With Sidekick G4, T-Mobile Casts Me Into Smartphone Replacement Purgatory

Sara really loved her HTC G1 from T-Mobile, and bought the similar-ish Samsung Sidekick 4G as a replacement when its years of loyal service ended. The new phone has not been so loyal. It locks up, won’t respond to the touchscreen, and periodically wipes its memory card for no clear reason. Sure, she could back up the memory card content elsewhere, but the non-operational phone is a real problem. Now she’s on her third replacement. T-Mobile is happy to send her a replacement, but she doesn’t want a fifth phone that will inevitably have the same problems. Sara, welcome to smartphone replacement purgatory!

I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for several years now. I think five on my own, and another five when I shared an account with someone else.

Last year, I got the Samsung Sidekick 4G. It seemed close to my beloved G1, that came to a tragic end after a few years of typical use.

This is now my 4th Sidekick. Among the problems I can list, it locks up at least 4 times a day when I’m using a single application. If the phone deigns to restart on its own, the touchscreen stops working. On three separate occasions, the phone has wiped the memory card. Since I do dog rescue, I’ve lost photos of dogs who are no longer alive. The music is replaceable, the photos are not. Another neat trick is when I log on to the internet, the phone will give me constant pop-ups saying I have no internet connection, then load the webpage. Over and over.

Every time, I’ve replaced the phone with the same model, only to have the same problems repeat themselves.

Tonight, I was fed up and called T-Mobile. The customer service rep suggested I replace it with another Sidekick. I told him I didn’t want another phone that wasn’t going to work. I asked to get a phone that was on sale web only, and renew my contract. He told me that my contract wasn’t up until June of 2013, which went directly against what the last CSR told me.

I followed the cutesy and helpful “Care and Feeding of your Android” pdf they sent me (cleared my call logs, texts, and internet history frequently) to no avail.

I asked to speak to a supervisor, and the CSR said that the supervisor was on another call, but would call me back within the hour. I told him that the last time someone from T-Mobile had promised me a call back, it never happened, so it was super important that they call me back.

It’s been nearly two hours now, and still no call. It seems that T-Mobile would rather gain my $200 cancellation fee than renew my contract that would gain them $3,000 over two years.

I’m beyond frustrated with this company, and will be switching as soon as possible.

We’ve heard that T-Mobile is especially receptive to executive e-mail carpet bombs, and recommend that method for getting in touch with them. Maybe someone higher up the food chain will see that the cost of a working phone is high, but not as high as losing the $3,000 Sara will pay them over the next few years of her contract.

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  1. belsonc says:

    ^EECB time. I wrote a letter to Verizon, cc’d the “Vice President in Charge of Customer Service for the Northeast,” and had my issue resolved in about… 10-12 days total. Sounds like that would work here, too…

  2. Damage Incorporated says:

    Try going into a store if you can. After multiple bad replacements on Verizon, I went into a store and showed them my phone. They said they wouldn’t be able to replace it in the store, but marked my account with something and told me to call CS again. I thought they were just giving me the run around, but sure enough next CS call they offered to swap me out with a newer phone (still refurbed though) with little to no hassle.

  3. NCmacASL says:

    1) Back up data (you will see why, below);
    2) Make a list of all installed apps and their source (Google Play, Amazon, etc.) so they can be re-installed later (you will see why, below);
    3) Perform a Factory Reset (this wipes all data and installed apps and brings phone to a “like-new” state — this is reason for steps 1 & 2)
    4) Install a Task Killer. Easy Task Killer Advanced works well for this: https://play.google.com/store/apps/detai‚Ķ — this not only kills background tasks, it also keeps a record of what is killed so you can easily keep a record of what apps keep re-loading into memory.
    5) Root the Phone (help on this is here: http://forum.xda-developers.com/forumdis… ); This allows access to the phone storage area where you can remove bloatware apps (like DriveSpace) that continually load in the background, eating up valuable resources.
    6) start removing apps (again get help from the XDA forum for guidance) try MOVING an app (especially those from step 4) from phone storage to SD Card, then reboot the phone. if the phone starts working in a weird way, put the app back. Keep trying this with different apps until you are satisfied.
    7) start re-installing apps — try only installing the apps you really need. move as many apps as possible to the SD Card. if a non-essential app forces install in Phone memory, uninstall it. only reason to keep an app in phone memory is to use its Widgets.

    I have done all of the above on my own Sidekick 4G and the phone works much smoother.

