the workaround that wasn’t

As much as I complain about Verizon not activating the FM chip inside the cell phones it sells, the company does have one Android phone with working FM. It’s the Moto E, the lowliest member of the E-G-X family, which is available for under $40 at your neighborhood walmart.com.

The Moto E is about as cheap as you can go and still get a recognizably modern Android phone. It has a modest processor, one gig of ram and out of the box, eight gigs of storage. The screen is not much to look at; the resolution is circa 2011. But, hey, what do you expect for $36? And yep, right there in the middle of the first apps screen, “FM radio.”

I know all this because I went to the trouble of acquiring one, briefly, and with it a surprising amount of trouble.

Verizon’s pre-paid phones fall into two categories – expensive popular phones (think iPhone) a generation or two back from the current iteration, and cheap phones designed specifically for the pre-paid market. Historically, Verizon has drawn a line between “pre-paid” and “contract” phones and did not want the two to mingle, but from what I found on the subject – including Verizon’s own customer forums – I could put a Moto E on my account, as long as the SIM was inserted into the phone before it was turned on and activated. I already swap my SIM among three phones on a regular basis, so I figured one more was no big deal.

I fished the SIM out of the phone I was using, moved it into the Moto E, powered it up. At first it looked like it worked – the phone found the network – but after I skipped through the activation screens I did get a “The SIM you’re using is not compatible with this device.” Well, rats. That didn’t work. I powered down the Moto E, extracted the SIM and cursed not having figured out a workaround that would give me FM radio on Android.

After I packed up the Moto E to return it, I slipped the SIM back into the phone I had been using, powered it up and all seemed normal. But when I tried to make a call, I was redirected to Verizon. Take the SIM out, reseat it, make sure I’m not overlooking something obvious. Same result.

I thought maybe what I was seeing was the result of using the SIM with an adaptor. Because two phones I use have “nano” SIMs, but one has a “micro” SIM, I have to put the nano SIM into a little cardboard tray every time I want to use the phone that takes the micro size. It’s a little touchy, but has worked so far. Last night though, I figured the cardboard tray might be damaged. So I took the SIM out of the tray and put it into one of the phones that uses a nano SIM. Same result – the phone powered up fine, found the network, but no calls would complete. This being a Sunday night, Verizon was closed so I went online and used the activation tool to try and set things right. The phone activated fine; there were no messages, warnings, whatever. But I still couldn’t make a call.

12 hours later, I was at my local Verizon mall store, talking to a helpful young lady. She grabbed a new SIM, flashed it for me and popped it into my phone after typing some Verizon authorization magic onto her tablet. Handed it back to me, said make a test call. I did, and…Verizon answered.

Hmmm.

More typing, checking of various settings that I don’t have access to. Finally, she says ‘Because you tried to use the Moto E, your number was hotlined.’ I’m not exactly sure what hotlined means in this context, but it can’t be good. Some more typing, the phone powered down one last time and then back up, and whatever part of Verizon that was holding onto my account had been persuaded to loosen its grip. I could again use my phone.

Now, the young woman who helped me was very nice, didn’t charge me for the fix or the SIM card. Couldn’t be happier with the service. But it’s worth considering the underlying facts for just a minute: I tried to activate a phone that I couldn’t activate. The Moto E accurately relayed to me what the problem was. But rather than leaving matters there, Verizon went on to fry the SIM and leave me without cell service for half a day. And remember, it wasn’t clear or obvious from the start that I couldn’t use the Moto E; in fact, the helpful person at Verizon told me you can use your pre-paid phone on your contract – if you buy a month of pre-paid service up front. That’s right, $45 for the privilege of using a cheap phone to consume more of their service. Still, I suppose it beats the company’s old policy, which she informed me was to make you buy pre-paid for six months.

And none of it, none of it, would have happened if Verizon would just take the simple, decent step of activating the FM radio chip which is in most cell phones. Verizon: rather than treating me like a potential criminal, how ’bout you lighten up, turn on your radios, and let us all move on to more important things? I’ll send you just shy of $230 this month. Expressed over a year, I give you close to $3,000. What I want in return doesn’t seem like much to ask for.

 

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