Should you get Smartphone Insurance?

April 26, 2015

samsung_phone_cracked-a9eebab88f4542a745a166c51250833bThis is a question I ask myself whenever I upgrade or buy a new smartphone. With the average list price of a smartphone costing upwards to $800-$1000 US these days (similar to a laptop!), do you also need to buy insurance to protect your investment? Unlike a laptop, you’re more likely to drop your smartphone or get it wet because you carry it with you almost the entire day. Although I’ve only dropped my smartphone three times in the last 5 years or so, most people drop their phones on a regular basis. For example, my two teenage nieces have iPhones and they’ve drop their phones numerous times; cracking the screen, breaking the display, and once my niece even ran over her phone in her car! In their situation, they took their iPhones to a nearby fixit shop which changed out the broken class for $150.

In my case, I just purchased a Samsung Galaxy S6 which cost nearly $800, so I wanted to protect my investment with some kind of insurance. Even though I rarely drop my phones, my concern was glass breakage (since there is glass on both the front and back of my S6), and water damage. Also, any possible damage to the LCD touch screen display due to drops or falls. Theft and loss wasn’t a concern, since I usually keep my phone in my front pants pocket and I’ve never lost a smartphone before. So, I surveyed a few common insurance options to see what would be the best for my situation.

AT&T’s Protection Plan (Asurion)

Nearly all cell phone carriers offers a protection plan where they apply a small monthly charge to your bill and you pay a deductible when you make an insurance claim. With AT&T, the cost is $6.95/month and with each claim you pay $199 (their plan covers damages and loss/theft). If you read terms and conditions of this coverage, you’ll see that AT&T uses a company called Asurion which handles the insurance claims. So, AT&T doesn’t provide the insurance coverage directly. Asurion will provide you with a refurbished phone or at their discretion provide you with a similar phone. The word “similar” could mean a phone of a different color or style, or even an entirely different model. They say this clause in their agreement is necessary in case your particular brand of phone doesn’t exist anymore, however, it also gives them freedom to provide you with any similar smartphone under this coverage plan. I’ll have to note, that the deductible for this plan starts out at $199 per claim, but it drops to $150 after 1 year and $100 after 2 years.

Personally, paying $6.95/mo and having a $199 deductible is rather expensive if I’m wanting insurance for glass breakage and/or water damage. And the fact I’m getting a refurbished unit from an insurance company really bothers me, especially after I’ve read numerous complains about Asurion’s service and practices.

If we use the scenario where I keep my phone for two years and I need to file a glass breakage claim within the first year, the cost would be $6.95 x 24 months + $199 = $365.80.

SquareTrade Protection Plan

SquareTrade is a very popular insurance company that provides coverage for Smartphones. If you check out their website, you’ll see that their most affordable plan costs $99 for two years of coverage with a $75 deductible per claim. Unlike AT&T, SquareTrade does not cover loss or theft, just physical damage (including cracked screens and water damage). So, this plan sounds pretty good until you read the terms and conditions. Similar to Asurion, you’ll see the clause, “Replacement parts will be new, rebuilt or non-original manufacturer’s parts that perform to the factory specifications of the product at Our sole option.” Also, at SquareTrade’s discretion will repair your damaged product or provide a cash settlement or a Gift Card reflecting the replacement cost of a new product, or replace your product with a product of like, kind, quality and functionality. So similar to Asurion, they have a lot of leeway on how to fulfill your claim request.

If we again use the scenario of keeping the phone for two years and filing one glass breakage claim within the first year, the cost would be $99 + $75 = $174, which is about half the cost of the Asurion plan.

Now, there’s several other protection plans available by other companies which are similar to Asurion and SquareTrade. Some are cheaper, some are more expensive, but they all seem to operate with similar terms and conditions. If you do a Google search of all of these companies, you’ll come across a lot of complains on service and length of the repair or reimbursement, etc. I personally want to avoid all those hassles and just have my broken smartphone fixed.

Samsung Protection Plus Mobile Elite Plan

A third option, is to sign up for Samsung’s own protection plan. This plan is basically an extended warranty for your Smartphone that also covers breakages from drops and water damage. Under this plan, you pay $99 for two years of coverage and a $75 deductible per claim. Also, if at some point you decide to cancel your coverage Samsung will refund you a pro-rated amount depending on when you cancel (SquareTrade does something similar).

