In the Suburbs / 'Cellmates' lament: Nothing's simple at the phone store
My wife announced Sunday that we were both eligible for upgrades on our cellphones, and she had recently learned that we didn't have to take the top-of-the-line models. I told her that as long as the monthly bill didn't go up, we could upgrade and the process would probably be simple.
We went our carrier's local store on Monday about 11 a.m., prepared for a short visit. We didn't get out of there for two hours.
What's wrong with that picture? The answer was simple: Nothing is simple anymore.
Selecting our new phones was the easy part. My wife had her heart set on an iPhone and our young sales rep was very courteous -- and patient. He pointed her in the direction of the slightly older (let's call them "certified pre-owned") iPhones, explained the upgrade fees, advantages and disadvantages of each model.
My wife chose an iPhone 4, a sleek white box with a zillion apps, guaranteed to be very easy to use. Cost of upgrading would "only" be $130. Then add the package with the home and car chargers, protective coating on the glass, phone case and other little goodies, and the price jumped right up.
My choice was easy also. There was a neat Samsung 4G model with the same bells and whistles as my current Droid. The upgrade again seemed easy enough until the salesman asked for my Gmail address. Whoops. I had thrown away the card with my Google user name and password from the Droid only a month ago and couldn't remember either. After trying endless combinations of user names and passwords, I threw up my hands in despair.
Our ever-patient sales representative just smiled and politely suggested that I contact Google and get things straightened out so I could begin to download apps. By that time an hour had passed.
We had paid for the two upgrades and were waiting for training to begin when the sales representative returned sheepishly to explain that he had accidentally charged a less-expensive phone to my wife's card, and when he tried to add the additional money for the more expensive model, her card was declined. We would have to return the next day to finalize the purchase, and he would then train my wife on her new iPhone. Uggh.
Fast forward to the next day, and we arrived at 11:30 to meet again with our sales rep, but he was a little delayed with work out back. Meanwhile, I already had questions about my phone, so another rep helped me out.
For instance, my charming phone, I discovered, had a built-in word prediction capability for texting. When I tried using the text keyboard the night before, the phone was way ahead of me, inserting wrong words as I was typing and correcting. The rep politely turned the feature off. I also couldn't figure out how to get the phone to vibrate, and he showed me that I simply had to click on the volume button.
I thought I'd solved my with Gmail amnesia when I'd called in the evening before and the tech helped me bypass Google and get right into my Yahoo account. But this rep reminded me that without a Gmail address, I'd never be able to access any of the apps on my phone. I was ready to run screaming into the parking lot.
Meanwhile, while we waited we were treated to a conversation between a really nice woman and a technical rep as she expressed anger and frustration about not being able to pay her bill with cash and get change.
Finally, after an hour and a half with our carrier on Day 2, my wife had the right phone, the right training and the right price. Now, we could leave and get into more of the trouble that only bumbling, non-techie seniors can make.
And to think, all we wanted was a lousy upgrade on our phones.
As we left, I was suddenly feeling very old, knowing that I used to work for the inventor of the first cellphone, Martin Cooper, at Motorola. Introduced in 1973, that phone was a big box by today's standards. And who would have thought that the sleek, 21st-century devices that evolved from it would wreak so much havoc on innocent customers?
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.