Buyer Beware: Verizon Wireless and Sprextel disabling features on handsets they sell

Buyer Beware: Verizon Wireless and Sprextel disabling features on handsets they sell

Summary: In response to yesterday's post about how Verizon Wireless' newest phone -- the LG Chocolate -- is an shining example of not only how Digital...

TOPICS: Mobility

In response to yesterday's post about how Verizon Wireless' newest phone -- the LG Chocolate -- is an shining example of not only how Digital Rights Management technology is finding its way into everything we own, but also, the incredibly lopsided end-user license agreements that wireless service subscribers must agree to, one ZDNet reader pointed me to more evidence of how phone manufacturers are putting cool technologies into their phones (technologies that might cause you to buy them) only to have wireless carriers disable those technologies.  Today's case in point are Motorola's phones, many of which, like Moto's V325, have a still image camera in them.  To transfer the images to your PC, Motorola makes a utility called Phone Tools 4.  According to the Web page for the utility:

Personalize with Ringtones, Images and Videos -- Transfer and store pictures taken with your cell phone camera to your computer. Never have to worry about filling up your cell phone memory again! Take as many pictures as you please and store them all on your computer. Personalize your phone by creating your own ringtones and adding personal pictures or videos to your phone. 

As a side note, that Web page has a picture of a girl with an uninviting spider's next of cables laying on the table in front of her (enough to make any mortal looking to get their phone connected to their computer run).  Anyway, it seems like a cool utility, right? Well, only if you're a customer of Cingular's or T-Mobile's because here's the fine print you need to read before dropping your $30 for the utility:

IMPORTANT NOTE: This downloadable software is fully supported for Cingular and T-Mobile customers. However, portions of this software's functionality have been disabled for Verizon or Nextel customers, so Motorola Phone Tools will not work fully with phones using those carriers. If you are a Verizon customer, all multimedia and internet connection features in this software will be disabled due to carrier request. Please contact your service provider for further information. 

Ironically, right under the place on the page where this text appears is a button that says "Tell a friend."  (consider it done).

Why would wireless carriers make such a request. Well, think of it this way -- if part of your business is to make money on ringtones but you give end-users a way to create their own, well, so much for your ringtone business.  Unfortunately, once you shut down the synchronization pipe for ringtones (nothing more than digital audio), the pipe gets shut down for other stuff too (like the pictures the phone takes).  Now, there are alternative paths. I've taken pitctures with my Motorola V265 phone and used the phone's ability to email those photos (for example, I emailed one picture of a tiny car I backed my truck into to my Flickr account). But not everyone opts to connect the full Internet services package to their phone (which is basically what I needed to move the picture out of the phone via email). 

Ultimately, it's a bit insane that the phone manufacturers haven't made it so that the user data area in a phone (like, where the photos are stored) can appear to a PC as a USB drive.  But that would be too easy of an end run around the sorts of services that phone companies are hoping to sell (at an additional cost) to their subscribers.   

Topic: Mobility

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  • One word; Sprint

    I had Verizon but cancelled after discovering that they cripple features. Sure, they're in it for the money; who isn't? But as a consumer I have choices. I chose Sprint. I have the Samsung a900 which isn't the best phone I've ever owned, but at least the features aren't disabled. It came with a USB cable so that I can transfer ringtones, photos and MP3's to/from my PC. The Bluetooth allowed me to transfer contact info between the phone and my palm. I don't have a bluetooth dongle for my PC but I'm sure if I did, that feature would work as well.

    Verizon = Good Service
    Verizon = BAD Customer Service

    Sprint = Good and Good
    hacked off
    • I've gotta disagree with you

      You say Sprint has good customer service, but I disagree. Read my story:

      In late June, I called Sprint's customer service (from my cell phone) and requested an address change. Since I was still living in the same metropolitan area, no phone number change was required - nor mentioned by either party.

      Later that day, I tried to make another call from my Sprint phone, but got a message that my account wasn't verified. (?)

      I called customer service again. (I was able to make that call, at least!) This agent had a hard time locating my account, and when he finally did, he told me the phone number I had given him was not on the account. (I'd had that number for more than six years.) He did some more digging, and discovered that my phone number had been inexplicably changed, and the old number deleted from my account.

      He told me he could get my old number back, but it would take a few days before the number would be 'live' again. He gave me a temporary number and assured me my phone would work again soon.

      The next morning (>12 hours after the last call) I was still getting the same message, so I made my third call to customer service.

      This rep told me he could return my old number to me right away, and before he left me, verified that my phone was working again.

      However, later that day, I pushed the shortcut button for voicemail (pressing and holding the 1) and was surprised when a woman answered, "hello?"! I apologized, and looked at the number my phone had dialed. Two numbers were transposed.

      I've decided not to call again to correct this - I'm afraid of what else they might screw up. I can reach my voicemail by calling my own cell number, so it's not a hardship.

      When my contract is up in June 2007, you can bet I'll be switching carriers!
      • I'm changing right now... (Right Now!)

