T-Mobile, the un-carrier, is just like the others

5055w_front_back-groupRegular readers of this blog know I am a Windows Mobile user and, dare I say, fan.  I am on my third Windows Mobile phone now (Two Nokia’s and one Alcatel-Onetouch) Two of the phones I used on T-Mobile and one on Verizon.  My experience with Verizon was, I thought, the pits.  This company cares nothing about any of its users except for those using Apple products. Android and other devices are treated like second rate citizens.

So, after getting fed up with Verizon’s treatment of the Windows Mobile devices, I decided to buy into John Legere’s statements about the un-carrier, T-Mobile. Now, I had used them while on Sprint.  I got a Nokia Lumia 521 to see if I would even like Windows Phone (as it was called then) and, if I did, perhaps I would switch us over to them. Well, the Icon was released on Verizon and that was the phone I wanted anyway. So, once my Sprint contract was up, I went to Verizon.  That was prior to realizing just how poorly they treat their customers and what they thought of anything other than Apple. I should have known when the salesperson laughed when I asked about the Windows stuff.

When my Icon got to the point where it was only staying charged for a few hours, I decided to jump to T-Mobile, they had just gotten the Alcatel Onetouch Fierce XL with Windows 10.  Not a terrific phone, but it was more up to date and fairly cheap, $140 US. So, I switched.

After a few days, I realize the coverage really isn’t that great.  Then I got an email inviting me to use a couple of apps to make the experience better. Guess what? Those apps were for iOS and Android. Guess how many apps they have for Windows Mobile? TWO.  The account app, which is just a wrapper for the mobile ‘My T-Mobile’ site and the TV app.  Thanks, t-mobile.

Then, because I selected the 3gb Simply Prepaid plan, I discover I am not eligible for the Binge On feature they so heavily promote. Now I feel like I’ve been mislead.

Then, Mr. Legere want’s to ‘thank’ everyone for using T-Mobile. Great.  I go to participate only to hit road block after road block.  There’s no app for the Windows or Blackberry devices, so you are directed to a crappy web site. I go there, only to be told I am in-eligible because…get this…I am PREPAID.  I have to use the APP for that. Buuuut….there’s no app for my device.  Seriously? So, I take to Twitter. Bitterly complaining, even whining about it.  At that point, I wasn’t so much interested in free stuff (though that is always a good thing, right?) but was more upset over the misleading ads, tweets and bs from T-Mobile about this and everything else. It was, as they say, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I got some nice responses from T-Mobile’s Twitter response team. They even gave me free Pizza from Domino’s, which my family thoroughly enjoyed.  I was told the ‘problem’ was fixed, I’d be able to participate.

So…it’s T-Mobile Tuesday again and I try. And get the same ineligible message I got the first time. So, back to Twitter.  Direct Message, then tweeted it.  I got a response:

“I care about you and want to make sure you can properly get thanked for being a T-Mobile customer.  Currently prepaid can only play on the app versions.  I know this is never fun hearing when you have a device that this does not work with.  I care about you and we love having you as a customer.  I have offset your account with a $40 credit as a one time courtesy to show you that we truly value you as a customer. 

Your current plan does not have Binge On, but it does have Data maximizer: If you activated a Simply Prepaid plan on or after January 24, 2016, then you already have our Data Maximizer, a network enhancement that optimizes all detectable video streaming to DVD-quality (typically 480p or better). This feature is automatically enabled, allowing your high-speed data to last up to 3 times longer.  We do have Binge on available on our $65 North american prepaid plan that includes 6GB of web and I would be delighted to help change to that plan,  if that is something that you would like.
*NevinB”

So, while they gave me a forty dollar credit-thanks for that-I am told, bluntly, that I’m not good enough because of my device and plan selections, even though they had said ‘all customers’ and I was told specifically, that it was fixed. I was also told that prepaid or not, I should be able to use the web site.  Basically, they lied.

“Everything should be working now can you give Firefox another go and try Chrome for us as well? If it still fails can you provide us your version numbers for both browsers? We’ll keep working on this until you are a part of T-Mobile Tuesdays and get to join in on all the great merch! Additionally can we give you a call tomorrow and start setting things right? A time including your time zone would be greatly appreciated.  *KeithM”

Again, it isn’t about getting something for nothing. It’s being mislead and outright lied to…by the help desk staff, by the ads and by Mr. Legere himself.  So, like Sprint and Verizon, if you don’t get their expensive plan and phone, then you don’t matter.

