About three months ago, I decided that I was officially sick of AT&T. It wasn’t just their crappy cell-service, and it wasn’t just their extremely hit-or-miss customer service that really pushed me over the edge, either; it was the highway robbery they call a monthly bill. I was paying upwards of $100 a month simply for the privilege of using an iPhone, and that was with the most bare-bones service plan they had to offer. No matter how fantastic the phone is, if the network is garbage, there really isn’t much enjoyment to be had, now is there?
This post started out simple, but wound up turning into a bit of an epic saga. My apologies to those interested; I usually try to keep things short and sweet, but this has been brewing for quite a while now. Warning: Long post is LONG.
Originally, I had an iPhone 3G — and it was great — but I was running it in an area of the country that was completely shunned by AT&T (Most of the South, anywhere but Atlanta). It was infuriating enough that the only usable data coverage was in the busy commercial areas, but I couldn’t even make or receive a phone call in just about any place that really mattered. There was absolutely no 3g coverage, despite the company’s assertions that large swaths of the South are covered.
Funny enough, I was living in Augusta, Georgia at the time, and AT&T made sure to have 3g vans stationed there every April for the Masters to give the countless golf-loving tourists the impression that the city of over 100,000 inhabitants wasn’t completely ignored. It’d just be a pity if Tiger didn’t have the fastest connection to check all his mistresses’ emails, wouldn’t it? Those portable towers disappeared as soon as the last rich guy packed his bags.
Afterwards, I moved home to California, to the San Francisco Bay Area of all places, and my cell-reception was equally shitty. That was almost too much to take, but as the iPhone 3GS was just coming out at the time, I stuck with the company for what I thought would be the long haul. Amazingly, the 3g coverage was so poor in the entire region that I found it was easier to simply turn it off, and run EDGE instead.
Then it came out that in order to acquire the 3GS, having not had the 3G model long enough for AT&T to allow me to upgrade, that I would have to open an entirely new line under my plan. The idea being that one line lay dormant, with a dead SIM card attached to the account, while I use my new 3GS on the other line of the new “family” plan all by its lonesome. The cost of that venture was an additional $15 or so a month, and about $200 for the phone at the local Apple store. It cost less to pull that swindle for a year than it would have cost to simply buy the phone outright and fork over the “early upgrade” penalty fees levied by AT&T — something which is beyond irksome since they don’t like people knowing the loophole even exists.
Note the five miraculous bars of reception; this photo was taken here in Seattle, NOT the SFBA.
So this was my phone, the iPhone 3GS, on AT&T’s hopelessly broken network, in one of the most tech-savvy areas in the world. I didn’t have one bar of reception standing outside, staring at the city of San Francisco laid out in front of me. The phone itself was fantastic. I won’t ever speak ill of the iPhone 3GS — it’s extremely fast, the camera works alarmingly well for such low technical specifications, and the iPod functions alone make it the best PMP I’ve ever had the privilege of owning.
Apple’s chokehold on the device, along with AT&T’s bottlenecking of its real-world capabilities, ate away at me as time wore on. Some months later, I moved again; this time to Seattle, another hotbed of technology and communications. Arriving here, I noted that my cell-reception was notably better than it was back in the Bay Area. While it wasn’t anything near stellar, I was seeing three bars steady, with bursts of five full bars from time to time — and I actually had functional 3g service most of the time. It was nice to finally experience something like the service that was promised to iPhone users across the country. Things were good, for a time.
I then realized just how unhappy I really was with that phone, on that network. In order to do some of the simplest things with my own iPhone, I was forced to jailbreak it, repeatedly, in a cat and mouse game that countless users continue to play to this day, in an uphill battle with Apple and its senselessly draconian firmware police. Why was I wasting so much time doing that? Was it worth it, just to have an easier time using things like Google Voice, or to have access to my own ringtones? I actually spent a great deal of time deciding whether or not it was, and it never added up.
It’s no secret that the iPhone’s core strength is the App Store. The App Store has indeed become a massive institution; there really are apps for nearly everything. They don’t lie when they claim it, the problem is that most of those apps are trashy, buggy, and overpriced. As if that weren’t bad enough, these same sniveling app developers have the nerve to embed ads in paid apps. That’s fine though, I could live with that. What I couldn’t handle was the sheer amount of stupidity run rampant on the platform. There are roughly 154.2 billion apps in the App Store, and only six of them are worth downloading. Note: My numbers may be highly inflated, but that doesn’t make the point any less true.
