Saturday, October 6, 2007

Verizon: It's not all about the network anymore.

There's been a lot of stories going around about Verizon Wireless's anti-consumer practices of locking out handset features and several rants about their yet-to-be-released Smartphones being a year behind the competition.

I am a Verizon Wireless customer. I've been using a horrible Motorola E815 phone for the last couple of years. My next phone will be a Windows Mobile or similar device.

I've been with Verizon since the Air Touch days. I had one of their top calling plans and as a result was given a "perk" of the 3-ring 611 call (this essentially means when dialing *611, the phone was answered in three rings by a human being who ... most of the time ... could solve whatever question I had). Air Touch had customer service, good network coverage in my area and after their purchase by Verizon, coverage only got better. And lets face it, if your coverage is good, you're not calling Customer Service often. Verizon put their effort into a digital network and gave several of its customers free digital phones (with a contractual commitment). They were on the bleeding edge both in terms of network quality and the devices they offered their customers.

I would laugh at my friends who chose Nextel, or Ameritech (Cingular now AT&T) and T-Mobile, but they'd rarely hear my laughs because the it was far less often that their phones actually had a signal. Verizon was more costly, but if you wanted to actually use your phone, you went with Verizon in my area.

Late last year, my mother decided to switch to T-Mobile. I did everything in my power to stop her, as I remembered how poor T-Mobile signals were around here. Several months after purchasing her new phone I was surprised to find out that she has had no coverage issues. Another friend of mine decided on the iPhone (booming voice is heard as he says the words, as the expectation is that everyone around him is secretly envious). AT&T Wireless prior to Cingular had nearly the worst signal quality in my area (and I'm told much of the rest of the country). They were terrible, but since purchasing ... well ... everyone, AT&T's network is great here as well.

In fact, other than "Hello? ... can you hear me? I can hear you. You're breaking up. %$^#!" Sprint/Nextel , I don't know of anyone experiencing problems more or less problems than anyone else with their wireless service. And I'll assume that Sprint/Nextel figures their problems out in the short-term as well.

So if you're not going to lose a customer because of call quality . . . why would you lose a customer?

Locked Down Devices and Lack of Selection

Back to my E815 for a moment. I picked this phone up because the Motorola web site indicated it supported Bluetooth OBEX (transfer of pictures/ringtons to/from your PC without using "The Network"), and Bluetooth Dial-up Networking (allowing you to connect a PDA, laptop or other device to the internet without a USB wire). Of course, I knew that Verizon would kill these features in the production model, but a couple of well documented hacks existed for the early firmware versions. Mind you, a firmware upgrade will break Dial-up, so I'm running the initial release revision.
The phone itself, sucks. I bought it for those two features because I have a PDA, and a nice wireless headset, so I don't have to touch it very often. This is good, since setting it down on a table sideways causes it to shut off.

While they attempt to lock out features on the PDA phones, it is far less common since the devices cost more and run an OS that they don't direct control over. Of course, Apple changes the rules, or maybe Apple customers are simple-folk. I never imagined I'd see a day when someone would be willing to pay $500 (or $300 for that matter) for a phone that they'd have to break into in order to install software ... and still have to sign a contract.

It's an unfortunate trend, and I really, sincerely hope Apple loses because if they win, we all lose. The expectation that you'd be able to install software to your PDA/Smartphone or that you'd have most of the features "left alone" will be something that we will not be taking for granted. The good news is that it appears everyone but Verizon has discovered the only way to differentiate themselves from the Executive Jewelry that is the iPhone is to offer devices that are bleeding edge and flexible.

Even the Exclusive iPhone Vendor of the United States of America AT&T (EiVUSAT&T for short) seems to have gotten it with the "Tilt". This product is about two generations ahead of the VX6800. And now T-Mobile is releasing some new WM Smartphones (though, admit it, their selection has been lacking). Sprint, with their "lack of a network" network has also been ahead of the curve on new devices compared with Verizon.

Verizon has the fastest data network (for now), but they have equivalent phone coverage in my area. They've put the cart before the horse, though, because the phones they're releasing can't crunch the web pages at the speed they're downloaded. And what's the point of all that speed if the phone is running a crippled OS, or one that is so outdated that it doesn't let me actually take advantage of "the network".

Bottom line: In my area, the network doesn't matter. And my contract's up. TTYL Verizon Wireless.

A word about Seagate RMAs

After having been through quite an episode with some bad hardware causing other bad hardware, I had the pleasure of dealing with the Seagate RMA department for warranty repair.
My drives were about 2 years old and the process was incredibly simple. Put in a serial number, a model number, box it up and go.

The only cost was shipping it to them. They paid for the return shipping of my refurbished drive and shipped on the day my bad drive was received.

While filling out the online warranty repair forms, I received a notice asking if I'd prefer to upgrade my drive instead. The upgrade cost was $99.00 for a 500GB Refurbished SATA2 drive. The price was the same for both my 400GB and 300GB drive, both of which were also SATA2. Interestingly, at the time of the replacement, NewEgg was selling brand new OEM 500GB SATA2 drives for the same price, so this upgrade was less an upgrade and more of an upsell.
I had a dead 400GB from another PC, along with a 300 and 400GB drive from the HTPC and in both cases the 400GB drives were replaced with 500GB drives despite my not choosing to spend $99.00 on an upgrade. Your results may vary.

For those of you wondering if it's worth the $20 bucks for a cross ship, I can't tell you. I chose the standard replacement method. I shipped three drives USPS Priority, they arrived at the Texas facility within 3 business days and replacements were sent back UPS Ground, arriving back at my house (which is a max of 5 days depending on where you live).
Not a bad turn around. They're either really quick at identifying bad drives, or they don't bother checking. Considering they probably sell a lot of $99.00 upgrades, I'm guessing they don't put a lot of time into validating whether or not the drive they received is actually dead, though there's really no point in returning a good drive since the warranty on the refurbs is 90 days or the end of your warranty period on the drive you sent in, whichever is later.