As for the wrong platform, that’s just nonsense…Microsoft offers tools that takes iOS app source code and converts it UWP code. From what I understand, it is a rather straightforward process and does not take a lot of time.  There are several apps out in the Windows Mobile store that were developed this way…the latest Candy Crush Saga games were done this way as well as some banking and other non-gaming apps.

I did go back and look at the Binge On ad…buried in the very fine print, they do specify the plans it applies to…but the ads and Legere’s Tweets, imply otherwise.  Same for this current promotion.  Now I know that in any future promotion, I will be treated the same. Unless I buy an iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S whatever and go on an expensive $65 a month plan.

No thanks.

AT and T, can you do better?

EDIT: After posting this, I get the following direct message from them:

Hey there George! We truly appreciate your business and want to make sure we are 100% on the same page moving forward. As a prepaid customer to take advantage of T-Mobile Tuesdays you must use the app versions. At the present time we only have Android and iOS apps. The great news is you can still participate in all of the fun over at https://t.co/pH3K6qyHYC You can view a list of the web requirements here: https://t.co/vgHFxiRCp3 Please let us know if you have any additional questions or concerns. We are here for you. *JasonY

In effect, they consider me a non-customer as that site is for some drawing for non-customers.  Nice.

Windows Mobile 10: Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL

5055w_front_back-groupI’ve been using the Fierce XL with Windows Mobile 10 for almost a month now.  I bought the phone from T-Mobile to temporarily replace my now ailing Lumia Icon from Verizon.  As Verizon no longer considers Windows a viable platform for them, I went to T-Mobile who is still friendly toward the mobile operating system. 

The Fierce XL from Alcatel OneTouch was $140 (US) to buy out right.  No contract and a $40 a month plan made it a nice deal.  So, how does it compare to my old Icon?

Well, not very well.  And that is just fine.  The Icon was a ‘flagship’ , that is, it was considered a premium phone with premium features.  The Fierce XL is not.  It does, however, have some features that were, previously, a premium feature, like 2GB of RAM and a large HD display. It also came with Windows Mobile 10.  So, it is not quite a slouch but no high end phone either.  I knew this going in.

In most respects, it is a good device.  Not as fast as the Icon, not as slow as my even older Lumia 521 or iPhone 4.  In terms of performance, it is closer to an iPhone 5.  The 2GB of RAM helps a lot.   The OS is fluid, but does hiccup once in a while. I am running a ‘Redstone 1’ insider build, so there are OS issues, but they are the result of running beta code.  However, that code does bring out features that were not in the shipping release of Windows Mobile 10, like a quasi Continuum feature. More on that in a bit. 5055w_back-left

The camera is, perhaps, the weakest point of the device. The rear camera is only eight megapixels and has poor low light ability.  The images are not very crisp and color tends to be more on the muted side of things. Coming from my Icon, it is a huge let down.  Again, I was aware of this when I got the phone, but it was still a big let down.  Almost enough to take the phone back to T-Mobile, but, alas, my poor Icon’s battery is on life support. As is the body of the phone. 

Which brings me to the best and worst aspect of the Fierce XL: it’s body is all plastic.  The back is a funky shade of blue that has grown on me, but is also now covered up by an overpriced rubbery shell that the salesguy sold me at T-Mobile.  The plastic case looks cheap and feels cheap, but it likely will not break or dent, like the Icon’s all metal body did.  I don’t mind the plastic all that much, but it does feel cheap, which makes me think I would not like it on, say, the Lumia 950.

Overall, the hardware-except for the camera-is decent. Performance is good, considering the price.  While it feels cheap, the build quality is quite good. 

