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I AM SO CONFUSED!!! HELP? Which services, phone and cost?

by RockinGrandma / October 26, 2008 8:31 AM PDT

I have had a cell phone since analog was the only service available---quite a long time. I?ve never really needed it except for emergency calls, I used ?maybe? 60 minutes a month. I?ve always been a Verizon customer and still have my plan at $29.99/month! But---life has changed and I need to upgrade. My husband?s job changed and he took my phone! Still low usage, but now need 2 phones. I have been trying to figure out the technology/plans/features/etc/etc/etc for a month now and I just get more confused. Hoping someone here will lend a *patient* hand and help me figure this out? Please?

I tried a prepaid phone but way too much hassle. I have a tech savvy family, but they aren?t helping much. (They all get their phones through their employers.) I pretty much understand the phones, my confusion comes from the features I am required(?) to pay additional for to use them---and which one to get. Cost is the controlling factor.

I can only go with AT&T---they are the only carrier with service in my area. I have two residences, one picks up the 3G Network, the other is on the EDGE Network. I will use this mostly in the EDGE area.

So, trying to be brief, here?s how I will use my phone.
*Both husband and I will probably use less than 400 VOICE minutes/month
*Features I HAVE to have:
-Bluetooth or Speaker Phone (for in the car)
-Voice Dial (I am disabled so I can probably get this on a phone without the feature or paying extra for it?AT&T offers this)
-GPS (with voice)

Nice to have:
-Sync with Outlook 2003
-Internet access (would like to access Google)

I do mostly regional long distance, never out of country and I don?t travel out of state. (I am in Washington State)

I?m confused because it isn?t clear to me what additional features I will have to pay for. For several things (like GPS) I keep finding freeware or hacks to supposedly be able to use it without having to pay for this service. I am also frustrated because I don?t use the phone or these features a lot. Paying full price to AT&T for internet access is frustrating---especially after paying what I do now! However, I don?t want to have to worry about overage charges.

My home is wired with wireless DSL, at my second home I currently use my neighbor?s WiFi connection (would like to stop doing this). I'm only there seasonally and $60/month to get Cable Internet if I subscribe---and only be able to use it part of the year. Also have a land line in both places---it all starts to add up quickly! Additionally I have cable and satellite TV at the home location---satellite is moved to second location seasonally.

I was considering adding a PC Connect card for my laptop, but the service, even on AT&T is on the EDGE Network in my area and I?m not sure how consistent it will be. Don?t want to be locked into it if it doesn?t work, and it?s a 3 hour round trip back to the store to return the phone/PC Card. (Or a 3-hour trip to wait to receive it in the mail to try it and return it within the 3-day trial time period, with service that might possibly work great one day and poor the next). I can?t imagine being able to do this in the time window allowed to not lose my activation fee.)

I?m seeing very confusing $$$ signs and not sure what service I have to pay extra for and how much. If anyone could explain to me what I actually need through AT&T I would appreciate it more than you can know! I don?t trust calling AT&T to explain this to me---they are trying to sell, so my best interest is probably not theirs. Being locked into a two year contract, I am getting very paranoid about making a wrong choice---kind of like the stupid pre-paid phone---I had at least 4 calls I was charged for just to check my balance, with no warning! I really feel ?tech challenged? with all this and I?m usually not!

Can anyone offer any help or suggestions for which services I will need for each of these uses, what the bottom line cost would be, and suggest a phone?

Sorry for the length---been at this for a while...

Very much appreciated!

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Bottom line is coverage
by Pepe7 / October 27, 2008 2:48 AM PDT

If the only service in your area is ATT as you've stated, then it sounds like your options are indeed limited to what they charge for phones/services. You did throw me for a loop though, since you also say your current carrier is Verizon. I therefore assume they also have coverage where you live- or is it just in your second residence where this doesn't hold true hence your need to go w/ ATT(?) It would really help to know both your zip codes for service so we can quickly check online for available products from ATT, etc.

In any case, for the most part its sounds like all you really need is a basic Family Talk plan- $59.99/month (before local taxes & fees), which includes two lines. Do both of the lines/phones have to have the exact same features(?) We need to know exactly what you need on each line/handset to accurately estimate the total cost. For the sake of the argument I'll assume you only want all the extras on one of the lines, as things will be a lot more expensive otherwise. Here's a basic example just to get you started:

550minutes/month Family Talk ($59.99/two lines)
-free mobile to mobile calling/free long distance

Line 1

Samsung Epix

-$100 rebate card

-Windows Mobile 6.1/PDA phone
-GPS compatible w/ ATT Navigator (voice instructions @ $9.99/mo)
-wifi (to connect with your current DSL/wireless home network)
-Voice dial ($4.99/month feature)
-Unlimited PDA data plan $30/month

Line 2

Samsung Blackjack II
-$100 gift card rebate

-No wifi
-no data plan to keep total cost down
-$4.99 voice dial/$9.99 navigator

Total outlay initially-

-2 rebate gift cards @ $100 each that will arrive later

*includes $36 $ 26 activation fees. You might be able to get them to waive these if you tell them you're considering another carrier like Verizon.

