AT&T iPhone: DTMFA?
August 17, 2011 9:22 PM   Subscribe

AT&T iPhone: DTMFA?

I have an AT&T iPhone 3G. I thought it would be wonderful.
Unfortunately, I am coming to hate it. And I need some help deciding what to do about it.

The main reason is dropped calls. I get several dropped calls each and every day. I work on the phone, and I am so, so sick of having to apologize for dropping out on conference calls. This has GOT to stop.

The other reason is typing. I have never gotten used to typing on the screen. After two and a half years, I'm still laboriously hunt-and-pecking. I see people cranking away with their thumbs and turn pea green with envy.

I'm also frustrated with typing lag and general crashiness in various apps, most notably Google Maps (though I recently upgraded the firmware, which seems to have helped).

My contract with AT&T is up, so why do I not just get a different carrier and a phone I like better? Because my partner, with whom I share an AT&T family plan, loves the iPhone so, so much. Somehow these things that bother me do not bother her. Her phone is full of apps that give her great nerdly joy, and I would hate to force her onto a new platform.

So here are the options as I see them -- each with its own set of questions.

* Holler and scream and threaten to jump ship unless AT&T cuts me a deal on a MicroCell or an iPhone 4G. But would they actually do this? And would either solution really fix the dropped calls problem? Or is it caused by systemic overloading rather than poor coverage?

* If we do stay with AT&T, could I use an external keyboard for typing-intensive moments? I'm concerned it would be just be another annoying device to carry around and have to charge? Have you done this, and if so how does it work for you?

* Could I get a different AT&T smartphone, while still sharing a family plan with my partner? (Which phone is probably a question for a different week.)

* If we do end up bailing on AT&T, which of the other iPhone carriers (Verizon or T-Mobile) should we go to? Coverage and rates are what we care about most, although customer service and lack of skeezeballness are important too. Same question applies as above -- can we have an iPhone and some other smartphone on the same family plan?

* My partner says I should buy a month's worth of T-Mobile coverage, and put their SIM in my iPhone to see if the coverage is better. Would this work?

Your answers, links, relevant anecdotes, and sage counsel are welcome. Thanks for your help!
posted by ottereroticist to Technology (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have the Verizon iphone and it has not dropped a single call for me. Apps crash only occasionally (maps has never crashed) and the ones that do crash also happen to be the poorly coded ones.

If you need help typing, there are apps that are designed to help you learn.
posted by babby╩╝); Drop table users; -- at 9:32 PM on August 17, 2011

can we have an iPhone and some other smartphone on the same family plan?

As far as I know, yes.

We've been on Verizon for years; I just got an iphone. I almost never have dropped calls (except down by my office, but our building is a Faraday cage, so I'm not alone in that). I can't help with the typing thing - I'm one of those two-thumb-typing people you hate!
posted by rtha at 9:35 PM on August 17, 2011

The only way you can find out whether a provider works in your area is to try the service out for a month. Even saying, say, "Verizon works well in Portland", doesn't mean Verizon will work in your office or house. (Here's an informative article that touches on that and many other mobile service issues.)

Yes, you can get a different phone than the one you have now, or a different phone than your partner's and stay on a family plan. Maybe one with a physical keyboard would be best. You should be aware though, that getting a new phone will restart your family's (probably 2 year) contract with AT&T. You might be eligible for discounted phones, depending on how long you've got until your current contract expires. You can call them up or log on to their mobile website to find out. If you decide to get a new phone on AT&T, I'd suggest waiting until near the time your contract's up, since you'll get better discounts.

But I do wonder, have you tried using Google Talk on your computer to connect to your conference calls and other important calls? It's free (at least, it's free "through 2011" they say), and I've rarely, if ever, had a dropped call using this service.
posted by lesli212 at 9:39 PM on August 17, 2011

Oh, and you would need to unlock your iPhone to see how it runs on T-mobile; you can't just pop in a SIM. Also, I think they're limited to 2g internet, or some such nonsense.
posted by lesli212 at 9:41 PM on August 17, 2011


Boy. Do I hate giving this secret away! But I feel for you, here. I do.

Detail your complaints. Ask what they can do. Know what you want before you ask!!!

I live in the 90046 area code - Hollywood Hills. Folks up here were early adopters of the iPhone, then in something like 2006 or 2007, ATT cut their contract with an important cell tower in our neighborhood and we ALL had shitty service like you.

