Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cellular Degeneration

I don't want to download music on my cell phone. I don't want to check NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange. I don't want to watch TV shows, make movies, pay bills, take crappy photos, check a Facebook page, play video games, or catch up on the latest football news, either. I don't need a colour screen, or "great graphics", or 4000 features that I'll never use. All I want is a phone that makes and receives calls, that doesn't fall apart in six months, and has a long battery life. And that's what, evidently, no longer exists. All you can get now are overly complicated, infuriatingly fragile phones, with battery lives about as long-lasting as a trip to the backstage broom closet with Colin Farrell.

Take my last cell phone - a Sanyo from Bell. It began falling apart within two months (headphone jack got loose, charger stopped working, etc.). Now, not two years later, the battery no longer holds a charge. I'm lucky if it lasts 90 minutes - when I'm not talking. It also had an infuriating snooze feature: within at least two minutes of the alarm going off, a follow-up "snooze" alarm would go off, and if you can believe it...there was no way to disable that feature. I emailed Sanyo customer service twice about it; both times the agent confirmed that there was no way to disable the follow-up ring. And making it worse was that it was quite difficult to turn the follow-up alarm off; so frequently, the phone alarm would go off every two minutes for a ten or twenty minute period after the initial wake-up, while I tried to remember just how to turn it off.

My wife had another Sanyo on the same contract package; that one stopped working altogether about six weeks ago. So, she started using mine. No problem, I thought; this piece of garbage is on its last legs anyway. I'll just try to find a more durable, sensible phone.

So, I drove down to London Drugs and picked up a new phone compatible with new, no-contract provider Koodo. I got the base model Samsung - which started malfunctioning almost immediately (dropping out for a few seconds about every minute, no matter where I was). I brought it back and swapped it back for a Motorola. That one worked fine on the way home. Finally I'm in the clear, I thought. such luck. I realized as soon as I got home that the phone didn't have the standard 2.5 mm headset jack. It was on to bigger and better things - the USB port. GARG. I like wearing the ol' headset when I'm driving, and I actually like the cord since it makes it harder for me to lose. problem, I thought. I'll just get a new corded headset which fits into the USB port.

I then visited every electronics shop in Victoria - none of the salespeople had ever heard of a corded USB port headset. The only compatible headsets were Bluetooth.

The old corded headsets you could get for twenty bucks - the Bluetooths were all four, five, six times as much. And they also seemed fragile and small: perfect for breaking and losing. More GARG.

I bit the bullet and decided I'd try a high-end noise-reducing Bluetooth headset. Another bummer - turns out I needed to charge that just like I charged the phone (one more charging thing to worry about). And though the battery was supposed to last "a really long time" (according to the sales agent), it peetered out in no time. Who knows - maybe there was an on/off switch I was supposed to have turned off overnight - or five other switches. Even getting the dang thing to work in the first place was a chore; for some reason, my phone's Bluetooth capability kept shutting off, so I kept having to go in to turn it back on, and the piece itself had two different buttons...anyway, you get the idea: high maintenance, fiddly, probably going to break, etc. More GARG.

"Progress" in cellular phone technology, in my case, no longer exists: each gain is at the cost of losing some feature I valued, like durability, battery length, and ease of use. The old Audiovox CDM9000 I started with ten years ago on Telus was the best phone I ever had: while there was no text message feature, it was slim, simple, indestructible, and the battery lasted forever. Normal headphone jack, normal features, easy charging, no problem.

Why don't providers offer phones like that anymore? Maybe it's because folks like me are in an extreme minority.

But maybe, just maybe, it's because cellphone companies have overlooked an enduring customer preference, of some size anyway, for durable simplicity over fragile complexity. And if the day ever comes when one of them stops overlooking it and offers the solid, sensible type of phone I want, I'll be the first to sign up. But I'm not holding my breath.


Su said...

I have had similar discussions regarding cell phones. I walked into a cell phone store to find the cheapest and simplest phone that I could, and the salesman thought I was insane. He basically asked me why I'd want to do that.

Cell phones, like many gadgets, cars, houses, and clothing have somehow translated from useful things to extensions of self worth. While I'm not someone who's living in a tent, eating boiled roots that I gather myself, I still realize that all of those things say very little about who I am as a person.

Nevertheless, there are millions of people out there that would rather have a Beyonce ringtone at $6.00 a week, than a reliable phone.

Lewis said...

I have the Motorola L2. Very basic. Very thin so it easily fits in my pocket. No camera. The charge lasts well over a week. I have owned it almost two years and the charge hasn't deteriorated much.

Lewis said...

Nevermind. I just went to my cell phone provider's webpage and they no longer sell the L2. Apparently I will be in the same boat soon.

Tal said...


That's horrible - and all too predictable!

heather said...

I chalk it all up to the fact that everything is being made on the cheap. They want you to buy the newest and latest technological hot thing, and to do this, your other newest and latest technological thing has to have already broken or disintegrated. They want our money, and so far we seem to keep handing it over. We are a "consumer" society. Use it, throw it away, buy a new one, repeat-seemes to be the way everyone else is living. I would prefer better quality items, and made-to-last stuff, but maybe I'm just crazy? Hope you find a good phone soon, that really sucks.

cricket said...

I have a Samsung. It's not the best thing in the world but it does its job. Thankfully I don't have the model you did, however. Avoid LG - I've heard they are a disaster. Have you tried Nokia?

Sandy-san said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sandy-san said...

(I'm sorry... there were major grammatical errors I couldn't ignore anymore.)

Well, the boys and I have had pretty good luck with our Samsung C417 for the past year and a half (even after I have dropped it a dozen or more times). We have Cingular/AT&T.

Every once in a while our service drops for no reason; my sweetie and I would be sitting down talking, and it'll drop... just like that, but I think it's AT&T and not the phone itself.

About 2-months ago, my Samsung started acting crazy, making noises, not allowing me to answer a call, etc. I thought it was on its last leg. I kept taking the battery out and resetting the phone, and after a few times of this nonsense, it's been A-OK! Our 2-year service contract ends in December, so I may get another FREE Samsung.

It's nice to see you online, Tal!


Joseph said...

I'm an admitted gadget freak... to an extent. When I bought my last phone (an HTC Touch) I wanted a couple of features (a calendar, mp3 player, and e-mail receipt), and that's about it. The Telus sales guy went through the whole pitch for a half dozen units with PDA features and texting, mp3's, YouTube on the phone, streaming video, GPS ready, toaster, rinse cycle, etc. I told him that's great... but what if 90 percent of the time I use my phone... AS a phone? He actually laughed! I eventually found a decent sounding phone with a couple extra's, but it is getting hard to find what Tal's looking for...