Personally, I'd prefer a standalone GPS for the car, as the prices on those have come way down to the point where I don't feel it's worth it to have it on PDA phone. You asked about obtaining a data card w/ ATT possibly. Bear in mind they are extremely expensive, although you could get a free card for signing up for 2 years worth of service which is about $60/month. Since you may be limited to EDGE speeds, cable is a better value IMO. You might see whether or not DSL is available at the second residence for less money in it's unbundled form that does not require a landline. It starts right about $20/month for naked DSL.

Let me know if anything isn't clear what I've posted above. Without a doubt there are lots of permutations of features/handsets according to your particular needs. There are other handsets which would be available, such as the Tilt, but I would not recommend it for someone unless they are more technically saavy. The Samsungs are a little more user friendly out of the box IMHO. You could also substitute something cheaper for the second handset/line if you didn't also require GPS, etc.


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RE: Bottom line is coverage
by RockinGrandma / October 29, 2008 2:48 AM PDT

Thanks Pedro, I apologize for the delay responding to your very helpful response. I DO appreciate your help!

I currently do have Verizon service which I have had uninterrupted for many years, but I am not under contract. Verizon used to be my only option at residence 2, now it has spotty coverage there.

Residence 1 (home/business) 98499
Residence 2 (seasonal home/business) 98548

I haven't checked to see if there is any "deal" for small business. (another option?) My husband is retired, but does contract work part time. Residence 1 is in a metro area and I can receive most carriers. The issues are with Residence 2 (98548) which is somewhat remote and is located in a valley between high hills. It is also a mobile home which I believe shields the signal even more. At this time I know for a fact that AT&T is the most reliable coverage there---but no 3G available. I still get a signal with Verizon, but it doesn't have consistent full bars and frequently drops calls. I have a feeling the PC Connect plan would really frustrate me with in/out service, too. More of an issue as my only Internet connection than the phone would be. If everything worked, I would definitely drop my land line!

As far as the GPS, I agree. I did some checking and you are correct, they have come down in price considerably!

As far as phones and service features go, this is where my frustration is coming from. I checked with my husband and he pretty much wants the same features I do with the possible exception of voice dial. I spend a great deal of my time on the computer, and though I'm not highly savvy of technology, I'm probably more knowledgeable than the average user. If I decide to go with the data plan I was considering the Tilt or possibly the new replacement, the FUZE (I read the Tilt is being discontinued). I was also looking the the Epix you mentioned as well as the Blackberry Bold which also is due to be released. The only issue with these phones I see is the high price.

Of course if I don't go with a data plan a much cheaper, less feature phone would be my choice.

The questions that came up when I was discussing our options with my husband was the data plan contract and syncing. I know if I choose a phone/service "package" to get the best phone price I will be required to sign a 2 year contract.

**Do you know if I have to sign a 2-year if I get a phone---say on EBay, and just want to sign up for regular cell service?

**Is a Data Plan required to sync the phone with Outlook Contacts and Calendar?

**Also, do you know if the data plan requires a 2-year contract? It would be very nice if I could take the data connection for a "test drive" for a few months to see how much I would use it---and if it works consistently at Residence 2. Having never had that feature I have no way of knowing. Everyone that knows me seems to think I would use it a lot, my husband probably not as much.

As far as Internet access at Location 2 (98548) we only have one company that offers service at that location. It is a small local company that I believe contracts with Comcast (cable), but has their own restrictions. With just Internet access the cost is $49.99 + $4.99 for wireless access. Adding TV ($39.99) reduces the Internet cost by $10/month (and I don't need it). I'm not sure they would even know what "naked DSL" even is, and I don't think they have DSL! I would have to talk to one of their techs, not customer service :)! Very small town, but I will check with them! I suspect they are very set in what they sell.

Asking a lot, I apologize, but this is "new technology" for me and without the option of a "trial run" very expensive to get locked into---especially if it doesn't work or I don't use it often!

I really appreciate your input and advice!


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by Pepe7 / October 29, 2008 4:23 AM PDT

Unless your small business is negotiating a great deal of lines you are not eligible for such discounts. For comparison, I get 15% off each line per month since my employer is quite large. Various companies/government entities negotiate specific deals with ATT independently, most of which is based on how much business they're generating.

Personally, I feel in your case you will benefit a great deal from actually testing the phones a little in an ATT store before making any decisions about which one you're going to end up with. This is even more important IMO if you are testing your luck by purchasing either from ebay or an unsubdized/unlocked version from newegg or amazon for example. Although ATT does let you swap out phones (at least once) within the 30 day trial period, it still helps to determine first hand exactly what you don't like when it's in your hand/stuck to your ear ;). Your feature request is very specific, so there may very well be things you don't care for regarding voice directions, etc. on the various manufacturers' handsets.

