Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why Samsung Sidekick Is A Terrible Phone

I got the Samsung Sidekick over a year ago, and it has been a pretty bad phone. It's cute, and has some fun features, but it fails as a phone and if it were a person, you'd say it's a thief.
The most dishonest thing this phone does is authorize charges for applications without telling me. I have to monitor my bill carefully to see what new charges it decides to rack up. Then when I call customer service, they say that this is impossible and anyway it's not their responsibility.
How I think it works is this:

  • It's a touch screen
  • It comes pre-loaded with applications that you can't remove, such as TeleNav GPS and T-Mobile TV.
I've tried removing those, and I can't: the manufacturer has them locked in and the "Uninstall" button is greyed out. This would be merely an annoyance except that the touch screen occasionally goes off on its own and starts punching it's own buttons.
Let's say the phone is in a pocket and I'm walking around. The random motion of my walking results in buttons being pushed. If I'm lucky, it's merely a telephone call (the infamous "butt dial") which can be funny or embarrassing, but it's no big deal. Sometimes it's another application: the camera, or anything, really. Random screen touches do random things.
Making the problem worse is that the phone locks up, a lot. It pauses, and then it rips through a whole lot of actions, as if it was storing them up and then executing the ones it "remembered".
Today, however, I discovered a big deal. Normally the bill comes in and I file it; it's a six-page bill loaded with the minutiae of charges; T-Mobile is dedicated to the proposition that if it lists enough stuff, you'll eventually stop looking. And that's what happens; after a year of discovering that reading through the six-page bill is a waste of time, I stopped reading through the bill and just filed it.
Today, however, as I filed the bill I noticed it was over $168. That's an absolutely crazy amount so I looked deeper. Buried on page 5 were charges for T-Mobile TV ($9.99 a month) and TeleNav GPS ($21.99 a month).
I never watch TV on my phone. I have no idea how the TV app got turned on, but I didn't do it. The charitable explanation is that it got "butt-dialed". There are less charitable explanations.
The Tele-Nav GPS issue is more clear. When I got the phone, there were two navigation applications. I used one for over a year with no charges and no problems; the world is full of navigation software and there's no reason to pay for it.
Some time last month, there was another update to the software. I was on my way somewhere and when I picked the navigator, it said it had to download an update; was that ok? I said sure, run the update, and thereafter the 1st application was gone and I was using the 2nd. I didn't really care; they all do the same thing and as long as it worked, it didn't matter to me.
Imagine my surprise when I read my bill and saw that I had in theory assented to pay those thieves $21.99 a month! This was not a case in which an honest person had come to me and made me an offer; I had no idea that there would be any charge; if there was any "fees apply" language it was too tiny to notice, and of course the entire interaction was carefully calculated to slide by me without notice (as the T-Mobile TV app had.)
I called T-Mobile "Customer Service" and after arguing with a clerk and then a manager, got the last 2 months charges for the T-Mobile TV reversed; they refused to go further on the grounds that the T-Mobile contract allowed challenges only for 60 days. They also said they'd put in a "request" to have the TeleNav GPS charges reversed, and that should take 3 days. Finally they said they'd "block" those apps for my device. They said they could not do more because T-Mobile was not responsible for the apps on my phone.
So what it boils down to this this: 
  • Thieves craft apps likely to be butt-dialed or to otherwise get the semblance of consent for taking my money without my knowledge
  • Thieves at Samsung install apps on phones that I can't remove; they don't tell me this when I buy the phone; they profit because the app maker gives them somethng for doing this
  • Thieves at T-Mobile pass the money from my bank account to the app thieves; T-Mobile helps the app thieves by hiding their charges in a 6-page bill; T-Mobile profits from being the bagman for the thieves.
Your second defense in this case is to read the bill every month and immediately contest every unexplained charge.
Your first defense is not to deal with these thieves. Of course, it's probably too late; you're probably already using a phone of some sort and there's a good chance they've picked you pocket.

The Samsung Sidekick is a lousy phone in a couple of other ways. The most important is this: as a phone, it is lousy. The first thing a phone should do is let you accept calls when people call you, and the sidekick is not good at it. None of its physical buttons have anything to do with this function; when someone calls, images appear on your screen and you have to swipe a button - not push it, but make a swiping gesture - which doesn't work when the phone does not feeling like working. I have often missed calls because the phone just didn't fell like answering.

The phone often locks up. When I took it to the T-Mobile store, the clerk recommended "fixing" this by pulling the battery and rebooting. I do this several times most days. It seems worse when it's hot.
The camera is awful. While the pictures it takes are good, it often decides it's just not in the mood for taking pictures. Whether you tap the onscreen picture button or use the physical "take picture" button, camera mode waits a random amount of time from 0 to 10 seconds .... being deigning to snap the photo. This is absurd.
The phone also complains about the memory card being full and needing to have some apps uninstalled, but it doesn't matter; I can uninstall every app and delete every picture; it still complains.
The phone has a couple of good features; the keyboard in particular is nice. But these don't outweigh the stalling, the locking-up, the butt dialing and above all the thievery.
Don't. Buy. It.

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