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Thoughts For Thursday: A Rant About Low-Quality Cell Phones

October 20, 2011 · 42 comments

in Personal Finance, Thoughts For Thursday

I have owned cell phones for many years.  My first cell phone was bought in 1991, and actually, I believe it was called a “car phone” back then.  This phone lived in a sturdy bag, and only worked when it was plugged in to the cigarette lighter of a car.  The whole ‘set’ was huge, and I never had to worry about losing it in a couch cushion.

In time, cell phones became more portable, but they were very expensive.  Once cell phones came down in price, I bought my first phone that I could actually carry in my purse.  Unfortunately, this phone had terrible reception and had to be returned almost instantly.  I then purchased another phone that actually worked pretty good, even if the antenna was a lethal weapon because the knob at the top fell off.

Over the years, I ‘upgraded’ my phone many times.  I did not upgrade  because I needed the latest technology, but because my old phones could barely last until the 2 year contract expired.  I refused to buy a new cell phone at the ridiculous prices that the Verizon store charges without an upgrade.

How I Ended Up With My Droid

My Samsung Intensity died this past August, August 12th to be exact.  I called Verizon and after many attempts, I finally talked to a nice customer service rep that was actually quite competent.  (I had previously spoken to two incompetent reps, one of which sent me the wrong replacement phone.)  In the end, I settled on an Android because I did want Smart Phone capability for email and such. (In hindsight, not sure I really NEEDED a smart phone, but I do enjoy it, especially playing “Words with Friends” against friends and family.)  My Android arrived at my door step on August 23rd.

Things went well between my Droid and I, for about 7 weeks.  Then one day, I was texting and the keyboard started freezing after two words.  I would then have to hold down the ‘back’ key for a few seconds to go back to the previous screen.  I would try and text again, and the same thing would happen.  No matter how much memory I cleared, no matter what tricks I tried, I was limited to texting about 1.5 words per message.   So, I took my Droid to the Verizon store, thinking I must be some kind of smart phone idiot and there would be some easy fix.

There Was No Easy Fix For My Droid

Well, turns out I was not the problem, but my phone was.  Yes, after 7 short weeks, my Droid just couldn’t take it anymore and broke down.  The technician did try a couple of things and quickly said “Well, you need a new phone.  You should get it in a few days, and just send your old one back when it arrives”.  Well, big news, I didn’t need those instructions because I have only done the ‘return’ drill about 100 times over the years since we have four cell phones on our Verizon account.

What really gets me frustrated though is that my ‘new’ Droid will be refurbished.  I don’t know why with standard phone warranties the old model is always replaced with a refurbished version, but that seems to be the case with Verizon.   I cringe at the thought of my ‘new’ Droid because my last refurbished model emitted a high-pitched noise that literally hurt my ear.  I had to send that one back too.

Is It Just Me, Or Does It Seem Cell Phones Seem Generally To Be Low Quality?

I cannot remember the last time I had a cell phone that survived the 2 full years.  I am sure this track record encourages people to buy extended warranties, but I still have not.  Probably because with all the cell phones on our plan, I just use any upgrade that is available on our plan, not necessarily the one for my phone.  Therefore, I have not had to pay full price for a new phone.

So, I am trying to understand, am I an anomaly, or is early phone death an epidemic?  Is it too much for me to expect an expensive electronic item to last the length of the contract I signed up for?  What is your cell phone experience??

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Philip October 20, 2011 at 8:29 am

Not to be an apple fan boy or anything, but my iphone 3gs easily survived the 2 year contract and then another 6 months. Yes the screen can be delicate therefore you have to be careful, but if you break it you know what you did. As far as continuing to function without major problems they actually seem stream lined. That is the main reason I have stuck with it and been happy with it.


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:32 am

I considered the Iphone, but I really wanted an actual keyboard, which is why I chose the Droid. I guess you can’t have everything…


First Gen American October 20, 2011 at 9:33 am

I used to work very closely with one of the biggest cell phone manufacturers. Most of the growth market for cell phones is in asia and in asia they change out their cell phones every 6 months. The minimum design life is ~ 6 months on certain phones which is just sad. I get blackberries through work and they also have held up pretty well and I beat the crap out of them. Unfortunately they are going the way of the dinosaur with all their outages and lack of web and app capability.


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:30 pm

My husband’s blackberrys have seemed to hold up well too, although he wishes he had a droid or iphone. Nothing is perfect I suppose.

6 months? That is ridiculous!


Eric J. Nisall October 20, 2011 at 9:41 am

I really haven’t had any issues with the quality of my phones themselves. I’ve had a couple batteries start to last shorter amounts of time, but that was the extent of my complaints. And, I beat the crap out of mine: tons of data usage, email, texts, social media stuff, evernote, you name it. Granted, I usually go for the higher-end models (but using wirefly or let’s talk I pay next to nothing) so that may be something to consider. I’ve definitely heard some complaints about cells not lasting terribly long, but those were normally the older-style “free with contract” types that aren’t very good to begin with.


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:28 pm

See, mine is a higher end phone and it is garbage. I too have had the battery that drained almost instantly, and that is just as frustrating. I have bought a couple batteries on ebay as it was much cheaper that way than to go through the manufacturer.

What is evernote?


Jacq October 20, 2011 at 9:46 am

Oh, I loved my blackberry but because of the points Sandy mentioned, I now have a droid. I could have (and did) write whole blog posts on my blackberry. Just can’t use a droid the same way.


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:26 pm

It seems like there is not one perfect phone, and that is a shame.


MoneyCone October 20, 2011 at 10:01 am

Have you been reading my mind Kris?! 🙂

Absolutely agree! I have a bunch of old cell phones made by different manufacturers and just for the heck of it, I tried each one out to figure out which one had the best reception since cell phone reception inside my house was kinda spotty. The results were quite surprising! There is an ocean of difference between cell phones made by different manufacturers both in terms of signal and call quality. (No, they are not synonymous!)

I actually ditched my sleek looking Blackberry and now use an old Nokia brick!


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:26 pm

I have been reading your mind MC. I too have been thinking of just ditching the fancy phone and resurrecting one of the old bricks I have in the home office. Maybe I will bring back my bag phone?


Liz October 20, 2011 at 10:17 am

Looking back on my history with cells phones since I first got one in 2000, my phone turnover has been 4 years, 4 years, 2 years, 1 year (and counting on my current iphone). The two that lasted 4 years I ended up getting rid of because I wanted something new not because they weren’t working, whereas my last phone died just shy of 2 years forcing me to upgrade.

Those old phones you could literally put through the wash and dryer and they would still function- as my brother once learned – whereas I cringe to think what would happen to my iphone if I ever did that!


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:24 pm

My son’s phone fell into a water hazard at the local putt putt course and came out working just fine. If I dropped my Droid in the water, it would probably explode on impact.

You have had some good luck too! I do think older phones were built to last longer than they are today, or at least it seems that way.


Money Beagle October 20, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Well, they know that people replace them so fast that why should they put the extra protection in to make it last any longer than that? In today’s disposable world, that’s the way things have become. Which is really sad.


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I totally agree with you Money Beagle. They know they have us, so they don’t have to worry about actually putting out a quality product, which is so sad.


Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager October 20, 2011 at 12:57 pm

I’ve been pretty lucky with my cell phones over the past couple of years. Never had any major problems or paid a ton to get a new one. My brother on the other hand goes through cell phones like candy it seems.


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm

I must be like your brother I guess. I really don’t talk on my phone much either, but I do text a bit. I don’t treat it poorly though, and you would think a phone would be strong enough to handle some texts everyday.


Squirrelers October 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I have a Droid X, got it in 2010. I am not a fan. The thing turns on by itself quite often, when I want the phone off. I never know when my attempts to turn it off will be successful, or if it will magically turn on again.

A week or two ago, the phone went totally dark, with just the logo on it. Nothing else, no buttons, apps, etc. Just dark w/the logo. Then I got a call, but had no idea who it was. I couldn’t answer it, since the screen was dark. Well, it answered the call and the other person (who I didn’t need to speak to) started saying “hello, hello..”.

My father got same exact phone last year, since he’s of course much older and in turn relies on my advice sometimes for technology. I feel bad, because he’s had problems too – just different ones.

Interestingly, my low tech phone that I had until mid-2010 worked really well without any malfunctions or strange things happening.

If I had to buy another phone (which I hope to next year if possible), my first instinct now would be to look at Apple. Depending on price compared to alternatives. I’ll be sure to read through reviews carefully, and not just buy a new phone to hit the market like I did before.


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I was torn between Iphone and Droid, but I really wanted a real keyboard with buttons, so I chose the Droid. Congrats to your dad for getting a high-tech phone, quite impressive. Maybe he would play ‘words with friends’ against me? 🙂


Heather October 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I had my first cell phone (in 2004) for three years. The next one I had for two and my current one I’ve had for two. The only reason I’ve gotten new ones at all is because I changed carriers and the phone I had wasn’t compatible with my new service provider. I have never had phones that were very fancy, but they make phone calls and send text messages, and that’s all I use it for. Having a phone that closes (flip or slide) helps keep the keypad and screen in good shape.


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Heather, you have had some great luck with phones, congratulations. I agree that having a ‘closable’ phone seems to make them last longer, although this Droid slides to close and I am not having much luck.


Ashley @ Everything Finance October 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm

The cell phone I have right now is at least 3 years old and still going strong although I’ve noticed lately that the battery life is getting uncomfortably short. It’s not a smart phone though.

The phone I had before this one only lasted a few months and then the speaker died and I couldn’t hear anything anymore.


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Ashley, it does seem to be hit or miss. I had a couple older phones that were great and would probably still work if I plugged them in. My last two phones were awful, then I had a good phone, then I had my terrible ‘Chocolate’.


retirebyforty@retireby40.org October 20, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I have a dumb phone (not smart) and it usually works quite well for 2-4 years. I just to use it to call and text. I’m in front of the computer all day anyway and don’t really want a smart phone. Maybe the cell phones are getting too complicated?


Kris October 20, 2011 at 8:17 pm

I think you are right RB40. My older phones did hold up much better than my more complicated phones did. I think my ‘chocolate’ was the worst though.


My University Money October 21, 2011 at 9:56 pm

I’ve been looking at getting an iPhone 4 (now that the 4S is out, I’m sure their price will come down dramatically). From all the reviews and anecdotes I’ve heard and read, the Apple customer service alone makes it worth it!


Kris October 23, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I just wish Apple iphones had a real keyboard. That is the only reason I chose the Droid.


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