The first bill arrived. The suspense is only partly over. At the end of July I made many people happy by switching from Sprint and my flip phone to AT&T and a smartphone (Flipping To A Smartphone). Finally, they can text me!, they cheered. After horror stories about charges, coverage, and customer service I made the change; and have waited a month and the first bill before making a judgment. As with most of life and personal finance, there’s a bit of good, a bit of bad, and a bit of something different.
My biggest worry was the bill. AT&T has some sort of automated system that estimates the first bill. The folks in the store told me to ignore it, but they had to provide it. The folks I called in Customer Service said the same. That estimate was for over $300 for the first month and over $200 for every month after that. Ouch! With estimates like that I kept my phone usage to a bare minimum. No new apps. No streaming video. Mostly phone calls, and only a bit of web browsing when real estate required it. The real answer: ~$168. Kind of high, but not bad considering it included one month plus the pro-rated part of the first month.
If I read this four page bill correctly, it looks like next month’s bill will be under $100. That’s almost double my Sprint bill, but cruise back through the prior post to find how poor the service had become. AT&T is said to have dropped calls, but Sprint wouldn’t even connect sometimes.
Without the rumors and stories, I would have little evidence of any problem with AT&T service. There’s only been one place where I couldn’t place a call. I’m sure there are others, but that’s not bad. Without friends and coworkers, I would probably still be trying to figure out how to answer the thing. Thanks to everyone who didn’t produce a video of me punching fingers at the screen. Swipe, dude. Swipe. At least now I can answer the phone, receive texts, and sometimes get into voicemail. (Still working on that one.)
Eventually, I’ll learn how to take and move photos without having to remove the microSD card. Eventually, I’ll add apps (particularly the real estate ones.) Twitter will follow, and I’ll set up an Instagram account. But, I’m a minimalist. The fewer apps the better, as long as it isn’t too few apps.
But back to that bill.
The bill arrived within about ten days of its due date. I haven’t set up bill pay for AT&T yet, so I called the contact number on the bill. Pay by phone? Sure. That sounds quick and efficient. Step one, call. Result one, they sent me a web link. Nope. I want to talk to a person. Stay on the line with an estimated wait time of seven minutes – which turned out to the just about right. Verify ID, and he tries to send me to the web site, too. It’s simple; all I need is my PIN which should be 5 or 6 or 7 digits. I recall making one in the store. It was 8 digits. How about I just pay my bill? Not yet. Dive into Settings, read off numbers, pass along financial info, and get back a 15 character confirmation code. Fifteen characters? That’s over 10^24 possible combinations. How many unique confirmation codes do they need for a planet with a population of fewer than 10^10? Is AT&T getting ready to take over the galaxy, the universe, the rest of the universes? At least the bill got paid. It only took about ten minutes.
The bill is longer than usual, possibly because it is the first, but also because the AT&T Help Desk people had to undo things the people at the AT&T outlet signed me up for that weren’t necessary. Add this, then subtract it, then add in the right thing. Then try to understand it.
Still it looks better than I thought it would.
And then I noticed the equipment costs. As I mentioned in the prior post, I had a specific phone in mind when I arrived. Its main feature was that it was cheap. But.
“The $179 phone from earlier was gone, but there was a special deal for a $1/month phone for people switching service. Nice! Within the next two hours, that offer somehow vanished, and I left with a phone that may only cost me $104. OK, $179-$104 is still $75 less than I expected.“
According to the bill, the equipment price is more than $200, and I have 29 more installments to make. Granted the monthly installment is only about $5, something I wouldn’t even notice, but there’s that principle of the thing. How’d that happen?
This is why personal finance advice frequently over-simplifies personal finance decisions. Actions usually create other actions. A decision isn’t confined to the moment it happened. Each step is a commitment to many more steps to make sure the steps are heading in the right direction.
The switch has been a good thing. I would’ve made it earlier, but the delay touches a much longer and older story involving MicroVision. If you don’t know, there’s no need to ask (or you can dive into the rabbit hole of my posts about MVIS.) Real estate on Whidbey Island has been hectic enough that a reliable phone service is a necessity, and an unreliable phone service can mean someone doesn’t get to sell and someone else doesn’t get to buy.
The switch has been a good thing, but I miss my flip phone. It was small, rugged, and simple. The smartphone is bulky, feels fragile, and complicated. I’m sure it will become familiar with practice. For some reason, that form factor works for billions. Go figure. I’ve seen the possibilities of the marriage of a small phone with a big display, but that’s that MicroVision topic again.
For now, my smartphone sits beside me, usually at a distance because I don’t want something that powerful beside me. Glad I bought a headset. Let’s see how long smartphones stay this shape. I hear someone’s working on implanting them inside our skulls. That’s a transition I may never make. So, pardon me when you call. As complicated as the phone may be, the biggest delay tends to be me trying to untangle the headphone cords. There’s a technology that could be improved, or a user that can be educated.