Change Is Good


apple-iphone6-silverWhile I despised my time at Ralphs, I must admit that some of their perks were slightly worth the trouble. Slightly.

The major one, of course, was health benefits for myself and Anthony that set me back maybe $7 every week. If I had hung around there long enough to add Ann then they would have gone up to $15 per week. Definitely not a bad cost.

Another equated to cash back for every dollar we spent at the store. At the end of every quarter, I would get a certificate for whatever that amount was. In some cases, it was as high as $80 which could be used on anything in the store.

Then there were the other perks like getting a discount on cell phone plans which, after thinking about it, wasn’t all that spectacular even with the discount. We made the move to AT&T a few months after my start date and were with them ever since but now that I’ve parted ways with Ralphs (or vice-versa it seems), it won’t be long before American Telephone and Telegraph gets word of it and I lose my discount. I don’t even want to know what my bill would be then.

So we had to make a move and that move was going with Sprint’s “Cut Your Bill In Half” plan. It’s definitely a deceptive title all things considered since it only cuts the data portion of your bill in half so don’t expect your $150 bill to be $75 because it won’t. Granted, we are now paying less than we were with AT&T and with insurance on all three lines but as for cutting our bill in half? Oh no. It’s far, far, far from it.

As a stipulation of the plan, we had to get all new phones which was no big deal for Ann and Anthony. They chose the iPhone 6 without hesitation. They knew what they wanted.

Me? That’s another story.

It needs a lot of storage and expandable memory. Must be small enough for an armband when I go running. A good camera would be nice. Stylish would be okay, too. I’d like a nice display as well.

So as the paperwork was being filled out, I made my way around the store looking at a variety of Android phones because that’s all I’ve owned since first getting a smartphone – and I wasn’t about to change that. There was too much I enjoyed about Android, namely complete customization: launchers, the ability to make (free) ringtones from any .mp3 on the phone, widgets, and the fact that it could be treated like a hard drive which made transferring data a breeze.

Then there was the iPhone. I never liked them because everybody had one and their stigma of “sheeple” customers always bothered me. I didn’t like Apple’s proprietary nonsense with cables. I didn’t like that memory could not be expanded. I didn’t like the way Apple controls just about everything on the phone via iTunes. I didn’t like the fact that you couldn’t add widgets to the screen (I’m a big widget fan). I didn’t like much about iPhones even if I had owned and still own a few iPods. Plus, the absence of a Back and Menu button was also a big turn-off. How can I get anything done with one button? There was no way I could get used to this kind of thing even if I had an iPod touch in the past.

Besides, they were always too expensive for me.

But as I made my way around the store looking at different Android models, I discovered that no matter which one I chose, it was just the same experience I’ve had on my previous models only in a different skin. Same turkey, different bread only now the turkey was starting to get a little ripe. And I didn’t want to eat bad turkey for the next two years.

The LG G4, Samsung Galaxy Note 4, and even the HTC one M9 (I was using an M7 at the time) weren’t offering anything special. Most had limitations in terms of storage or some other thing I just didn’t like, so I continued my browsing. This was the worse case of beslutfattande* I’d ever had.

And the family had grown weary with all of this, especially Anthony who had to give up his phone and lose all of his Minecraft progress. He was not happy about that. But I still couldn’t decide and continued to make the rounds in the store.

Then it happened. I threw my hands up. I gave in and pointed to the 64GB iPhone 6.

“Oh, just give me that one,” I said to Ann. Both she and Anthony were pretty shocked at my decision with Anthony asking if I was okay. He knows I loved my Android phones and was always talking smack about iPhones and their limitations.

But I didn’t have anything to lose in choosing the iPhone because I could bring it back in 14 days if I didn’t like it. I was so certain that I’d despise the thing that I told the girl at Sprint that I’d see her in a few days.

Well, it’s been a few days and I still have my iPhone. Do I like it? Let’s go over all the things I thought I’d miss.

Widgets: A widget is a live, quick-reference app that can be installed on any of your screens. It’s great for things like weather conditions, sports scores, etc. and they are one of the things that separated Android from Apple. But do I miss them on my Home screen? Nope. Not at all. They were a convenience but definitely not a necessity.