In Samsung’s terms and conditions they will send you a refurbished unit within two days of approving your claim, and you return your damaged unit in the mailing box. Although they are providing a refurbished unit, I do feel more comfortable receiving such a unit from the manufacturer rather than a 3rd party insurance company. My belief, is that Samsung is a manufacturer that makes products and they want to keep their customers satisfied and buying more Samsung products since that is what generates revenue for them, while insurance companies like SquareTrade and Asurion generate revenue by customers not filing claims. I would think that Samsung has a big incentive to providing a top-notch refurbished unit versus what SquareTrade or Asurion would provide. But again, I’ve never filed a claim with any insurance company so I’m only speculating based on what I’ve read in online comments by other customers.

Examining our same glass breakage scenario, the cost would be $99 + $75 = $174, which is the same as with SquareTrade.

Local Fix-It Shops

Another viable option is to not get any insurance, and repair your phone when it gets broken. I live in the Seattle area, and there’s a popular shop called Jet City Repair which does iPhone and Samsung phone repairs. From their website they don’t have the Samsung Galaxy S6 listed (probably because it was only released two weeks ago), but cost to replace the glass front for a Galaxy S5 is $149. To replace the glass front, LCD screen and digitizer is $279. They state they can do the repairs usually in the same day, which is convenient. So, this is a viable option in case you opted out from getting insurance but need to have your damaged phone repaired. Of course, if dropping your phone caused more damage than just broken glass or LCD screen, who knows what the repair costs would be.

Conclusion

So in the end, insurance is something you buy for your own peace of mind. You’re paying a small upfront fee to avoid having to pay a huge replacement price later. Some people feel safe having insurance, while others feel paying the insurance fee is just a waste of money.

Personally, I decided to go with the Samsung Protection Plus Plan. My biggest fear is dropping my phone and breaking either the front or back glass. I’m going on a big 3-week road trip later this summer, and I’m concerned with drops and possible water damage during my travels. Paying $99 for Samsung’s extra coverage is worth it to me. I can always cancel and get a pro-rated refund if later I decide to drop coverage or upgrade to a new phone in 18 months or so. I also feel better getting a refurbished unit from Samsung rather than Asurion or SquareTrade.


Wireless Chargers for the Samsung Galaxy S6

April 25, 2015

I love wireless chargers. The first time I used one was with my old Palm Pixi Smartphone, where I’d just place the Pixi on the angled charger which held it by a magnet. No muss, no fuss, just convenient charging. Flash forward a few years and I’m doing it again with Samsung Galaxy S6 Smartphone.

Now, you can buy the official Samsung Wireless Charger for $49.99 US, which is kinda steep.

Samsung Wireless Charging Pad

Or, you can buy any generic Qi-standard charging pad or a PMA-compatible charging pad for the Samsung S6. There are several available on Amazon.com, which run from $12 to $40 US. I purchased three different charging pads, which I’ll discuss below.

First, I bought the Duracell Powermat from Amazon.com for $9.99, because it was so drastically reduced in price from the $99 list. Now, this charging pad uses the PMA-standard, but that will still work with my Samsung S6. Below is a picture of my Samsung S6 next to the Duracell Charging Pad.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 12.16.46 PM

The Duracell charger is roughly the same size as my S6, but it is designed to charge two devices simultaneously. The picture below shows how you would position the S6 on the charger. The one bad thing about this charger, is that you need to hit the “sweet spot” when you place the S6 on it, otherwise it won’t charge. Also, this charger makes a strange tone sound when I place and remove the S6 from it. This can be an issue if you have the charging pad on a nightstand and you don’t want to disturb your sleeping spouse! But for $9.99, it was still a good deal for a wireless charging pad.

Duracell Powermat with Samsung S6

Duracell Powermat with Samsung S6

Next up, is the CHOE Stadium Wireless charging pad. I bought this from Amazon.com for $28 (list price $70). This charging pad has 3 coils, which supposedly makes it easier to make a charging connection (no worries about hitting the sweet spot).

