Under pressure: the search for an Android

I am due a mobile phone upgrade next week, insha Allah. I have my heart set on an Android unit, the main manufacturer of which seems to be HTC; the Hero is the best known of them. My service provider is T-Mobile (which used to be One2One many years ago when I started my contract) and they have three handsets available: the Hero (which they call the T-Mobile G2), the Pulse (exclusive to them, manufactured by Huawei) and the T-Mobile G1 (by HTC). I’ve been shopping around to see if I can get a better deal than the one I have been offered by T-Mobile, and have found quite a bit of frustration.

From my dealings with several of the dealerships in Kingston this week, I have noticed that some of the staff are ignorant or given to pressure selling. Some of the staff at T-Mobile’s own upgrade department aren’t very competent either.

Last Thursday, I think it was, I got a call at 4:20pm or thereabouts, telling me I was entitled to an early upgrade. I told them I was interested in an Android phone. They said that the best deal they could offer me would cost me something like £130, money I don’t have right now. They named me three phones I could get now, and I told them I’d go to the local dealership and ask there and they agreed to call me back in half an hour. I went home intending to ask for a Nokia 6600i. They called me back, but that was when I was cycling home. The phone was pressed against my leg, and answered itself before I could put my hand in my pocket, and then cut me off. They left a number, but when I called it, I simply got a message saying “you were called by T-Mobile and there is no need to take any action”. I expected them to call back, but I presume they thought I was driving.

When there was still no call-back at 10:30am next morning, I called the customer service line. After two attempts to get through the automated answering system, I finally spoke to a human being, and explained to her what had happened. She put me through to the upgrades department, who told me that, in fact, I could get an Android phone now, albeit with reduced allowances, or wait until my upgrade is actually due for a better deal with a free handset and the same bill every month on a two-year contract. I took the latter option, and agreed to go to the local dealership on the due date.

I’ve been shopping around the various mobile dealerships in Kingston; for those outside the UK, we have five main mobile providers, namely T-Mobile, Orange, O2 (formerly BT Cellnet), Vodafone and 3 (owned by Hutchinson which formerly owned Orange). There is also Virgin, which resells T-Mobile. Besides one-provider shops, there are also companies which can sell from multiple providers, namely Phones4U and Carphone Warehouse. I stopped by Phones4U in the Bentalls Centre simply to point out that their Christmas opening sign had a spelling mistake on it. After thanking me for pointing it out, they asked me if I’d like to come in and get a contract. I explained my position and they told me that they’d stopped doing TM upgrades some years ago and that Orange was in the process of taking them over. I said I’d heard that such a thing was happening, but didn’t realise it was pretty much a done deal. They said it was, and that over the next year and a half or so, one of the two names would disappear.

They couldn’t offer me the kind of deal on Android that I’d been quoted over the phone, so I said thanks and goodbye and left. I then went into the 3 dealership on Clarence Street, and asked one of the salesmen if they did Android phones. He said, “well, I tend to be more familiar with laymen’s terms, like ‘smartphones’”. Of course, that term tells you nothing, because there are many different types of smartphones, including Symbian, Android, Windows Mobile and iPhone. I thought, “what’s this guy doing selling mobile phones if he can say something that stupid?”. I told him why I wanted a ‘droid and he pointed me towards one of their Symbian-based phones. (Qt, a major programming interest of mine, has been ported to Symbian, so if I can’t get an Android phone I like, I might settle for one of them.)

Today, I also made a point of visiting the other dealerships and finding out if I could get a better deal. The staff at the O2 shop in the Bentall’s said that O2 didn’t do any Android based handsets (Carphone Warehouse later told me that they did). Orange were trying to get me to sign for a £20 deal there and then by telling me that there was an offer which was only on that week; however, when you factor in internet access (without which, there is no point in having an Android phone), it costs an extra £5 a month. They also tried to sell me the HTC Tattoo, insisting that “it’s newer” than the Hero, when in fact its specification is lower (in fact, it’s lower even than the Huawei/T-Mobile Pulse, TM’s budget Android offering). Vodaphone told me that they did the HTC Magic, exclusive to them, for a similar price. Of course, I am not going to switch providers when I can get the same deal, with possibly a better unit, with my current provider. The guy in the Orange dealership also told me that the merger with T-Mobile is a possibility, not a done deal (which is why it hasn’t been big news, as it would be), and that the Phones4U staff were talking rubbish, and often do.

So, it looks like I’m going to wait for my upgrade next Thursday. Why do I want Android, you might ask? Simply because I like the idea of an open platform that I can develop applications for myself, and choose software from whichever source I like without there being any censorship by the corporation which makes the handset, unlike with iPhone, which is beyond my reach financially anyway. I just wish these dealerships would train their staff properly so that they do not come across as either ignoramuses or as over-eager pressure-sellers. After all, I’m going to be stuck with this contract for eighteen months or two years. Surely they should know that I don’t want to rush into that lightly.

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