In August, 2010, I bought a Samsung Vibrant smartphone from T-mobile for five hundred dollars, plus eight dollars per month for the Premium Handset Protection. This brings the total cost of the phone and warranty over the course of the two year contract to approximately seven hundred dollars.
I’ve invested dozens, if not hundreds, of hours researching and perusing this issue, and have put up with this defective, expensive device for over a year without achieving a successful resolution.
T-mobile acknowledges that the phone is defective; however, they will only exchange it for significantly less powerful models, with limited capabilities and smaller screens (which cause reading problems for me). The phones that T-mobile is offering under the warranty exchange are worth around $150 – about a fifth of the cost of the original phone and warranty.
Furthermore, T-mobile has also indicated that the models that they are willing to use as exchange are excess inventory that they no longer even sell. Additionally, T-mobile refuses to even apply the value of the phones that they are willing to provide as a replacement against the cost of a phone that has the same level of functionality, a comparable screen size, the same bundled applications provided, a similar interface and the same input mechanisms as the defective smartphone.
In August, 2010, I purchased a Samsung Vibrant from T-mobile. The cost of the phone was $499.00. This cost was paid partially initially, and partially through the two year plan that I signed up for. Additionally, I purchased the Premium Handset Protection plan for 7.99 per month. Over the course of the two year contract, that means that the total cost of the phone plus the protection for the phone comes to 690.76, not including tax.
This was the absolute best phone (on paper and by specification) that T-mobile sold at the time. It had the most features, most memory and processing power, highest screen resolution and the largest screen. Furthermore, it came with a number of “for pay” applications included. Obviously, it was also the most expensive.
Soon after taking possession of the phone, I discovered that the GPS almost never could get a “lock”, thus rendering a good portion of the smartphone’s functionality useless:
I purchased the phone in part for the GPS based functionality that comes with all GPS enabled smartphones: Google maps and locators, mass transit schedules, restaurant finders and so forth.
Additionally, part of the what I paid for with the phone was a bundle of applications, including Telenav GPS (a GPS program that makes your smartphone look and act exactly like a car GPS system), Layer (a gps based program that gives information about your surroundings), and several other applications that are based on having a functional GPS feed. Obviously, none of these worked.
I did not replace the phone immediately because T-mobile indicated both through personal contact and through various postings on their web site and forums that there would be software patch forthcoming for the phone that would fix all of these problems. While T-mobile never did provide a specific date for release of the patch, it was always implied that it should be out “soon” and that I should just hold on to my phone until it did. Replacement of the phone under the warranty was disallowed at that point in time because of the forthcoming patch.
Finally, in early October of 2010, the patch was released:
The on-air updates were staggered, and it was not until near the end of October that I received the update.
The patch did not work. I was able to get a GPS signal occasionally, but rarely, and when I did, it was often inaccurate, or it drifted. None of the GPS based applications were in any way effectively functional.
During the months that followed, I did a fair bit of research on the T-mobile forums and website, without much luck. For example, there were several solutions that involved modifying the core Android software (“rooting” the phone) that I rejected out of hand given that it violates the warranty and is against the contract that I signed.
It also became apparent from reading the T-mobile forums and other sources that this was a hardware level problem:
The Samsung advocated solutions revolved around using wireless networks to triangulate position, as opposed to GPS. This is really not a viable solution, as in a moving vehicle; there is not time to get a wireless network signal. Furthermore, Samsung’s solutions often also revolved around simply resetting the phone to factory defaults (which, in my case, don’t work):
Note that this approach also includes allowing Google to collect additional information about me.