Free Ringtones: Android phones allow you to assign any .mp3 file as a Default or Contact ringtone. All you have to do is point to it and it will play that song as you assigned it. Apple charges for their ringtones through iTunes which kind of annoyed me considering I’ve already paid for my music. However, I found an app that allows you to create your own ringtones from songs in your iPhone’s music library. It’s a little tricky and still involves using iTunes to get them on your phone but it works. Solved that problem.

One Button vs. Several: Having one button isn’t as bad as I thought it would be and I’m getting used to navigating my way around the phone with only one physical button. Naturally there’s a learning curve but being I had an iPod touch, there wasn’t much to learn. I guess just the thought of having only a Home button on a device I’d use more frequently than my iPod bothered me but no, it really doesn’t now that I’m doing it.

Expandable Storage:  As of this post, I have over 2,600 songs, 9 videos, 49 apps, and a whole bunch of pictures on my 64GB iPhone. I’d say that what I have on it is pretty substantial and it gets me by. All of this and I still have over 33GB left. I don’t think I’ll have a problem with storage even if I add more music to it.

So that covers everything that made me so hesitant about the iPhone. What about the rest of it?

Size: I wouldn’t say it’s perfect because nothing really is but I will say that it’s amazing how much technology got crammed into something so thin. Even with a case on it, the iPhone still sports a very thin profile and I like that. It fits right in my pocket and armband for running, but sometimes almost seems a little too thin.

Display: It’s crisp and clear, and the camera seems to produce decent quality pictures but I have yet to shoot videos with it.

Performance: This pretty much seals the deal. With any of my Android phones, it wasn’t uncommon to get the “Unfortunately, [app name] has stopped running” warning telling you that something went funky. But I suppose this is what happens when the phone is basically a computer and treated as such: things break. With Apple having a little more control over their iOS, it seems they’ve gotten a better grip on things like this. No, I can’t say that this will never happen with an iOS device because there are some apps that crash on my iPad but not as often as they have with any Android device. The iPhone’s performance is nowhere near anything I’ve had in the past: it’s fast and fluid, and blows all of my other phones out of the water.

At this point, everything else on the phone is just a bonus. The Touch ID works as expected and I have scanned both thumbs and index fingers to allow access which makes it easier when sitting at my work desk. I also love the Ringer/Vibrate switch on the side of the phone. One flip and the sound is on/off. It’s also nice to adjust the playback speed of podcasts, something I could never do with an Android device. (I listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed so I can cram in more while at the office.)

And oh, I can find cases for it anywhere — even at the dollar store.

And as an added bonus, my Pebble watch works perfectly with the phone. It was kind of glitchy with my HTC one M7 and would sometimes reset but I have yet to experience that with the iPhone. The only thing about the Pebble that’s disappointing is the lack of apps for customization, i.e. ones that allow you to make watchfaces or reply to messages. There are none for the iPhone so that’s definitely a setback.

My earbuds also fall the under It Just Works category. Botton was response very with my unpredictable Android but not so with the iPhone.

The Verdict: I have to admit that despite my initial trepidation, I am beyond satisfied with the iPhone 6. Not only is it a great device but it’s also an entirely new experience for me and change is most definitely a good thing.

The people at Sprint won’t have to worry about seeing me within the next 12 days with phone in hand, ready to return it to them in exchange for a Samsung or LG. But with Apple reportedly announcing new models in a few weeks and our contract being a part of the iPhone Forever plan, I will most definitely be paying them a visit to upgrade to the newest model once it is available.

But I’m not camping outside the store for it. That’s just goofy.

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*Beslutfattande: Swedish for “decision making.” This is what I got from proofreading several languages in the past.

Adventures in Smartphones


Okay, so it’s been way too long between posts and I sort of have an idea about today’s topic.

As you may recall, I dropped my Samsung Galaxy S4 Active the day before I was to participate in the Long Beach Marathon Bike Tour and 5k. In case you don’t remember what it looked like after the fall, here’s a refresher.

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Since the day I dropped it, I had been tolerating the ugly display and felt every little crack as I slid my finger across the screen and because of that, I had to buy a cheap screen protector in order to save the tip on my index finger from getting any glass stuck inside of it. And I worked with it as long as I could.

