I ordered a new cell phone this month. I have one of those pay-as-you-go cell phone plans, which I’ve had for more than 10 years, and I’ve been pretty happy with it.
I haven’t been so happy with the phones themselves.
Oh, I used to be. My first one was a non-smart phone — a Motorola “Renew.” It was advertised as rugged and was supposedly made from recycled materials, and it was praised for its excellent call quality. I liked it a lot and kept it for seven years. It couldn’t play games (I think it may have had “Tetris” on it), the web browser was strictly 1990s quality, and sending a text message was slow and painful. But as a phone, it was great.
Unfortunately, after seven years, the battery would no longer hold a charge. So I upgraded to an Android phone.
It lasted about four years before it started dropping calls, crashing and running out of memory. I tried several patches, resets and upgrades until I became frustrated and traded it in on another Android phone.
That one lasted about two years before the same pattern occurred — dropped calls, software crashes, memory errors. One of its neat tricks recently was that the screen would freak out and start randomly opening and closing applications and sending gibberish messages until I did a hard reboot. (One day it sent a “hugs and kisses” emoji to the police chief. I said “sorry, my phone is going nuts.” He replied, “I was wondering. You’re a nice guy but I don’t like you in that way.”)
I also liked when I would try to pick up an incoming call on that phone, only for the phone to hang up on the other person and display this message on the screen: “The application Phone encountered an error and needed to close.”
You’re a PHONE. You have one job.
So the law of diminishing returns is definitely in effect with my phone purchases. Anyway, like I said, I ordered a fancy new phone. It came with a stylus to write on the screen. The reviews were so-so, but users raved about the battery life and quality of the camera. And it was on deep discount, with zero-percent financing, so I thought, why not.
The phone arrived Saturday.
On Sunday, I spent several hours copying over all of my files and apps.
On Monday, I was sitting at my desk when the phone slid off of a pile of papers and hit the floor, shattering the screen, which apparently was made of a thin layer of marzipan. Despite having a screen protector on it, the screen broke in multiple places. One of the corners has crumbled into jagged shards of glass.
The phone, incidentally, is from a major company that perhaps is better known for their tablets and laptops. I hope those are more durable than their phones, because this thing fell apart quicker than a Republican congressman asked to investigate the Trump family.
Oh, I also ordered a protective case when I bought the phone. It arrived Tuesday.
Ah! But wisely, I had invested in the $39.95 “Extended Care Plan,” which said it covered “damage from handling, including drops.”
So I logged onto the “extended care plan” website and made an appointment to visit a repair center. I arrived for my appointment five minutes early and checked in.
The clerk looked at the phone, then looked in the computer. “They don’t sell replacement parts for this phone,” she said. “I can’t even order them from the warehouse.”
“What am I supposed to do?” I said.
“They’re going to need to send you a new phone,” she said.
“Why did your store let me make an appointment to come here?” I said. She wasn’t sure. So I drove home and called the company.
Several hours later, after being passed from person to person, I learned that my “extended care plan” was as worthless as … well, the phone it covered.
Yes, the extended care plan covers damage due to “handling, including drops.” But it only covers the damage if that occurred while the company was handling the phone. So if they dropped the phone at the factory and broke it, and then shipped it to me anyway, I’d be covered. But not if I dropped it taking it out of the box.
To cover damage after I received it, I actually needed the “Accidental Damage Care Plan” for another $39.95.
“But my brand new phone is broken,” I told the call-center.
“We understand your concern and we know this must be disappointing,” they said. How kind.
After I explained that I would never, ever, ever again purchase a single product from this company, they agreed to send me a new phone of the same model … for a 25 percent discount. First, I’d have to send them my broken phone, post-paid. Then, in 5 to 7 days, they’d send me a replacement phone.
Since my work phone number is tied to my cell phone, I said, “fine.”
Now, we hit another snag. The call center is non-U.S. based. Neither of my credit cards — from two different U.S- based banks — would go through.
“What am I supposed to do now?” I said to the call-center supervisor. “I have a broken phone, you want to sell me a replacement phone, but your system won’t take either of my cards, from two different banks.”
“Maybe you can try a different bank and call us back,” he said. “Is there anything else we can help you with today?”
“You haven’t helped me so far, but thanks anyway,” I said.
Arriving today is my new, new cell phone — a Nokia which has been praised for being one of the most rugged phones on the market — and I guess I need to chalk the entire experience up to “caveat emptor.”
I was going to say I’m “poorer but wiser,” but I sure don’t feel any wiser.