Sprint Ambassador program

Back in February, Sprint invited me to become a Sprint Ambassador: they gave me a SPH-A920 phone and six months of free service, hoping that I'd give them useful feedback and/or blog about it. Here's some of the feedback I sent to Sprint:

The good

I loved being able to give my laptop access the Internet anywhere I had phone service. For example, the day after my son was born, I was able to research potential middle names while we were still at the hospital. I also used this feature to get some work done during boring parts of a family vacation. (This feature was free for me because I was part of the Ambassador program; I don't think it's free for other Sprint customers.)

Having an extra phone was surprisingly useful. I was able to lend my old phone to my girlfriend and talk with her for more than two minutes a day without worrying about her running out of minutes. I later found out that I could have added her to my family's plan for $10/month, but I wouldn't have thought of doing that otherwise.

The phone was better in many ways than my old phone, and it was certainly better than the phone for 4-year-olds Sprint sent to Joel Spolsky. But I still found a lot to be frustrated about with both the phone and the service.

The bad

There were some small problems with the "connect your laptop to the Internet" feature. The Windows software is hard to set up; my dad gave up on trying to get it work with his laptop. The fact that the feature works at all with Mac laptops kept secret from users. The phone gives up on the connection too easily when reception is poor, forcing me to click on "Connect" every few minutes. Once this feature works better, I hope Sprint promotes it heavily and stops trying to charge extra for it.

The "VoiceSMS" feature of the SPH-A920 phone works exactly as voicemail should: the messages are stored on my handset so I can listen to them even where reception is poor, I can see a list of messages without listening to a voice menu, I can rewind or fast-forward by 5 seconds by pressing arrow keys, and I can forward a message to my email address. But when someone tries to call me and leave a message, it doesn't become a VoiceSMS. Instead, it goes into the old-school voicemail system that everyone hates because it uses voice menus and makes you memorize shortcuts and surreptitiously deletes your messages after three weeks.

I'd like it if I could keep my phone on when I sleep, so I could respond to family emergencies. But I don't want every illegal telemarketing call, "wrong number" call, or poorly timed "how are you doing" call to wake me up. I want to be able to specify who is allowed to wake me up, and I want them to be greeted with "Jesse is asleep. Press 1 to leave a message or press 2 to wake him up." when they call.

When reception is poor on either end of a conversation, half of the conversation ends up being "I only heard every other word in that sentence" or "Are you still there?", and it takes forever to actually communicate something. This could be made much better by waiting until the entire sentence gets to my phone -- I'd gladly take some lag if it allowed me to actually hear the other person's sentences. I imagine the tricky parts would be figuring out where the breaks are if the other person is in a noisy area, and informing the other person about the lag so they don't confuse my slow responses for conversation pauses that need to be filled. Take some inspiration from the magic of TCP over IP and you could make using phones a lot less aggravating.

I couldn't figure out how to back up my contact list onto my computer. I get the feeling you're intentionally making this difficult in order to prevent customers from switching to other phone service providers. Don't make us sick the FCC on you again; you don't even have the "but that would be hard!" excuse you had with number portability.

The phone takes as long to start up as my computer. Palm handhelds start up quickly; why can't my phone?

Charging extra for each feature (e.g. automated 411, maps and directions, Web access using a browser in the phone, Internet using a nearby laptop, text messaging) is lame. The only charge should be for data transfer, which should be treated in the same way as "minutes". Customers who feel like they can't live without your phone are loyal customers; customers who feel that you tried to rip them off at every turn and barely used the phone's features are not. And I'd think loyal customers who stick with the service and tell their friends about it are worth much more than the revenue from infrequent use of the features.

I don't understand why the SPH-A920 is promoted as a "music phone". I can't plug my ordinary comfy headphones into it, because cell phones use a different type of headphone jack than laptops. I don't want to purchase music a second time through a menu on my phone; I want to sync with my computer and listen to music I own.

5 Responses to “Sprint Ambassador program”

  1. Manuzhai Says:

    You know, on my last few phones (Nokias), I’ve been able to set up the profiles (that control whether the phone is silent, vibrates or makes a loud sound when someone calls) to warn only when a select “group” calls. So I’ve made a VIP group of contacts with my contacts in it that can get through to me when my phone is set to the Asleep-profile. It’s called “Alert for” in the profile personalization menu. Are you sure this phone didn’t have something like that? Most people aren’t actually aware of this feature even if their phone has it.

  2. skierpage Says:

    Normally you’d use the fine free open source BitPim to transfer contacts, ringtones, pictures, etc. between phone and PC and tell Sprint to take their $2/month Wireless Backup service and shove it. BitPim supports other Samsungs, but I think the developers are working on A920 support.

    Did you try Sprint PictureMail? You get unlimited photo storage with the Vision plans, but the UI is horrible, it’s a Web 0.3 app. I’ve sent detailed feedback to Sprint and LightSurf (and on my blog) but never got a response.

    I agree entirely about stupid phone network services. Just like a PC, you should be able to browse the web for pictures, videos, and music and save the ones you like on your memory card. But even with Opera Mini 2.0 it’s difficult, I don’t know if there are other Java phone apps that let you do this. The Minimo (Mozilla lite) browser folks are working on open standards for geolocation for a phone browser (so Google Local and Google Maps can know where you are) but I’m sure the cellular companies will fight to preserve proprietary systems with per-month fees.

    With most recent multimedia phones, you can buy a 2GB memory card, transfer unprotected MP3 and .m4a (iTunes AAC) files onto it, and tell Sprint to take their overpriced restricted music store and shove it. Apparently on the A920 you have to remove the card and put it in a memory card reader; with other phones like my Sanyo MM-9000, you connect them to a PC over USB and the memory card shows up as an attached USB storage device. But the support for play lists and artist info is weak and the UI is no iPod.

    You can buy a 3.5 2.5 adapter so your music accessories still work. But ideally they should be phone aware so you can take a call during music playback. Eventually phones and wireless accessories will support the Bluetooth stereo and headset protocols and switch intelligently between them. There’s also a Bluetooth profile for file transfers to your PC but the evil cellphone companies disable it.

  3. Jesse Ruderman Says:

    I did not use the phone’s camera much, so I did not try Sprint PictureMail.

  4. Roger Says:

    In some ways phones that are available today offered too many services! When you get right down to it how many of all the various facilities do you actually use?

  5. Lins Says:

    Yeah, I say get rid of the digital cameras! Instead, add longer standby or make the phones 50% smaller.