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The cost of changing your tune

We truly live in the lucky country, what with being able to easily change our mobile ringtone to the song from the VB ad. Others are not so fortunate.

Ella Morton

commentary We test a lot of phones here at CNET.com.au -- several each week. The overwhelming majority allow you to transfer an MP3 from your computer via USB or Bluetooth and set that song as a ringtone.

This function is standard, especially in light of the recent wave of music-focused models such as Sony Ericsson's Walkman range and Nokia's Music Edition upgrades.

However, it seems that we in Australia have things pretty sweet when it comes to ditching the supplied polyphonic monstrosities in favour of more pleasant ringtone melodies.

When you buy a phone in the USA, you buy it from a provider -- a company like T-Mobile, Cingular or Verizon. That handset will very likely be locked to that company, with no option to switch to another for your coverage.

This cosy relationship can result in a few sneaky moves on the part of the telcos. Certain phone features can be restricted in ways that benefit the company. Here's an example.

My sister, whose phone recently met a watery end courtesy of an inconveniently located toilet bowl, just bought a shiny new Motorola KRZR K1m from US wireless provider Verizon. One of the reasons she chose that particular model was that it has Bluetooth, and is marketed as a music-focused phone. She liked the idea of being able to transfer songs via USB or Bluetooth and using them as ringtones.

However, when she tried to transfer an MP3 using Bluetooth, the operation failed. She tried with a photo, and it transferred with no problems. She tested multiple MP3 files, and although phone and computer were connected and communicating, there was always a "Failed" message when she initiated transfers.

It turns out that the Verizon version of the KRZR has had some of some of its Bluetooth capabilities disabled -- including the ability to transfer music files. If you read the fine print in the phone's features list at the Verizon Web site, you'll see this paragraph at the bottom:

"The KRZR K1m supports the following Bluetooth Profiles: Headset, Hands-free, Serial Port and Dial Up Networking, Object Push for vcard and image transfer only. It does not support all Bluetooth object transfer (OBEX) profiles."

Unless you're proficient in the language of tech, those are some pretty obscure details to decipher. But at least there's a disclaimer. In 2005, Verizon was hit with a class action lawsuit that claimed the company "enjoyed enormous financial gains by marketing and selling the popular Bluetooth v710 phone then disabling almost all of its Bluetooth capabilities, resulting in a degraded phone, which requires the customer to use other Verizon 'paid' services in place of the Bluetooth capabilities that were supposed to be part of the phone's Bluetooth features".

Back to my sister. With Bluetooth out, she tried to transfer her music via USB, only to find that while the songs appeared on the phone and played within the music player, they could not be set as ringtones.

So does Verizon expect its customers to stick with the short list of beep-laden ringtones that come supplied on the KRZR? Certainly not -- they are welcome to purchase ringtones from the Verizon Web site at the bargain price of US$2.99 each.

There is one way to get around the ringtone restrictions: by e-mailing yourself and attaching an MP3. Naturally, that little detail is not in the user manual.

So next time you transfer your ringtone of choice, perhaps pause and give thanks for how easy it is to change from blips and bleeps to that Oz-tastic song from the Victoria Bitter ad. Matter of fact, I've got it as my ringtone now.