No excuses for a lost smart phone

It was hard for me to figure out where I wanted to begin with the story but I’m going to tell you the whole truth with my goal being for the situation not to happen to you.   In our front yard, there was a shrub that had grown way out of control. It grew right up to the sidewalk and creeped over the left side of our driveway. Given that our driveway is pretty narrow to begin with, it scraped against the cars all winter long. Thankfully, it didn’t do major damage. This thing was a beast and I wanted it gone. Eventually we would like to widen our driveway so that we can park a second car at the top in front of the garage. Getting rid of this nasty shrub was phase 1 in the project.

I bought a heavy-duty shovel with a fiberglass handle at the home improvement store on Thursday along with a 100 foot extension cord.  The previous owner of the house left an electric hedge clipper in the garage. I started digging and the hedge clipper allowed me to clip off the top pine branches.  By Friday I upgraded my approach. I purchased an electric chainsaw and really went to town. Once I got down to the bare bones, I saw that this plant had three main stumps. I’ve dug two of them out at this point and hope to get the third one out soon.

However, I can’t deny the big negative that happened in the midst of this otherwise positive project. I lost my iPhone 5C.  I had it with me when I began on Thursday. In fact, I started my last call on it while I was at the home improvement store and continued that call when I put the shovel in the ground. I was digging with one hand and talking to a client at the same time. After that call, I have no idea what happened to my phone.  It is not in the house. We tried calling it from other phones and later on I even brought my laptop outside hoping that the phone would ping when I emailed myself. It was not low on battery at the time, but I could not locate it.

Teachable Moment

Why didn’t you have “find my iPhone” turned on?  That is the $650 question.  Apple has been good to me with this iPhone since October 2013. The warranty replacement I received at no charge two weeks ago, was the second AppleCare replacement I received since I’ve had this model. However, I forgot to turn on the “find my iPhone” feature. This extremely important tracking tool is located in the iCloud section of settings on your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch).  It uses Wi-Fi, cellular, and GPS technology to help you locate your phone. You do not have to use iCloud for email, contacts, or calendar (I don’t).  You can simply sign in with your Apple ID.  Find My IPhone is a tool that is accepted by law enforcement when police reports are made on stolen phones. It is so accurate that it can track your phone to within feet of where it is.  You do the tracking by visiting on your computer or from the app on another iOS device.   When tracking your phone, you can set off an alarm so it will buzz to help you with your search or you can remotely erase the phone.   On all modern Android devices, there is a similar feature (and corresponding app) available called Android Device Manager.

I thought at first that my phone was hiding in the branches of the shrub.  Once I got it all cut down, I realized that wasn’t the case. It must be buried somewhere in the dirt that I dug out. I sifted through it many times with my shovel and could not find it. Had I been using “Find My IPhone” I would have located it right away.

Good Service from a Company That Doesn’t like to Bend and Android to the Rescue

By Thursday night, I accepted that I wasn’t getting my iPhone back.  Although I had checked earlier in the day on their website as soon as I lost the phone and was not eligible for an upgrade, Verizon said I was eligible to buy a new phone by the evening.  This may have had something to do with me calling in and having them deactivate my iPhone so that it couldn’t be used by a thief. I temporarily switched back to an old basic phone that I have kept around since 2009.   From time to time I’ve noticed that Verizon does make their customers eligible for “early upgrades”. However I found that there is no rhyme or formula to when they do this.  Under the old system of buying a phone on a two-year contract, customers can buy a new phone at a subsidized price every 24 months (which used to be 20 before they got greedy).  Under their new interest-free phone financing plans that they are pushing everybody toward, called EDGE, a customer can purchase a new phone when it been 70% paid off.  (Frankly, I don’t see much difference between the two phone purchasing options. Maybe Verizon’s accountants like the new system better.)   While it’s nice that they allowed me to order an iPhone 6 with no upfront payment and only a $2.08 increase to our monthly bill, this wasn’t the wonderful thing they did for me.

Verizon went above and beyond the call of duty for me on Friday.  They astonished me with their willingness to bend their extremely rigid policies for good customer.   I’ve often talked with you, both seriously and humorously over the years about how Verizon is the most expensive cell phone carrier in America and the one with the most rules.  They justify this by arguably having the best maintained network in the country.   I won’t be able to use the new iPhone until the middle of next week. I did not want to be without a smart phone until then. One of my jobs is dependent on a smart phone messaging app that cannot be accessed from the computer. All of the employees and the owner regularly communicate through a “group chat” in this app.  I did not want to shell out a lot of money for a phone, given the fact that Verizon would not make my monthly service cost any lower by but going out and buying an iPhone from Apple at full cost.  (I know it might seem very odd that this is the case and it certainly isn’t true for customers of AT&T or T-Mobile, but Verizon is Verizon and I will revisit this topic at another time.)

Although Verizon’s 4G data network is compatible with worldwide LTE standard, their voice call technology uses different chips than AT&T or T-Mobile. Therefore it is virtually impossible to buy a cheap phone and have it activated on Verizon.  To quote a line from the great film Donnie Brasco, “even a dog gets a warm piece of the sidewalk sometime.”  I got mine from Verizon on Friday.   I told you in a recent email update about “burner phones” or very inexpensive smart phones that are quite decent. One of them that I mentioned since the beginning of the year is the Moto E from Motorola.  It is priced between 120 and $150, with no contract required and it is unlocked.  This device runs the Android OS.  Verizon recently began selling this phone.  However they do not sell it to customers with monthly plans, they only sell it in prepaid kits.  Although there shouldn’t really be a difference, Verizon prepaid and Verizon postpaid (customers who receive a monthly bill) are like apples and oranges.   Long ago, customers would typically sign up for a prepaid cellular plan if they could not pass the credit check to get monthly build service. The prices were really high but for some people this was the only option they could get.  Most of the world operates on a prepaid pricing model. You buy your phone at full price and you get a fair monthly service cost.   We Americans have to be different.

Today, prepaid plans are very competitive and often a great opportunity for customers to actually save money on their monthly service so long as they are willing to pay for their phones up front.  I know you’re probably thinking the obvious question right now. Why couldn’t you just purchase that Moto E phone in the prepaid kit and use it on your Verizon plan?  Verizon does not like doing this for customers. In fact, they prohibit it.   Best Buy was selling this phone for $69.99, $30 cheaper than Verizon.  However, in Verizon’s fantasy world where there kingdom will never be challenged, they would rather that a customer comes into their store and buys a full priced iPhone or android at $500-$700 (if they weren’t eligible for a discount) or just lose that customer than allow them to use one of the prepaid phones intended for service on their network.  If you think that is insane, it is.    I decided to be adventurous and buy the phone anyway.

When I got home I had a live chat with Verizon’s online support and explained my situation of the lost iPhone, the fact that the new one wasn’t coming for five days, and that I understood that activating a prepaid phone on a monthly plan was not common practice.   WITH NO QUESTIONS ASKED, the rep activated this phone on my line and I was good to go.   I was astonished by their flexibility.

A tip of my cap to “Big Red” a.k.a. Verizon Wireless.

I now have a decent phone to use for the time being and a much better backup phone than the 2009 “slider” model.

Don’t forget to turn on Find My IPhone or Android Device Manager.