Another possible solution that I rejected involved downloading special software (Kies) from Samsung and applying more patches to the phone myself. I rejected this solution for multiple reasons. First, according to T-mobile, this could lead to other problems with the phone:
Second, application of the patch required that I turn off all firewall and virus protection on my computer, a risk that is insane for me to take with the amount of personal data on my machine:
Regardless of other considerations, none of these considerations work particularly well from what I’ve read. The GPS stays at best inaccurate and still drifts:
Finally, I went to the T-mobile store on multiple occasions in order to follow up on this. No one was ever able to successfully help me. The last I attempted to address this problem was in February or March of 2011, when I was in the store to get an issue with a gmail account on the phone resolved. While in the store, the technician did a factory reset and attempted to fix the issue with the GPS, without success (though, he was able to fix the email issue).
At that point, my work schedule and other time commitments really did not allow me to continue to follow up and get a successful resolution to this issue until recently. Additionally, I felt that the high end devices offered by T-mobile were potentially still somewhat unstable, given the detailed research that I'd performed at this point, and that I could live for a while with a broken phone if it meant that I could eventually exercise my warranty in order to get a working phone.
Boy was I mistaken.
On Saturday, December 10th, I visited the downtown T-mobile store, and spoke with a salesperson for about 40 minutes. The salesperson acknowledged the problem, but said that my only option was to trade in my current phone (which sold initially for five hundred dollars, and was covered with 200 dollars of insurance) for one of four phones that listed in the $100-$150 range and were, in fact, no longer even sold by T-mobile but, rather, were excess inventory.
These possible replacement phones did not have anywhere near the same screen size, which would have created a problem for me reading the screen. Furthermore, these phones had less processing power, had a different input mechanism (“chicklet” keys instead of the large on-screen virtual keyboard), and did not come with the applications that had come bundled with the original phone.
In short, the offered replacements would have been a significant downgrade even at the time of purchase of the original phone, let alone now.
I rejected this “offer” and returned on Sunday, December 18th. During this encounter, to which my wife was both a witness and participant, we spent half an hour talking to a salesperson, and another hour and a half talking to the store manager. As in previous instances, the store manager indicated that I was limited to the choices previously offered (i.e., a significant downgrade in value and specification of the phone). Furthermore, he indicated that it was not possible to apply the value of the defective phone against the current (working) version of the phone I possess: the Samsung Vibrant IIS.
During the course of the conversation, the manager did examine the phone. He indicated that the 2.2 patch was not present on the phone. (I believe that it was removed in February when the T-mobile technician was setting up the second gmail account for the phone; however, this is not verified. Regardless, either their over the air patch in October 2010 failed, or it was removed during the factory reset performed by the technician.)
The manager suggested that I should perform the 2.2 patch myself, using the Kies software from Samsung; however, as previously noted, this is not a guaranteed fix, will destroy all data currently on the phone, including applications, and requires that I set up a Windows computer with no firewall and no virus scanner – something that is far too risky to do with my home computers, given the personal data on those machines. The manager said that their IT department did not allow him to run the Kies software on any computers in their store; given the fact that in order to run it, one must turn off all computer security, I am in no way surprised at this.
It should be noted in the interest of fairness that my wife and I, who are on a joint subscription plan, were able to re-negotiate our monthly fee to their current market plan, with the manager waving the transition fee of $100 because my wife was a ten year customer, and we were within a few weeks of the zero cost transition point to move to the cheaper plan. However, with this said, this meant that we were extending our contract with T-mobile, thus making it to his advantage to do this.
Following our unsuccessful visit to the downtown Seattle T-mobile store, I attempted to call the T-mobile customer service line. I reached a customer service representative, and after explaining the issue, was again told that I could accept one of the antiquated, excess inventory phones or simply live with my current phone, and that there was no way that they could apply warranty credit towards a phone that was anywhere near as good in specification as the phone that I currently have.
At this point, I’ve exhausted every viable avenue that I can conceive of to get T-mobile to honor the warranty that I am paying for. I’ve spent dozens if not hundreds of hours researching and perusing this issue. I do not consider taking a phone worth 20% of what I paid originally and with significantly less features and a smaller screen to be in any way a fair exchange, nor do I consider it reasonable to potentially compromise my home computers by dropping all my computer security in order to attempt a fix that may well not even work.
Thank you for your consideration in this matter.