The world of cell phones has some things in common with the computing world, including the sense of dread and helplessness that weakens the knees when we walk into the stores. Here’s a few things that came up during too many hours at the Verizon Wireless store this weekend.

  • There simply is no answer to the question, “How much is it?” The variations in price are breathtaking. Prices for phones by themselves, without extending your contract for another two years, are absurdly high. If you can swallow the contract extension, you enter a blur of rebates and promotional offers that are never straightforward. Our salesman gamely described the price for a phone, and a mail-in rebate for good citizenship, and another hundred dollar rebate if we signed up for the required monthly data plan – but came back later with, “Oops, that’s only a fifty dollar rebate because it’s a secondary line, not a primary line, I mean, obviously, right? Oh, and you have to switch to the Nationwide Choice plan, which is the same price and has the same features as the America’s Choice plan, we just gave it a different name to screw with you.” Whatever. Present the credit card and sign whatever is handed to me, like just about everyone else there.
  • Virtually every non-PDA phone is designed for children. There are no cell phones for people who really only want to use their phones to make phone calls.
  • More and more phones are designed with slideout QWERTY keyboards. Most of them are ergonomic disasters. You cannot choose a phone with a keyboard unless you stand in the store holding it, trying to type on the keyboard!
  • Phones with a two inch display cannot display very much onscreen that’s interesting or useful. That doesn’t change just because the screen is rotated ninety degrees. Switching from portrait to landscape to gain an extra half inch of width does not improve an unreadable web page.
  • glyde_open_2 Do not underestimate the carriers’ willingness to hold you up for a few more dollars! Our new Samsung Glyde comes with a USB cable – but it does not register as a “mass storage device” when it’s connected to a computer. In other words, it doesn’t show up as a drive – there is no way to copy photos or music to and from the phone. Verizon wants to charge you to upload the photos to its online gallery; Verizon wants you to install its proprietary music software and sell you music from the Verizon store. Ringtones? No way you’re gonna use your own music – buy ’em.
  • Some phones have slots for “MicroSD cards,” where music and pictures can be stored. (At least that way you can get them on and off the phone using a computer.) Did you know there were “MicroSD cards”? Little, tiny fingernail sized things. Are they the same as “MiniSD cards” Good god, I don’t know. (But I can look it up. Answer: no.)
  • Hey, I’ve gotta tell you a funny story. I got a new camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 – great camera, really small but the image stabilization feature in new cameras is a big deal. I read that the camera takes better quality short movies with an “SD-HC” card, capable of storing video at higher speeds. The SD-HC cards are rated by speed – 2, 4, 6. This was all news to me. What? So I bought a 4Gb SD-HC card and took some pictures and plugged it into the card reader on the computer and it couldn’t read it. Hmm. Tried a couple of other SD card readers – nope, can’t read it. No, the “SD-HC” cards needs a new generation of card reader – the card reader on the computer is ancient, probably more than a year old. Had to figure out what adapter to buy before I could get the pictures off the camera. Ha ha! Isn’t technology fun! I was laughing, you betcha.
  • Blackberries look great. They don’t work the way you think they do. You’ve been warned!
  • Q-9M_Front_1, 6/8/07, 3:56 PM,  8C, 5612x3177 (219+2479), 100%, Custom,  1/15 s, R62.3, G49.6, B77.9<br />” src=”” width=”136″ align=”right” border=”0″></a> Windows Mobile phones work seamlessly with Small Business Server, for my business clients. I can set them up in two minutes to sync your Outlook email/calendar/contacts over the air. We got another <a href=Motorola Q – now a couple of years old but still a sleek, straightforward design. It does not have a touchscreen but I’ve come to think of that as an advantage after trying many quirky touchscreens. The Q9m on sale now at Verizon has a horrible “multimedia” home screen that might rear its ugly head with a single errant click, but the same click sends it back to the normal Windows Mobile screen. For fifty bucks more, the brand new Q9c adds a GPS function to the phone. Verizon likes the GPS feature. It will charge you a monthly fee to use it. Of course.


Does everyone know this but me?

Verizon erects new towers, signs new deals with other carriers to share towers, and changes its roaming areas pretty regularly.

Your phone doesn’t know that until you manually update it.

In your home area, dial *228 and choose option 2. If you’re lucky, your signal will improve because your phone has learned about a nearby tower that it wasn’t previously using.

Verizon recommends doing this every three months. Here’s Verizon’s FAQ about the “Preferred Roaming List” update.

Maybe it’s just me, but this is the weirdest thing I’ve heard in a long time. So I’m going to drive by Verizon towers but my phone ignores them because it’s not smart enough? Get outta here.

The salesman assured me that my signal strength would improve because of all the towers Verizon had added west of Sebastopol.

I pushed *228 and updated my phone and drove home breathless with anticipation, and he was just kidding, of course. If I’m talking to you on my cell phone, the call will still be dropped just when you’re about to tell me the punchline.

Happy cell phone shopping!

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