CHOE Stadium Charging Pad

CHOE Stadium Charging Pad

This charging pad is slightly smaller than the S6 in height, and it works flawlessly with making a charging connection. Below is a picture of my S6 on the CHOE charger. There’s a small blue light on the charger that turns on when my S6 is charging, and the charger is silent (no sounds when you connect or disconnect the S6).

Samsung S6 charging on the CHOE Stadium Charging Pad

Samsung S6 charging on the CHOE Stadium Charging Pad

I use the CHOE Charging Pad on my home office desk to charge my S6 during the evenings and overnight.

I also wanted to get a wireless charger for my Ford Explorer Car, so I bought the PowerBot from Amazon for $15.00 US. As you can see below, the PowerBot is a round pad roughly the same width as my S6.

PowerBot Charging Pad

PowerBot Charging Pad

What I like about the PowerBot, is that is lightweight and had a rubber ring around the top surface. This helps to keep my S6 “stuck” to the charger while I drive around in my car. The input to the charger is a standard USB port, so I connect it to a Qualcomm-compatible Quick Charge 12V Auto Lighter for power. Below is a picture of my S6 on the PowerBot Charger.

S6 on the PowerBot Charging Pad

S6 on the PowerBot Charging Pad

The PowerBot has a green LED light that changes to Blue when the S6 is charging. Also, the PowerBot doesn’t make any sound or tones when you connect or disconnect the charging device.

I suppose my favorite of the three chargers is the PowerBot. I love the compactness, and I simply need to place the middle of the S6 on the PowerBot to initiate charging. In my car, I have the PowerBot resting on the passenger seat between the horizontal and vertical part of the seat.

One thing to note, is that the Duracell Powermat uses it’s own AC charger to power the charger. The CHOE and PowerBot chargers use a standard USB port, so they don’t come with an AC charger. In this case, you need to make sure you are supplying at least 2 Amps of power to the USB port otherwise the charger won’t work properly. In my case, I have a 5 port USB powered hub which outputs 5V at 2.4 Amps for each port.

Also, from the pictures you’ll see that I have a maroon colored case for my Samsung S6. Even with the case attached, all three chargers work fine to charge my S6.

Wireless charging is great, as it makes it easier for me since I don’t need to connect and disconnect USB cables. Also, it saves on the wear-and-tear of the USB port on my S6, which I certainly don’t want to break!

 


My Must Have Android Apps

April 25, 2015

When I upgrades smartphones from the HTC One M7 to the Samsung Galaxy S6, I decided to pare down the apps I’ve installed over the year to just the essentials for my use. Below is a list of installed apps which I find indispensable:

  • Android Central Forum
  • AccuWeather
  • Yahoo Weather
  • Agent
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Android Central
  • AudioGuru
  • AudioGuru Key
  • Authentaticator
  • AutoVoice
  • Barcode Scanner
  • BECU
  • Tasker
  • Chrome Browser
  • Concur
  • Google Drive
  • Dolphin Browser
  • Dropbox
  • Engadget
  • ES File Explorer
  • Evernote
  • Feedly
  • News Republic
  • Gmail
  • Great Clips
  • GSam Battery Monitor
  • Greenify
  • go41c
  • Hulu
  • JetBlue Airlines
  • Keep
  • Magnifier
  • MailClean
  • Maps
  • Out of Milk
  • Pandora
  • Plex
  • Play Music
  • Play Newstand
  • Pocket Casts
  • Power Toggles
  • QuickOffice
  • Remote Desktop
  • Roku
  • SafeinCloud
  • SD Maid Pro
  • SoundHound
  • Speedtest
  • Starbucks
  • Tasker
  • The Weather Channel
  • TripAdvisor
  • TripCase
  • Twitter
  • Wifi Analyzer
  • WiFi File Explorer Pro

Read the rest of this entry »


Upgraded to the Samsung Galaxy S6 Smartphone

April 25, 2015

images-1I’ve been using an HTC One M7 phone for the last two years on the AT&T network, and I just loved it. The phone’s build quality was great, as well as the vibrant screen and fast CPU. The only thing I didn’t like about the HTC One M7 was the terrible camera, which always produced blurry pictures for me. But just like anything, after two years technology can become obsolete. In addition, the lithium ion battery in smartphone seem to lose their charging ability after the two year mark, and as such most people will upgrade to the next greatest thing.

