The Daily Parker

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Why I'm returning my new 3G phone

I upgraded from a Dash to the T-Mobile Sidekick XL 2009 today. I'm returning it tomorrow.

I need three things from a SmartPhone, all of which my 2-year-old Dash has:

  1. Access to email, through POP3.
  2. Synchronization with Outlook.
  3. Web browsing.

It does #3 incredibly well. Sadly, though, despite 90 minutes with two different support people at T-Mobile, I can't get #1 or #2. The support CSRs didn't know why, but I figured it out, and I have to say even if I explained to them they still wouldn't know.

Issue 1: POP email.

I'm in the unusual position of having direct access to Exchange POP logs. (The Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center is across the room.) After setting up my POP account on my Sidekick—the very first thing I did when I got it charged up—I watched it tell me that it logged in and that it downloaded my messages. Then I saw an empty inbox.

According to the Exchange logs, though, it simply logged into Exchange and logged out again. Lots of Menu-U pressing later (the "get email" command, which had no effect, again according to Exchange), about half an hour later it again logged into Exchange and this time it sent the POP3 command for a directory of messages. Only, it didn't download any of them. It just logged out again.

I'll cut a lot of my sleuthing out, but it seems that my Sidekick isn't the entity logging into my Exchange server. No, that's Danger, the manufacturer, which is caching my login credentials and my messages.

I'll say that again: COMPLETE STRANGERS ARE CACHING MY NETWORK LOGIN CREDENTIALS. Does anyone else see the problem here? Excuse me for a moment while I change my password...

OK, that's just not acceptable. My Dash communicated directly with my Exchange server, so the only place the credentials were stored was on the phone. If I lost my phone, I'd change my credentials. That's Security 101. But giving them to some company in California? Um. No.

Issue 2 is related.

First of all, the two CSRs could not determine that I need to buy software called Intellisync from Danger (for $10). This software seems redundant, since again my humble Dash simply used Windows' Mobile Device Center, which is, as its name implies, part of Windows. Worse, no one told the CSRs that this software was required, so I had to sit on the phone while one of them actually searched Google to try to find out why I couldn't sync my phone.

Second, after reading more documentation and user posts on the T-Mobile support forums, it turns out that Intellisync copies a user's contacts, calendar, and tasks from Outlook up to—yes—Danger's servers.

Let me say that again: in order to use this Sidekick the way I used my Dash, I'd have to GIVE TOTAL STRANGERS ALL OF MY PERSONAL INFORMATION.

T-Mobile should be ashamed. On what planet do people require such a complete invasion of privacy just to use basic smartphone features? And why don't you tell your CSRs about how this works? I write software for a living. Let me tell you: it's a lot easier to debug something when you know how it's supposed to work. If your CSRs don't understand the basic premises of how the product works (e.g., hitting Menu-U does nothing to the Exchange server because the phone is communicating through an intermediary), they're hobbled.

I would like to have known these things before buying the phone, but none of this information is exactly easy to find. With good reason: I think if more people knew about this, T-Mobile would have trouble selling the thing.

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