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Phones

Any phone but iPhone X, according to this Sprint salesman

Commentary: In my visit to the last of the big four carrier stores, the salesman was bullish, animated and adamant.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Still not the Apple of any salesperson's eye.

James Martin/CNET

"You're biased," they said. "You've been to every store but a Sprint store."

When I say "they," I mean at least two people.

I couldn't argue. I've paid several visits to carrier stores and Best Buy in order to learn more about how phones are sold. Sprint wasn't one of them.

Somehow, I think of Sprint as the fourth network, the one that waits to be bought. I mean, merged with.

But I opened the Miami Herald on Friday morning, to be told that Sprint (and Softbank) Chairman Masayoshi Son and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure were investors in David Beckham's new Major League Soccer franchise in Miami, which now appears to be going ahead.

I wondered, then, what a Miami-area Sprint team would tell me about iPhone X. And, indeed, other phones. I'd been surprised that not one carrier store so far had told me that Apple's latest phone was the greatest.

A saleswoman came over first. I showed her my iPhone 6, and she began by telling me that iPhone 7 was more or less the same phone. Suddenly, she was substituted by an entertainingly voluble salesman.

"You're looking to upgrade?" he asked.

"Yes."

"You need an iPhone 8 Plus."

That was fast. I'd been fed a similar line at a T-Mobile store during a longish conversation. But this was both definitive and stunningly immediate. 

"Wait," I said, "but isn't iPhone X supposed to be better?"

He shook his head. "The camera doesn't work," he said.

Wait, it doesn't take pictures? No, he was talking about Face ID, the (perhaps) magical and revolutionary means by which you unlock your phone with your face.

"My manager had one," said the salesman. "He gave it back."

The salesman enthusiastically explained that iPhone 8 Plus had two cameras. It also had Touch ID, which isn't Face ID and therefore works. (His words, not mine.)

"But, come on, the iPhone X is supposed to be the sexy one," I protested. 

"It's not worth it. 200 bucks more? You gotta be kidding me."

Anyone who knows about technology knows Android is better

I'd been here before, but not quite so blatantly.

This wasn't a gentle dismissal of Apple's new phone. It bordered on excoriation.

"I'm not an iPhone guy," the salesman admitted. "Anyone who knows anything about technology knows that Android is better."

They do? In my experience, everyone who works in a carrier store favors Android because they believe it's more flexible. 

"But isn't Android less secure?" I asked.

"Nah. If the government wants to find out about you, they will," he replied.

Ah.

He wasn't, though, a Samsung fan. "Ferrari phones," he said. "Apple and Samsung spend so much on marketing that they can charge whatever they want. I'm too honest for my own good."

"Do women tell you that?"

"Yes," he replied. "Look, let me show you something."

He hustled me over to an LG V30, which my colleague Sean Hollister described in his review as "a rock-solid alternative to Samsung's Galaxy S8 Plus and the Google Pixel 2 XL." 

"It's the only phone that has an OLED screen," the Sprint salesman said, stroking it with some feeling. "Samsung only has AMOLED. This is the phone I'm going to get."

He could feel I was weak, so he went in for the kill: "And we've got a special offer right now -- two for one, $20 a month."

"But isn't switching from iPhone to Android hard?" I pleaded.

"We do it for you. It's simple. Unless you've got paid apps," he said. "And you can talk and surf, which you can't do on an 8 Plus."

"Which phones do you sell most of?" I asked.

"iPhones. Because, as I like to say, people are sheep."

Frankly, I was astonished by this baa-humbug. He was utterly dismissive about what Apple calls "the smartphone of the future." It was almost as if he couldn't be bothered to talk about it. He pulled faces at the mere thought of it.

"You have to lift the phone up to your face all the time," was his conclusion. "It's a pain in the ass."

Neither Sprint nor Apple immediately responded to a request for comment.

And then we went for a walk

It turned out this was the end of his shift. "We need to talk some more," he said. Well, obviously. 

So he gave me his card and we walked out together.

"How much does money matter to you?" he asked, as we walked down the street.

"Not so much. I just want the best phone," I said. 

He then -- for the first time -- asked what I do with my phone. I use it for data more than talking. You really don't want to talk to me for a long time on the phone. I get a touch distracted. 

"So you don't need to talk and surf?"

"Not too much," I said.

This was it. We were now out of the store, so he'd admit to me that actually iPhone X is the one for me, but he doesn't get much commission for selling one. I just knew it.

Suddenly he stopped. He turned to me and said: "Maybe you need a Motorola. The Z2 Force. You put a mod on it and it projects like a big screen onto a wall. It's amazing."

Maybe I do. Maybe I don't. Maybe this was all getting far too confusing.

He told me when his next shift was and insisted I come to see him again, together with my current AT&T bill. He'd show me how much cheaper Sprint is. 

We shook hands, I thanked him for an engrossing time and we went our separate ways. 

I opened my iPhone 6, as I sauntered away down the street. This Bloomberg headline appeared: "Apple Shoppers Prefer Cheaper Models Over iPhone X, Analyst Says."

Could this be true? I'd heard that Apple sold 6 million X's just over the Black Friday weekend.

Perhaps, though, carrier store employees' indifference to the X was having a small effect.

Is an Apple store really the only place where they'll tell me that iPhone X was the best phone I can buy? It certainly looks like it.