Phone Home

My phone is going to die. It's the lump of crap K750i that Sony Ericsson practically touted as the first real mp3 player phone with a good camera in it. They were wrong and the damn thing barely lasts the life for which you sign up for it. It's joystick works when it wants to and in directions it chooses to making the feature of navigating the menu to make a phone call almost impossible at times, the operating system is ridiculously slow going so far as to make Windows Vista seem efficient (geek humour), the camera is decent but noise is there no matter what time of the day you shoot, the connectors are losing their connectivity and bought accessories that were overpriced in the first place work rarely.

All in all, it's a piece of crap.

And I'm the lucky one. Out of three phones gotten at the same time between my Dad, my brother and myself, mine is the one that looks the best out of all of them. Mine is, however, a replacement since my original died one day after buying it. Go Sony.

You could do the story of three phones like a 7 Up, 14 Up, 21 Up, etc documentary arc, except for that you'd have to make the time days or weeks since they're lucky to last a year. 

My Dad's one died first. If the lack of speed at random times didn't piss Dad off first, the fact that the camera just stopped working the way it was supposed to shortly after the warranty died probably did. Now if the battery is charged, it starts buzzing and vibrating and blinking at random times for no apparent reason. Try to figure out why it's doing this and you'll be left with blank stares because not even it knows why. You're best off to pull the battery out which is what I did to shut the bloody thing up. It's also in the best physical condition out of all of the phones, believe it or not. He now uses the phone I bought that I stopped using, an iMate Smartphone2.

My brother's was the next one to start to deteriorate. The buttons started falling off of it and he was the first one to start to pique some interest in buying a new phone. I expect the slowdowns piss him off as much as they piss me off.

Mine is getting really bad. So much so there are times when I just give up and wait for someone to call me. It's pretty much becoming a clock and a camera now… and even the camera has begun to stop working. It works like this: Autofocus… BEEP!… and doesn't take the picture. Try again.  Autofocus… BEEP!… and doesn't take the picture. Try again. Autofoc– CLICK!

It's in focus if you're lucky but the camera is really more or less a cosmetic option.

So yeah, I've got a $500 clock in my pocket, and it's not even a cool clock like those ones at TokyoFlash that I'll happily accept a donation of if anyone has spare cash they'd like to offload onto me. Anyone? Anyone?!

So a week or two ago, I made the decision to start actively searching for a new mobile phone.

Silly me. 🙁

I've been to stores to look at them, did research on the web, talked to friends with different models and I've discovered several things about the mobile phone industry:

1. Phones are way too expensive.
Phones are way too bloody expensive. It's a phone. Not a computer. The camera is nice and the Bluetooth or MP3 playback is fair enough for convergence, but I seriously just want a phone. Convergence aside, anything over $500 is way too much for a phone, especially since chances are the phone will barely last 2-3 months if you're lucky and by then Pauline Hanson will be selling them at her fish shop along with her failed political career with a tag-line on the take-away bag saying "They really are as cheap as chips!"

2. Phones are built like crap.
There really is no good standard these days. Products are built on the cheap to make the manufacturer as much money as humanly possible so build quality is naturally the first thing to be thrown out the window. Even if you spend over $500 on a phone, chances are that it will be built just as poorly and cheaply as the $200 one. It's sad but true. Get over it. Finding a good quality phone doesn't necessarily have to be expensive, mind you… it just has to weigh a ton, be bloody huge, and stick out of your pocket as if you've just grown paddle shaped balls that want everyone to see them.

3. The networks are in a state of flux.
There are currently three different types of phone networks operating in Australia.
We have 2.5G which is also known as the GSM network. This is for phone calls, text-based messages (SMS) and low-level multimedia-based messages (MMS) which can include pictures and / or sounds.
Then we have the 3G network which Optus, Vodafone, and Three / 3 (an Orange-Hutchinson company, formerly of Orange) provide service for. This is for everything the 2.5G network provides plus video calls and a high speed data network capable of web surfing among other things.
Finally, we have a 3.5G network from Telstra called the NextG network. This is more or less the same thing as the 3G network but faster which makes it better for things like web surfing or multimedia streaming, say that of watching TV on your mobile phone.

Now, let's make things a little bit more complicated.

2.5G phones only work on 2.5G networks. With the introduction of 3G and 3.5G based networks, it's only a matter of time before telecommunications providers hang up their 2.5G services and yet 2.5G phones are still released. The 2.5G disassembly probably won't happen here for a few years yet, but you'd expect that with the looming expectation that it won't be around much longer phone companies might stop releasing so many 2.5G network-only phones. This is not the case.

