Until a few weeks ago, I was still using the same cell phone I received five years ago. That all ended last month in the lobby of the New York Holiday Inn Midtown, when my elderly LG VX series phone, barely shuffling along after having been laundered and suffering from a badly cracked hinge, clattered to the floor. The concussion severed the body in half, the screen went dead - and an era came to an end. For the first time in five years, I was phoneless.
The LG VX6100 before the fall.
The LG didn't exactly have me at "hello." I should have gotten rid of the thing three years ago, after Verizon replaced it for the fifth time. Or after I accidentally laundered it while it was powered on.
But I didn't.
Maybe it was about the money. My LG VX6100 flip phone wasn't flashy. It wasn't a smartphone like the Droid or the iPhone. It wasn't even particularly reliable. But it came free after rebates when I signed a two-year commitment to Verizon (a contract, I should add, that at $59.99 per month cost me more than $1,440 over those two years). As it aged and I resisted calls from Verizon to upgrade to a "free" new phone and a new, more expensive contract bearing additional minutes I'd never use. Over time, the little soap bar of a phone was like an old friend and I saved hundreds of dollars in "upgraded" service fees by keeping it.
I first walked out of the store with the LG in May of 2005. By June of 2007 Verizon had replaced the phone five times: three times for power/charging circuit issues; once due to a broken power button; and once after the display failed.
The funny thing is, never once did I need to use the mobile phone extended warranty that Verizon had sold me. In retrospect, the $6 per month charge was a total waste of money.
Then there was the whole laundering thing. Needless to say, the phone was no longer on when I pulled it out of the washer midway through the spin cycle. Thinking I could dry it out, I threw it into an oven set to 150 degreees then promptly forgot about it until the next day, baking the device to within an inch of its life. I pressed the power button and, through some miracle, the VX came back to life once more. (The screen was never quite the same after that.)
Despite a thorough laundering the LG's displays continued to work - if intermittently.
Pocket abuse: The LG lived in my front pants pocket alongside my keys, which scuffed it up quite a bit over the years.
This time, however, there would be no resurrection. The phone had broken into two pieces as soon as it hit the hotel floor. An unbraided cord of copper wire protruded from the piece of the phone holding the display, the end frayed like a worn toothbrush. This was not going back together.
The question was what to do next.
I'd like to say that I was one of the 600,000 people who in one day all signed up for Apple's newest iPhone or that I buckled and bought an Android-powered HTC Incredible. I love the apps. I love the phones. But the iPhone isn't an option because AT&T's service in my area is poor. Forget 3G, even voice is bad here. And while smartphones are cool and nice to have, they're not really necessary for my personal productivity. Upgrading my base plan and layering on a data plan would lard up my costs by an additional $480 per year.
I'd be sorely tempted by a Verizon-compatible iPhone, but for now I've activated a three-year-old Motorola flip phone my daughter had discarded.
The manager at my local Verizon store says I am one of the 17% of Verizon Wireless customers who have delayed upgrading and continue to hang on to their old phones in the hope that Verizon will someday land an iPhone deal with Apple.
I may be waiting in vain; that day may never come. But with the money I'm saving by remaining on my grandfathered plan, it's like I'm being paid to wait.