Sagacious Himself — brevity in circumlocution: never blague — suffering genius

July 14, 2011

disposable phone testing: TracFone good, cheap TracFones bad. (prepaid phones)

Filed under: bargain,Hardwares,overview,verizon sucks — Sagacious Himself @ 3:15 pm

I carry more than two mobile phones for a variety of reasons.  Taking any of them to a potentially wet environment is less than desirable.

Disposable phones to the rescue?  Which pre-paid phones suck the least?

First choice to test: TracFone.

It was inexpensive (and very cheap).  No per day cost for the privilege of having the phone activated.  Minutes do not expire, but the phone activation does.  Buy more minutes before activation window expires or the phone self destructs (becomes unusable).   $15 for the phone itself: LG420G.  $20 for a 60 pre-paid minutes code.  Apparently there was a promotion at the time of phone purchase:  All minutes, and future purchase minutes, are doubled.  Searching the interweb I found a five digit promo code for an additional 60 minutes.

$35 bought: a chintzy phone, 180 minutes, five months of activation, and a phone number in the zip code I specified during phone activation.  The phone activation has a few gotchas.  It prompts early for a five digit promo code.   Since I was unaware that such existed I had not interweb searched for one.  No problem, the IVR indicates promo entry can be deferred to the end of the call.  Unfortunately the IVR provides no opportunity to enter the promo code later.  One need call TracFone support, 800.867.7183, and endure half an hour of near musak before being routed to a live body in Singapore.

Now the worse-bad:

  •  lag. horrible audio lag for each call party.  Sometimes as poor as long as four seconds of lag
  •  audio drops.  With full signal audio drops: 30% or more of the conversation is lost to the ether.  The lower the signal strength the more audio is dropped
  •  echo.  horrible echo.   I did not expect fantastic audio fidelity from a $15 obviously refurbished phone.  However, a high quality blue tooth headset offers no improvement.  sound uptake, DAC, DSP, codec, signal transmission..  the latter three are apparently hugely problematic even with BT audio.
  • audio fidelity poor.  very very poor… even with high quality BT
  •  most SMS falls in a hole never to be seen

The phone would be great for 419 scambating as the phone delightfully  mangles audio and would frustrate scammers.  While I would almost be pleased if this phone were to get wet on a trip and die the audio-suck issues render it useless for using other than a pager.

The less than good:

  • SMS sending uses at least 0.5 minutes of air time.  More minute fractions for longer SMS
  • TracFone will not accept SIM from another SIM provider
  • BT profile has been verizon’d
  • BT audio device must be manually accepted each time powered
  • TracFone support claims one is charged for outgoing ringing
  • charged for incoming ringing WHEN phone rings for more than five minutes

The decent-good:

  • no id required to purchase
  • no credit card required
  • no volunteering of personal information required
  • zip code used to assign phone number
  • number can be ported out to ITSP for PBX joy
  • short SMS can be viewed at no charge with the inbox preview feature
  • no charge to *receive* SMS.  only charged to view or send SMS
  • not charged for outgoing ringing per se

the extremely-bad

  • when voicemail is removed the system, much like verizon, soonventually applies INANE defaults
  • inbound calls are routed to a “mobile user unavailable” error and disconnected after 25 seconds
  • this error should only apply when the TracFone is not powered
  • activation zipcode assigns both phone number AND provider.
  • For least pain do not use zip code to shop for an area code

Why remove voicemail?  Prior experience with pre-paid phones is that voicemail is used to extort additional payment.  Also I prefer the PBX features of asterisk to lametard mobile voicemail.  I provide people with my own DID and route to the disposable phone.  My PBX captures voicemail, filters call

the extremely-good

  • Customer Service agents at TracFone, very much unlike AT&T/verizon, care about helping users,
  • Customer Service agents at TracFone are infinitely patient, polite, and kind, and have better training than most every non-business agent at other carriers,
  • Time spent with CS is credited back to the TracFone balance

.

IMPORTANT: buy the mobile flavor for the area in which you will be calling/called… CDMA or GSM.  Got SIM? you have GSM.  The 4th and 5th digit of SIM serial indicates carrier: 12 for tmobile, 14 for att.  Use zip code to ensure CDMA, or AT&T.  It’s far too easy to inflict tmobile or cingular on yourself. Zip code prompt during activation is for number selection.

Use zipcodemap.net and tracfone availability to find desirable carrier and engineer tracfone to ship the correct SIM, or force them to display CDMA handsets.  Ship where ever else you like.  Do not rely on TrafFone to select the best mobile flavor for where you live; tracfone will default to the least cost technology where you live.

For least cost: best audio quality & best signal with AT&T use the motorola W376g [pdf]

IF you want a phone to perform other than calling features you really want an internet capable PDA aka “smart” “phone”.  SMS is gay.

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