Sunday, August 28, 2011
Cell Phone Shopping is a Joke
I've been due for a cell phone upgrade since... I don't know. A while. Maybe February? Anyway, I was due for a cell phone upgrade a while back and at the time we had very briefly looked at what was available and I decided that I was happier with the phone I had (an enV 2) and therefore elected to just hang on to it until it didn't work anymore.
Of course they seem to be quite sneaky about these things, and being eligible for a discounted phone upgrade every year or two, phones seem manufactured to only last about that long.
Here we are are a few months later and the buttons on my phone started to have problems. They were wearing out and when I'd hit about half of them it was as if I was hitting them twice, instead of once. So... for example, my text messages would look like this: Whhenn aaree yyoou coominngg hoome? Which is annoying. Not to mention, the "reply" button did the same thing, so if I received a text message and hit "reply" it actually registered it as my hitting it twice, which meant that every time it sent a blank text message that I would have to cancel out, then go through the process to open a new text message to send. SUPREMELY annoying and ineffective. Can you tell I spend more time texting than calling? Because the call features were fine :P
So anyway, all things considered I determined that I had reached the point of no longer being happy with my improperly functioning phone (which magically began to malfunction shortly after upgrade time, go figure.) and this weekend we set out to get a new one.
Every other time we've shopped for phones it has totally not been a problem. We go to the store, play with the phones a bit, I pick one that I like (usually because it's a pretty color...) and we're on our way. Not so, this time around.
We live near a major shopping area in town and we usually go to the Verizon store there. It's often really crowded on weekends (how many people could possibly need to shop for new phones at the same time? A lot, apparently.) so we elected to visit a new location that was just as close, but it was a smaller, independently owned shop that ended up being less crowded (we were the only ones there actually, which was really nice).
We told the salesman what I was looking for (basically just a replacement for what I already had) and he directed us to 3 phones (which they call "feature phones". I have no idea what that actually refers to, but they're the non-smart phones). Three. In the entire store. The rest of their stock were all smart phones. And I think one of those three was the only one that even kind of fit with what I was looking for. Not only were these 3 phones not as nice as the one that I currently had, meaning the "feature phones" didn't have as many features as the phone I purchased 2 1/2 years ago, but they were more expensive than the nicer phones they had, which of course, happened to be smartphones.
So, because I didn't want to pay more for a crappier phone than I already had (of course they probably did have working buttons, so I guess it depends on what you're looking at to determine, which is "nicer") we started to look at the cheaper smartphones they had.
They were obviously really pushing them. In addition to appearing to actually take a step BACK in the technology of their other phones, the smartphones with all the features I wanted (which, hello, I'm not even asking that much! I want a QWERTY (full) keyboard for texting as well as picture and video capabilities. Nothing more than what I had in the phone I purchased 2 1/2 years ago!) would cost either $49 or they'd be absolutely free, PLUS if I upgraded to a smartphone from a "feature phone" I could send the old one in for a $100 rebate. Sounds like a great deal, right?
Because even though the phone is a great deal upfront, you HAVE to purchase a data package to go with it. Trust me, I asked. I don't understand why they have to dictate that you get the data package (which is basically just internet access), but they do. Wait, no, of course I actually do know why. They have it set up to where you have very limited options and the "smart" choice is a smartphone from which they make an extra $30 a month off of you. The data package would increase the bill for just my cell phone from $50 (which I already think is too high) to $80 a month. EIGHTY DOLLARS A MONTH for a single cell phone! I think that's crazy! Yes, you get "more" for that extra $30, but I don't actually NEED internet on my phone, so it's $30 for just something extra, that I don't even necessarily want. I mean... if it were there, I'd use it, but I definitely don't need it nor to I care to be forced into purchasing something I don't want/need.
Am I the only person who doesn't think it's fair to be forced into increasing my bill by $30 a month, or do people just usually accept this as totally fine? Because I'm beginning to think I'm alone here.