    • BerlinSwing says:

      Doesn’t rooting the phone void the warranty? If it’s a problematic model of phone and the fixes don’t work she’d be SOL.

      • meske says:

        You can always “un-root” the phone if you want to turn it back into TMO.

        • BerlinSwing says:

          Is there any way they can detect this? I’d like to do it on my Nexus, but I know Verizon would probably take any possible reason they could to not honor a warranty if my phone broke later on.

    • jimbo831 says:

      You lost all credibility when you told everyone to install a task killer. You obviously have no idea how Android works. They are nothing more than a placebo that actually messes with your phone in a bad way and is more likely to hurt performance than help:

      http://lifehacker.com/5650894/android-task-killers-explained-what-they-do-and-why-you-shouldnt-use-them

    • samandiriel says:

      Your advice is terrible – most of it is outdated, wrong or just bad. I’m an IT consultant who works a lot with Android devices. Here’s the problems:

      (1) Task killers on any Android 2.1+ phone (like the SK4G) are counter productive. Memory management has been built in since forever, and a task killer interferes with that and destabilizes the phone.

      (2) Manually reinstalling the apps as you suggest is tedious and time consuming! No end user is going to go through that with a grin. A much better alternative is to use Titanium Backup, which saves both apps and settings for easy restore.

      (3) Uninstalling preinstalled apps means that you break over-the-air updates; if you don’t want to install a custom ROM, you won’t be able to update your phone in the future. A much better alternative is to freeze bloatware apps so that can’t run. Again Titanium Backup is a good choice for this.

      (4) Android also manages installing apps to the SD card for you. It’s not something you should do manually, as generally apps that are installed to the internal card *need* to be there.

      All that being said, the SK4G is a great phone… so long as you install a custom ROM from someplace like XDA-developers, which unfortunately isn’t in the average user’s skill set :(

      • meske says:

        Do you suggest any ROM’s? A friend has a SK4G and it freezes constantly – on her 4th phone. I’ve updated the device SW, rooted, etc., but haven’t gone so far as to install a ROM yet…

        Will titanium restore apps / texts / call logs / etc. after installing a new ROM?

  4. vorpalette says:

    My advice to the OP from personal experience: DON’T get a Samsung phone.

    • penuspenuspenus says:

      My advice is to get a Samsung Galaxy SII. :p

      Never had a problem with the Galaxy S series that couldn’t be fixed (except the Captivate’s GPS!).

  5. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Same exact thing happened to my wife – and it’s not just T-Mobile, *all* carriers operate in the same way.

    The fundamental problem is that you NEVER get a new phone to replace your defective one. You ALWAYS get a “refurb” – which is to say, one that someone else turned back in because it was defective. And as far as I can tell, nothing is actually done to fix these defective phones when they come in – they just hand them back out to the next customer.

    When my wife was with Verizon, she went through about 9 phones over a 2-year contract. Not exaggerating. EVERY SINGLE ONE was immediately defective in some really obvious way…it was *very* clear that these replacement phones were not getting “refurbished.” My wife constantly was trading them back in, but the problem is that eventually you just resign yourself to the fact that you are NEVER going to have a phone that works correctly again. It’s not going to happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re f%cked. Eventually she just kept the last replacement she got as it was less defective than most of the others, and she just lived with it until the end of her contract.

    At the end of her contract, she switched carriers. Verizon called up and wanted to know why she’d cancelled her service with them, after “years” of being a Verizon customer. They are truly that clueless.

    The one and only way you could fix this would be with an industry regulation requiring that *new* phones are given out as replacements when under-contract phones need to be replaced. That’s the only way a consumer can have any credible expectation of having a phone that functions properly.

    OR…and this would be my preference…outlaw subsidized phones all together, and the accompanying X year contracts. Make cell phones like regular phones…where you just buy whatever phone you want at retail cost, and you can get service from any phone company you like at will. Then when something goes wrong with your phone, at least you are dealing with the actual manufacturer of the phone – who at that point, like all manufacturers of electronics will be needing to make best effort to make it’s customers happy. Dealing with the cell service provider, who has you under contract for 2 years anyway, is the worst possible situation for the consumer – that company isn’t really all that incented to make you happy…you’re stuck with them anyway.

    • homehome says:

      Actually, there’s a way around this, I believe the threshold depends on the company, but I know with Sprint, if you have your phone replaced 4 times under their phone protection plans (not sure if op has it, if not then this probably won’t work) then she can request a new phone, it’s in the TOS and it’s something reps are not supposed to tell you about.

