When a Dumb Guy Buys a Smart Phone

For the most part, The Curmudgeon’s personality in person, as opposed to how he may come across in writing, is pretty much what you might expect of a writer: quiet, thoughtful, more observer than participant. He’s the kind of guy who thinks two’s company and three’s a mob and would rather go to the dentist than permit himself to be the center of attention. When the mood strikes him – and it seldom does – he can actually be quite entertaining: he does voices, he does imitations, he tells jokes, he likes puns, he’ll break out in song (but never does karaoke), he’s a natural storyteller, he does some shtick.

phone - frontWhile he occasionally feels that desire to entertain and go for the laugh, he has discovered over the past few years that he can get a laugh without saying a word – and no, it doesn’t involve dropping his pants: all he has to do is pull out his cell phone for all to see and laughter ensues. If you don’t believe him, take a look at his phone and judge for yourself. (He’ll pause for a moment while you compose yourself.) It’s not a flip phone – oh, how he misses his old flip phone – but it’s pretty much the same vintage.

The phone you see is an unsophisticated piece of equipment for an unsophisticated and mostly uninterested user. Until the very end, The Curmudgeon never averaged even a call a week on his cell phone; typically, it was more like a call a month. He liked to say that as far as he was concerned, his cell phone was for two things: emergencies and Chinese food. Only five or six people in the world had his cell phone number and he used a prepaid plan: $30 every three months, with every unused dollar rolling over indefinitely as long as you renew before the end of the three months. To give you an idea of how seldom he used the phone, his balance, at the time his final three months expired, was a hair more than $400. How many minutes does $400 buy? He never had any idea, mostly because it didn’t matter.

Even while marveling at what an extraordinary piece of technology the smartphone is, The Curmudgeon has always held smartphones in a bit of disdain – starting with the term “smartphone.” His beefs with the word are several, beginning with attributing to a device the human quality of intelligence. Phones are inanimate objects and neither smart nor dumb. His other beef: the very word “smartphone.” Do you think a guy who has railed not once, not twice, not three times, but four times about verbifications – and continues to accumulate material for an inevitable volume five – is going to accept a fabricated, silly word like “smartphone” without expressing outrage? “Smart phone”? Fine. But “smartphone”? No way.

palm pilotHe’s known for a few years now that he would eventually switch to a smartphone but he thought he still had a few more years before he’d need to do it. He knew he’d know when, just like he knew when the time was right to buy a personal digital assistant – oh, how he misses his Palm Pilot – and when the time was right to buy his first Kindle. A confluence of events in late summer and early fall, though, hastened his timetable: first, some ill health in the family made it necessary for him to communicate during the work day occasionally with his sister, who felt that communicating by text message was the best way to do this; second, his supermarket started making certain coupons available only electronically and only by presenting your phone at the check-out; and third, Verizon didn’t know a good thing when it had one and made the fatal mistake of increasing the price of a landline nearly thirty percent in less than two years and doing so conspicuously. The first time the first digit on his landline bill began with the number 8 The Curmudgeon knew the time had come to make the change.

So he then faced some of the decisions it seems as if almost everyone else has already made.

Which phone?

What provider?

What plan?

How much data?

(And what, for that matter, constitutes “data”?)

The Curmudgeon decided pretty early in the game that if he was in for a dime he would be in for a dollar and get rid of his home landline (another word that bothers him like fingernails on a blackboard). But could he somehow keep his landline number and make that his new cell phone number? Research project number one: Yes! It can be done. Very cool, so there’d be no need for a massive effort to inform people that he was changing his phone number (and taking all of their crap for finally getting around to having a cell phone at all, since he told most of the people in his life that he didn’t have one for the very simple reason that he felt no desire to be reached by phone when he was at the supermarket, on a date, at work, or any of a number of other places where we all grew up not needing to worry that someone was going to give us a call just to chat when we were in the middle of something infinitely more important, like choosing just the right flavor at an ice cream parlor (an easy choice: chocolate) or sitting on a beach.

When it came to selecting a telephone, he started with what he didn’t want: he wanted a telephone, not another computer. That meant no iPhone – or, for that matter, any other high-end cell phone. Except for a few people he knows for whom their phone is an important extension of their work, he has never seen the value of a telephone that costs more than a computer and does all sorts of nifty things that he’s never, ever going to want or need to do. No, he wanted something low-key and basic. Also, as a long-time user of Apple equipment, he’s seen that company force its customers to abandon their hardware (and sometimes even software) purchases too many times to get sucked into that vortex again. (Like how the next generation of iPhones apparently is going to lose the headphone jack. Don’t worry, folks: maybe you can sell your old headsets on eBay.)

So he did his homework, read a lot of reviews that didn’t help much, and came up with what looked like (or he guessed might be) the best low-key, low-cost phone: the Motorola Moto G.

Now we were getting somewhere.

Next he decided to figure out what kind of plan. Figuring out how much data to buy was the hard part because The Curmudgeon really had no idea, after he finally learned what constitutes “data” (do people really watch entire television programs or movies on their telephones? The same people who insist that forty inches is the smallest television they’d consider having in their home?), how much he would use his phone for anything other than phone calls and text messages. After about a week of research and thought he settled on two gigabytes a month, knowing that if he used less it wouldn’t be a lot of money wasted and that if he needed more, whichever carrier he selected would be happy to upgrade his plan.

After a few more days of research – this was never going to be a quick decision – The Curmudgeon decided to stick with Verizon, his dumb phone and landline carrier, figuring it might be easier to execute the transfer of his landline number into his cell phone number.