For me, I’m no different. However, my next phone would have to have substantial improvements over my HTC One M7 to warrant an upgrade. I originally intended to upgrade to the HTC One M9, since I liked my M7 so much. However, when HTC presented the M9 I was very underwhelmed. The M9 did have a larger screen than my M7, but it didn’t have many of the features that was presented in the new Samsung Galaxy S6. The M9 had a higher pixel camera, but online reviews stated the camera still took poor pictures. Also, there were reports of the M9 having heat issues, so HTC supposedly throttled the CPU of the phone to resolve it (and thus slowed it down).

The Samsung S6, had a slew of new features when compared to my HTC M7:

  • Wireless Charging
  • AMOLED Hi-Res 5.1″ Screen
  • Fingerprint Sensor
  • Heart Monitor Sensor
  • Camera which took excellent pictures
  • Metal and glass design
  • Thin and lightweight

The logical choice for me was to upgrade to the Samsung S6 over the HTC One M9. After trying out both devices at the AT&T store, that choice was firmly reinforced. So on April 10th, 2015 (launch day) I stopped by my local AT&T store and added the Samsung S6 to my Family Plan using the NEXT upgrade program.

I’ve had the S6 for two weeks now, and I love it. The screen is gorgeous, and I love the fingerprint sensor for unlocking the phone. The wireless charging is great for my home office and in my car. And now I can take good quality pictures with my smartphone. Hallelujah!


The Evils of Rooting your Phone

April 25, 2015

imagesSome people love to “root” their phones, which allows them to access restricted areas of the Android OS and install special apps and possibly custom ROMs. I normally don’t like to mess with my phone, but I have rooted my last two phones for different reasons.

The first phone I rooted was the Samsung EVO LTE, and I did so because I was having a lot of issues with the the radios and battery life. I ended up installing a custom ROM created by some developers which tweaked the OS to add some needed improvements, and that seemed to help my situation. Of course, when you root your phone you will no longer get over-the-air updates from the cell carrier. In the case of the EVO LTE phone, that was fine because Sprint wasn’t releasing any updates for it.

After the EVO LTE, I switch to AT&T and got an HTC One phone which I loved. I used this phone for about one year as-is with the stock setup, and eventually decided to root it because of battery life issues. This time, I only rooted it and installed some battery-saving apps (one called “Greenify”), and I didn’t install a custom ROM. This helped tremendously, as the Greenify app automatically put apps running in the background in “hibernation” mode which reduced the battery drain. Again, the big issue with rooting is that you won’t receive OTA updates, and AT&T was about to send out a major update for the new Lollipop OS upgrade. As such, I wanted to unroot my phone, which turned out to be a giant hassle.

Eventually, I was able to unroot my HTC One phone and get it back to stock condition, and that allowed me to get the OTA update for Lollipop. The only thing I was unable to do, was remove the “TAMPERED” notice on the boot recovery screen. This is an indication that I’ve unlocked the bootloader at one time in the past, and most likely voids my warranty.

A few weeks ago I upgraded to the new Samsung Galaxy S6 smartphone, and I have no intentions of rooting it. The phone works very well as-is in the stock configuration, and I don’t have an immediate need for rooting. Also, Samsung phones have something called “KNOX” which is a mechanical fuse that will be tripped if you root your phone. Once the KNOX fuse has been tripped, there is no way you can reset it via software. And a tripped KNOX fuse means you’ve voided your warranty.

So in summary:

  • Rooting your phone isn’t always easy, and it can be very hard to unroot it in some cases.
  • If you root your phone, you will probably not receive any OTA updates from your cell carrier.
  • Rooting gives you full access to the Android OS, allowing apps to do much more and give you more capabilities.
  • Rooted phones can install custom ROMs which have been enhanced and tweaked by developers.
  • Rooting your phone often means you’ve voided your manufacturer warranty.

My advice, is that you don’t root your phone if you’re an average Joe user. Leave the rooting for those who like to live on the edge and have lots of time to mess around with their phones!


Amazon’s Fire Smartphone: Success or Flop?

June 22, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 8.31.36 AMIt’s been know for the last several months that Amazon would be coming out with a new smartphone for the masses. Very little was know about it, but people speculated that it would be released in a similar fashion as the Kindle Fire Tablet. That is, it would be a well constructed device running Amazon’s custom version of the Android OS, and sold for a below-market-value price. The thought being, Amazon would make up for the low price by getting people to use more of it’s paid services.