Nearly every single app available for the iPhone makes me reel in terror, at the horror of humanity’s downward spiral into endless fart-noise generators and rip-off duplicates of already buggy apps that may possibly prove somewhat useful once every three months. It came to a point that there really wasn’t any reason to continue carrying around a glorified iPod that cost me over $120 every single month.
I was tired of AT&T. I was tired of feeling limited by Apple, and unable to use my own phone the way I wanted to use it. I was tired of every braindead woo-girl on the street having the same phone as me, and acting like it suddenly made her not only “an Apple user” — but a “geek.” I grew to hate my iPhone. I hated what it stood for, I hated what it did to me, and I hated the way I felt every month when AT&T sent me a notice of assrape they politely call a bill, just so I could feel privileged enough to have an iPhone in my pocket. I had had enough.
After feeling dirtier and more taken advantage of with every passing month, I simply stopped paying AT&T. I didn’t call them to cancel my plan — not yet anyway. They’re in the middle of having their asses handed to them in court right now for their outlandish early-termination fees, so I figure I’ll let it sit a couple more weeks before officially notifying them of my departure from their network.
My iPhone had already updated itself to the newest firmware, which at the time of this post is 3.1.3, and in doing so had killed any chances of jailbreak for the foreseeable future. Apparently, the folks who usually crack the firmware so quickly after every update are holding back on this one, until Apple releases iPhone OS 4.0, meaning I had an iPod with worthless telephony hardware crammed inside its bulbous case. So I shelved it.
Then I went to T-Mobile and signed up for their cheapest Even More Plus plan, which at only $60/mo offers the very same thing that my $100/mo AT&T plan did, but doesn’t care what mobile device I’m using, and doesn’t require a contract. It took less than 15 minutes inside the local T-Mobile store to sign a piece of paper, pay the opening month’s fees, pick a phone number and walk out with a new SIM card. It felt amazing. I didn’t feel dirty anymore. I didn’t feel like I was being held at gunpoint just to have a cell phone. I was happy again.
Luckily, my girlfriend had a derelict BlackBerry Pearl 8100 buried in the closet. It took us about 15 minutes to get it unlocked, and the network picked it up almost instantly. We only had to let them know the device was a BlackBerry, and they set the data plan on the account to reflect it. The one and only drawback was that I could not have 3g access, since the phone wasn’t configured for T-Mobile’s 3g frequencies. Here’s the kicker: Despite recent reports, AT&T’s 3g network sucks. There’s just no other way to put it. Here in Seattle, on T-Mobile’s EDGE network, I experience speeds that feel exactly like those I had on the best of days using my iPhone 3GS on AT&T’s 3g network. That not only surprised me, but made me extremely happy with my decision.
About the Pearl: I had previously used a friend’s BlackBerry about two years ago (I think it was a Curve), and that was my one and only experience with a RIM device. I admitted at the time that the phone was nice, it felt solid, it was quick, beautiful and overall a nice smartphone experience. I never gave the BlackBerry line a second thought. This ancient Pearl, beat up, used and forgotten, didn’t make the greatest first impression when we got it charged and operating. That would quickly change.
The phone was in desperate need of software/firmware updates that stretched back to the time when vikings were building swiftboats. I had originally planned to use the phone sparingly as I waited for my iPhone to again be jailbreak-capable, but after some hefty updating, the Pearl came alive and wowed me. I never expected to be swayed to the Crackberry side of the field by a humble, busted-down Pearl 8100 — but it happened. The little phone quickly became comfortable in my hands; it was a bit sluggish due to lack of processing power, but once it was up and running, it just worked. I had push notifications, I had mobile web-browsing, I had Gmail and Google Voice at my fingertips and I even still had Foursquare. It surprised the hell out of me, to say the least.
After a week’s worth of heavy use, I decided that I truly enjoyed using a BlackBerry. I still love the iPhone as a device, I just don’t want to use one myself; not anymore. After some research, I found that the BlackBerry I would really love to use is the Bold 9000, now succeeded by the 9700. The bold had everything I wanted, along with the tactile roller-ball (I’m not quite down with the new miniature touchpad in the 9700).
