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Time for a frivolous post that will be of no interest to anyone but myself.

I am a picky person. This is obvious the more one reads this site. One of the areas about which I am super-picky is gadgets. One of the gadgets about which I am über-super-picky is cell phones.

I proffer for reference this and this.

Okay, so I have had my Nokia 6230 for over a year now. I love this phone. It’s small and packed with every feature I want. However, the one important feature on the phone that should not be buggy is buggy, and that’s the voice dialing. Often, after speaking the tag assigned to who I’m calling, the voice dialing mode freezes. I then have to either wait a minute or two for it to stop freezing and pop back into action, or I have to turn off the phone and start it back up.

Did I dare contact Cingular about this? No. Or at least, not right away. Like every other massive company these days, their support people are clueless about anything technical. So I have been putting up with the flaw.

In January, I was in Vegas for CES and stopped by the Nokia booth. There, I started talking to one of the booth monkeys and showed him my 6230. You know, every time I talk to someone who knows anything about Nokia and cell phones, when they find out I have a 6230, they inevitably say, “Oh, that’s a great phone.” Booth monkey said such, and I told him, “Yeah, but…”

After describing the voice dialing freeze, the guy told me that that flaw had been fixed long ago with a firmware update and suggested I talk to Cingular about that.

Foolishly, I tried to follow his advice. The conversation with the Cingular monkey went something like this:

“Yes, a guy who works for Nokia told me I just need a firmware update.”

“Do you ever turn off your phone?”

“Uh, why?”

“That’s when we push updates to the phones.”

I declined to point out that nothing can be pushed to a phone when it’s turned off, but I think I understood what she meant.

“The only time I ever turn off my phone is when I fly or when the voice dialing thing screws up, so, yes, I do turn off my phone.”

“Well, try turning it off tonight and see if anything happens.”

I gave up right quick on Cingular being able to help me.

Slam cut to a few weeks ago. Sven and I were inside the belly of the bloated whale that is The Beverly Center. I noticed something peculiar: A Nokia store! Zounds! I went in it right then, and once more the next week to ask some questions, and then again Monday. I had a plan: To replace my Cingularly bastardized phone for a real, unmolested Nokia 6230. Or, in the parlance of the geeky, an unlocked 6230.

You see, the American cell companies utterly control which phones are sold in the U.S. Because the phones are heavily subsidized by the cell companies, they go through a lengthy process of choosing from whatever phones the equipment makers have and tweaking them to do what the cell company wants. This usually includes removing features that force you to spend more money on services.

For instance, my Cingular 6230 does not allow me to save ringtones and games that I purchase where I want. Such things are stored in a place your average Joe can’t get at them, so that when you get a new phone you can’t copy those things to it. Oh, I suppose the cell companies say it’s to prevent piracy, but that’s everyone’s excuse for shafting the consumer.

Another feature that was disabled on my phone is network selection. This became an issue on my business trip to France last year. (Oddly, I seem to have not mentioned it in the travelogue.) My phone was not working on Cingular’s preferred roaming partner in Paris. The signal was also very poor where we were staying. On a real, unmolested phone, I would have been able to go into the settings and tell me phone to try another network. But no, Cingular had disabled that feature, and I had to make many land-line calls and wait days for Cingular and the French company to fix the issue.

[UPDATE: If you don’t believe me about phones being crippled by the cell companies, read this recent tidbit.]

Most cell phones that use GSM (which is what Cingular’s system uses) are tri-band phones. That means that there are three GSM bands it can use: 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz. Sadly, the GSM carriers in the States tend to use 850, 1800, or 1900. So often there’s even more of a delay getting new phones to the States while the equipment manufacturers create a separate version that swaps 850 for 900. Can this be any more tediously boring? Or, if you’re like me, could it be any more tediously frustrating?

So I went to the Nokia store on Monday to get an unlocked phone. When I told the guy there about my voice dialing problem and so on, he said that often those things can be caused by the cell companies messing with the OS on the phones. (I do not imagine the cell companies do this on their own, however, but with the help of the equipment manufacturers as well. They want to sell phones in the States!)

The conversation with the Nokia man was becoming curious, making me finally ask, “Do you sell the phones here?” They do not! It’s merely a showroom. He told me where I could buy an unlocked 6230. Somewhere on Sunset. Or I could buy it online at Nokia, where there are very few unlocked phones for sales in the U.S.

So the iron grip of the dumb-ass cell phone companies seemed in tact. Nokia couldn’t even sell their own phones unless they wanted to risk being dropped by the cell companies out of spite and greed.

To add pain to the whole affair, Nokia yesterday announced some new phones, one of which looked like a great set with the elements I want most: small size, Bluetooth, and, now, a camera. (I have gotten very used to posting to The Wren Forum from my cell phone!) The new N73 looks brilliant. While Motorola has been releasing many quad-band phones, which are 850, 900, 1800, and 1900 and thus usable just about anywhere in the world, including the U.S., Nokia has been slow to follow suit. But the N73 is quad-band.

The pain is that, once again, there would be a delay in the U.S. while the cell phone folks decided whether to pick up the N73 at all and, if so, how to change it so the phone is missing features. It could easily be a year before the N73 ever gets to America, if ever even at all, ever!

A final piece of news came in today that prompted me to write this boring post: Nokia is opening stores in the U.S.! While I don’t live in Chicago or New York, where the first stores are slated to sprout, I’m sure that once the stores open up, I’ll be able to buy an unlocked N73 online from Nokia. And then, friends… then my cell phone happiness will reach its peak! I will hold onto my crippled 6230 for now while I see what happens.

The fact that I have just written a forty-thousand-word piece on this topic reminds me of something I’ve been pondering a while. What if I were to get rid of all my gadgets? Maybe by the time I can buy an unlocked N73, I will have set all my gadgets ablaze and moved to a house in the Colorado Rockies somewhere, hiking and reading and living a simpler life.

2 Comments

Mom Expounded Thusly:

Living a simpler life, and having more time to ponder, rant, rave, exclaim and thus entertain your adoring readers! Not to mention you would live a wee bit closer to your adoring parents. This idea I like! So – when are you going to follow through on this threat?

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006 • 5:27pm • Permalink

Steve Expounded Thusly:

Tomorrow. I’m selling my TV, my DVD player, my Yamaha amp, my LaserDisc/CD player, my VCR, my MartinLogans, my Polks, my Technics and Yamaha mini component systems, my Mac, my three hard drives, my iPods, my Palm, my Traffic Guage, and my bread maker. But I’ll keep my 6230.

Friday, April 28th, 2006 • 12:54pm • Permalink

 

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