So, we left the Verizon store we were at and headed over to the more crowded one because we wanted to see if they had a bigger selection and they usually have their display phones activated so you can actually play with them to see what they're like. They did end up having one more "feature phone" that the other location didn't have, but they didn't have any of the smartphones I was interested in because "they're a corporate store so they only carry the newest phones. The ones I was looking at were already outdated". What they were actually telling me was they only carried overly expensive phones that I wasn't interested in and I'd have to go back to the smaller, independent retailer if I wanted a better deal.
After we returned home, me with a sour taste in my mouth from the idea of being forced into a higher cell phone bill, I researched the two phones I was interested in and neither received reassuring reviews.
I was left with the following decision: Choose a "feature phone" that didn't have the features I was used to and pay more for it ($79), but keep my same monthly bill, OR choose the smartphone (which was free), and get a $100 rebate for trading in my old phone, but be forced into paying a higher monthly bill for something I didn't even want.
I wasn't impressed with either phone after reading the reviews and either way I went I felt like I was getting a bad deal and didn't have much choice about it. I really hate being put in that position and I was not happy, to say the least.
Mark and I discussed it further and he remembered seeing a commercial for Virgin Mobile advertising their new Beyond Talk plan, which starts at $35 a month. Because we weren't happy with what was happening at Verizon (who we've always been with) and I'm the only phone involved now (Mark's is paid for by his work), we decided to look into switching carriers. We checked things out online and liked what we saw, so while Jack was napping I ran up to Best Buy to look into it further. They carry phones and plans for Sprint, Virgin Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T.
I talked to a really helpful salesman, chose a phone that I liked (that got awesome reviews online), and purchased my plan. With Virgin, the phones are a little more expensive upfront (the one I picked was one of the nicer options at $149.99), but the monthly bill is WAY more affordable, which made me feel okay about investing a little more upfront in the phone. I'm on a plan with unlimited web, data, messaging, and email and 300 talk minutes a month for $35. It's the lowest plan available, but it should be fine for me as the most talk minutes I've used in a month is right around 150. I text way more than I talk. But, if I need more minutes, I can pay $45 for the same plan, but with 1200 minutes instead of 300. Still less than what I was paying for JUST talk and text with Verizon, and much less than the $80 I would have been paying for a comparable plan with them.
And, the other great thing is there is no contract, it's month-to-month, so if I try it for a month and decide I don't like it because of lack of coverage or something (it's on the Sprint network, so I'm hoping it'll be okay...) I can just return the phone (I have 30 days to return the phone to Best Buy with no restocking fee, compared to the $35 restocking fee I would have had to pay with Verizon if I had returned the phone within 14 days) and look into other options. We're out nothing for trying something new and we certainly don't have any reason for staying with Verizon. We used to have unlimited text messaging grandfathered in with them for $5 a month, but when our contract was up in February they said they could no longer offer that option at that price. Nice, Verizon. Nice. So, again, absolutely no reason to remain loyal to them. They certainly haven't remained loyal to us as customers. And the helpful salesman at Best Buy was even able to set up my Virgin Mobile account so that I was able to keep my same phone number! So nice. Oh, and they will transfer your contacts for free at Best Buy. If you want Verizon to do it (you can do it through their website, but if you want them to handle it for you in-store) they charge $10 even though it takes them about two minutes to do. Lame.
Also, if anyone is interested in switching to Virgin Mobile, they are offering a deal right now where if you purchase a phone through their website before Labor Day and activate a Beyond Talk plan by October 4th they'll credit your account in the amount of $25 as a bonus for being a new customer. I'm kind of bummed that I missed out on the $25 credit (okay... a lot bummed), BUT I needed to purchase through Best Buy because I was able to get insurance on the phone through them ($19.99 for 2 years, if you purchase the insurance through Virgin it's $5 every month, so I'm saving money in the long run) and hai, I have a toddler. I can't have a phone without insurance coverage because if he gets a hold of the thing, I can't guarantee it's going to work afterwards :-/
So... in conclusion. Verizon sucks. I'm wholly underwhelmed with their business practices right now. Virgin Mobile has an awesome alternative with their new Beyond Talk plan and I hope it works out for me. If it does, I'm going to be saving money in the long run. I'm going to be calling Mark from various points around the area for the next month to make sure I have adequate coverage :D
Posted by Stephanie at 8:29 PM