As I mentioned earlier, the latest Windows 10 insider builds unlock a nice Continuum feature. To 5055w_front-rightuse it, both the phone and the computer must be running the latest builds of Windows 10 Insider (the ‘Redstone 1’ builds) as the feature needs the PC to have the plumbing for Continuum.  So, what does it do?  Well, it lets you, via the ‘connect’ feature on the device, to allow the phone’s screen to be shown on the PC’s monitor and allows the PC’s keyboard and mouse be recognized by the phone. This lets you use the phone as if it were the computer.  The difference, though, between this and the ‘real’ continuum is that you cannot do something else on the phone while using Continuum, and it does not scale the phone’s screen to fit the monitor. It is the same as the old ‘connect’ or project my screen feature.  It is a nice feature, though one that I don’t see myself using all that much.  Perhaps I will if I use my phone at my job to take notes or start work on a document or spreadsheet.  Though, I generally just save to my OneDrive and use my PC and its apps.  So, while this is cool and nice, and all that, I’m not sure that I’d use it all that much.

Windows 10 runs very well on this hardware and gives me hope that Alcatel Onetouch will bring some of its better hardware to Windows Mobile, like the Idol 3.  It also gives me hope that other manufacturers will follow. Indeed, HP, Acer and HTC all have or will have Windows Mobile devices out very soon, if not now.

The Fierce XL with Windows 10 is available from T-Mobile for $139.95.

New Lumia phones and a new Band

Lumia_950_Marketing_01_DSIM1Microsoft introduced a pandora’s box full of new devices. Among them, the new Surface Pro 4, a new Microsoft Band, new Lumia phones and a new laptop, the Surface Book. They also showed off some XBOX One stuff, which I’m not going to talk about here and a nice demo of the HoloLens, which will be available in January of 2016 in developer form for three thousand dollars.

LUMIA PHONES

Perhaps the most exciting part of the introduction was of the Lumia 950 and 950 XL.  These things are monster phones, with either an Octacore or Hexacore processor. They aLumia_950XL_Black_Front_SSIMre liquid cooled and smoking fast. The 950 sports a 5.2 inch OLED screen, 20MP rear cameras and triple LED Flash, capable of reproducing accurate skin tones and no red eye. The XL has a 5.7 inch OLED screen. Both devices are capable of 4k full time video (unlike the current 11 second limit.)  Both phones also double as desktop computers with full screen, keyboard and mouse ability.  You can use both the full screen HDMI desktop experience along with using the phone directly.  The demo was truly impressive and shows what Windows Mobile 10 is really capable of doing.  Both phones come with 32gb storage and are expandable to a theoretical two TERABYTES.

The 950 will sell for 549 and the XL is 649 and will be available in November.

The Lumia 550, a lower end phone, is no slouch either. It sports a nice 4.7 inch HD display, 4G LTE, 5mp camera with LED Flash and 2mp forward camera for skype.  It also features a quad core processor and, like the 950 series, is expandable via SD cards.

All three phones will ship with Windows Mobile 10, Office Mobile, Cortana integration, Skype and a suite of lifestyle apps.

The 550 will sell for about $150.

MICROSOFT BAND 2

Microsoft-Band-2-image-1A new Band was introduced. This thing has every type of sensor you could possibly want, including heart rate, oxygen, caloric/carb ability, GPS, accelerometer, gyro and more.  It has a Golf mode that can tell you everything you need to know about your game.  It features Cortana integration, touch screen, a multitude of apps (including Uber!?) and full integration with Windows 10. It also works with iOS and Android.  The screen is curved, unlike the previous model, which was flat and a bit awkward.

The Band 2 is the first lifestyle type device I’m actually interested in using.  It will sell for $249. 

There’s much more to talk about, so stay tuned for more on the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book.

Watch the Press Event.

Windows Phone 8: A superior mobile operating system

wp_ss_20140125_0002Windows Phone 8 is, simply, the best mobile operating system since webOS came out. The operating system is smooth, good looking and fairly easy to use. It takes the Zune UI experience to a more complete and fulfilling level.

Because Microsoft dictated a decent minimum spec for devices that will run the operating system, performance is snappy and satisfying. You tap an icon or link and are, nearly, instantly taken to the site, app or whatever you tapped. No waiting, which is something I do, a lot, with my iPhone.

(NOTE: See my experience with T-Mobile, here.)

The device I have, a Lumia 521, is well suited for Windows Phone 8 and came with just a handful of non-Microsoft supplied apps. These are from Nokia and consist of the ‘HERE’ apps and some T-Mobile oriented apps.  By now, I’ve learned to accept the crapware from the carriers and just avoid them.

