Well, on July 11th, 2010, my two-year contract with AT&T came to a close. AT&T was a dreadful company. The customer service was good, but the service service, not so much. Their prices were non-competitive, why would they be? They’re the exclusive carrier of the Apple iPhone. Seriously though, 40 dollars for the voice plan (450 daytime minutes), 30 dollars for the data. You want texting? Shell over 5, 15, or 20 dollars more! (…for 500, 1500, or unlimited, respectively.) Make sure not to go over your minutes, or you’re in big trouble, daytime rates are 45 cents a minute! An 11 minute call is 5 dollars! There are overages for texts also, so you’d better just get unlimited. You can always up your minutes to 900, but that’s, of course, 60 dollars a month. So, 60+30+20=110. Not horrible, except when you add on taxes and surcharges, suddenly, your bill is 140! Yes, 140 dollars a month for a phone! Sprint has plans for 99 dollars, all you can eat! T-mobile, I think, has the same deal. Contract’s up, to quote Doug from The State, “I’m outta here.”
On July 14th, 2010, I rolled into my local cell phone dealer and signed up for Simple Mobile. I was going to go with T-Mobile, but I figured, what the hell. T-Mobile had a plan compatible with an unlocked iPhone for 70 dollars a month. I wanted to try these guys out though, why not? They only charged 60 dollars a month for unlimited everything! Signing up was 30 dollars and porting my number was 25, so even with paying 30+25+60=115, it was still 25 dollars less than another month with AT&T. Now, the iPhone wasn’t listed as one of the phones compatible with their network, so I knew this was going to be a rocky road, heck, the American-released iPhones are designed for AT&T.
Now, Simple Mobile’s website boasts about all the features their phones utilize, however, we’re going to skip those, because it should be taken for granted that all cell phone providers should have comparable coverage in this day and age. It’s like those damn “Color TV” signs outside of motels (it’s a technology that was developed in the 50s and mainstream by the 70s). It should no longer be something to boast about, but I digress. With its “cool guy” approach to marketing (where they act hip), one is to believe these are the good guys sticking it to the man while being hip awesomesauce and easily making the switch.
Despite having the unsupported phone on their network, there were technical support provisions (albeit very poor) for using said phone on their network. (This tech support website can be found here, in case anyone is looking: http://simplemobile.yolasite.com) After setting up the phone properly (according to the information supplied by Simple Mobile themselves), here’s the list of grievances.
- First complaint: The network is 3G, however, the iPhone will not operate on the 3G frequency (1700 MHz). You’re stuck with Edge, sorry!
- Second complaint: No three-way calling. Frankly, I used this feature once in my three years with AT&T, yes, once. At first I was kind of miffed, but then thought about it practically, I haven’t needed to conference anyone into a call in a long time. Maybe if I get an important job one day?
- Third complaint: The MMS doesn’t work (for in-coming messages) unless you get busy with some Cydia hacks.
- Fourth complaint: No short-code SMS. This means, no text updates/replies from twitter/facebook, etc.
- Fifth complaint: No gnarly ring-back tones. (This is probably the least important feature, though, ever.)
What’s the good in all this? The one glaring problem I had and have with AT&T’s network is its abysmal treatment of calls. Often times, I would be unable to make calls for no discernible reason. Immediately when I hit the “call” button, I’d receive a “call failed” message. Sometimes the phone would ring for a second and play a message saying that I was unable to make calls at “this time.” People calling me would not be able to reach me, receiving messages that I was unavailable or it would go straight to voicemail. When a call would connect, often the call would be choppy or cloudy sounding. Sometimes odd noises would interrupt the conversation for no apparent reason. Many times, the person I was talking to suddenly would no longer be able to hear me, but I could here them (or vice versa). Apparently the call became a one way only street. Finally, most of time with AT&T, the call would drop. Sometimes it would only happen once, sometimes frequently. Trying to continue a conversation was unbearable. Sometimes these disconnects would be foreseeable, other times, you would seemingly have a strong connection and the call would drop abruptly. Some said this was the iPhone, some blamed AT&T. Now that I have used the iPhone (3G) on two carriers, I can say with certainty: it was AT&T. I have not had one single dropped call in 3 weeks. The last phone call I tried to make before switching my service, dropped. I suppose if you’re someone who uses your phone to talk to people and not just surf the web, you may find this news very pleasant and inviting.
So which of these problems are inherent to Simple Mobile and which are a result of using the iPhone with a network other than AT&T? With T-Mobile, three-way calling does work, as does short code SMS (and of course ring-back tones). On both networks, the iPhone is stuck using Edge frequencies. The MMS problem is also present with both carriers, but again, easy to fix with a Cydia patch.
So the end result is for 60 dollars a month, you get unlimited talk, text, and web/data from Simple Mobile, as opposed to the 140 I was paying with AT&T (which didn’t even include unlimited minutes). You give up some features, but if they aren’t important to you, you’ll save a bundle. If you really desire to gain some of them back, you can fork over some more money and go with T-Mobile. I don’t know, however, what (if any) surcharges are included whereas Simple Mobile is 60 dollars, period. My one other gripe was that their tech support was (I found) very lacking. When initially searching for answers about why I was unable to update twitter via SMS, the representative really had trouble understanding that it was a problem on Simple Mobile’s end and not twitter. Luckily, Simple Mobile has a twitter (http://twitter.com/mysimplemobile) and the user of that account is fairly more knowledgeable than his phone tech support counterparts. The twitter user was actually how I discovered that Simple Mobile did not support short-code SMS. Although the internet speed still takes a hit, I used a rotary dial phone until I was about 12, so having the internet in my pocket still impresses me at just about any speed, plus, I’m able to listen to Pandora at the high quality setting while driving (most of the time), so that’s a win. Viva Simple Mobile!
Updated October 6th, 2010: I discovered recently that Simple Mobile also does not allow for simultaneous voice and data usage. Minor inconvenience. I rarely ever would use data while on the phone and when I did, it was only because I could, not because it was any kind of serious help.