Wow, really enjoying the new phones and services so far on Verizon!  Who knew we’d ever be able to get voicemails in TEXT format and even receive faxes on our regular cell phone numbers!?!  I feel like I’ve been missing out.  Not that I use faxing a lot, but we use it at work, and I sometimes need it for personal business, so maybe it’ll come in handy.  Sure would have come in handy a few years back when I had my small business.  It’s interesting how it works:  When someone sends a fax to your cell phone number (I didn’t believe this would even work until I tried it myself) you get a voicemail that tells you there’s a fax for you.  The voicemail system gives you the option of immediately printing the fax if you’re checking your voicemail from a fax machine, or you can enter an “alternate destination”, which can be the number of ANY fax machine.  So I entered the number the fax machine I was near and in comes the fax!  Why I, of all people, am surprised by this, I don’t know.  I guess I just never conceived of a solution like this.  Could be pretty handy.  Now if it could just take that one extra step of converting that fax to a PDF and actually placing it ON my phone, now THAT would blow my mind.

Verizon also just started their “Unlimited” plan at the same time I was in the middle of switching to them.  I looked at the details though–particularly how they throttle down your speed after you hit so many Gigs of usage, and also the price bump of $40 more than their highest non-Unlimited plan (which is what we have) for our 3 lines.  I could see it being pretty popular, especially for families, but I don’t think we’ll have any problems with the 8GB+2GB+2GB+2GB we get per month (2GB bonus per line for life) without the throttling.  With that, and the unlimited full-sized photo and video storage capacity for as long as we keep using our Google Pixels, we’ll stay put for now.

Cellular Changes

We recently made some major cellular changes–both with our smartphones and with our cellular provider.  Over the past few years we’ve been paying over $300/month for our 3 phones, which pretty much comes to about $100 per phone.  This is with US Cellular (herein referred to as USC).  We’ve been with them since I can remember–well over 10 years for sure.  I’ve had them since before my dad passed away in 2008, and I can remember having them as early as 2005 (formerly known as Cingular) when my dad got a big “bag phone” for his van.  I believe he went with Cingular because my cousin worked for them and hooked him up with service and a plan.

So, figuring $300+ per month might be a bit much, in January I started looking at options.  This was our situation: We had 3 phones on a family plan sharing 12GB of data per month.  Two of the phones were paid for, the third is fairly new, so we were still making payments on our bill for that one.  So I can understand our bill being slightly higher than normal with an added payment for one phone.  Our issues on this plan: We have struggled several months previously with trying to stay under 12GB of data, but that was basically because Kevin didn’t fully understand what does and doesn’t use cellular data, and how to avoid using it all.  After a few months of close calls and one month of overage we got that under control and he’s been good ever since.  Since then we all started using “3G Watchdog Pro” on all of our phones to set clear limits and monitor our usage closely.  We also have a problem with USC when I’m in Illinois.  And that’s often, for me–I work there.  And I walk there, every weekday, during lunch, and like to play Ingress as I walk.  This only uses a small amount of data, but it’s pretty critical when you’re limited to only 100MB of roaming data per month before overage charges start.  I think this very low limit might have changed at some point in the past year or two though, now that I look into it more, but roughly a couple years ago I hit that roaming limit at least twice.  I was billed for it the first time, called support and explained my situation, and they reversed the charges.  The second time I had to pay the extra changes.  USC’s coverage is horrible in Illinois, even when roaming.  Those commercials that boldly shout that they have coverage “Out here…In the middle of anywhere!”… Total BS, and they now make me angry every time I see one.

Another issue we had was space…the final frontier…seriously though, 16GB or even 32GB today is just not enough.  Apps are aplenty, and many require room for files, whether it’s for their media, files, or other data they like to store, and you also always need space for apps to “cache” data, download music and movies, TV shows, etc., etc.  So all three of us would find ourselves flushing our cache files in Android (did I mention we’re all dedicated Android fanboys?), and trying to find and cleanup anything we can on our phones just to find enough space to install a new update or make our phones start running smoother.

So, with all those concerns I started hunting for options.  After a couple weeks of looking in my spare time, my options didn’t look promising.  With all of the carriers, a 32GB Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S7) seemed like the best choice, which is sad.  Nevermind the Samsung bloatware, the 32GB just isn’t enough.  Sure, you can add a 256GB SD card, and some people even say you can install apps to the SD card (by jumping through some hoops).  Others, however, say that Samsung blocks the ability to install apps to the SD card on the S7 for some reason.  Either way it sounded like a PITA, so kept looking.  I found that there’s an Apple phone with enough memory, but that’s not an option for me.  At all.  Then last week I found that Verizon and Google offer a 128GB Google Pixel phone, which is running Nougat (Android 7–the latest version of Android), so I started looking at carriers and plans.  I finally settled on Verizon and a plan, then ran the numbers–An 8GB/month shared plan which adds 2GB per phone on the plan, so that would be 14GB per month, for $70 for the plan and $20 per month per phone.  That’s a total of $130 per month for 3 new phones, not including the cost of the phones themselves.  Nice!  So then I looked at possibly financing the 3 phones on my bill as well, which came out to about $32 per phone per month.  Added together with the monthly phone bill the total monthly payment comes to around $226… still at least $75 less that what we were current paying!  Add in all the miscellaneous fees and taxes each month as well as full insurance coverage for each phone, and we end up at around $250-$260 per month.  That sounded awesome, so after discussing it with The Warden, we decided it was a go.  Even at $260 per month, it’s still over $40 cheaper than USC, and we’re paying for three phones.  After paying them off–hopefully sooner than the 2 years–our monthly bill will even drop about $96 per month!