I think it was about a week after The Dropping when I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore and gave AT&T a call to get an idea on what I could do until I’m eligible for an upgrade. The simplest solution, as they told me, was to buy a cheap AT&T GoPhone and slide the SIM card in it and everything would be back to normal.

Thinking it was a good idea, I did just that by purchasing the ZTE Compel at Radio Shack since the nearest AT&T store didn’t have them in stock. In fact, they had very little in stock and shouldn’t even be in business. More on that later.

Thinking I had the problem temporarily solved, I took it home, put my SIM card in the phone, connected to WiFI, and started getting my favorite apps. By the time I hit App #7, the internal memory was already full. I didn’t even think to start moving apps to the memory card; I immediately figured that this phone was lacking and decided to take it back after two solid hours of ownership. It just wasn’t going to work for me.

So now I’m back to using Ol’ Crackly. I started to browse the Best Buy site for some reason, knowing I didn’t have the money to fork over for a new phone but after searching, I did find a Samsung Galaxy that was in my price range—sort of. I still didn’t have enough money to buy the thing. I then made the decision to apply for a Best Buy credit card and, within seconds (which really is some kind of record for me), I was approved and could start shopping immediately. Hey, man. Desperate times, desperate measures.

10697408_10152586326394118_4861105702589338811_oAnd when I buy a phone, I take a lot into consideration (except maybe for that ZTE piece of garbage, which was bought out of sheer desperation). Things like replaceable battery, expandable memory, internal memory, and camera megapixels are all important when I’m comparing. I had narrowed the phones down to a couple of Moto G models (16GB internal memory and no SD card expansion) and the Samsung Galaxy S II (16GB internal memory with SD card expansion) even though the Motorola phones had no removable battery. I don’t know how you iPhone people do it. In the end, I took a chance with the Galaxy S II knowing that it was indeed a few years behind in terms of style, OS, everything. Then the waiting game began as I checked the UPS Tracking Number daily to see when the phone would arrive.

I was very happy when the phone arrived. It was so shiny and…white. But the problem was that, being it was well over three years behind the times, it had a standard SIM card and not the mirco SIM cards that today’s smartphones use. This meant I had to make a trip to my local AT&T store to get a larger SIM card.

They didn’t have any of those, either. Remember when I said this place shouldn’t even be in business? Well, there you go. I had to end up scooting down the local Corporate store where I took a number and waited but not very long. I told them what I needed, they scanned my info to it, I was done and on my way home.

Now it was time. I had a somewhat new phone and my SIM card which I inserted and started the setup process. It all went well and I was ready to once again start installing apps.

Here’s the funny thing about the Samsung Galaxy S II: it has 16GB partitioned memory with a paltry 2GB dedicated to the Android OS and apps. Two. Freaking. Gigabytes. Had I known this from the get-go there would have been no way I would have bought it as I’m a heavy app user.

Anyway, I started installing apps and was relatively satisfied having my most frequently used apps on it. Then came time to give it a test run—and it failed.

The dual-core processor couldn’t handle things very well and it froze up on me frequently. The 11GB of remaining memory are for storage and pictures and I soon realized why that is: the phone was so bad that it couldn’t save images to the SD card. I would take a few pictures and then review them, losing the last couple I had taken. Once I switched to saving them internally, the problem went away but that didn’t solve the freezing-up issue. This was enough for me to decide that it had to go back to Best Buy, where I was asked why I was returning it.

“It’s a horrible phone,” I said. “It really is. It just didn’t work for me.”

That’s two phones within a week and at this point, I was off the grid. Remember, that phone had a standard SIM card and my Galaxy S4 had the micro SIM card, meaning it was useless until I could get my info put back onto a micro SIM card. Ugh.

So I walked around Best Buy looking at unlocked phones and man, I didn’t want to spend a lot which was the main reason I bought the Galaxy S II. The thing was just over $200 which I thought wasn’t too bad for what it was on paper, but I soon learned the truth. But after looking over several models and asking the associates how much internal memory they had (mostly 8 or 16GB), I was starting to feel as if I would be back to using Ol’ Crackly once again.

That was until I saw the HTC one M7.

It was blue, my favorite color. It had 32GB of internal memory. It had a quad-core processor.

