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.

My Samsung Galaxy S6 Debacle

The battery died on my Galaxy S6 last night, and I tried pretty much everything possible to get it working properly again, including soft reset, hard reset, factory recovery, etc. etc. etc., but nothing worked.  It seemed to “reboot” to the “SAMSUNG” screen most times instead of the “GALAXY S6” logo screen that normally appears from a power-off state. In fact, it REFUSED to even power off! Holding down the power button for a few seconds–which normally brings up the menu to power off of restart the phone–simply made it reboot back to the “SAMSUNG” screen (which is not a normal reboot, as previosuly mentioned).  Doing things in some apps – like trying to export my OnTrack readings and e-mail them to my wife, which I do daily, caused the same reboot, as well as just trying to open the built-in “Themes” function in Settings.

About a week ago I upgraded to Android Marshmallow, and everything worked great with it up until now. I’m not sure exactly what triggered this to happen except for my battery going dead while I was trying to use my phone. Pretty much everything is backed up to the cloud–all my apps, photos, etc., and the rest I have backed up manually (my OnTrack test results, SMS backup, and screenshots of all of my home screens, folders, and all of my app drawer icons–just to remind me of what was installed, for future reference). So my phone is primed to be wiped, but I can’t even get it to do THAT at this point.

I tried all of the instructions I found online for “How to hard reset the Galaxy S6”, but no luck. I even set the security settings to wipe the phone after 25 failed attempts at entering a PIN! I didn’t realize, however, that this little function was so time-consuming! What it does is let you enter the wrong PIN about 5 times, then reminds you about the wipe after 25 attempts and gives you a 5-minute delay before allowing you to try again. After trying again, maybe a few times, it reminds you again and increases the delay to 10 minutes. It repeats this process all the way up to 25 attempts, until it only allows 1 attempt before increasing the wait time between attempts. Finally, after the final attempt (and a whopping 1 HOUR delay), it tried to wipe the phone, showing “Deleting all data…” on the screen for several seconds, then did it’s reboot to the “SAMSUNG” logo, and returned to the login screen. When I tried to login once more with a bad PIN, it then showed “-1 attempts left – try again in 60 minutes” and the “Deleting all data…” message stayed on-screen as it once again attempted to wipe the phone. This time, however, the “Deleting all data…” message stayed on-screen forever. After waiting about 30 minutes with nothing changing, I pressed the power button and it went to the “SAMSUNG” startup screen again, rebooting.

After all that, I got desperate. With the only other option being to bring my phone into my carrier’s store, and having them first go through all of the same time-consuming troubleshooting steps I already went through, I started thinking about those buttons. For a warm boot you press 3 buttons. For a hard reset you press 3 buttons, but use the opposite volume button… and neither of those work for me. So what if I press ALL the buttons at once? There are a total of 4 on the phone: Volume Up, Volume Down, Power, and Home. So I did it and held them for about 10 seconds. Sure enough, my phone rebooted…CORRECTLY! Showing the GALAXY S6 screen instead of the SAMSUNG screen it kept rebooting to every other time! It just rebooted back to the login this time, but at least I could now consistently get it to properly reboot. So with this in mind, I did the 4-button reboot, and then immediately switched to the 3-finger combination used for a normal “hard reset”, figuring it would think it’s coming up from a power-off state and actually reset. After a couple failed attempts, the third time was a charm and I was able to switch buttons quick enough at the moment the GALAXY S6 screen appeared, holding the 3 buttons down, then the ANDROID logo appeared! SUCCESS! The next part was pretty amusing too… The little Android robot proceeded to fall over on it’s side, dead, with a big red circle with an X in it on he Android! I laughed pretty hard at that, which took away a lot of my frustration with this whole mess.

After a short time, the recovery menu appeared and I knew how to navigate this one–by using the VOL UP and VOL DOWN to select menu items and the POWER button to select them. With those I chose Factory Reset, and after it worked for several minutes I was FINALLY back to a brand-new phone! Everything is setup once again and working properly now. I know it’s good to refresh your phone every 6 months to a year, but this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done. It was, however, good practice, and maybe this posting will even help someone else who might end up in the same situation. I have no idea what actually caused the issue or what became corrupted, I only know that my battery went dead quickly. If I’m not near a power source when it gets low though, I tend to push it right to the edge, so maybe that’s not such a good idea. It starts warning me at 15% battery, which is a sign to start charging or shut it down–SAFELY. Since I didn’t do that, it could have been in the middle of writing something critical when the power ran out. All I know is that it wasn’t a “CLEAN” shutdown, it was instantly dead. When I last glanced at the battery, it was at 1%.