Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Life as an outlaw - my experience buying a grayish market phone

How does a mild-mannered gray haired middle-aged guy become an outlaw? Well, in my case fighting with Apple's FairPlay DRM and struggling with my cellular carrier are leading me towards the darkseid.

My most recent experience was with the premature demise of my wife's coddled cellphone. Barely a year old the Samsung flip phone was malfunctioning. A far cry from the Nokia brick that was once stolen, tossed out a car window down an embankment, recovered from the mud days later, and worked flawlessly.

So I needed a replacement phone. I wanted the exact phone I have, the almost-great Samsung PalmOS (Grafitti ONE) SPH i500 so we could share accessories, chargers, etc. The phone would also replace her 1 year old CLIE TJ-27, famed for shoddy quality and the worthless needle stylus from heck. (Hmm, notice a trend here?).

Sprint, alas, had kiled the i500. There's no heir. The next closest thing costs $550 (Sprint rips off customers with the replacement phones). That did it. I wasn't going to spend that much on the infamously unreliable Treo, and we didn't have time to futz figuring our alternatives. Froogle and Pricescan only found eBay phones. I snapped and went to eBay.

There, with great reluctance and some research, I bought a 'refurbished' i500 from the most reliable seeming vendor I could find. I was forced to reactivate PayPal, a vendor I loathe almost as much as Sprint. (Hmm. George Bush. PayPay. Sprint. I think I'm getting seasonal affective disorder ...)

I purchased a phone from KMElectronics:
KM Electronics i500 Samsung Phone: Samsung SPH i500 Palm PDA Color Cell Phone Sprint - New: "YOUR PURCHASE INCLUDES-
1. Samsung i500 Phone & PDA
2. AC Charger
3. New Stylus & New Rechargeable Battery (jf: extended duration, not Samsung battery. The battery is huge; it makes the phone too thick for my use. So you have to budget for a new more useable battery too!)
4. New USB Cradle
5. Software / Manual on CD
6. For use with the Sprint PSC Network

(When new this phone came with two styli, a wrist cord, an ultra-slim and a reasonable sized battery, manuals, etc.)
Turns out the phone is $8 cheaper on their web site, it was $146 on eBay plus $12 to ship.

The good news is Sprint activated the phone without any problem or questions. Stolen phones with invalid ESN numbers is the big fear in this marketplace. In this case the ESN number was very hard to read (oddly poorly printed, I wonder if it was really the original ....) and the first reading I gave was invalid. Sprint didn't mention charging me, there's usually at least a $25 charge for a phone switch.

The bad news is that KM Electronics sent the wrong CD. Since I already have the CD this isn't a big deal for me, but it would be exceedingly annoying if I didn't. Also, a couple of buttons on the front of the phone are missing their labels. Too aggressive polishing?

The phone looks good and so far works well. I'll post an update on my further adventures in the twilight zone ...

Update 11/23/05: Alas, the digitizer is defective. Lost that gamble!

Update 11/23/05: More on this in my next post (on eBay and PayPal), but I did figure a way to work around the 'dead zone' on the i500. I can get most tasks done by using the OK/Cancel buttons on the phone and the option menus in the applications. I did receive a usenet report of a similar problem with a 'new' Samsung i500 bought a few months ago. Since the terms of service of KM Electronics made pursuing this with them a very costly and annoying option I think I'll see how well we can make this phone work.

Update 11/24/05: I do very much like having the same phone for both us, and being able to beam addresses between them, share batteries and retractable charge/sync cables, etc.

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