Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A deal with the Devil: We move from Sprint to AT&T and towards an iPhone

We have completed Phase One (!) of the family migration from Sprint (Motorola RAZR (yech) and Samsung Palm OS i500 (lovely)) to AT&T (BlackBerry Pearl and Nokia 6555). Phase II will replace the Nokia 6555 with a February iPhone. Phase III will replace iPhone 1.0 with iPhone 2.0 and the Blackberry Pearl with the used iPhone 1.0. Somewhere along the line either the Pearl or the Nokia will be sold.

The transaction was about as fraught as buying a new home from a crooked realtor using an adjustable rate mortgage. On a coastal bluff. (Update: crooked as a three dollar bill.)

How complex was the deal? At the start of the transaction I thought we were getting two BlackBerry' Pearl's, but then I found out that the great deal price ($100 after rebate for the two) was dependent on a 6 month data contract. I only wanted the data contract on one of the Pearls.


I'm going to tell the story here, as there may be some general lessons to draw. First, the Goal and Motivation. Next how it turned out, with my best estimate of prices.

Goal and Motivation

  • John to get an iPhone if the SDK turns out to be real- preferably iPhone 1.1 (ex. with 16GB of memory)
  • Emily to replace a much loved but dying Samsung (PalmOS 4.x) i500. There's no modern equivalent, so the move had to be another Palm or a BlackBerry. The new phone had to run ePocrates.
  • Since the iPhone has no subsidy, pick up a "free" phone as a backup phone -- and a phone for times the iPhone is too expensive to risk. Note: the iPhone comes with a SIM card too, so I'm told I'll have two phones with two active SIM cards sharing my number.
  • Take advantage of my employer's "personal service" option. (15% monthly service discount and 50% off any post-contract phones).
  • Family plan with about 1000 any time minutes.
  • Any phone (with the notorious exception of the iPhone) should have a standard earset mini-jack, and a charge/sync with a mini-USB cable. [ONLY the BlackBerry phones meet this standard. It's not well documented, but the Nokia 6555 may come close. It has a 2.55 mm earset jack and charges with a micro-USB cable.]
  • Disposable phone should have vibration mode and an alarm clock.
  • All things being equal, I'd prefer to get away from Palm. Palm is like a barber who was once pretty good, but has since gotten into beer and meth and can't be trusted with sharp objects.


In theory you can do all of this stuff online and save $25, or if you don't need a corporate discount you can do it through Amazon and sign up with their oddball contracts.

Good luck.

I never considered trying this online. I had the good fortune to work with Josh M. at the Roseville AT&T/Cingular store - about 3 minutes from my office. That was worth much more than $25

I needed the following:

  • a copy of my last Sprint statement (with the account number)
  • my corporate "FAN" number, so I could I couldn't find this out (AT&T drives corporate accounts to do all the purchases online) but Josh found it for me quickly.
  • credit card
  • driver's license

I ended up with the following devices, I'm sure I'll have more comments on them in future posts (Update: the "rebates" come in the form of restricted use AT&T debit cards.)

  • BlackBerry Pearl (for Emily): includes an earset and a fairly compact mini-USB charger/data cable. This cost $100 with a 2 year contract and a 6 month BlackBerry data plan; there's a $50 rebate coming in 6-8 weeks. The BlackBerry apparently needs an additional 1GB micro-SD card to be fully useful.
  • Nokia 6555: includes a fairly compact proprietary connector charger. In theory will charge and sync with a micro-USB cable. Vibration mode available, has alarm clock. Cost $50 with a 2 year contract (no data); $50 rebate coming in 6-8 weeks.

I ended up with the following charges and plans (AT&T documents this pretty well -- after you commit. The process, however, is so complex that we missed on the final handout pages.):

  • Two year service contract. $175 early termination fee for EACH line.
  • Family 1400 minutes $80/month: We wanted 1000 minutes, but the choices are 700 or 1400. Funny how that works! We'll pile up tons of unused rollover minutes over the 11 month rollover cycle. Oddly enough those rollovers will make it somewhat tempting to add a third line for a child phone. (I'm sure AT&T never thought of that.)
  • Second line charge: $10 a month.
  • BlackBerry data plan for Emily: $30/month. $50 penalty for early termination. Note this is a slow speed EDGE phone.
  • Activation fee of $36 on the first line $26 on the second. I couldn't negotiate out of this, but I'm a poor negotiator. This is annoyingly high for getting a new customer from Sprint. I suspect the fact that Sprint is hemorrhaging customers has something to do with the high activation fee.
  • Additional minutes: 40 cent/min (unlikely to need)
  • Text messages: 15 cent/msg. (we did this rather than buy a flat allotment until we see how many we use)
  • Canada calling: $4 /month. Costs is then 19 cents/minute to Canada and a discount on roaming. Sprint was 12 cents/minute with no roaming. It turns out that for us this may be a rather significant cost increase as I often call my parents during my daily commute.

There are two rebate forms (total $100). Josh assembled them for me, but I have to mail them in two separate envelopes. First bill includes one month billed in advance.

The transition from Sprint, preserving our original numbers, is supposed to take 3-24 hours. At the 4 hour mark I can use the new phone to call and the old phone to receive.

We wont' get much of out the Rollover minutes given the high threshold plan we had to get, but here's the contract languge:

Rollover® Minutes : Rollover® Minutes accumulate and expire through 12 rolling bill periods. Bill Period 1 (activation) unused Anytime Minutes will not carry over. Bill Period 2 unused Anytime Minutes will begin to carry over. Rollover® Minutes accumulated starting with Bill Period 2 will expire each bill period as they reach a 12 bill period age. Rollover® Minutes will also expire immediately upon default or if customer changes to a non-Rollover® plan. If you change plans (including the formation of a FamilyTalk plan), or if an existing subscriber joins your existing FamilyTalk plan, any accumulated Rollover® Minutes in excess of your new plan or the primary FamilyTalk line's included Anytime Minutes will expire...

And it looks like when I get the iPhone I'll get hit with yet another activation fee ...

Wireless ...A pricing plan designated for one type of device may not be used with another device...An activation fee of up to $36 may apply to each new data line...

I think I'd rather take my chances with the crooked realtor really. I'll update this post when I find out what the REAL costs are -- with the first few months bills. I suspect AT&T will turn out to cost us rather more than our former Sprint contract, but it won't be easy to tell for a while.

Update 1/26/2008: Check status of the faux-rebates here.

Update 7/30/08: Whatever AT&T may claim, they always set your "contact options" to "I want every form of spam invented by man". You need to go into your AT&T customer profile and turn them all off. I suspect you probably need to do that every few months. Or just give up.

Update 3/25/09: Not necessarily AT&T's evil (though they have plenty), but the Nokia I got turns out to have a deeply evil streak.

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