THE INTERFACE

When the operating system starts, you are presented with the now familiar Tile interface. You can scroll through, up or down, your tiles.  You can have tiles of differing size and, depending on the app, they can be ‘live’.  My three weather apps are live tiles and are very informative.  The photo tile will cycle through your photos giving you a mini slide show. The Facebook tile, while live, isn’t as useful as it could be.  The people hub, music and video hub and XBOX games tiles are all live, though the games and music/video hubs don’t really need to be live. 

Swiping left on the tile page will present a vertically scrollable menu of all of your apps. You can launch them, delete them or add them to the tile page from here. Tapping on one of the boxed letters will present a screen with the alphabet. Tap a letter and you will go straight to the part of the app list starting with that letter. Letters without apps are not displayed.

Each app that follows the style guidelines, will display in a horizontal and scrollable manner. They typography is beautiful and the overall appearance is gorgeous.  I love the look of these apps.

Of course, not all apps follow the style, like the Facebook app.  It looks like any other Facebook app. It has a few Windowsy things, but, overall, looks like the iPhone/Blackberry/webOS/Zune Facebook apps.

APPS

wp_ss_20140125_0003Contrary to what I have read, I have yet to find an app that I have on the iPhone that does not have a Windows Phone 8 equivalent. Except for a few games, that is.  I have given up on Evernote, but there is a Windows Phone 8 version. OneNote, check. Camera apps, check.  Angry Birds, check. Web browser? Yep. Weather apps? Yep. 

Recently, several apps that both Android and iOS have, but were lacking on Windows Phone 8, are now available. They include Path and Instagram. So, developers are, finally, taking notice of Windows Phone 8.  Microsoft has provided some and as have Nokia, soon to be a Microsoft company.

In fact, the Nokia apps are really nice. I love Nokia Radio. It is like Pandora and looks great.

PERFORMANCE

As I said earlier, performance is snappy.  I have been very pleased with just how fast this operating system can be. Credit some of that to the hardware, but the multitasking aspect of Windows Phone 8 is, simply, fantastic. Press and hold the BACK button and you are presented with a horizontal,scrolling window that contains thumbnails of all running apps. Swipe left or right to scroll through them and then simply tap the one you wish to enter. To shut it down, tap it and then double tap the BACK button.  The only thing I would change is to add the up-swipe, ala webOS, to shut down an app.

wp_ss_20140125_0005Even with five or six things running, performance remains snappy. In fact, I’ve not really experienced any slow downs. Even with a couple of graphically intense games running.

ISSUES

Unfortunately, as with any operating system, Windows Phone 8 is not without its problems.  The worst problem I have encountered involves the Photos app and Facebook or pretty much any other app where you can select a photo to embed. After selecting a photo, the operating system may crash. It’s been mostly confined to Facebook, but I have experienced it with other apps, including OneNote.

The on-screen keyboard is junk.  The buttons are too small.  The iPhone, which is smaller than the Lumia 520, has a fairly decent on-screen keyboard when compared to Windows Phone 8. This is disappointing as the Zune HD’s on-screen keyboard was fantastic. The Zune HD is even smaller, but I had little difficulty with the keyboard. I don’t know what can be done to make it better, but they need to do something.wp_ss_20140125_0004

My last gripe is not really an OS problem, but an omission from the Lumia 521: no flash.  Yep, it has a nice camera, takes very nice photos (compared to other phones) but does not have a flash. Seriously? Make sure you have LOTS of light when using your camera.

SUMMARY

Windows Phone 8 is a superior mobile operating system. I am anxious to see what Microsoft is going to do with it. The roadmap has Microsoft ‘marrying’ the mobile and desktop operating systems into one OS and one app store. 

With its snappy performance, ease of use and nice looking interface, Windows Phone 8 is a fantastic alternative to Android and, especially, iOS powered devices.

T-Mobile, you need to take a customer service lesson from Chik-Fil-A

My wife got me a Lumia 521 Windows 8 Phone for my birthday. It’s a very nice device for the money. It is bigger than the iPhone 4/4s and much speedier too.  The Windows 8 interface is easy to use and looks nice too.  The phone, a prepaid device on T-Mobile, is likely to replace my aging and very slow iPhone 4. We are currently on the Sprint network and have abysmal service. As it is our ONLY phone service, I am anxious to replace it.  I was hoping that T-Mobile would be my answer. So far, however, I have not been able to find out.