    • apple420 says:

      That’s part of the reason I like the iPhone. If I have a problem I contact Apple, and don’t involve my carrier at all.

    • lumpia91791 says:

      Hah, I doubt anyone outside of iPhone users would buy a $500 phone. The price threshold so far is like $299 thanks to Verizon – Sprint and AT&T top out with $200 high end phones. It’s a cultural thing that Americans are used to.

      Even paying full price upfront for your phone doesnt even make much sense since you can’t switch phones around carriers as easy as Europeans. Buying a full price phone doesn’t even reduce your monthly payments even though it was priced to recoup subsiding pricing.

      Before smartphones, phones tcan last up to the 2 year contract since they just did voice and text. Yeah it sucks that android phones are obsolete in 3 mos after you buy them but that is just reality now.

  6. mingtae says:

    I’ve got the same Sidekick 4G and I’m experiencing problems with the screen locking up and touchscreen not responding. After turning it off and back on, its working. I does not happen frequently so I do not mind. Never had a problem with the memory card getting wiped out however. I am using one that I purchased separately. This could just be the design of the software vs what the hardware is capable of handling. I would just switch phones if its that much of an issue.

  7. mingtae says:

    I’ve got the same Sidekick 4G and I’m experiencing problems with the screen locking up and touchscreen not responding. After turning it off and back on, its working. I does not happen frequently so I do not mind. Never had a problem with the memory card getting wiped out however. I am using one that I purchased separately. This could just be the design of the software vs what the hardware is capable of handling. I would just switch phones if its that much of an issue.

  8. greatgoogly says:

    T-Mobile’s customer service has gone way down hill in the last several months. They’ve been losing customers every quarter of late. Lots of layoffs among the staff, and customer service becoming more and more rigid. Problem is they don’t have the network coverage to get away with treating everyone like crap like ATT and Verizon does.

  9. almightytora says:

    This happened to me when I had the Sidekick 3. In my two year contract, I had to replace the phone five times – four times within the second year of the contract – because T-Mobile wouldn’t believe that my battery would drain within two hours and refused to send me a battery. It was the last replacement (when I had less than two months on my contract) that the CSR gave me a battery as well.

    Let’s just say that the Retention Department had a lot of work to keep me as a T-Mobile customer. (They heavily discounted my current phone, the G2.)

  10. akurah says:

    If you haven’t already, the next time you call, say, “Hey. My phone is broken. This is the fourth phone you have sent me, and the previous three were also broken. I’m tired of these lemons.” They *should* offer you a choice of 2 replacement smartphones of equivalent value to choose between. When I had the Sidekick Slide, and it kept malfunctioning, I went through three replacements before they offered me the choice of a Dash or a Blackberry 8800. I went with the 8800 because the Dash has a history of hardware failure that T-Mobile refuses to acknowledge.

    If that doesn’t work, EECB.

  11. scottd34 says:

    Welcome to the wonderful world of Android. I had several android phones and they always have problems, and so do the ones for people I know, and the callers I talk to daily.. Switched to windows phone and havent had a single problem at all.

    All android phones share the same core software, so moving to another android phone wont get rid of your problems. A quick browse of the androidcentral.com forums will show more complaints about android then youc an count.

    If you want a reliable phone, stear clear of android.

    • samandiriel says:

      It’s more a problem with fragmentation and carriers/manufacturers installing bloatware than with Android. The more customized a phone is, the worse it tends to perform.

      Android as a mobile OS is actually very good; I’ve evaluated a lot of Apple, BB, Android and MS phones for businesses, and Android is generally the best of the lot. Unfortunately making an informed choice, or being able to properly tweak it after you get the one you want, is the difficult part.

  12. One-Eyed Jack says:

    I miss my pre-Android Sidekick. Lots. I moved on to Virgin Mobile when TMo killed the original ‘kick last year, but I still miss that phone. Sounds like I’d miss it even more if I’d gone with the Droid version.

  13. samandiriel says:

    I own one of these babies, actually. It’s a pity that the stock ROM on the SK4G is such a piece of garbage, as the hardware is “good enough” and it has the best physical keyboard on the market. If you want this phone and want it to work well, you have to be comfortable with installing a custom ROM from someplace like XDA-developers. Which, sadly, is out of the average owner’s skill range :(