And although it has a non-replaceable battery and no memory expansion, in the end (and $299 later) it went home with me.

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Well, I didn’t go straight home just yet. I had to make yet another trip to the AT&T Corporate store to get my info put back on a micro SD card which they happily did in no time flat. And once I got home, I finally cranked this baby up and let it fly.

I was impressed. I’m still impressed. This phone is everything that my previous AT&T phones were not: quick, responsive, a flat-out joy to use. And I hesitate to say that despite it not being waterproof like Ol’ Crackly, I enjoy using the M7 much more.

Then it came time to start chipping away at the 32GB on internal storage, or about 24GB remaining after bloatware and OS are factored in.

Apps installed and ran perfectly. There is absolutely no lag when running anything on this phone. I then transferred the music I had on the micro SD card over to it and as of now, with all of my most frequently used apps installed and enough music to keep me happy, I still have 12.4GB remaining. Ol’ Crackly was just under 8GB remaining but a lot of the stuff was running off the micro SD card which could explain the lag I sometimes experienced. And if the music on the phone isn’t enough, I have over 10,000 songs stored online with Google Music.

Another plus is that I upgraded to Android KitKat, and that this model is on the list of phones that will be getting Android Lollipop next year. I won’t be obsolete for a long time!

Now if there’s one thing I could say I don’t like about this phone, it’s the HTC Sense launcher. While it looks beautiful, it seems to lack a lot of things that the stock Touchwiz launcher does. But I didn’t mess with it for very long as I installed Nova Launcher, a completely customizable Android launcher that looks and functions better than Touchwiz.

Also, the camera is a measly 4MP but with everything else the HTC one M7 brings to the table (quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, Beats audio, FM radio, awesome design, slow-motion HD video, etc.) I’m willing to compromise. In the right hands, even a 4MP camera can look pretty good. Here’s a full-size sample of a picture taken with the M7.

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Definitely not as sharp as the Galaxy S4 Active but still acceptable for me, and I now understand how iPhone users deal with non-expandable memory.

I also bought a case for it, a rather rugged one that will have to do until I can find an Otterbox case. I’m willing to spend…uh, charge the extra money to my credit card for an Otterbox case so that this phone doesn’t suffer the same fate as the Galaxy Active. I’m just not ready to deal with that again.

And oh, it’s good to sit and blog again. I just wish my laptop was still working so that I can retire to privacy of my Creative Corner where I enjoy writing so much more.

Eating My Words


When we signed our contract with Big Cell Phone Company (AT&T), something I thought I’d never do again, I remember the salesperson asking if we wanted to buy insurance for our phones.

My reply was simple: “Nah, I’ve had good luck with phones and never had to replace one. No thanks.”

Besides, my Samsung Galaxy S4 Active was designed to be impervious to elements such as water and dust and I didn’t figure that I’d be exposing it to much of those anyway, so what were the chances of having the phone damaged in any other way? Right? Well, today I found out.

On this, the eve of a busy weekend of Kids Fun Runs and my fifth bike tour and second duathlon, I am eating my words in regards to not opting for insurance. This morning I was trying to calibrate the speed on my bike’s computer by comparing it to a speedometer app on my phone. All was going well until, somehow or another, the phone slipped out of my hand and onto the asphalt.

There was this awful *KA-CHUNK* sound as it made contact.

At that point I didn’t care about the calibration. I hit the brakes and turned around to find the phone lying face-down in the street and my only thought was, “Oh shit. I hope the screen isn’t broken.”

I picked it up, flipped it over, and found this staring back at me.

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One tumble from around 3 feet at a speed of 5 MPH has turned the screen into what looks like a window of an abandoned restaurant somewhere in the middle of the Mojave Desert that had been shot at repeatedly by a CO2 pistol. I mean, look at that. It’s pretty effed up.

I picked it up and as any normal 40-something male would do when their expensive gadget malfunctioned or was severely damaged, I bawled like a baby.

(Okay, maybe not that bad. But I was pretty upset and honestly, still am. I’m using this blog post as an outlet.)

And naturally, because I have no insurance on the thing*, I’m willing to bet that there isn’t much that AT&T would be willing to do to make things right so I’m not even going to bother to call them on it. It fell, it broke. It was an accident and that’s all there was to it.