I was surprised to learn of the actual details of the “Fire Phone” after Amazon’s press release this week. Jeff Bezos talked about all the great technical wizardry of their new phone, with the 4 front facing cameras for head tracking and the “Dynamic Perspective” mode for a 3D screen display. The “FireFly” app was also touted as a way for this new phone to quickly identify bar codes, phone numbers, email address, etc. But in my opinion, all of this was gimmicky. Cool tech stuff, but still gimmicky for the general public.

All of these advanced features do make me wonder two things: (1) How much compute power is required to do the Dynamic Perspective, and at what cost to battery life? And (2) How much of the FireFly processing is done by the Amazon online servers and would require large amounts of data the user’s cell phone data plan? None of this was mentioned in the press release, but it makes me wonder what resources and cost is required to use this advanced technology.

The Fire Phone itself didn’t look very advanced from the outside. It actually reminded me of an minature 1st Generation Kindle Fire Table. It was smaller, but looked like a thick Kindle Fire. With other smartphone companies like Apple, HTC, and Samsung striving to make their phones thinner, lighter, and with less bezel area, I was surprised to see the Fire Phone looking so antiquated.

Finally, there’s the cost of the Fire Phone. I thought it would be priced below what comparable smartphones are selling for today (being heavily subsidized by Amazon), but it wasn’t. Instead, the cost seems on par with most Android Phones. This seems strange since the trend is to have cheaper smartphones (i.e., Motorola’s line of phone and OnePlus).

Will I consider switching to the Amazon Fire Phone. Even without seeing the phone in person, my answer is probably no. I’m perfectly happy with my current HTC One M7, and I anticipate my next phone to be lighter, have more battery life, thinner, and have more storage space and faster processor. Unfortunately for Amazon, that future phone is not the Fire Phone.


Smartphone Battery Drain – SOLVED!

May 10, 2014

Although my HTC One Android Smartphone works very well for me and can last me an entire day with a single charge, I noticed that the biggest battery drain on my device is something called “Google Play Services”. From what I’ve researched on the Internet, apparently you need to have this service to do basic Android-related functions so you can’t simply disable or uninstall it. Also, it seems that Google Play Services has high “wake locks”, which mean it turns on your device periodically to do some kind of checking or reporting (e.g., checking for WiFi hotspots, your location, etc).

Perusing through the various Android forums have revealed that this is a common problem with lots of Android smartphones. One suggested solution (for KitKat 4.2.2 OS), was to go to “Settings->Location->Google Location Settings” and turn off “Location Reporting” and “Location History”. Apparently, this stops the Google Play Services from constantly waking up and sending info to Google Headquarters. I found that this does help, but Google Play Services is still the highest battery drain on my HTC One.

Next, I tried turning off the “Location” option entirely, but that resulted in the BlinkFeed homescreen on my HTC One to show the “Location Service is Off. Tap to See Weather” notice.

set1

 

 

However, I noticed that Google Play Services was no longer the highest battery drain. In fact, this service didn’t even show up in the top 10 list of battery drainers! So, I knew I was onto something: Google Play Services must be being used by something to wake up and check my device’s location way too much.

I also noticed that using the option, “Use Wi-Fi and mobile networks to estimate location” resulted in very high battery draining, as I assumed my device periodically turned on it’s WiFi to scan for nearby hotspots to determine it’s location. Switching this to “Device Sensors” only and turning off my GPS seemed to stop this location searching method.

set3

The final solution that I decided to use, was to turn off  the “Google Now” option completely. I did that by going to the Google Now home page, tap on the overflow menu (three vertical dots at the bottom of the screen), and deactivate Google Now.

set2

I also turned on the “Location” Services and turned on, “Use Wi-Fi and mobile networks to estimate location”. This resulted in much, much better battery life and Google Play Services was no longer listed as a significant better drainer for my device.

With this configuration, my Blinkfeed homescreen still showed me my local weather and Google Play Services was not draining my battery. My battery life is now much better. The only downside, is that I no longer have the function of Google Now. But that’s ok for me, since I didn’t use that service very much.