Cell Service: Like A Bad Marriage

We are getting set to firm up our cell service for another two years. In many way our relationship with the cell company is like a bad marriage, kept together for the sake of the kids.

This installment of the “Cell Phone Saga” comes about because of Steffie’s phone. It’s been dropped on its head enough that it should be bandaged, or have its antenna in a sling. Sometimes it spontaneously shuts itself off. On other occasions some of the keys don’t work.

Since I had some questions about this month’s bill, I gave Cingular a call. Is it possible they’re trying to obfuscate what the bill contains? I was always good at math… even on the math team… but their bill baffles me – all 24 pages of it!

There is no bill we receive which is more detailed or confusing… or voluminous.

After we straightened out my billing misunderstandings I asked about getting some new phones. It seems my line is eligible, but Helaine and Steffie’s are not – at least not until September.

How can that be? We all got our phones at the same time. I’m not going to complain because like Monopoly’s “Bank Error In Your Favor,” I think September probably is the correct time.

With a little “creative accounting” Steffie can get my new phone and I’ll wait until September to get her scheduled replacement. Helaine, who is ambivalent about the whole thing gets a new one too. She and I currently have tiny LG G4010’s.

I have written about this phone before.

The manual is so beautifully designed and printed that when I originally had trouble following what it was saying, I though the problem was mine. This seems like a manual that might have been written in Korean and then poorly translated into English. Whatever the story, it’s a puzzle. I’m surprised Cingular let this get by since it increases their support costs.

Steffie wants a Motorola RAZR phone – in black, thank you very much. She’s paying – it’s her choice. It’s a very stylish phone which gets good marks from most reviewers. Its camera isn’t quite up to state-of-the-art resolution and it plays back video though it can’t record it.

The RAZR is Bluetooth enabled and, looking at eBay, well supported with after market products including a data cable and software (eliminating the need to run up your phone bill to move photos to your PC).

We headed to the Cingular store to pick one up, but they are in demand and out of stock. There will be some next week, which is when Steffie will return. Then, I’ll watch Steffie’s experience and see if that’s the phone for me.

There are times I think I’d rather have a PDA type phone, like a Blackberry or Treo. I like the idea of email and IM from anywhere, but there is the geek factor. Those are hip holster phones you wear, not pocket phones.

Helaine says with one of those on my belt I will be as nerdy looking as is humanly possible. She does not mean that as a compliment!

Meanwhile I have time. No new phone for me until September.

It looks like getting a new phone might be as difficult as understanding the phone bill.

New Tricks With My LG-G4010 Cellphone

A few days ago I was kvetching about buying a cable for my cellphone (LG-G4010), only to find out it did nothing. Yes, it was the right cable, but it came without software.

I’ve spent the past few days trying to find the right program to ‘speak’ to my phone. It wasn’t a pleasant experience nor an easy chore. There is nothing on LG’s US site or Cingular’s site to help.

I started searching through Usenet, my perennial favorite for tech info. After I struck out there, it was on to the more esoteric cell phone sites like Howard Forums.

There are cell phone hobbyists. That was a major surprise. Unlike PC’s, which started as wide open systems, cellular phones have been locked down almost from the beginning. It’s much tougher to hack and fiddle with your phone than your PC.

Most of the postings concerning my phone were cries in the dark, like mine. Where can I? How can I? Many weren’t answered. Some were, but often with cryptic references to previous posts concerning other phones.

Over time, I started to see a few posts talking about software for my phone from LG’s Russian website. I went only to find… it was in Russian! All Cyrillic type, much of it images (which can’t be searched or translated by machine). It seemed the answer to my problem might lie on that site, but I had no way of knowing, or even knowing where to navigate.

I fired off an email to Alex Moskayluk. Alex and I met on the net. I don’t know him well. I do know, and I hope he’s not embarrassed or bothered by this characterization, that he’s a geek’s geek. The mere fact that Alex’s review of a highly technical programming book sits on the front page of Slashdot is irrefutable proof. More important in this situation, he speaks Russian.

Within a few minutes, his reply sent me to the LG Russian site and a free downloadable file. It is actually made for another LG model, but it works just fine on my phone. I could now peer into the internal phonebook and make changes. It’s a lot easier entering someone’s name and number on a computer keyboard than the phone’s number pad.

Next, I hunted around and found a program that allowed me to add new ringtones. I’m not sure I want my phone to ring as the 20th Century Fox or Simpson’s themes, but it can!

What upsets me is that all of these programs are in English – even though they’re pointed to in Cyrillic on the Russian LG site. So, why aren’t they available here in the states from LG? This is all about customer satisfaction.