With that being the case I decided to look into having the screen repaired locally, and the quote from the first and only company I contacted was for $180 plus tax. Here’s my issue with that.

I’m on the Next Plan with AT&T, a plan that includes a $20 extra monthly charge that is applied toward your future upgrade. At this point in our contract, I would have to pay $250 (the remaining balance over our contract) in order to upgrade to a new phone so even if I had the money to do so (which I don’t), there’s no way I’d spend $180 to get the thing fixed when for a mere $70 more I can just get a brand new phone.

In the meantime, I’m trying to adopt to my new spider-webby screen which meant running down to my favorite Japanese store for a generic screen cover so that I wouldn’t get any glass shards in my fingertips as I use the thing. I’m sure the screen will continue to crack as days go by so the cover will also keep things in place.

As for the phone’s look, I can pretend the cracks are part of a really cool, live 3D wallpaper – until it’s time to read a text. The top of the screen is pretty much useless with those huge cracks, and that means posting things to social media is going to be a real pain. Facebook is difficult, Instagram is impossible, and I’m sure I’ll find out as time goes by which other apps have been killed as the result of this little incident.

And if there is anything good about this, it’s that the front-facing camera lens narrowly escaped having the crack go over it. Because, you know…selfies.

I take a lot of pictures with my phone at all of my events and I had planned on doing it again this weekend. I’m positive I’ll still do that, but when I ask someone to take one for me, I’m going to look like…you know, one of those guys with the cracked phone screen that makes you say, “How do you use that? Man, why don’t you just get a new phone?”

If only it were that simple.

So this year, my laptop took a dump and I busted my phone. Not fun.

But on the plus side, I did buy a PowerBall ticket for this Saturday…

 

*No insurance that I’m aware of. Maybe I should call.

Blogging 365, Day 64: Bluetoothless


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I had been in the market for a pair of Bluetooth earbuds for the past few weeks because I thought that being wireless would be a great thing to have while at work. I could listen to my music or white noise without the hassle of having wires running all over the place.

This would have also proven beneficial whenever I went running since running with standard earbuds can be quite cumbersome.

But after doing some research and even having a $10 Radio Shack coupon (which I would have used on a pair on sale this week for $59.99), I decided against going Bluetooth.

Let’s take a look at the benefits.

  • Wireless: Yes, running and working sans wires be wonderful indeed.

But what about the setbacks?

  • Poor performance: Most of the articles I read stated that reception was sub-par regardless of manufacturer. Whether it was call clarity or unacceptable volume levels for music, this seemed to be a major strike against them.
  • Cost: They can run upwards of $60 and around $70 on average. That seems like a lot for something I will toss into my backpack for work and use heavily while running.
  • Durability: How would a pair of these hold up over time? A cheap pair of earbuds will last you and if they happen to get messed up, well, drop another $10 and you’re in business. But another $70?
  • Phone battery drain: Turning on the Bluetooth connection on your phone is yet another way to drain your battery quickly and if I’m running with an app tracking my performance, that will mean I’ll also have the GPS on. Talk about pulling some serious power from your battery.
  • One more thing to charge: From what I read, battery life on these things is pretty dismal which would mean that I’d have to carry yet another cable with me to work. Great. As if I don’t already have enough of those.

So let’s see. Setbacks: 5, Benefits: 1. Much like my fight between Sharpies and LightScribe, the most practical option won.

Looks like I now have some money to register myself for some more runs…

Blogging 365, Day 51: The Last Virgin Mobile Post


UPDATE 2/21/13: In the midst of Virgin Mobile’s outage that they are now quietly acknowledging, I got this interesting text today:

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I clicked on the link and it took me here (click image to enlarge or go directly to site):

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Ahem. So I went ahead and called my voicemail and it told me exactly what this page reads. This seems very interesting to me since Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile use Sprint’s network. I can’t be sure (nor do I have further proof) but if I had to guess, Virgin is going the way of the dodo and will soon be swallowed up by Boost Mobile.

All of this while they continue to sell phones and charge people for service they can’t use. I smell lawsuit or at least some sort of compensation, which is too bad since we’re moving on (read rest of post).

