Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mobile moods

More than four out of every five people in the U.S. have a cell phone, and some forecasts have the rate headed to 100 percent. (How long before babies start getting their own handsets in the nursery?) It's pretty amazing to think that the majority of that growth happened in two decades. I got my first one around mid-2001, if I recall correctly, not long before 9/11, when about a third of the nation's population already had one. The phone in my dorm room was really the last home landline that I had, not counting work numbers. In general, I'd rank this whole process as progress. But it's ceased being another consumer item and started being something of a necessity. That makes losing the phone or being unhappy with the model you've chosen all that much more of a hassle, and going to the local phone store more and more like a trip to the DMV, what with the sign-in-and-wait rigmarole they have now to handle the heavy volume of customers.

For the first time in probably half a dozen models, I had buyer's remorse when it came to the Samsung Glyde. Too bad I didn't do anything about it until after the initial return period had passed. Verizon Wireless, those tricky folks, have the contract cycle engineered so that you can get a new, discounted (no longer outright free) phone 22 months into your two-year agreement. So after my old model has sustained 22 months of wear-and-tear, I'm ready to head into a store as soon as possible and get something fresh out of the box. At that point, you sign off another two years of your life to the service provider, without ever letting your old contract expire. Now, I went into the store in October, following some online research, thinking that I was going to buy the LG Venus. But when I felt the fake leather back on the in-store model, I demurred and looked at other phones. I finally settled on the Glyde because of the touch screen and the full QWERTY keyboard.

If I'd bothered to research that model as well, I probably would've come across all the complaints about how the touch screen can be maddening and isn't consistently responsive. Sometimes I'll peck at it a dozen times and get no response, leading me to reboot the whole thing. M. claims she's never been able to get it to respond to her touch. Somehow I muddled along for several months, dropping the phone a few times, you know, like you do. The screen seemed to be getting worse.

When I finally lost the thing the other week in a gypsy cab, I wasn't that sad; I was kind of relieved. I'd gotten so frustrated that I considered breaking the contract and going to buy an iPhone. But then there'd be the ugly termination fee to contend with and the cost of the new phone and the new contract, etc. So I ended up just going back to Verizon and filing a claim with the insurance company that I'd decided to actually pay for this time around. $50 deductible and I had a new one within 48 hours.

So I had to shell out money, but I got a fresh piece of equipment. AND! It was loaded with new software that I guess Samsung released sometime last fall in an attempt to quell the complaints from angry users. It's not as good as the iPhone screen, but it's an improvement. Partly because they stole the idea of the iPhone's screen lock, which requires a swiping motion instead of just a key press to unlock. I also decided to buy a molded Body Glove case and a new kind of screen cover. (Another $30)

The extra $80, while annoying, was probably worth it. The phone works better and I feel like it's now better protected to put up with the daily use and abuse that comes its way thanks to my busy life.

It's still grating to have to be under these rolling contracts. I know there are some companies that offer prepaid or pay-as-you-go plans, like I had in England, but they just don't seem as trustworthy or have as extensive networks as the other big national providers. Any suggestions?

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