Like most members of modern society, I can’t imagine life without my cell phone. I estimate that I use it 60% for business and 40% for personal calls. I’ve had several Nokias over time, and I’ve had pretty good luck with most of them. During the summer of 2005, I had a customer give me his old BlackBerry 7210 when he upgraded to a Treo 650. I was yearning to get wireless e-mail, but due to the fact it was an old “Blue” device and some issue with my rate plan, Cingular would not let me get a data plan without completely revamping my contract and getting a new “orange” BlackBerry. At the time, it wasn’t worth the hassle and expense. I went ahead and switched over to the BlackBerry anyway, and was glad I did. I simply took the SIM card out of my Nokia 6200 and snapped it into the BlackBerry. The voice functionality worked immediately. Even without wireless e-mail, the BlackBerry was a big boost to my productivity because of the PDA functionality and sync to Outlook capabilities.

Fast forward to today, and we are both very restless about getting new wireless phones. My wife has been plodding along with her Sony Ericsson T226 phone. It’s been dying a slow and painful death, with horrible battery life and even worse reliability. She’s had RAZR envy for months. And I’m good and ready to get wireless e-mail capabilities. As stated before, we’re with Cingular as former AT&T Wireless customers (and now everything may get re-branded back to at&t, and note the lowercase letters). I did some due diligence and compared other carriers, looking at rate plans, device lineups, and general customer service reputations. I’ve read very good things about US Cellular’s customer satisfaction levels, but it didn’t have the BlackBerry I wanted (the 8700c). T-Mobile didn’t have the black RAZR v3 or the BlackBerry 8700. It quickly became clear that Cingular would continue to be my wireless provider. I’ve had my share of gripes about its customer service, but it’s my firmly held belief that all wireless providers suck to some degree. I guess you could say I’m going with the evil I’m already familiar with.

Being an utter freak about getting the best deal possible, I looked at all the options in terms of getting the equipment. Cingular had the black RAZR v3 for $149 and the BlackBerry 8700c for $349 (before $50 rebate). That’s $500 in up-front cost for the hardware alone. Amazon.com had some slightly more attractive hardware pricing. But the clear winner was one of my favorite eShops, Buy.com. Buy.com had the black RAZR v3 for $88.99 and the BlackBerry 8700c for $149.99. It even had rebates that would essentially refund the cost on both devices, although it may not apply to me since I’m technically not a new subscriber. Still, you can bet your slippers I’ll send in the rebate forms. Worse case is I don’t get the money back, but I’m still way ahead on what Cingular would have charged me.

But my cell phone shopping sojourn was not quite over yet. It wasn’t clear if Buy.com’s pricing would apply to me after all. The infamous “new activations only” label was plastered over most of the special offer details. I had a cunning plan… my current contract was over on 24 January, so if I waited until then, perhaps I could be treated as a new activation. I had to know, should I stay or should I go? I called the special toll free number for cell phone sales at Buy.com. I was quickly connected to an extremely helpful rep and I laid it all out for her: I wanted the black RAZR v3 and the BlackBerry 8700c, and I wanted them at the discounted price. The most seamless approach, we concluded, was to simply do a contract extension. And much to my delight, she checked and both phones could be mine at the same prices as they would be for new activation customers. Shipping would be free. Life is good.

I’m nothing if not slightly jaded about things like wireless providers (and their authorized resellers). I made extremely detailed notes about the transaction, including the hardware prices and selected rate plans. When I get my credit card charges for the hardware, I’ll know if it rings true or not. The same goes for my service bills once the new rate plan kicks in. Still, I’m giddy about the prospect of the new devices. I’ve played around with the BlackBerry 8700c at Cingular stores and most recently at CES 2006. RIM did a great job with this puppy. I’m fully aware of the RIM v NTP patent infringement lawsuit, but I’m hopeful that will be resolved with no major trauma. Besides, it’s my understanding that even if RIM ultimately loses, the e-mail shutdown would only impact BlackBerry Enterprise Server customers, and not individuals using vanilla Internet e-mail service provided through their carriers. As for the Moto RAZR v3 that my wife will get, I’m anxious to try and set it up with iSync on her iMac to iCal (ay carumba) and OS X Address Book. If successful, she can ditch her aging HP iPaq 1900.

So gentle readers, you can be sure I’ll post a follow-up with more details on the purchase post mortem and device experiences.

[tags]cingular,blackberry,buy.com,razr,8700c,t226[/tags]