        I've been a Sprint customer for over 7 years.
        My phone is almost 3 years old. My wife has been using Sprint just as long and has a 4 year old phone.
        We decide to consolidate into a family plan with new phones.
        a )
        Sprint will sell us new phones at the FULL price plus a $150 rebate. "But I've been a loyal customer for almost 8 years!" "sorry."
        And the last time I ACTUALLY got a rebate check was... NEVER! If they just knocked $150 off, I might say okay; but that's the catch, you may never see that rebate check.
        they want me to sign up for a least a 2 year contract. 'nuff said.

        I was a loyal Sprint Customer...
        ... as soon as the mail arrives in the next day or two, I'll be a Cingular customer...

        and if they're no good, on to the next.

        No more loyalty to a mobilephone company here.
        • Avoid the costly service contract at all costs...

          I had an account with Sprint for over five years. It cost me over $100 a month for my phone and my wife's to share a measely 500 minutes a month.

          The problem that I had was that the phone never could connect to a number. At best it was a 50-50 proposition no matter where I was. During the hurricane hell of 2004, it never worked for almost two months. I called customer service and was told that I needed to have its firmware updated. After an entire afternnon lost at one of their service centers, there was no change. One service rep let it slip that that cell towers are shared by many cellcos. Further, he told me that there is a "priority factor" applied to the phones connecting with the cell that depends on the provider, account and phone type and my problem was related to a low "priority" index for my sprint phone in the region.

          I could switch as my contract had lapsed to month-to-month but I was too afraid of committing to another contract to find out that the new cellco was worse than the old and I was stuck with that and a long service contract. So I bought a "T-Mobile To Go" phone before a trip to Phoenix. It worked great. I added 1000 minutes for $100 and kept on going. I gave that one to my wife and transfer my Sprint number to another T-Mobile To Go phone and told Sprint to bugger off. I have been to MA, CA, LA (New Orleans) and other places and have never had a problem with the phone or quality of service. The best part is that I can cancel this at anytime and I don't pay for all of the fees and taxes.

          I have saved at least $1000 in the last 15 months. The only way that I can think of to keep the cellcos at bay is to purchase only what you need and avoid service contracts. Once you're on a contract, you cease to be a customer and become a revenue stream/annuity. The cellco's priorities immediately shift to getting the next sucker and your quality of service matters not at all. After all, what are you going to do, pay them a huge sum to cancel? Either way it's a win-win for them and you're screwed.
          • What about data?

            I often use my phone as a modem for my laptop, plus do some phone-based browsing, and less often, texting. Do pay-as-you-go services include data?

            I like T-Mobile a lot - most of the rest of my family uses them. However, they're severely lacking in data services.
      • Re: I've gotta disagree with you


        I'm sorry for the problem you encountered. What happened is that the customer service represenative performed an MDN swap (Mobile Directory Number). This happens rarely on accident, typically because of miscommunication.

        I HIGHLY recommend that you call back and ask immediately for the "Trouble" department. Ask the tech to look in the notes to see if the reservation ID is there, so you can get your number back (assuming it was done correctly to begin with). Once it is back in the system, you won't need to program your phone and it should work within 5 minutes (most likely).

        Someone who cares
        • I used to work for Sprint...

          Thanks, Dave, I appreciate it. With all due respect, I understand what happened - in the past, I have worked at Sprint's technical support desk, and I've seen (and been marginally trained on) the applications used by the customer support crews. (I used to create those reservation IDs when CS personnel called Tech Support.)

          Right now, I have my old number - people can call me on my original number, and I can dial out.

          However, when I try to use a voicemail shortcut of any type, I get another person's phone, not my own voicemail. My account has an incorrect phone number in the voicemail identity field. (Whatever happened to copy/paste?)

          I don't want to call back and risk something else being screwed up. After three calls in less than 24 hours, all of which ended up with an unintended change or no resolution, I'm afraid to turn what is currently a workable situation into another issue where I can't use my phone. I can live with this for another year...
    • Are you kidding?

      I have an A900 too, and Sprint totally crippled it. Try to access anything in "My Media" through your computer -- totally firewalled off. Try upload a ringtone of your choice to it. Try to download a voice memo from it. The A900 has built-in GPS; just try to run any GPS-enabled software that you didn't buy from Sprint.
      • Depends

        I guess it depends on what we're all after. I am mostly tired of re-entering contacts time and time again. Either I switch phones, my employer provides me a phone or whatever. Either way entering those numbers from my Palm via Blue tooth was effortless and functional and my Palm will remain my authoritive source. As for Other Bluetooth features all phones Verizon, Sprint or anyone works with a headset. This is very important to me since a headset is required on Military installations and more and more in various cities acrosss the country. My phone and service makes it simple and functional for me to do the things I want. As for Service issues, I've had several, Voice Stream (now T-Mobile), AT&T, now Cingular, Verizon and now Sprint. They all have their good points and bad as well as their inherent issues in each city. Why I boycott Verizon is simply the fact that they cripple good and useful features in order to make more money on competing products. I just want my life to be easy which is what many of these features are meant to do.
        hacked off
      • Re: Are you kidding?