Has anyone else gotten this? Leave your notes/frustrations in the Comments section.

—–

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For as long as I’ve been a customer of theirs, I’ve always been happy to write about Virgin Mobile’s bargain pricing and decent selection of phones. After all, coming from Verizon where Ann and I were paying well over $100 for two lines, the lure of paying a mere $25 per line (then $35 after a phone upgrade) was just too much to pass up.

And it worked for us. No, their 3G connection (provided by Sprint) is definitely not the fastest out there but it was reliable and did the trick for upwards of 4 years. SMS and MMS messaging were also trusty and only had a few hiccups now and then but nothing that would make me want to leave.

All was well for the longest time and in fact, Ann and I were looking to upgrade to the Galaxy S II once our tax refund was in our hot little hands. Even better? It’s currently selling for $279.99. All we needed was some cash.

Flash-forward to February 16, 2013, the day Ann’s new month started. I get a text from her telling me she wanted to send me a picture but couldn’t for some reason. She tried again and the phone just refused to do it. Later that day she realized that she had no 3G connection and couldn’t get online unless she was using WiFi.

This prompted a call to Virgin Mobile’s Customer Care line and if you have never called them, be prepared because this is what’s in store for you.

I spoke with no less than 8 people with each person “elevating” my call so that it would get higher priority. Each person asked me for the same information and had me do the same things to the phone, which went a little something like this:

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I gave them full access to Ann’s account so that they could try to figure out what was going on. None of it helped and by the 8th person I was becoming utterly annoyed by the service and incompetence of Virgin Mobile’s outsourced call center employees.

The best part? I was disconnected by Person #8 who was supposed to be Tech Support. This after being on the phone for almost an hour. That’s when I became completely unglued and weaved a blanket of obscenities that is still lingering above the house.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I took to social media in the hopes of getting my problem solved. I definitely got responses and emails from @VMUcare but none of them solved the connectivity problem. All they kept asking for was my ZIP code and which error message I was getting.

And for each time they asked, I told them that there was no connectivity or no error messages. All that led to was the resetting instructions you see above which, as you can imagine, didn’t do a thing. I finally threw my hands up after this tweet.

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Then I took to their Facebook page.

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You know, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if people are having problems connecting to their 3G network then there’s a good chance that the network is having issues. This is what was making me even more annoyed because as the complaints continued to roll in about no connectivity, there was not one mention of such an outage. It was only until recently that the word started to get out that there was indeed an outage.

So until things are back up and running, Virgin Mobile customers are getting screwed out of the 3G service that they have already paid for. I do realize that we are paying a dirt-cheap rate for service but it would have been nice if Virgin Mobile would have told us up front that they were experiencing an outage, rather than make us jump through hoops of fire by following useless instructions in the hopes of getting our phones back online.

And should I mention that my phone is fine? Ann’s is the one that does not have connectivity. I’m doing the calling and complaining because she can’t handle dealing with people who are completely clueless, which this situation has confirmed.

Network issues cannot generally be avoided nor can they be fixed in a timely manner. I truly understand that. But what I don’t get is why Virgin Mobile didn’t acknowledge this in the first place so that we, their paying customers, were left in the dark all this time. And if you think what I told you was bad, I’ve read posts from people with iPhones who have been without service for close to two weeks. I’d be twice as annoyed and pissed off if I were one of them considering the unsubsidized price of the phone.

So, all things considered including the way in which the matter has been handled and the way I was treated when contacting Customer Care, we have decided that we are through with Virgin Mobile for good. This situation has proven that when it comes handling an outage, they have no idea how to go about appeasing their customers and would rather lie to us and delay us by having us try pointless phone resetting.

We have already chosen MetroPCS as our new provider and will be making the switch within the week. Until then, our phones will still be active through Virgin Mobile as they have to be if we wish to port our current phone numbers to our new provider, one who offers unlimited everything for $35 per line (with a Family Plan). This beats Virgin’s $35 plan for 300 minutes.

There you go, Virgin Mobile. For your lack of truthfulness regarding the network outage, incompetent call center, and overall poor service over the course of the outage, you are losing two previously loyal customers.

And I get the feeling we won’t be the only ones.

This is indeed my last Virgin Mobile post. You can thank them for making it happen.