Yesterday, my wife Carol, oldest granddaughter Ella, and I went through a horrendous life-changing earth-shattering traumatic experience: we updated my wife’s mobile smartphone. Now, I don’t have a smartphone. I use a simple Doro mobile phone, specially designed for hard-of-hearing people like me. All I do is send and receive text messages now and again and I very rarely make or take a call. Not so my wife. Just over two-and-a-half years ago, she took out a two-year contract for an iPhone 4 (the same one that was stolen at Geneva railway station) and recently, the replacement iPhone 4 suddenly died while we were away so the writing was on the wall: it’s time to update. My wife had already decided to update to an iPhone 6s, one model below the current iPhone 7 offering from Apple. At least that bit was easy. She knew what she wanted. (I’ll leave aside the question of what’s the difference between an iPhone 6 and an iPhone 6s.)
I started the day by reading the pages and pages of Cheap iPhones tips on Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert website. It was all good advice but I discovered that even with the choice of phone made, there were all sorts of options such as new phone new contract, new phone existing contract, SIM-card-only new phone, SIM-card-only old phone, refurbished phone, and so on. I also discovered that although contracts are normally two years, the monthly fee is not necessarily fixed for the whole period. The suppliers have the right to raise the monthly fee after the first year by the annual rate of inflation. And that’s not all. The choice of phone and corresponding tariffs are based on whether you are a low, medium or high user depending on how many calls you make and how much you download over the Internet—videos, music, periodic updates to installed apps. “Jeez,” I said to my wife, “what are you: low, medium or high?” We finally agreed she was a low user. “But how much memory do you need for all those games the granddaughters have installed? You can have a phone with 32GB, 128GB or even 256GB.” “That’s a great question,” my wife replied. “I’ve no idea.” “3G or 4G?” Arrgh! “Micro-SIM or nano-SIM card?” Get out of here!
As we got deeper into the process of selecting a supplier, so the complexity of the deals thickened. What about calls to France, we queried. (Our daughter and her family live in France.) How about Switzerland? (Our daughter has a place in Switzerland they use as a base for skiing.) There’s an EU-country extra bundle, we discovered. That’s okay for France but what about Switzerland. Switzerland is not in the EU. Another arrgh. What about when the UK is no longer in the EU. Whoa! Stop!
Finally, we settled on a package from my wife’s current supplier, T-Mobile (who we then discovered had been taken over by EE). But, further online research showed the same package, slightly cheaper, on offer by the high street shop Carphone Warehouse. Ella, my granddaughter, jumped in her car and went to the shop to discuss a few points about what they called ‘Roam like Home’ and confirm that Carphone Warehouse could offer the slightly-cheaper package to an existing EE customer. “No problem,” the sales guy said. She came back jubilant. “Let’s go, Grandma,” and off they went.
About forty minutes later, they returned with nothing signed. The process had reached the almost-done stage when it turned out that Carphone Warehouse could not offer the lower deal to an existing EE customer. It only worked for a new EE customer. “But you said…” No deal.
Finally, my wife returned to the earlier EE deal, called the EE sales lady back and agreed on the terms. The arrival of the new iPhone 6s is imminent. Then it’s just a matter of setting it up using the old iPhone 4 and iTunes. I am not looking forward to that!
On reflection, it really should not be that complex to select and buy a new smartphone. The choice of smartphones is bewildering and the variety of deals and small print gotchas is beyond bewildering. I found the websites confusing, riddled with vague terms and confusion over whether prices were ex-VAT or including VAT. It was a horrendous experience and it doesn’t have to be like this. Life’s too short.