If You Lose Your Cell PhoneThe mulitple stages of loss and how to deal with them.
James A. Martin
Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
Feature: Dealing With a Lost Cell Phone
On a Saturday night in a crowded restaurant bar, my cell phone disappeared. The events that followed were sometimes surprising, sometimes frustrating, and ultimately satisfying. Here's an account of what happened, with lessons learned to help you avoid a similar ordeal.
My friends and I were waiting in a busy San Francisco cocktail lounge for our pal Mary, who was running late. I had just missed a call from her because my Sony Ericsson T616 smart phone was in my pants pocket, and I couldn't hear it ring. I took the phone out and put it on the fireplace mantle next to me, in case Mary tried to call again.
After Mary arrived, our gang quickly moved to a larger table when it suddenly became available. About 10 minutes later, I patted my pockets, looking for my cell phone. It wasn't there. I must have left it on the mantle, I figured.
By now, a new group was occupying our former table. None of them had seen my phone, they claimed, though they helped me search the area (to no avail). The waiter and the bartender assured me no cell phones had been turned in.
The next day, I called the restaurant manager. Still no sign of my phone. I gave her my contact information; she promised to call if the phone turned up.
Given that the T616 is a sleek-looking smart phone, with Bluetooth, camera, e-mail and Web capabilities, I could only assume it had been stolen.
The morning after the disappearance, I called Cingular, my wireless provider, and had my service suspended. I would be liable for any calls placed on my phone up until the suspension, according to the customer service agent.
I went to Cingular's Web site to see if my account reflected any unusual charges. Unfortunately, charges aren't immediately posted to a Cingular account--they're listed only when a new monthly bill is issued.
I waited for several days, then called the manager again. The phone had not been turned in, she reported. Clearly, it was time to accept reality: I needed a new cell phone.
The truth is, I never liked my Sony Ericsson phone. The display was nearly unreadable in bright sunlight. The interface and commands were not intuitive. And I rarely got good, unbroken voice reception. The honeymoon with my T616 had lasted about 5 minutes past the 30-day return policy. So I wasn't exactly in mourning.
I decided to look for a candy-bar style Nokia phone (I prefer that style to flip phones) for $150 or less. Except for the T616, my previous cell phones had been Nokias, and I had missed the easy-to-use, no-nonsense Nokia style.
I made a list of the features I wanted: Bluetooth, for wirelessly syncing with Microsoft Outlook and perhaps making a modem connection with my notebook; a loudspeaker; a screen that was clearly legible in direct sunlight; easy-to-use menus and commands; and good voice quality.
Getting a replacement cell phone wouldn't be as easy as I thought, however.
Because I was on an AT&T Wireless plan, I would have to switch to a Cingular plan if I bought a new Cingular phone, I learned. Cingular and AT&T Wireless merged last year, but you can't use an AT&T Wireless phone with a Cingular service plan, and Cingular is no longer offering AT&T Wireless plans or compatible phones.
Of course, starting a new plan meant signing a new contract. Adding to my frustration was the fact that my AT&T Wireless contract was to expire just one month later. To get a decent price on a new cell phone, Cingular would require me to sign a two-year contract--plus pay an $18 equipment upgrade fee.
Cingular spokesperson Mark Siegel says the fee is a result of necessary processing and administration costs and is standard among wireless carriers.
Also, I learned I'd have to pay full price for a new phone. If I'd wanted a free phone, I would have had to wait another month, a telephone service agent told me. At that point, when my AT&T Wireless contract expired, I would have been eligible for half a dozen or more Cingular phones.
Alternatively, I could buy a used or refurbished AT&T Wireless phone online for use on my existing AT&T Wireless Plan, the customer service agent admitted. But I would have to acquire a new AT&T Wireless SIM card (about $30) to use on the refurbished AT&T Wireless phone. Such cards could only be ordered by phone from Cingular's customer service department, the agent said, and delivery would take several days.
I was in a quandary. I didn't appreciate Cingular's seemingly unwelcoming approach to the AT&T Wireless customers it had acquired. And yet I needed a new cell phone right away and didn't want to deal with buying a used one online.
Ultimately, I put my indignation aside to spend $130 on a new Nokia 6230 and sign a two-year Cingular contract.
And so far, I'm glad I did. I'm thrilled with the Nokia 6230. The smart phone has great reception and is easy to use. Plus, it has a display that's clearly legible in direct sunlight; Bluetooth connectivity; a loudspeaker; e-mail and Web browsing; and a camera that captures still pictures and video clips. Check it out at Nokia's site: http://www.nokia.com/nokia/0,,47665,00.html
Also, I'll be receiving a $30 rebate, so the feature-packed phone cost me only $100 plus tax. And unlike my AT&T Wireless plan, my new Cingular plan rolls over unused minutes from one month to the next. My cell phone usage is erratic from month to month, so the rollover is a big plus, in my opinion.
The Surprise Ending
As fate would have it, one day after buying the Nokia and signing the two-year contract, I learned that my old Sony Ericsson phone had been turned into the restaurant's lost-and-found after all.
So I returned to the restaurant and retrieved my phone. Without hesitation, I walked one block and handed the T616 to an employee of The Body Shop. The fragrance/skin-care retail chain accepts donated cell phones for victims of domestic violence.
Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips
Wireless Tip: Get Cash for Your Old Cell Phone
Got an old cell phone you don't need? Donating it is one option, as I mentioned in this week's feature. Or you could exchange it for cash or merchandise at one of several Web sites, such as these: CellforCash.com, OldCellPhone.com, and RipMobile.com.
Wireless News: Sprint Launches EVDO Mobile Service for Notebooks
By the time you read this, Sprint is expected to have begun offering mobile broadband service for notebooks at ten times the speed of dial-up connections, the company reports. By year's end, Sprint will make its EVDO (for Evolution Data Optimized) service available to about 143 million people. To access the service on your notebook, you'll need a Sprint PCS Connection Card, which costs $250 before discounts. Verizon Wireless also offers EVDO data service.
Wireless News: Palm OS Coming to LG Smart Phone
LG Electronics announced it will use a version of the Palm OS--possibly Linux-based software--in a future smart phone. Samsung and Kyocera have also licensed a version of the Palm OS for phones but haven't released models yet.
The last few years have been rough for PalmOne and PalmSource; and those who appreciate the Palm OS's ease of use, like me, want to see the OS live long and prosper.
Gadget News: A 6GB LifeDrive on the Way?
A successor to PalmOne's LifeDrive, with its 4GB hard drive, is apparently in the works. According to reports on many PDA news sites, a LifeDrive with a 6GB hard drive could be announced as early as fall. PalmOne hasn't commented. Read PC World reviewer Eric Dahl's assessment of the 4GB LifeDrive.
Gadget News: Take Your Tunes Underwater
Have you ever gone swimming while listening to salsa music? Neither have I, but you can do it with one of H2O Audio's waterproof casings for digital music players. The company offers cases for surface water sports such as swimming or kayaking, as well as for scuba diving and snorkeling. Prices range from $99 to $199.
Wireless News: Nokia to Offer Free 'Push' Service
Nokia plans to offer a free push e-mail service for POP and IMAP users on all its handsets. As with BlackBerry devices, the service will automatically and immediately forward e-mail as it arrives to phones. Though the service itself is free for one year, you'll pay data transmission charges on your cell-phone bill.
Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.