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AT&T's World too Small for iPhone?

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By Goofyhoofy
September 4, 2007

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So I'm going up to Boston next week because we've lost our tenant of 11 years, and the condo we (still) own up there probably needs work. Since a lightning strike took out my laptop and I'm still sporting a 2000 model Motorola StarTac for a cell phone, I was resigned to being off the grid for several weeks, and that was that.

But then I "happened" to wander into the Apple store and picked up an iPhone and toyed around with it. "$599, are they crazy? I'm not going to pay that for a PHONE!" So an hour later (heh) I walked out of the store, empty handed, but at least I'd seen one. Heck, my wife's boss got one (two, actually) on the first day, and she's been raving about it ever since.

Well, anyway, I had to go to the mall the next day for something else, although I really can't remember what, and there I was in the Apple store, diddling around with the iPhone again. The salesman, Chris, grinned bigger than Alice's Cheshire Cat as he spotted me, and he sidled over and proceeded to show me a couple of the other features I'd managed to overlook.

OK, another half hour, and I walked out, walked the length of the store to Brookstone, bought a $20 hand-held battery fan, pivoted and headed back to the Apple store and had Chris put an iPhone in a bag for me. Plus a car charger, plus a bluetooth headset, plus a year of AppleCare, plus I don't even remember what else, plus tax, and it was $817 to get out of the place. 30 day return, 10% open box restocking fee, AT&T contract required, blah blah blah.

Sadly, I was starving, so I headed to the food court for some greasy finger food, and there's no way I'm going to break the box open that way, so it sat there, beckoning me, which is to say I wolfed down the food and hit the street.

I've read stories about "the packaging" - and they're not wrong. The box and the accoutrements are as engaging as the phone itself. OK, not really, but close, and I took great care getting each piece out of it's oh-so-careful wrapping and plugged it all in. Cool!

And now on my screen, as the iPhone launches iTunes, I get a message "Unknown Error 0xE800002" in a Macintosh dialog box. So I unplug everything, plug it back in, and get "Unknown Error 0xE800002" again. I call the store, which forwards me to AppleCare, and the guy and I spend an hour trying to figure it out. "That's a Windows error code", he explains. "Good," I say. "I'm on a Mac." "Really?" he says. "Really."

After rebooting, restarting, repreferencing, we decide to quit iTunes, delete it, redownload it, reinstall it, and voila, I have an iPhone! Yippee! I'm not even pissed about the hour sucked out of my life with a Windows Error Code in the middle of my Mac screen.

I go through the activation process and realize that the monthly charges are going to be far (that's far) higher than I am used to paying, but I don't care. Really, I don't. I activate, and all is right with the world.

I call my landline, talk to my answering machine. I call from my landline, and talk to myself with a phone in each hand. I am deliriously happy, but Mrs. Goofy is at a conference and my best friend is out for the afternoon, so I have no one to talk to except my parents, who will not understand that I am not calling them to actually talk, just to gurgle, and they're 88 or so so they can barely hear me anyway. Heck, they can barely hear anything.

Well anyway, now I set about dumping a ton of music onto the wafer, and maybe a few videos just to show off, and some pictures, of course, and I spend the next couple hours learning to use the keyboard and playing with all the features, especially the ones I'll probably never use again. And it is wonderful.

And so I chew through the better part of a Wednesday, and I can finally talk to Mrs. Goofy at her conference; it's now 10:30 at night. Geez, maybe it's too late to call. Nah, and I push the magic buttons and get "Call Failed" on the screen.

Whaaa? I look, and in the upper left corner it says "No service."

Whaaa? I walk around the house, and no matter where I go, it says "No service."

I walk outside, I walk to the second floor, I think about climbing on the roof, it says "No service." Well this is bullspit. Maybe it's my fault. I turn the phone off, do some of the magic "reboot" stuff the AppleCare guy taught me; nothing. I call the AT&T help line, they're closed, of course.

I go to bed, dejected, and happen to wake at 5:15AM. The AT&T help line doesn't open until 7, so I go about my business, and wait, the phone is showing bars. Not many - actually just about 1/2 of 1, but it's a BAR! I call myself, and talk to myself through my landline. I use the landline to call the iPhone, and it works!.

7:00 comes and goes, it's time to walk the dog, I take the phone with me and it says "No service." At two places in the neighborhood I get "bars" (1/2 of 1) and I am able to make a call to make an appointment for our cats later in the day at the vet. Then it returns to "no bars."

At 8:00 I call the AT&T line, and politely but briefly, she suggests I call Apple, "because it sounds like an equipment problem." But I don't have the number, and I am too frustrated to look it up, so I wait for the store to open and "Punch 2 to be transferred to AppleCare," which I do.

Now I don't think "No service" is Apple's problem, but the guy walks me through turning Airplane Mode off and on, turning the whole unit off an on, etc. and it still says "No service." While I am on the phone with him, I go back to the AT&T coverage map (www.att.com/support) and notice that there are four levels of coverage: "Best" "Good" "Moderate" and "none", which is mostly in Nevada, apparently. I'm in "moderate", but the Apple guy says that's baloney, they take those measurements in the middle of winter when there are no leaves on the trees, and then when the leaves come back out, you're screwed.

And I'm screwed. I have no signal, and a $817 substandard iPod which can rarely, but occasionally make a phone call. And I'm out $80 worth of "restocking fee", plus the hassle of returning it, and the hassle of closing the AT&T account, and blah blah blah, and I'm bummed.

But the experience in the Apple Store is delightful; Chris sees me walking back in with the bag in my hand and he knows it's trouble. And they wave the restocking fee and they're really really sorry, but no, they don't know any 17 year-olds with a soldering iron so I can use the phone with Verizon, and that's that.

Now since I've moved my old cell number to the iPhone, and I want to keep it, I have to go to Verizon to make the switch back. Which they will do, except they're "not permitted" to reactivate my old StarTac because it doesn't comply with some FCC regulation about 911 or something, but they'll be only too happy to sell me a new "compliant" phone and grab my number back.

Well, this story has gone on much too long already (if you think this is long, you should have lived it), but suffice it to say that I walked out of the Verizon store down about $500, between phone, case, spare battery, 2GB memory card, paying the old bill, paying the new bill upfront and all that etcetera.

$500 bucks, and I have a really nice KRZR or whatever the dogamn thing is called, with a tiny screen and you can't see a damn thing and there's no keyboard and the songs don't import from a Mac (there's a really kludgy workaround), and blah blah blah. I'm out 5-large, I'm locked for two years, and I don't have an iPhone.

Life sucks sometimes and this is one of the times. I'd have you call me to give me some sympathy, but I'd have to use the dogamn KRZR and it would just piss me off. I could "txt msg" u, but y shud I? And web access? Is there a website that fits on a postage stamp? Motorola should include a wallet magnifier if they're trying to sell this thing as "web compliant." Looks like I'm untethered for a few weeks after all.

Oh, on my way out of the Apple Store, feeling so good about my treatment there, I had Chris walk me over to the video iPods. Nope, screen's too small. I'll wait. Given the reception for the cool screen on the iPhone, no way Stevie doesn't put a big hawker on the iPod pretty soon (and maybe some of the other features too), and I'll be there to buy one. Maybe he could sneak a phone in the case somewhere and sell it with some other carrier?

Just an idea.

Steve, you listening?


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