Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mobile Madness Part 1

This weekend while casually looking at T-Mobile's web site, I discovered that the bastages are going to start charging me for a paper bill (before, they were only doing this to new customers). No warning - just will start charging me as of September 1. This, combined with voicemail where the recordings sound like the callers have marbles in their mouth, has given me the motivation to start looking for another cell phone ("mobile") provider.

The first thing I noticed is that all the phones suck. Now, I know you're out there saying that your iPhone is the most fantastic thing you've ever used, but to be quite honest everyone calling me on one sounds like they're in a tunnel. What I'm looking for is a good phone, not something to run my life (and pay almost $100/month for the privilege). So back to the phones in general: Looking at the reviews, there isn't a single phone that everyone likes. Almost universally, people have trouble with battery life. Many have complained about their phone "locking-up" and/or resetting by itself, or about bad overall reception or dropped calls. In general, the manufacturers of the phones place a higher priority on the texting and multimedia functions while the phone portion seems like an afterthought. I don't have a "regular" phone line - my cell phone is my phone line. Therefore, I want something where people can hear me well, and I can hear them well.

Second to phone audio quality is the Bluetooth interface and phone book. I don't generally talk on the phone in the car, but having the hands-free interface in the car has been very convenient and much safer than holding a phone to my head while driving (that hand is better spent steering or using the directional signals). If the phone doesn't interoperate well with the car then that feature is worthless to me (both in the car and phone). The phone book should at least be able to have assignable ringtones, including one called "silent" (for those people I never want to hear from again). For ringtones, all I ask is that there is a built-in selection of about 3 ringers that sound like a phone. I don't want the phone to play songs when it rings, I just want it to sound like an old school electronic ringer. That's all. The phone should be able to transfer the entire phone book to the car over Bluetooth, not just an entry-at-a-time like my current Motorola V195.

Searching through available phones was a challenge, but using the carriers' web sites was borderline ridiculous. Like the phones, the web sites are more interested in pushing multimedia crap down everyone's throat. In this case, that means fcsking Flash, which I don't/can't use (how many fargin times do I need to say this?!). Taking the number one position on the crappy web site category is Verizon Wireless. The web site layout was okay, but if you don't use Flash, you can't even see a larger picture of the phone (I assume that's what they were trying to show me). But wait - there's more! I wanted to look at the manual for the phone. It was hard to find the manual, believe it or not. Finally, I stumbled on the location, and rather than having it in PDF format...you got it...you had to have the STUPID FLASH PLUG-IN TO READ THE MANUAL! WTF? I wanted the MANUAL, not some fscking multimedia presentation! Will you STUPID people who design these web sites get a god damn clue already. I don't know what moron decided that Flash was an appropriate mechanism to present what would normally be in a paper user manual, but they should be hung up and shot. Attention T-Mobile: THIS IS WHY I WANT A PAPER BILL! I'm tired of this crap where I have to have run Windows or MacOS and Flash (or whatever other damn plug-in they may decide to shove down my throat this month) in order to manage the account for my PHONE! Folks, I don't demand that you run your web site on Linux or FreeBSD. Don't tell me I have to use Windows or MacOS on my computer. I'm your customer, or potential one (maybe not). So while I won't demand that you run your web site on a reasonably secure OS, I will demand that you make it platform-independent (ie. you stick to standards), so your customers aren't just Windows and Mac users. Geezus H. Christ! Verizon, can you hear me now? Good.

Continuing... I don't like at&t in general, and that's another reason not to get an iPhone. I've done business with at&t for various services, and in general, at&t treats people as though at&t is the only game in town, and cements the deal with unreasonable terms and conditions and poor customer service. I liked Sprint when I used them before. The only reason I switched from Sprint was because I needed a phone with Bluetooth but without a camera (work restriction) and the only thing Sprint could give me was a Blackberry. Sprint's web site is somewhat better than Verizon's, but not much better. The one plus for Sprint was that I could easily see the manuals for all their phones (at least the ones I checked). Unfortunately, none of the phones looked any better than with any other carrier, and Sprint likes to charge a lot for them (along with a 2-year contract, of course). I'd like the people who come up with these terms to consider what would happen if they were stuck with a shitty customer for 2 years, the only way to escape the madness being to pay some extortion money to the customer. I say this because that's exactly what a 2-year agreement means to me, as a customer. Isn't paying $90 for a phone that only works on your network enough of a guarantee that I'll stick with your service if it's good?

So then we come full-circle to T-Mobile. You'd think that being their customer for almost 3 years and paying them on-time, that they would be able to do something better than charge me almost 2 bucks a month for a stupid paper bill. The T-Mobile web site is slow. It has so much fluff that it brings my poor old 1.4 GHz Celeron-based laptop (running Linux, so it is pretty fast yet) to its knees. They are also putting more Flash crap on their site, making it less and less useful to me. Again, their voicemail sucks - the problem being that they compress the voice down so much that it distorts. I know how this works because I actually manage a voicemail system for work (since it's also open source, I also know how it works internally). So while T-Mobile does, indeed, maximize their disk space by compressing the heck out of the audio, they also make the audio unintelligible. As more people call me from devices that are not primarily phones (like Blackberries and iPhones), the unintelligible speech becomes more and more of an issue (since it is frequently partially distorted already). The customer service people at T-Mobile, as nice as they try to be, don't know what in hell I'm talking about. Overall, I haven't been entirely displeased with T-Mobile, but when I do have an issue, they are less than helpful. While their priorities seem to be headed in the exact opposite direction from mine, they're unfortunately the known irritation rather than the unknown one. My phone (the Motorola V195, as I said before) is not the best phone in the world, but when I do call people the experience is close (if not identical) to being on a regular phone line.

So at the end of part 1 of Mobile Madness, it seems as though my best short-term course of action is to discontinue receiving a paper bill from T-Mobile and keep using them. At the same time, I'm going to start talking to friends (other than the ones who are tethered to their iPhones) to see what's working well for them. As soon as I can find some better alternatives, I'll proceed to part 2 and share my experiences.

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