It didn’t take long to see that there was a huge market for people who felt the same way I did about the device. Not only that, but there was an even wider market for people looking to buy, sell, or trade an iPhone 3GS. Craigslist led me to one such trader in the area who was looking to trade his Bold 9000 for an iPhone matching my own, so I set up the trade.
To anyone interested: There are people looking to buy iPhone 3GS handsets for upwards of $500 — it could be worth it if you are prepared for the haggling, flaky Craigslist used cell-phone crowd.
That’s right, iPhone purists, you can hate me all you want; I traded my iPhone for a two year-old BlackBerry Bold.
This phone is the most enjoyable smartphone I’ve had yet. The physical keyboard and tactile mouse not only allow me to do things just as quickly as the iPhone’s touchscreen, but I can type much more quickly and more accurately. The phone has WiFi, and as I stated before, T-Mobile’s EDGE network is just as effective as AT&T’s 3g in real-world use. The phone is unlocked and nobody sets up arbitrary rules or barriers regarding how I can use it. I love it.
There aren’t even a fraction of the iPhone’s available apps for me to choose from now, but the very few that I needed or wanted to use all have BlackBerry equivalents. The Bold has a microSD slot capable of up to 8GB storage, and since the phone charges with a universal miniUSB connection, I can use the entire phone as an 8GB pocket drive if I want to. It’s camera isn’t the 3GS’s, but it has a flash, which tends to make all the difference in real-world situations. It’s worldphone capable, and has equivalent processing power to that of the 3GS. Overall, it’s a matter of touchscreen vs. keyboard and App Store vs The Internet.
The BlackBerry has an LED. I know this sounds silly, even inane, but one of the things I always wished my iPhone had was a simple little indicator light; something to let me know there is a message waiting, as it sits on a desk and away from my pocket. Something that lets me miss the message tone and vibration, but not the message itself. It’s just one of those tiny things that makes all the difference to me. Is that ridiculous? I don’t think so.
There are untold numbers of simple tones floating around the Internet that I can grab and use for any number of different alerts my phone gives me. I’m not stuck with the choice of gaudy, tacky Cupertino Specials that came with the iPhone, or a 15 second burst of flat-sounding music from the iPhone’s terribad speaker. Seriously, have you ever tried using the iPhone’s speaker? It sounds like somebody strapped a rusty tin can to the PC speaker of a Packard Bell from 1993 and forced it to somehow play music. It’s terrifyingly bad.
I love Apple. I love Apple hardware, whether it’s the iPod, MacBook, iMac, you name it. They’re fantastic machines, with beautiful, functional design backing solid engineering. I believe that OS X is hands down the best operating system in use today. I think that it gets a bad rap from clueless wannabe “geeks” that shop at Apple Stores and think that it’s a glossy, dumbed down version of Windows that only sorts and creates music and videos. I get angry when ignorant fools downtalk the cleanest UNIX OS I’ve ever seen.
I swear by my Mac, through and through. What I don’t stand behind is Apple’s behavior in the last two years. I don’t like the crowd the company is gathering. I don’t like the image it’s presenting (seriously, did you see the “Youth Programs” they’ve instituted?). I don’t like how it’s getting to the point that I will not, under any circumstances, state in a public venue that I am a Mac user, not because of the usual Microsoft fanboys that would hurl stones at me, but because I don’t want to be associated with the throngs of dimwits who would leap to their feet and declare that they, too, are “Macs” because they bought a MacBook Pro to show off at the local Starbucks and know how to open Safari.
So this is it, this is the first step. Hopefully it’s the last, because I don’t want to continue down the path of Apple Abandonment. There is a followup post coming soon about a recent experience with the Apple Store of Bellevue, Washington — an experience that really helped solidify my growing resentment of something I once held so dear. I’m trying not to hate Apple, I really am. I want to love Apple; I want it to be the way it used to be. Unfortunately, at this point in time it feels like Mister Jobs is deliberately shunning the most important piece of the puzzle — OS X — in his quest to take over the unconquerable mobile phone market. He’s alienating the people who believed in the company when iPods were still three pound white bricks with a tiny share of a huge PMP market.
I don’t like it, and I’m a Mac.