What an Electronics Store's Epic Fail Taught me about Consumer Rights
It was that dreaded time. This is usually a time that many people wait for, but not me. I didn't need an upgrade. My phone's battery was draining like crazy and it has been a while. We all know that phone vendors started making phones less "tinkerer friendly" by sealing them up, so the batteries aren't easily replaced. An urban myth (that is actually quite true), is that phones push software updates over time that actually make your phone slower until the phone seems almost unusable. Even opting out of phone updates in the past (every chance I get), that inevitable pop-up always comes up. My rant aside, it was time for me to upgrade to a new phone.
Doing some research around, my original phone choice was going to be some sort of Blackberry. However, I ended up trying to opt into getting a Silent OS phone. The phone I tried ordering was the original Black Phone by SilentCircle, and I found a really good deal on eBay (so I thought). Fast forward, and it ended up never being shipped and I had to get a refund through eBay and PayPal. This is obviously not SilentCircle's fault as they have no control over who tries selling their product. My original plan was to get a phone that offered better encryption. This phone is 5 years old, but the software (from my understanding) is easily modifiable.
The next phone I tried opting to buy was something I could just grab and go. I saw many different prepaid phones and I know it is general knowledge that prepaid phones don't work on regular phone plans or SIM cards. Somehow, phone vendors prevent the phone sometimes from being able to even recognize the SIM or finish installation. I ended up inquiring about the Moto E5 Play at a store, and the person said it should still work with my regular network. The sales guy at that store let me buy that phone, which I immediately returned later that day finding out I was misinformed.
I ended up going to various different electronics stores in between this and many of them had a "price-match guarantee". What I love about it, is how many of them are very iffy on the fine lines. For example, many phones promised to honor their word matching Amazon, but when it lists even the direct manufacturer of the phone itself, then says next to it, "fullfilled by Amazon", they claimed that wasn't Amazon themselves. I had to show them the Google shopping results for them to believe it is sold by Amazon. Saying by "insert manufacturer name here" and fullfilled by Amazon is the same thing as sold by Amazon. I found it ironic that many stores that offered price matching were sometimes $50-$75+ above the MSRP, and if they were leniant it felt like it took ten or twenty minutes worth of convincing.
That being settled, I ended up going to a different store. Who would guess my luck as a consumer? I ended up purchasing on price match, the BLU Phone G9. Activating the phone ended up being a hassle due to the whole APN network settings, GSM vs. CDMA compatibility debate, etc. Another beautiful thing was finally the biggest fail of them all. The phone I purchased as that store had a very specific custom build. The custom build on that phone was a demo-loop custom build. This means the phone I purchased was accidentally meant to be a display phone. Now as I am making this article and found this out by myself, I may have to go return this one as well.
What I Learned
Throughout the phone buying experience I learned quite a lot. One of the first takeaways that I learned, are that some of the lower-end phones, seem more "tinkerer-friendly" than the expensive phones. Lots of expensive phones are sealed, meaning you don't just have a few screws or a cover you can just take off and replace the battery. This makes servicing the phone an extremely tedious task.
I also learned that in the age of Amazon, eBay, and Newegg, many more stores will be going out of business. At first, I thought it was due solely to the convenience of being able to just research and order things online. However, this isn't just the case. Many stores nowadays have become quite stingy and some may even say have borderline shady practices in how they promote rebates, price matches, coupon usages, redemptions, giveaways, etc. My experience trying to find a store honest to its price matching policy and not making excuses to my face was quite difficult. I feel like I can now be one of the loud voices on the internet that points out that this needs to stop.
Also buying different phones brought back nostalgia. In the age of homebrewing, and unlocked phones, comes an even more advanced market. I am talking about full on modding. I found out many things like open source GSM protocols, Android CDMA Mods, Mobile Network Detection and APN Settings Apps, and software driver compatibilities. I also found out that some phone vendors may be against or a bit iffy on providing you with a software driver that can get your phone to work. I am not going to say what model phone or who, but some tech support agents tell me, "oh this won't work because this has different specs, or Android version x or so and so". I know this is misleading due to the fact that the Android version could have easily been upgraded given the specs, or the software driver I was inquiring about was still capable of being installed on said phone. I have found many apps and mods online after these ordeals, and my eyes were opened to a whole new world of consumers' rights.
So if you don't know already, my name is Andrew and I work at a startup that builds decentralized tech. I am currently the creator of many projects
in support of a decentralized web, and manage my own decentralized-internet protocol
. I believe given the rise of things such as hidden network settings in phones, the limitations of current GSM and CDMA type technologies, and the "grudge against giant telecom", in the future we are going to create our own wireless communication networks. We may even have open source GSM/CDMA type bridge controllers running off a decentralized internet, and I myself have considered onboarding developers to build a decentralized telecom and/or VOIP type service untop of my decentralization solution.
Besides decentralization, I think there are other technological solutions then these big players. I believe phones that are easy to tinker around with or modular are becoming increasingly popular. A concept I was hugely interested in was Phonebloks
, which was a modular take-a-part phone concept. However, (last I checked) it is not for sale and is just in dev mode. Many people said that Project Ara was promising, but they seem to be inactive in the market. I also had my hopes up with some IndieGoGo projects that never shipped. I think we need more phones that people can tinker around with. If not friendly enough for tinkering, at least phone vendors should be held more accountable. Stop sealing phones up. Phones should be easy to replace a battery or an LCD screen. You shouldn't have to go to a special servicing place for specific vendors. Openess is key. If anything can be left said from this article, it is that final statement.
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