I phoned Retention and got a HUGE discount which stayed in place long after they re-upped on that cell tower contract and I had great service restored. Also, I think my complaint helped get the service restored because I placed with the Retention Department vs. regular customer service (I mean the fucking Hollywood Hills? Really?? How could ATT afford NOT to service us considering the saturation of iPhones!!!!!)

I maintain a landline through Time Warner for $15 a month. My Google Voice number rings my cell and landline.


That said, if your home has poor-to-no service, then you need to be compensated - this is exactly the argument I used with the Retention Department to get my discounts. The service problems in my area were well-known, they will be in your area, too.

Just call them to get a discount. Do internet or landline for conference call stability. Problem solved!
posted by jbenben at 9:58 PM on August 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

(Sorry for all the emphatics, but I hate hate hate ATT. Except for their Retention Department, which operates as a normal and civil customer service department should. I was with Cingular when ATT bought them. The drop in value was dramatic. But I love my iPhone, like your partner does. Using this work-around keeps me sane. Hope it works for you)
posted by jbenben at 10:05 PM on August 17, 2011

In my opinion, the dropped calls are a network issue and not a hardware issue. I've been with AT&T for more years than I like to recall, and for the past 3 years or so I've had a horrendous amount of dropped calls -- in Texas and Illinois, with an LG Vu and now an iPhone 4.
posted by puritycontrol at 10:06 PM on August 17, 2011

could I use an external keyboard for typing-intensive moments?

Have you considered the likes of the Sony-Ericsson Xperia Pro and HTC Desire Z? Not useful if you're wedded to the iPhone itself, but if you're just wanting a smartphone with a decent physical keyboard, they're both good options.
posted by rodgerd at 12:07 AM on August 18, 2011

Well, my Verizon cell phone doesn't receive phone calls, voice mails, or texts at my house, even though I have four bars (max) consistently. When I leave my house and get to a specific intersection, all the calls and texts suddenly show up. So by one metric (the bars on my phone), I have excellent coverage from Verizon. But by the metric of RL experience, I have no coverage from them. I think the RL experience matters ore than the reported coverage

(Drop The Mobile Fone Already?)
posted by BurnChao at 2:21 AM on August 18, 2011

My husband and I complained to AT&T about our service several times(terrible reception in our 100+ year old barge wood and plaster house) and they sent us a coupon for a free micro cell. It makes my iPhone 3G mostly bearable. So start complaining. We also reported dropped calls with that "Mark the Spot" app. Annoy them and report all problems. My friends just got refurbished iPhone 4s for $99 with a one year contract, so that's an idea. I am going to wait until the 5 is out and see how cheaply I can get a 4.
posted by artychoke at 5:26 AM on August 18, 2011

Try a different phone. I am a long time AT&T customer, and the service has seemed completely different depending on the kind of phone I am on. Seems like the iPhones drop a lot of calls.

(As for them NOT dropping calls on Verizon, since Verizon uses a different cell network, that means there is a different radio in the phone, and it's a completely different metric. IE, the radio in AT&T iPhones sucks, and the radio in Verizon phones is good.)
posted by gjc at 5:53 AM on August 18, 2011

I'm not going to recommend one course of action over another, just provide a couple of comments on your questions.

1. You may or may not know that if you want to move to Tmobile, you need an unlocked phone, which either means unlocking your current phone (which may not be easy/possible) or buying an unlocked phone (very expensive). Also, you cannot get a 3G data connection with an iPhone on Tmo (AT&T's and Tmo's networks operate at different frequencies). Finally, of course, AT&T is trying to buy out Tmo, so you might find that you had only escaped AT&T's clutches temporarily.

2. There are external keyboards that act as cases. Here's one. So not necessarily another thing to lose. I had to live with my iPhone as my only computational device for a month before I developed a facility with the screenboard (and I'm still not super-fast), so I can kind of understand your frustration.

3. The micro-cell is a good idea. You also might look into using Skype with a skypeout number or a landline when you're at home. I've found Skype on my phone has pretty darn good sound quality.
posted by adamrice at 6:43 AM on August 18, 2011

I tried an iPhone 3G on AT&T for a year and a half, and eventually gave it up for an actual phone, and I'm still finding that people will call me and the phone won't ring through (despite 4 bars on the display). I've come to the conclusion that it's AT&T and will be switching. The iPhone did whet my appetite, and this time I'm going to try a smart phone, but that will definitely be a device with a hard keyboard.

Just a matter of figuring out which of the evil alternatives to AT&T I actually want to commit to.
posted by straw at 7:52 AM on August 18, 2011

It seems like a lot of people are chiming in on the service aspect (and you can certainly ask for better pricing), but for this part:
I'm also frustrated with typing lag and general crashiness in various apps, most notably Google Maps (though I recently upgraded the firmware, which seems to have helped).

That's probably because you have an iPhone 3G, which is nearly 3 years old. The phone itself is sort of failing at this point. (I know, because I have the same phone and relatively similar issues.) Now, as you may be aware, the iPhone 5 (or 4S) is coming out relatively soon in either September or October (according to many reasonably reputable sites), so you should definitely be able to get a good deal on a 3Gs or 4 after the new models come out.

This, of course, doesn't fix your keyboard issue. Maybe try a blackberry?

Also, this might seem obvious, but have you tried googling for something like "At&t service (your city)" to see if others have noticed the issue? It might be a phone, it might be the service.
posted by Flamingo at 7:55 AM on August 18, 2011

Several of us at work have AT&T iPhones. Our head sales guy called AT&T to complain about reception, and they sent out a Micro-Cell, no charge. Works great.

FWIW, don't rush out to buy a new iPhone just yet. All signs point to a major revision next month.
posted by mkultra at 7:55 AM on August 18, 2011

Dropped calls can definitely be a hardware issue. I'm in the process of switching from a Nexus One to a HTC Desire Z/G2/Vision and the reception quality is numerically worse on the G2 than the N1, even if I check in the same place only a minute apart. In my neighborhood it's just enough to go from meh call quality to no calls at all. This is not to say that the G2 is a bad phone, there are also people who report better reception with the G2 as compared to the N1... It is just something of a tossup, with the combination of hardware and cell towers where you are. (It also matters which firmware you use on the phone--I'm in the process of systematically testing all available version but this is not a good idea for most people--and not an option if you're going to be returning the phone if things don't work out.)

Like adamrice points out, there are frequency problems with switching, too. Assuming you've unlocked the phone in question: AT&T and Verizon share bandwidth so you can generally get 3G with the same phone on either network. T-Mo has different bandwidth, if you switch between T-Mo and AT&T/Verizon you'll only get 2G/EDGE on the non-native network. Sprint does something completely different, there is no switching from or to Sprint while keeping a phone. On the other hand, you can be pretty happy with just 2G if you spend most of your time in WiFi coverage like me. Best way to tell is to check your past phone bills and see how much data actually went over the phone network.

Sticking with AT&T: Yes, you can get an AT&T smart phone, but QWERTY/slider smartphones on AT&T are very limited. If you don't use the phone as a smartphone then you could get a feature phone slider and you'd have more choices. Otherwise you're stuck with buying a phone off-contract, which is going to be expensive (but you can get an amazing phone).

Tempting your partner away from AT&T: Depending on what flavour of nerd she is, this is actually not a bad option. There are just as many awesome apps for Android and also a lot of overlap. See if you can figure out what apps she can't live without and find replacements.
posted by anaelith at 8:07 AM on August 18, 2011

anaelith: "AT&T and Verizon share bandwidth so you can generally get 3G with the same phone on either network. "

This is emphatically not the case. AT&T and Verizon use completely different cellular technologies (GSM vs CDMA respectively), so you can no more use an AT&T phone on Verizon than you can pick up an FM broadcast with an AM radio.
posted by adamrice at 8:18 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another thing to try- my iPhone 3G started dropping more calls than usual and getting a replacement sim card helped a lot. Once again, I called and complained and they said go to the store and they'll give you a free one.
posted by artychoke at 8:32 AM on August 18, 2011

Good call, I was going off the fact that the Verizon phone I was comparing to had a SIM card and used the same bandwidth, but adamrice is right, Verizon is using CDMA. Too bad, since Verizon has a few nice phones.
posted by anaelith at 11:49 AM on August 18, 2011

Does the dropped call only affect your device or does it happen to everyone? If everyone experiences it, you should probably either change carriers or obtain a Femto in whatever way you can.

If it doesn't, a couple fo suggestions:

1. Check your hardware. As someone mentioned, you have a fairly old device. Go to a good RF location and see if you still see the drops. Unless there is significant loading, stationary drop calls should be very low.
2. Turn off your data while you're having a call. Verizon 3G devices are unable to multi-task voice and data at the same time and that affects retainability in their favor somewhat.
Bear this in mind when you do decide to migrate to Verizon.
3. And a suggestion to retain your call while you decide on which direction to go: switch your device to 2G. Edge is a mature system and unless your area has a really bad reception and/or loading, you will have a much better retainability.
posted by 7life at 2:01 PM on August 18, 2011

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