Then we have 3G network phones. 3G phones are backwards compatible in that they tend to work on 2.5G / GSM networks. 2.5G's lack that ability, but 3G's have it (as do 3.5G's), so you can do all the things you'd normally do on a 2.5G network plus whatever the phone supports on the 3G network. But this itself is a mixed bag as the very basic staple represented by 3G is the ability to make video calls… and some 3G phones lack that ability. They need a camera — regardless of resolution and usually one between 320×240 to 640×480 — on the front of the phone where you'd normally look at the screen. Some of these phones are even decked out with features like Wifi to connect to wireless networks (obviously so you can connect to someone else's wireless network in order to not pay the often ridiculous cost to check your email via your phone network provider) and  DVB-T or how it's commonly known a digital reception feed of free-to-air TV (once again so you probably don't have to pay the ridiculous cost of download fees to watch the crappy TV your network has set up for you to purchase).

3.5G phones are more or less the same thing as their 3G brothers… except faster! Seriously, you get faster web surfing speeds but your reception still comes down to the same towers and your call quality is reflected in both that and the equipment you make the phone call of.

So what choice does a guy like me have for finding a phone?!

As you can see here, there's a ridiculous amount of crap in the telecommunications field that one has to look at… but what I want is simple:

I want a phone that also acts as a convergence device for a decent camera and a decent mp3 player that also works well as a phone, isn't very big, and isn't going to break immediately after the warranty dies out. I also don't want to have to pay more than $400 for it.

This — believe it or not — seems a tall order.

At the moment, pretty much all of my choices are hovering in the 2.5G sector because 3G neither brings anything I really car
e about (I like talking to people… video-calling them doesn't really interest me) nor am I finding phones in the price range I like with the feature set or quality I'd like.

I'm also going to have to buy the phone outright because after being on a plan for two years I have a fourth point to add to all of this mess:

4. Plans shouldn't be allowed to exist the way they do.
The Consumer Watchdog should really be doing its job and watching out for the consumer by carefully looking at the plans to which providers happily sell to people for these phone services. It really is insane. If you sign up to a two year phone plan, chances are the phone will not last the length of the plan. In cases like that, not only will you still be paying off the phone that doesn't work, you'll also have paid more than what the phone is worth by the end of it. Plans where the equipment cannot last the duration of the plan should not exist. A plan that can last one year with a decent to high-end phone is acceptable because there's an acceptable form of logic that the phone will still be working by the end of it. But two years is a joke, especially with the quality of merchandise available these days.

So, I'm looking to buy a phone outright and stick it on prepaid. I'll port my number and probably stay on Optus since I'm going to get bad service no matter who I go with (plus I can nominate a few numbers that are on the Optus network with me). 

But it's the phone finding that bothers me. It seems like such a chore. I have to go to a store, find the phone, dodge the salesperson, try the dummy phone, feel it, weigh it, see if it matches me… then if I'm lucky I might find a real one to play with to see if I like operating system. It's a real pain in the ass.

Shopping for one is even more irritating on the Internet. I have some good ideas for phones. For instance, I like the look of a Samsung phone… but nobody has them. I've tried Dick Smith, Vodafone, Telstra, Optus, Three as well as pretty much all of the franchised versions of those companies as I can find when I'm around them including AllPhones, FoneZone and some I just can't be bothered to look at the name of. I'm not going to give any of them free advertising. They all failed. Hell, half of the salesmen didn't even attempt to sell me anything. For a nice change, they stood there talking on their mobile phones ignoring me-the-potential-customer.

If I look in the Vodafone catalog, there's an Asus-built Windows Smartphone that looks like it might be decent. Can I test drive it? No. Do they have one? No. Would any Vodafone store be likely to have them? I asked them this so this isn't a rhetorical question. The answer was… no. I'd have to order it in. Brilliant. It's advertised by the company and I still can't bloody try it out.

Now I'm stuck in a problem. Do I buy a phone that I can neither feel or test-drive from the web because the reviews are good?

No doubt, it'll be cheaper to buy online, but where does that leave me. What still do I pick? Do I get the Samsung I can't test out? Do I get it with a 2gb card ? Do I get the slightly thinner replacement model where virtually none of the flaws of the original unit were fixed but now it's ever so slightly thinner?! Do I get a 3rd party headphone adapter with microphone since Samsung don't make one even though they list this thing as being able to play mp3's (seriously, what good is an mp3 player that you can't plug your own headphones into)… it's all just too much. Way too much.

At the moment, I'm stuck between picking between a Sony and the Samsung (even though I'm not impressed by my current Sony phone) and a Windows powered Dopod since Dee has warned me off of the Nokia N73.

Seriously, the phone world is truly and utterly stupid. It's filled with an insane logic of confusing the customer aimlessly with jargon and technological problems and then ripping them right off at the end. It's worse than trying to buy a computer.

If you're able to find a phone that doesn't break and works well, congratulations.
If it feels good in your hand and you like its feature set, congratulations.
If it even works as a phone, double congratulations.

As for the rest of us, I think we should all go back to using tin-cans and a piece of string. At least that works and hey with today's fashion standards it'll probably look hot.