On Thursday, my shiny, new, brilliantly thin and light, nearly bulletproof (it's case is made of Kevlar) Droid Razr arrived via FedEx. I was at my office, but the SMS alert I'd set to track it let me know that my wife had signed for it. It was safely in my house. Well, not safely, since she thought it would be a good idea to let my fussy 2-year old daughter try to open the box, but still, it was nearly in my possession. Yay!
When I made it home and figured out where my daughter had stashed it, I ran through the activation steps, marveling at how truly remarkable mobile technology had become. I'll spare you the details...the phone has been well reviewed on ZDNet and elsewhere. Suffice to say, when the automated activation failed, I was impatient to get to an operator and get this thing working so I could see if its performance matched its immediate cool factor.
It took fifteen minutes for the Verizon rep (who, very incorrectly, greeted me as "my Verizon expert for the day") to figure out that my phone wouldn't activate because the number was originally associated with a Samsung MiFi device. The Samsung device, by the way, turned out to be a piece of 4G junk. Half the time it wouldn't connect (from the device's built-in web interface, the problem looked to be a DNS issue that would occasionally be solved by removing the battery or getting Verizon to reset the device remotely). Since I needed to replace my Droid Incredible anyway (another piece of junk that I was unwilling to pay a nearly $100 insurance deductible to have replaced a second time, but more on the Incredible later), I decided to just activate the mobile hotspot capabilities on a new Razr.
I should also note that purchasing the Razr was a painful process to begin with. Although I had purchased the MiFi outright, Verizon screwed up the service agreement twice, placing me on a 2-year contract instead of monthly billing. That mixup meant an hour on the phone just to pre-order the Razr and sort out billing to ensure that I didn't have to pay early termination fees (I was already paying an early term fee on the Incredible).
So back to my activation woes. After several attempts, my Verizon expert was finally able to get my phone activated. He told me to dial *228 to reprogram it if I had any more problems; later I found out that *228 can do real number on 4G SIM cards and it should never be used. My ultimate goal was to get the phone into my family share plan and retain the number from my Incredible, not only grandfathering my unlimited data plan, but avoiding the hassle of switching numbers. Apparently, this was a separate process, but it wouldn't be any problem to get things switched over. Uhhh, yeah.
So now it's Friday and my phone works, but the number is wrong and I'm paying even more than I would ordinarily to have it on a separate account. I call Verizon and began the process of "assuming liability" (fancy talk for merging the accounts), which, unfortunately, involves getting my wife to talk to the "assumption of liability department", since she is the primary account holder on our combined land line/mobile bill. The operator made the mistake of asking my wife if she understood all of the disclosures and processes related to merging the accounts. Now, I don't call her my Lovely Luddite for nothing. Besides, I don't think anyone actually understands cellular contracts. My wife, of course, responded "Not really." You can imagine how much longer that call became.
Once I convinced my wife that it was expedient to simply say "Yes" to every question (the operator was on speaker, so at least one of us had a clue), the two accounts were finally merged. And then the real fun began.
After several attempts, the Verizon rep finally told me that she couldn't get the Razr reactivated on my old number and I would either need a new 4G SIM card shipped to me or I could just go to a Verizon store and get a new one. "Just call us from the store if you have any problems," she reassured me. Again, you can guess what happened at the store (since I obviously didn't want to wait for Tuesday to get this sorted out). I had problems.
The store manager didn't know why they'd sent me there, and the software he needed to use to issue a new SIM card to me was neither visible to nor compatible with the account management interface that the new Verizon rep I called from the store was using. "I can't just give you a SIM card!" exclaimed the store manager.
To top things off, the Verizon rep on the phone asked me why I hadn't just canceled the line on my Razr instead of merging the accounts and then re-activated the phone on my old line. The string of expletives that rang out across the Verizon store really shouldn't be put in print here. Ideally, if there was an easier process, one of four people at Verizon with whom I'd spoken over the past two days should have suggested a different course of action. By this time, my Razr was deactivated and unusable, I'd incurred at least one early termination fee, and my kids were hungry. I left with both phones in tow and headed to pick up pizza, hoping that I could find someone a tiny bit helpful at the "premium retailer" the store manager suggested I see on Saturday. We'll know soon enough, but I'm not holding my breath.
In virtually every other country in the world, people pay more for their phones, but moving devices around is a simple matter of swapping SIM cards. Here, apparently, it takes a constitutional amendment to replace a phone in a family share plan, even if the original phone is a piece of crap, plagued with software bugs (and already replaced once for the infamous "low disk space" error for which Incredibles are known), battery issues, and a tendency to just not ring when I get calls (or to lock the screen such that I can't answer them when it does ring).
For that brief period when my phone actually worked, albeit with the wrong number, it was brilliant. It was fast, the giant screen popped, and the software keyboard was the best I've ever used. Too bad it's just sitting lifeless next to me now. But why would I want to actually use the greatest superphone ever carried on Verizon? I'd rather have it just look slender and pretty on my desk. It's not like I need the 4G hotspot or advanced communications capabilities. It's not like I need to be able to respond quickly to the constant stream of emails and updates I get for my job or test new software applications or use Skype at 4G speeds to connect to my colleagues in India. Honestly, I'd really rather have a phone that keeps running out of memory, drops calls, shuts itself off randomly, and forces half of my applications to close when they crash daily. Yeah, that's definitely what I'd rather be using. Thanks, Verizon...your customer support has really come through for me again, almost as well as it did to get Internet access to my office.
No matter how amazing phones become, no matter how far Google advances Android (or Apple advances iOS, for that matter), we're still at the mercy of the carriers. At least if I keep the Razr in my shirt pocket, the Kevlar back will protect me from stray bullets. Verizon can't rob me of that little bonus feature. The SIM card doesn't need to be active for that.