Now there’s only one piece of software I’m looking for. I need a program to allow me to get rid of LG’s annoying ‘wallpaper’. I don’t need to replace it – just turn it off!

Addendum – Mark Osbourne has written and pointed out that I didn’t post the links. He’s right, and here they are:

PC Sync version 1

The entire software list

This is all in Russian, which I can’t read. So, I can’t vouch as to whether this software is licensed or legal where you live.

Be Careful What You Buy!

As I’ve mentioned before, I have an LG-G4010 cell phone from Cingular. The phone is very small and sits in my pocket at work. What’s not to like?

I thought it would be fun (in my geeky, nerdy way) to interface the phone with my computer. I’d like to change its wallpaper (OK – eliminate its wallpaper) and better manage my phonebook.

An all out search for the cable to connect the phone and computer turned up nothing… until last week when one appeared on eBay. It wasn’t expensive, so I bought it.

The package came yesterday. The cable seems sturdily built. It is actually a generic USB to serial port converter with an LG-G4010 connector on the serial end. You probably already knew that.

You’ve seen similar packaging on other products. It screams – this was originally done in Japanese – we know you won’t buy it unless it’s in English – we’re not going to really spend a lot of time translating.

The cable came with a CD which contains the USB driver and software for other phones. There is no software for my phone!

As best I can see, I have a lovely cable which connects my phone to the USB port of my computer, but nothing to do past that point. If there’s software available for my phone, I can’t find it. But I’m looking.

Even if I can’t get it to work, it won’t be a total loss. I was raised by a wire and cable collector, and I am one as well. There are no bad wires. There are no bad cables. I have never – will never – throw one out.

Hey, you never know.

CNET Reviews My Phone

I subscribe to CNET’s cell phone reviews. I’m not sure why. It was interesting reading them while I was shopping around. I should cancel it now.

Today, around three months after I got it, CNET reviewed my cell phone, the LG-G4010. It wasn’t mentioned in the review, but it should be noted that LG stands for Lucky Goldstar. I’m not sure how much confidence is built by having Lucky in your businesses name!

I have a love/hate relationship with this phone. It is as tiny as any phone I’ve ever had, and lightweight. It sits in my pocket most of the day at work. The vibration is strong enough that I seldom miss a call.

There are very few accessories for this phone. I’d like a clip to carry it on my belt. There is none. I’d like a data cable. There is none.

I’m afraid, though physically robust, the phone’s software is not. From time-to-time the phone forgets where my phonebook is stored. Is it on the SIM card? Is it in the native memory of the phone itself? Set it – it forgets it! The numbers aren’t gone, just lost. But, if you’re in the car, pressing a single speed dial number to reach someone and the phone says that entry is empty, you’ve been inconvenienced. It’s doubly true if you no longer know someone’s number, just their speed dial entry.

I’ve set the ringtone, only to have it revert to some other ring tone! This happened during my stay in Florida. I tried to use the least outlandish tone. What I got was the sampled sound of a bell from an old phone. I must have reset this feature a dozen times without success.

Astoundingly enough, the phone doesn’t have one feature that I though every cell phone had. There’s no way to have it wait while dialing. With all my previuous phones, voice mail meant pushing one button, waiting, pushing it again and hearing messages. Now, to get voice mail, I hit the first button, but must dial all the other codes myself – even while driving. That’s not right, since this seems like such a mature feature. Let’s call this ‘forgetware.’

The phone’s grayscale display features a wallpaper pattern. I’d rather not have it. Too bad. There’s no way to turn it off. It can be changed, but not turned off. Strange.

Last, but certainly not least is the manual. The manual is so beautifully designed and printed that when I originally had trouble following what it was saying, I though the problem was mine. This seems like a manual that might have been written in Korean and then poorly translated into English. Whatever the story, it’s a puzzle. I’m surprised Cingular let this get by since it increases their support costs.

All this being said, I still like the phone. I’ve learned to work around some of its weaknesses (like lack of external display) and enjoy its diminutive size. I had read some people complain of short battery life, but that’s not been a problem for me.

Of course there’s still no cell service at home. I am hoping Cingular is successful in its bid for AT&T and that it is AT&T’s cell site that I hear (but can’t use) from my house. That would be huge.

The Vegas term for this is ‘parlay’, a series of bets, each of which has to come true for you to get the payoff. Parlay players seldom win.

LG Electronics

I sent my message yesterday concerning the cell phone’s operation. So far, no answer. Maybe this will be fun to follow:

No Subject Registration Date Conditions

1 LG G4010 Dec. 18, 2003 Unsettled

What’s the over/under on days to get a response? They get special dispensation since LG is halfway around the world… but not much dispensation.