We got the phone just before Christmas, 2013. It is now late January and I’ve still not been able to use the phone as, you know, a PHONE. It has been terrific as a WiFi only device, a 4.3 inch tablet. Windows Phone 8 works terrific is this regard.

So, what’s the problem? Well, initially, I could not activate the phone and its included SIM card. Now, this is my first exposure to SIM cards as Sprint does not use them.

I try to activate the phone and prepay for the service. I still have months left on my Sprint contract, so I thought the prepay route would be a great way to test the waters with another carrier.  Upon trying to activate, the web page tells me that there is a problem with the SIM card and that the phone’s IMEI is not valid. So, I call the number provided.

Now, before I go on, let me say that I have nothing against anyone who cannot speak my language very well (hell, I have issues myself) but…if you are going to be in a CALL CENTER answering calls in ENGLISH, then you should damn well know how to speak it and do so that the caller doesn’t have to ask you to repeat yourself time and time again.

When the phone call was answered, it was obvious that I was dealing with someone not in the United States. The person spoke so poorly that I was continuously having to ask him to repeat himself. It was embarrassing for both of us.  I’m sure the gentleman was doing his best, but he did not belong in this particular job.

After a very painful 20 minute or so call, he informs me that I would have to take the device to the store where I got it.  Well, it was ordered online, from Best Buy during one of its sales.

I finally got around to going to a Best Buy store to have the issue resolved. A very nice lady, Shannon, tried, desparately, to get my phone working. And, she got farther than I did.

I explained what happened and she got another SIM card.  She then calls T-Mobile and had a similar experience to mine. They did, however, get the phone activated AND the SIM card setup. Now, mind you, the call center person got the serial number to the new SIM card and assured Shannon that it was the correct card. BUT…

(You just KNEW there was a but, right?)

…the bloody card was too damn big. There are, apparently, many different sized SIM cards and Best Buy only carries the standard size in the stores.  WHAT?

So, Shannon calls the nearest T-Mobile store to see if they would swap out my defective SIM for a new one and activate it.  They said sure, for $21.  WHAT?

Yep, they want to charge $21 to swap out a defective card that T-Mobile gave me in the first place! Mind you, the defective SIM was IN THE BOX, FROM T-MOBILE.

I see why they are a distant fourth in the cell business. AT&T may have been smart to not buy them.

Shannon then proceeded to check around the local Best Buy stores to see if they had a micro SIM that I could get. They didn’t. She found out that Best Buy does carry them, but only online. She ordered me one. Should be in in about a week.  I’m OK with that.

I don’t blame Best Buy for this problem. The blame is squarely on T-Mobile. They packaged the phone and SIM card.  They should have taken care of it.  When I called them the first time. They should have just sent me a replacement card or, at the very least, had me go to one of their stores and pick one up, as an exchange. The didn’t do that.

Now, to be fair, I did take to Facebook and complained on the T-Mobile page.  I was instructed to go to the web site and make the complaint there. I did. I got a reply back, a day later, saying that they were ‘very sorry’ and that IF I had to pay for another card, they ‘would make it right’, implying-but not saying directly-that I would be refunded the amount.  Sorry, folks, that’s not good enough. I should NOT have to pay at all. This was their mistake, THEY should have made it right.  Best Buy went above what I expected of them. I only went there because I was told to take the phone back to where I got it.

Looking back, I think the guy meant to say to take it to a T-Mobile store, but that is not what he said.

I’m still willing to switch my family over to T-Mobile if the service (the radio service, that is) is more reliable and better than Sprint. I suspect it will be. Even though the phone was not usable as a phone, it still connected to T-Mobile and showed me both the speed and signal strength. I get solid 4G service where I live, which is important. Most places we go seem to get the solid, 4G service, so I am hopeful.

So far, though, I am far from impressed with T-Mobile.  They are worse than Sprint in the Customer Service arena so far, and that is saying something.  They could take a lesson or two in excellent customer service from Chik-Fil-A, a company that prides itself on excellent service.

I’ve been a Sprint customer for nearly 16 years now and have rarely ever gotten what I would call good service, customer service or cell service. I’ve stayed with them mainly for convenience. However, since moving three years ago, the cell service in this area is just abysmal.

So, I will know in a week or so if I like the actual T-Mobile service.  I will follow up this post with how it goes with the new SIM card.