An awesome salesman at Verizon named “Jeff” helped me every step of the way with getting this done.  He even provided his direct cell phone #, which I used several times when we had a few snags and questions, and he made it quite an easy and stress-free experience.  All three of us are now on 128GB Google Pixels now, and enjoying them very much.

The first evening, as I started setting up the new phones, I struggled a bit with the new Pixel Launcher, then decided it wasn’t worth it, and went once again, with good old Nova Prime, which has been our launcher of choice for years, and has spanned just about every phone we’ve had.  With that in place, and knowing the interface so well, things progressed much faster from then on.  The Pixel comes with a transfer cable so you can connect it directly to your old phone during the setup process, then it transfers everything–your apps, contacts, and all data–from your old phone and onto the new one!  My 64GB Galaxy S6 was almost full, and it took the most time to transfer…9 minutes!  I was expecting hours!  Granted, some apps still downloaded from the app store, for some reason, but I was still quite impressed.  Sandy and Kevin’s phones were much easier to do, since they use far fewer apps than I do.

The porting of our existing numbers to the new phones was also quite easy, once I got through a snag with Verizon’s website.  As it turns out, you have to have an account already setup on Verizon’s website in order to work with Verizon support.  I guess this is validation that you’re a legitimate customer of theirs.  I hadn’t done that yet, due to issues I had earlier on in the process, which locked my Verizon account before it was even fully setup!  I apparently provided Verizon (Jeff) with a PIN for my account, which was to be used for just this purpose, and totally forgot about it.  As a result, support couldn’t verify me, and asked if I could go to a Verizon store with a valid photo ID to verify my identity, then they could proceed with the porting of our phone numbers to the new phones.  They apologized quite a bit, but I totally understood, and it was my fault I didn’t remember the PIN.  I recalled afterword, once the Verizon store gave me the PIN # I set, that I did give Jeff this PIN # during the ordering process.  At this point the store also did the porting of the three numbers for me with ease, and it was done.  You simply provide them with your account # with your old provider along with your PIN for THAT carrier, and that’s it.  They said it can take up to 4 hours to fully process, then you’ll get a text message on your phone telling you it’s almost done, and you just restart your phone to complete the process.  It took much less than that for us, under two hours, and the first phone–mine, go figure–only took minutes… the text message was there by the time I got from the Verizon store to my house.

More pluses for Verizon:  I’m noticing that Verizon’s website is many times better than US Cellular’s… It’s a lot faster, easier to navigate, and so far it already has less glitches with logins and providing detailed account information I need.  Very nice!  There’s even a handy graphical data widget included with the “My Verizon” app that shows me how much data I have left for the month… Awesome!  And that’s another big thing–APPS… The “bloatware” (a.k.a. crapware) I have always seen come with our cell phones when we first get them–the stuff that eats up a big chunk of that precious little storage space they usually have–is no more!!  There were 3 little apps from Verizon installed–the others were all Google’s suite of apps, and ALL of them are completely uninstallable!  That was a shocker.  Sure, now that we have plenty of space on our phones, NOW we get the benefit of not having any uninstallable, permanent bloatware to have to deal with… Better late than never I guess!  That, and the fact that Verizon seems to have full coverage everywhere I go so far–even in Illinois–are big pluses in my book!  I can even play Ingress or PoGo in Illinois freely now, without worrying about getting hit with overage fees!

So that’s where we’re at right now, enjoying our new phones along with the extra breathing room 128GB gives us.  Verizon also threw in an extra 6GB of “rollover” minutes for our first month too, I just found out, which is really nice, since I have had to use a bunch of extra data I normally wouldn’t use just setting things up again.  I did most of this over Wifi, just to be safe on data usage, but it’s nice to know we have some extra room to start out with anyway.  The new phones are working great, and we’ve even noticed much clearer-sounding conversations when we talk to people on the new phones.  How much of this is the new phones themselves and how much is Verizon we’re not exactly sure, but it’s much better, and that’s just a good thing.  So that’s about it for now.  When and if we have any issues, I’m sure I’ll bitch about it here, so you’ll know.  Stay tuned.