I don't recommend the Tilt because it requires too much tweaking IMO, and is generally a brick, and a little less responsive than it should be for most folks. While I have 'molded' mine to my liking, it is way too complex, part of which is due to the shortcomings of the out of box WM6/stock ATT ROM. Perhaps the FUZE will improve things, but I'd want to thoroughly test it out before making a commitment via ATT's subsidized model. The Sammy is worth looking at, as well as a BB. You won't get discounts on any of those w/o signing up for data plans though. The subsidized prices are usually based on keeping the data plan for at least 6 mos. If you ended up w/ a handset with wifi, that would give you the ability to cancel the ATT data plan (once the rebate card arrives) and utilize your wifi for internet data as you see fit. ATT does not charge for this, FWIW. That's how I connect w/ my Tilt- wifi only and no longer via the data plan. You may find more need for it while you're on the go and out of the range of wifi. It can be a personal preference for many folks who want to keep the convenience wherever they are using their ATT service.

Some ebay vendors do require a 2 year commitment but most do not AFAIK. I would encourage you to not worry so much about that since you've already stated you have few service choices to begin with where you use the phone. In that sense, the subsidized prices via ATT are probably a better deal since you get the added value of better service if you end up having to replace or repair one or both of the handsets. Prorate only being locked into six months worth of data times two phones and it's not too bad. The unlocked handsets from reputable sellers will probably cost between 800-$1000 up front by comparison. I assume you aren't considering purchasing non-PDA phones from ebay since they (typically) don't have all the features you need(?)

A data plan is not required to sync up with your Outlook contacts. That could be accomplished by software & a USB cable connecting the phone to your PC. Each device manufacturer will have different ways of achieving this though. For example, I'm less familiar with how the Blackberry accomplishes this w/o a BB specific data plan. In any case, you could obtain two subsidized phones and once you receive the rebate cards, at that point make the decision whether or not you wish to retain a data plan for the additional $30/month per line. It's your call. You would be paying more than I would with my PDA phone since you have stated the need for voice dial/talking GPS. On two phones it's adding up fast, obviously.

I am not aware of a month to month data plan like voice service. You would have to already own a data card in order to do this AFAIK. The free data cards are indeed based on a 2 yr commitment. Don't forget you can simply use their trial period too and cancel w/o penalty within the designated time frame. I personally think you'll be dissappointed dealing w/ EDGE as a primary connection vs cable or DSL. YMMV.

FWIW, there's no reason even the local reseller of Comcast has to charge you an extra $4.99/mo for wireless. All you need is their modem (if you can't simply purchase your own) and an inxpensive linksys router (etc.) to obtain wireless broadband in your mobile home. Sometimes and others have discounts on the very solid Motorola SB5120 cable modem- both with and w/o service requirements. That would also allow you to save a little $$ on the modem rental. I think my cable modem purchase paid for itself after 18 mos.

Your thoughts at this point?


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AT&T Service and Phones???
by RockinGrandma / October 31, 2008 4:43 AM PDT
In reply to: answers

Sorry about the delay, I have been slammed with a plateful all of a sudden!

This is SO helpful and exactly what I was looking for! Thank you so much, I really do appreciate it. You have taken a lot of time to reply and try to help me and I just want you to know that it really has helped.

I think my first step will be to contact AT&T and see what they will offer when I try to change my service to them. After I talk to them and find out if I can convince them to drop the activation fee and how long the contract will be for data service I can approach the phone choice. I agree, with all the issues I think I would like to work directly with them rather than a third party vendor. It may cost a bit more in the beginning, but in the long run I think with the issues I have I need the direct support from them.

I'm thinking maybe I will just order one data plan for now and my husband and I can get a feel for how much we might use it. Then we can either cancel it down the road or add the second line. So many places seem to have WiFi available now that may be all I need.

One point I'm still a little confused about. You say to not cancel my data plan (if I should choose to do that) until after the rebate arrives. Why is this? (Probably obvious, bear with me, I'm not feeling well :).) I have read complaints about rebates taking months to arrive, not sure which companies were involved.

Thanks again, this has seriously helped SO much!


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by Pepe7 / October 31, 2008 5:25 AM PDT

I'm glad you found the info you needed ;).

Regarding removing the data (feature) plan, *unless stipulated otherwise by ATT*, you wouldn't have to keep it on your account/line once the $100 rebate cards arrive for the handsets we looked at. They could possibly make you ineligble if you broke the terms and conditions of the rebate offer. These can vary wildly, so make certain to read the fine print (RTFM!). As you've also pointed out, some folks (like myself) are surround by wifi and wouldn't always benefit from having 3G data for the additional $30/month per line(!).

have fun,

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Thank You!!!
by RockinGrandma / October 31, 2008 5:55 AM PDT
In reply to: Cool

Thank you! It's always about the fine print isn't it, LOL! I've become pretty cautious about making certain to read that---which is probably why all this confusion to start with. I just realized that's part of the problem. First thing I need to do is find a copy of all the fine print for these issues! Just have to get past the "doublespeak" and "legal-ease" language to figure out what they are *really* saying half the time!

Darn contracts---makes things much more difficult!

Thanks again, you truly are a gem!


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