        Sprint doesn't make GPS softare, their partners do (i.e. Xora, Telenav, ActSoft, Agilis, etc). Anyone can goto the website & learn how to make an application for a Sprint phone. J2ME is the easiest environment to create it in and portable to many handsets after several tweaks/mods. You can make an application for the phone, post it on a website to dload, send a text message with that link to the phone, and the phone can then dload it. It'll post it in the applications screen and voila, your very own program.
        Also, you should try out Google Mobile. You can dload GoogleMaps for your phone. It's really slick, especially with the hi-res screen on the A900.
  • greed prevails...

    ..yet, again, at the expense of the company's revenue stream, it's user base. Greed will always prevail because people are sheep and will happily 'pay extra' for a service, unbeknowest to them, it would have been free anyways.

    to the sheep of the world, i say, 'baaaaaaaaaaa'.
  • Marketplace and knowledge are the only tools to combat this

    Verizon needs to hear from their customers, and their potential customers, that this is unacceptable.

    Current customers need to complain. Potential customers need to show Verizon that the results of Verizon's greed is that potential customers go to competing providers that give them more freedom.

    Thanks for making these issues known. Most people wouldn't have a clue about these things if it wasn't for stories like this.
    • Verizon features suck, but the phone service is ok

      It's easy to say drop Verizon because they cripple their phones. The problem is that some of us have cell phones to make phone calls. I could care less about most of the other crappy features, and yes they are mostly crap as well as CRAP. In my city Verizon has the best phone service, so I will stick with them. I just plan on getting the nicest free phone I can get from them. That or I will get the nicest phone I think I can re-sell at a profit to some sucker and then continue to use my old phone. Verizon's greed in this matter is pretty obvious. The thing to do is to learn the various hacks to get around Verizon's crippling of features.
      • I want a phone, not a bad multimedia center

        I also want a sold phone, not a bunch of semi-usable gee-gaws at inflated prices. Verizon offers, by far, the best signal coverage in my city, and believe me, I?ve tried them all. Similarly, I purchased the Razr because the reviews at the time mostly agreed that the phone sensitivity was the best of the then current offerings. Personally, I don?t require a very poor camera, ring tones, and the like.

        What hasn?t been said yet is the truly useful feature Verizon disabled: editing the phone book on a computer. Yes, to disable the camera transfers and ring tone transfers, they also had to remove the ability to edit phone numbers and addresses with a real keyboard. Plus, they charge ten bucks to transfer numbers from one phone to another (although they will frequently back off of this is you complain).
      • I agree

        I buy a phone to use as a phone, not streaming media, or V-cast. It?s bad enough I have to contend with text messages which to me is a waste of time, just call the person. It?s cheaper anyway to talk then to send a text message. Its getting harder and harder to get a phone that?s a phone. Right now, you end up with a bunch of totally useless features which seem to distract even more when people should be driving and paying attention.. Last thing we need other then bad service is stupid cretins driving cars and acting like Napoleon dynamite.
    • Why do Cingular and T-mobile offer this for free?

      On the flip side:
      Where do you think Verizon get's all this money to have the best phone coverage in the nation?

      I for one really don't care whether my phone rings or sings. No one complains that they can't change the ring tone on their land-line phone, but then again, that's not the phone you can take out in public, so ask yourself why are ring tones so important to people.

      If people are willing to pay Verizon for the ability to change a ring tone on a phone to something like a clip from a TV show or movie, then it really comes down to "what the market will accept".

      Cingular and T-Mobile don't offer these services free out of the goodness of their hearts; If they had the best coverage going for them, and people where buying the phones for that reason, then my guess is they would be charging for the ability to download ringtones. Seeing that they lack in that area, anything they can offer for free to entice customers their way will find it's way into their product lines.
      John Zern
  • you're not trying hard enough

    I have Verizon with an LG phone. I found a program called bitPIM ( that acts the way all phone interfaces should act. It's a app that lets me sync my phone's address book, pictures, ringtones, user tones, etc. You buy the USB cable specific to your phone model (the same one Verizon uses to transfer your data for $10 - how curious) and you're up and running. I build my own ringtones and nobody gets into my wallet.

    At the end of the day, a phone is a small computer. It has an cable interface for Pete's sake. Let the consumers use it and tell the carriers to provide some real value somewhere else in the food chain.
    • bitPIM

      Wow, that works great. I've been using FutureDial products to do much of this. The only thing missing is the Dialer. I can replace the rest of the packages with bitPIM.

      Thanks for the information.
    • Good info

      Thanks for the info, but where can I get that data cable for $10? I just got this phone
      • Check with your cell provider, under accessories.

        Also, google your phone make and model - sometimes you can get a pretty good deal on cables and software that way.