldn't tell how it connected to its charger, and despite the nagging feeling that it was already obsolete.

Well, it turned out that it was obsolete -- I wasn't able to activate that $4.99 cell phone.  The company's customer service explained that the device wasn't supported in my area, and that they'd send a different one.  And the phone didn't have a microUSB, either. But I hoped that the replacement device would have one.

I waited, and I waited, for the replacement phone.  Finally, after two extra phone calls to customer service, which involved promises that I'd get it in two days, I got it.

They sent me an LG touchscreen phone.  I was initially disappointed about the touchscreen, but I tried to maintain an open mind.  "At least the device charges through a microUSB port," I told myself.  Also, this device had a "3x minutes, texts and data for life" plan associated with it.

It activated easily enough.  But something seemed wrong.  Every time I tried to make a phone call, the keypad would disappear from the screen as soon as the call connected.  So I wasn't able to "Press 1 for English" or anything like that.  (See, that's why I want a push-button phone.  Real buttons hardly ever disappear.)  Eventually, I figured out how to get the display to turn on.  If I held the power button down as if to turn off the phone, the screen would light up asking if I wanted to turn off the phone.  I could then respond "No" and gain access to the keypad without the phone disconnecting.

Even though I was able to use the phone, I decided that the phone was defective and needed to be replaced.  First, I visited the LG website and quickly found a customer service agent to chat with.  She "talked" me through the steps of rebooting the phone and then asked me to retest the phone.  It continued to misbehave, so she suggested that the proximity sensor was faulty and encouraged me to contact the provider to get the phone replaced.

I saved the chat text and sent it to one of the provider's customer service contacts, who again asked me to reboot the phone and try it again.  Finally, I got them to agree to send yet another phone, which arrived quickly and worked properly.

All of the sending and returning of phones, although time-consuming, was paid for by the provider.  I probably could have asked to have some minutes refunded because of all that I wasted while testing the phone, but I decided I was still ahead.

Eventually I bought more minutes and extended the activation period out 2 years.  I figured that the phone and service cost about $6 per month, assuming the phone lasts the entire two years.  So overall I'm pretty happy about it.  The only issue I have now is this: how do I carry the thing around all the time?

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