The Curmudgeon next decided that he didn’t want to finance his phone and just wanted to buy a phone outright and get a simple plan. He also decided that he wanted to deal with a local retail operation so there might be better access to service if he needed any kind of assistance. So instead of executing the entire transaction online, which left him uneasy anyway, he went to his local Verizon store. They grow like weeds where The Curmudgeon lives; there are two Verizon stores, in fact, within a mile of his home.

And this is where it started to get interesting.

When he spoke to a sales person at the Verizon store, that person was enthusiastic about working with him. What’s not to be enthusiastic about? The Curmudgeon is an absolute delight to deal with plus he had already picked his phone and his plan, so the fellow was in line for an easy, no-work commission.

The Curmudgeon had done his homework on the Moto G and found that while Verizon listed the phone for $200, it was available through Amazon for $160. Still, he wanted to buy it at the store to establish the relationship, and when he mentioned the disparity in price the sales guy seemed undaunted and suggested that Verizon would be happy to come down in price. While The Curmudgeon would have been happy if Verizon had met him in the middle, at $180, the fellow suggested that he might be able to match the Amazon price of $160. He needed to talk to his boss about it, he explained, so he took The Curmudgeon’s phone number and said he’d call with the answer.

“Only if it’s good news, right?” The Curmudgeon skeptically made a point of asking.

“No,” sales guy said, “either way. I’ll call you with the answer whether it’s what you hope to hear or not.”

It’s now nearly three months later and The Curmudgeon is still waiting for that return call (sort of like the Macintosh computer The Curmudgeon ordered at CompUSA back in 1992. He’s starting to lose hope about ever getting that call, though, inasmuch as CompUSA went out of business, probably deservedly so, back in 2007). Way to go, Verizon! You blew an opportunity to get an easy, paying client. (The Curmudgeon has written about Verizon before – you can find that here and here – and he has another Verizon story coming in the near future as well. These folks are as good a source of material as cable companies and Republican presidential candidates.)

Disappointed by Verizon, if not entirely surprised, The Curmudgeon decided to seek out a new carrier and settled on AT&T because unlike Metro PCS and T-Mobile, it offered the phone he wanted through its web site and this time around he decided to conduct his business through the web site. He ordered the phone and a few days later had it up and running. Miraculously, with a quick phone call his landline went dead and his cell phone line leaped to life using his long-time home phone number.

Oh, technology!

He liked the phone. It seemed to do everything he wanted it to do, plus it wasn’t huge, like those bricks people carry around with them that he views as chick phones because you need a purse to carry them. He went to Amazon and found some accessories to go with it: a headset – The Curmudgeon rarely talks on the phone for more than a minute or two without a headset – and a case, to protect the phone. The case arrived and he didn’t really care for it so he returned to Amazon to look at some more cases and noticed, from the rear view of some of the cases he viewed, that the Moto G phone he had was the Moto G first generation and that Motorola was up to generation three and that AT&T therefore had sold him an outdated phone.


So The Curmudgeon returned to the AT&T web site, found a congenial service representative for a live chat, and arranged to get the third generation phone for no additional cost with AT&T’s apology. All he’d have to do is receive the phone, charge it, and make a single call and the old phone would be deactivated and the new one activated, after which he would just return the old (two weeks!) phone to AT&T.

That’s all.

Alas, if only…

None of that worked as promised. Congenial service rep turned out not to be a very knowledgeable service rep. This time The Curmudgeon called AT&T and found a service representative who seemed to understand the problem – but had bad news: you couldn’t do what The Curmudgeon wanted to do without visiting an AT&T store. The Curmudgeon now had two reasons to be unhappy: first, the new phone, when he received it, was much bigger than the old one, and he thought he was going to need to go out and buy a purse to haul it around, or maybe a fanny pack – something that wouldn’t be a good look on him, what with his hips and all – and second, he now had to go to the store to complete the transaction.

Which he did, and it went well – in a manner of speaking: it was an unbelievably complex transaction that involved canceling the original account, starting a new account, making a purchase, having that entire purchase credited back to his credit card, and then having the phone activated. The service representative at the store – the third one to whom he spoke there because the first two had no idea what he was talking about – knew exactly what was needed and went to work, but the whole thing took a solid forty-five minutes. At the end of that time, though, The Curmudgeon had a working phone and went home, happy except for two things: the oversized phone, which didn’t even fit in the cargo pocket of his shorts, and the price, which, contrary to what he had been assured by not one but two service representatives, was more than he was led to believe it would be because that “with AT&T’s apology” service representative turned to have been blowing smoke up The Curmudgeon’s – well, you know, where the sun don’t shine.

But for once in his life he was too tired to argue about it.

So it looked like a happy ending – well, except for paying more than he wanted.

But then came the wedding.

(continued tomorrow)

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  • Barbara Snyder  On January 5, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    LOL The phone you traded in was the same phone I traded in in May 2015. I went to T-Mobile expecting to buy a smart phone. Then I saw the prices. No way in hell. I ended up buying a stupid phone for around $80. It’s an Android (I think) and it does everything I need. Unlimited calls and texts are $25 a month. I get some data too, but I don’t use it. Can’t wait for the next blog and the wedding. Thanks for today’s chuckle.

    • foureyedcurmudgeon  On January 5, 2016 at 11:17 pm

      If it’s Android, doesn’t that mean it’s “smart”? (Or maybe yours is semi-smart?)

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