June 19, 2013

iPhone, uPhone, weAllPhone

Filed under: Hiking — geezerwriter @ 2:47 pm

Well, if it weren’t enough that I knocked a piece off my car last week, on Saturday I ran my cell phone through the wash!

The old gadgets

The Old

It was cleaner than ever but it didn’t work very well. It is an old (ca. 2006) Motorola flip phone with prepaid service through Tracfone, a MVNO that offers cheap, barebones phone service that runs on the AT&T network. You hear a lot of bad-mouthing about Ma Bell’s stepchild but I have never had any problems with dropped calls or anything and it runs on the GSM system, which means the phones are compatible with most cell networks in the world (unlike the US-only CDMA and TDMA systems). I just have the phone for emergencies and for convenience when traveling, so a prepaid plan is perfect for me – they can get pretty costly if you do a lot of calling and texting (which is terribly awkward on this sort of phone) but I paid about 10 bucks for the phone originally and pay about $90 per YEAR for service. You get a few hundred minutes every year when you renew and it has about 1200 unused minutes that have rolled over for the last 7 years. (My wife has over 4000 minutes on hers.)

So I figured that it was unlikely to come back to life (since I kind of did everything wrong when I tried to dry it out) and maybe it was time for a more useful phone – one with a decent sort of keyboard, either a touch screen or one of those Blackberry-type QWERTY’s with the tiny keys, so that I could text away some of those minutes and have less of a struggle when entering names into the contact list.

This takes on special significance given that the last time I changed phones I had to reenter all of the contacts! The flip phone has a USB connector but nothing happens on either end when I attach it to my computer. They may have fixed this by now, but I have seen no mention on their web site. This whole business of incompatibility between the address books my Mac computers and on the phone is my only major complaint about the Tracfone service.

So I dived into the website and looked closely at about 5 of the phones that can be used in our area and was getting pretty close to picking a Motorola with a touch screen when I looked at the physical specifications: these things are shaped like my iPod Touch or an iPhone, roughly 2-2.5 inches wide and about 4-5 inches tall, but they are over one-half inch thick! That may not sound like much, but given that they do not run apps compatible with Apple’s iOS nor with Google’s Android system or synchronize with any reasonable music or podcasts system, I would still have to carry my old iPod along to cover the many things I use it for. It is only about a quarter-inch thick but that would all total up to a pocket bulge almost an inch thick.

The new iPhone 4sEnter the iPhone

Now I am a cheapskate in many ways. I don’t mind spending some money on nice and useful things, but I really hate just wasting money. [I’ve even been feeling a little guilty lately for not getting more use out of  the expensive camera I bought a few months ago] As much as I like Apple’s gadgets in general and the iPhone in particular, the idea of paying $100-130 per MONTH for service (I actually saw a plan for $550/month) when I can’t even live up to a service that costs about $7.50 just put me off.

But it seems that you no longer have to buy an iPhone with a contract. I was aware that you could “unlock” a phone after the 2- or 3-year contract expired (at which point you would have coughed up $2000 to $3000) and then move it to one of the MVNO’s. But now you can buy the last three models of phone contract-free off the shelf from Apple, all legal and aboveboard.

Of course the service providers heavily subsidize the cost of the phone when you sign two years away to them, so the “unlocked” phone costs quite a bit more. The thought of spending more for a phone than I spent for my first car did pluck some pretty resonant strings of tightwaddity but I was already lost. I made a couple of ill-fated attempts to get a used unlocked phone on Craig’s List, but on Monday morning I took the plunge – I ordered an iPhone 4s from Apple and drove to Lynnwood (Skagit River bridge detour be damned! There’s another story there…) to pick it up.

Then the service…

I decided to dip one toe into the MVNO market and bought one month’s service from h2o wireless for 10 bucks, since Tracfone does not support the iPhone. I want very much to keep my old flip phone’s number, which is very easy to remember, so the activation process is taking a bit longer than it might have. I put the transfer request in yesterday at 2:30 and they said to call them in 24 hours if I didn’t have service. It is now 2:45 and no service on the iPhone but the flip phone went out of service a couple of hours ago, so I have hope that there is progress. I will go ahead and publish this before I make the call because who knows how long…


Turns out that all I had to do was power the phone off and back on and now everything works! As soon as I got home yesterday I transferred all the stuff (music, podcasts, apps and data) from my iPod Touch and now voice and text work, also. I seem to be having trouble with the Internet Data connection, so the adventure continues.


The iPhone looks kind of cheesy in the photo because I plastered on an old plastic screen protector from an even earlier iPod Touch that didn’t quite fit and had to be trimmed to expose the camera and speaker. I’ve ordered some new screen protectors and a case or two but they won’t be here for a week or more and I am startlingly talented at scratching things.


The old flip phone did actually come back to life – I used it for all the calls to the various service providers – and it seems to be fine. Anyone want an old flip phone?


  1. I am so glad to hear you went with the 4S, since there are major major problems with the iPhone 5, which I assume will be fixed with the new version coming out in the fall, with the new iOS7. I’m tempted to try to call you, to see if you pick up yet. You just posted this…

    Comment by DJan — June 19, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

  2. Called and got your voicemail. Call me when you actually do have your cell up and running, okay? 720-938-0064.

    Comment by DJan — June 19, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: