I have an Android phone: a Nexus One, straight from Google. It arrived independent of any phone company deals, which I thought would make it easy to use with whatever carrier I engaged when I got to France, where I would be spending the next five weeks.
We arrived in Paris on Sunday the 13th of June. On Monday we went to some phone stores and got SIMs for the three phones we brought with us. The other two were a Nokia E71 and a Nokia N900 (which is really a handheld computer, but will take a SIM and work as a phone). The E71 took a pre-paid SIM from SFR, and the N900 took one from Orange. Both worked fine. The Android was more complicated, because I wanted data working on it. We didn’t do data deals for the other two — at least not this time around — but I like the Nexus One and thought it would be cool to have one phone that would let us surf the Web, use maps, have fun with Layar and other neat stuff.
So I paid 40€ to Orange (which I had been told had the best deals) for a SIM and a plan that included telephony and 450Mb of data. It never worked. In fact, the phone part only worked for a short time. After a few days I started getting messages saying I needed to “recharge” the account with fresh money because I was out.
Looking for clues about what was going on, I went to four different Orange stores, plus other stores that work with Orange, and never got a clear reason why the thing failed, beyond “you must have used too much data.” At the fouth store, last weekend in Strasbourg, a nice young guy who spoke good English (a help since my French is worse than minimal) told me that the only sensible way to do data was to buy a long-term plan. Otherwise, “just don’t use data.” Why? “It’s too expensive.” What’s the price? He couldn’t tell me.
So I put another 35€ on the phone, so at least we could use telephony.Meanwhile I had long since turned off any setting on the phone that looked like it used data.
That worked briefly. Within another few hours the phone could only take calls but not make them. This time there were not any messages about recharging.
Now I’m in the UK, where I read that Orange claims to have the best coverage. And, indeed, my iPhone says Orange has a good signal. The iPhone — my main phone in the U.S. — works fine here, but calls are expensive, which is why I like to have a local phone of some kind. The Android works on wi-fi, but can’t seem to do telephony at all. When I call a number, I get a beep and the whole phone function pops off, returning the phone to a no-app-running state. When I call the number I get told in French to leave a message.
Since we have a 3G iPad arriving at the place in France one of these days (it was held up by French customs and other mix-ups), I was also interested in a data plan for that one. Turns out that the relatively simple plan that Apple has with AT&T in the U.S. is matched by a similar one with Orange. Unfortunately, I also need to take out a French bank account and produce other forms of documentation, before I can get the deal. So I won’t bother.
At this point, frankly, I’m kinda beyond caring. I don’t know why the phone companies want to make life so damn hard for customers — as well as for themselves. My current theory is that they’re all Enrons of a sort: outfits that make their offerings so complicated that only they can understand them — and even they aren’t that good at it.
So I just keep using my American iPhone, fortified with a $20-something/month add-on data plan that gives me 20Mb/month of data to fudge with. I use it in emergencies, like when I need to find my way from a tube stop to an address. I set usage to zero at the start of the month and see where I am. So far in June I’ve used 2.5Mb. But I’m still afraid to use more here on the last day of the month. Hey, why take chances?