Ask Artie #4: Phoning it in.

Artie Q. PebbletonAsk Artie, Technology!

Katie writes:

I have a [smart]phone that is, essentially, an overpriced paperweight. Should I get a new phone or should I just continue to suffer through the rest of my contract?

I do hate planned obsolescence – the notion wherein products are designed to conk out after a relatively short period of use.  I find it to be particularly egregious with smartphones.  Sure, they travel around in our pockets and we use them constantly, but they do seem to burn out of utility after a year or two of service, obligating the user to purchase a new one.  After all, everyone needs a phone, right?  I wouldn’t expect a smartphone to last as long as, say, a 60s-era Kitchenaid stand mixer (I swear those things are made of adamantium), but I wouldn’t mind if they lasted a few sales cycles longer.

That said, sometimes it’s not that the phone is broken, but that the phone was poorly designed from the start – a key phone process that freezes and shuts down whenever it receives a call, the ill-advised placement of a program-launching shortcut button (conveniently located next to the a key on the keyboard so you press it all the time), a battery that lasts twenty minutes.  Indeed, these are the times that try men’s souls.  Anyway, let’s get to your question, Katie.

So, let’s say you’ve got a smartphone, and you’ve got 6 months left on your 2-year contract with the carrier.  Let’s say, also, that your plan costs you $30 a month.  Let’s also say, finally, that you hate your phone.  What to do?

First, let us do some math!

A review of four major carriers’ (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile) termination policies reveal that all of them levy termination fees or penalties, ranging from about $250 (in the case of T-Mobile) to $350 (in the case of Verizon).  They don’t want you to let go.  But let’s say you’re carried by AT&T and you want to cancel.  Their cancellation fee is “$325 minus $10 for each full month of your Service Commitment that you complete”.  If you’re a year and a half into a contract, why, that’s 18 months, or $180 off the fee, leaving you with $145 to pay if you cancel your service.  However, when you divide that number by 6 (the number of months remaining in your contract), you get $24.17 per month.  Cancelling your phone contract would be like continuing your contract, but $6 a month cheaper – you’d save about $35 of monthly phone bills by cancelling (because six months times $30/month is $180; and 180-145=35).  In that case, sure!  Go for it.

Upon doing your math, you will find that you have three options: cancel your phone service and get a new phone; grit your teeth and suffer through the end of your contract; or, the strangest option: sign a new contract with another carrier without cancelling your old one.  This might sound nuts, but it may be more cost-effective to continue to pay your first monthly bill while still paying for a new phone.  It depends on how the math bears out – if the cancellation fee is more expensive than paying the monthly fee, then keep paying the monthly fee and, if you think it’s necessary, get a new phone and pay for that one as well.  Is it wasteful?  Possibly, but probably not – you were going to get that phone eventually, anyhow.  (Unless you take the fourth way, and eschew phones entirely, which is a way to be, but not one I necessarily endorse.)

And even once you finish your contract, remember – just because it doesn’t have phone service doesn’t mean it has to be a paperweight!  Your old phone can double as a USB thumbdrive, an alarm clock, an emergency phone (you can still dial 911 on a deactivated smartphone), a WiFi-accessing device, or, okay, fine, a paperweight.

I hope this was helpful to you, Katie!  This just goes to prove that ol’ Artie’s got more in him than just grammatical advice.  Remember, if you’ve ever got a question of any sort to ask me, pop on over to Ask Artie and fill out a contact form!

Yours in learning,



To cap off our discussion about planned obsolescence, here is a song which is called “Planned Obsolescence”, mercifully available on Grooveshark, from Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America, Volume Two.  It takes place after Thomas Edison has discovered the proper filament to produce an everlasting incandescent light bulb.  Immediately following this discovery, a coterie of mysterious gentlemen enter the room and protest this invention, in song.  Stan Freberg was, and, at the time of this writing, still is, one of the great luminaries of American radio comedy – he is also one of the most marvelously talented ad men the world has ever known.  I love his 60s-era radio ads for Pittsburgh Paints, like this one, or this one!