Cell Phone Deal – The Final Chapter

This is the (hopefully) last in a series of entries about my cell service. If you’d rather read the whole series from the beginning, click here.

Hold your calls, we’ve got a winner… or more succinctly, we’ve eliminated most of the losers. I re-signed yesterday with Cingular for National GSM service.

A couple of notes and observations are in order. This took an unbelievably long time. I’m not talking about yesterday at the store – which did take forever – but my decision making process. The cellular carriers make this maddeningly difficult.

First and foremost, you have to read each and every thing that you’re being offered and not offered. The cell companies know what they’re offering (well, sort of) but most of us don’t. While I was in the cell phone store yesterday, I watched customer after customer move up to the desk, like lambs to the slaughter. The salespeople offered and sold plans and conditions that weren’t understood by the customers. And, the customers, with little choice, signed on without much thought.

In my case, this is a $2,000 commitment – 2 years of service for the three of us – and I wanted to be sure everything was acceptable… or as acceptable as possible.

Most customers don’t know the difference between GSM or TDMA or CDMA, but these distinctions can be very important in deciding what you’re getting. The companies offer beautifully named national or regional networks, and then never disclose what these networks are… or are not. The maps I’ve seen continue to paint a nearly seamless blanket of coverage, which isn’t true.

The company that actually runs the Cingular store needs to reconsider the paper flow through the store. Forms had to be filled out by hand and multiple phone calls made to get my account set up. It’s 2003 – these forms should be computer generated and authorizations automated. I was in the store for nearly 2 hours. Some people, who waited in line while I was being taking care of, left.

As I wrote earlier, when a plan says no roaming fees, that still doesn’t mean you can use any signal your phone can hear. It used to be, if you were out of range of your plan, your phone would latch on to whatever it heard, and you’d pay for that privilege. But “no roaming” doesn’t necessarily mean that call is now free. It often means that call can no longer be made!

The best example is here at home. My phone shows a very, very strong signal (probably from T-Mobile or AT&T). If I try to make a call, the phone says “Emergency Only” and spits me back to the main menu.

As far as I can tell, I now have a comparable number of minutes, nights beginning at 7:00 PM, some sort of national coverage (though still no coverage here at home) and three new phones for a little less than I was paying. And, I extracted 3 free months of service, 2 of the 3 phones, and a waiver of the activation charge by getting on the phone with the Cingular company agent (thanks Kendrick Alexander) and asking for it (the folks in the Cingular store don’t really work for Cingular).

Helaine and I got LG G4010 phones. They are incredibly small with a stubby, fixed antenna. I have been pouring through the manual, looking for a way to use my company’s voicemail with this phone. That means adding a pause during the dialing sequence. As far as I can tell, you can’t do it. If that’s true, this would be the first cell phone I’ve ever seen that can’t perform this function.

If the manual wasn’t translated from some other language into English, the person who did write it should be ashamed. It is disorganized and confusing.

Steffie got a much fancier Samsung S307. It has a color display and more toys. I was proud because she wanted it and was willing to part with her own (hard earned) money to get it.

There was another company I had considered going with. Oh heck – it was Sprint. I didn’t go because of what I considered the very high cost of the phones and higher cost for monthly service. But really, the clincher was their move a few years ago (quickly rescinded) to charge for calls to customer service! To me, that showed a corporate culture that didn’t value the end user the way I want to be valued.

I would be 100% happy with Cingular but for one small problem. There’s no service here at home. Judging by the folks at their store, Cingular thinks it has coverage here. They recently put a cell site at Quinnipiac College, less than 2 miles away. But, it is blocked to me, and most of my neighbors because of Sleeping Giant Mountain. If they would have moved the site off campus, they could have killed two birds with one stone – putting coverage on campus and into this area and I’d be really smiling.

Cingular Teases Me

We had been told that a new Cingular GSM cell tower was being installed at Quinnipiac University. Judging from some topographic maps I downloaded online, there was a significant chance we’d be blocked by Sleeping Giant.

After speaking to the guys at Cingular (it’s actually American Cellular d/b/a as Cingular, but that’s another story) I felt better. A few of them had driven up to my neighborhood, phone in hand, and saw loads of signal. Cingular has a sweet looking, really small, LG-G4010 GSM phone available. Life was good.

Wednesday, I went to the Cingular store and took a phone for a 15 day trial in anticipation of signing up for new service. It worked fine going to work – even in places I had previously had trouble. It worked fine coming home.

And then, I got to the hill leading to our house.

As soon as I started to climb the hill, cell service ceased. I was in the middle of a call, and it ended abruptly.

At the house, no service, until…. voil