My phone is dead. Long live my phone!

This is the (long) story of the end of the life of my 2008 phone. It was a good (long) life, and it had a good end. Not every phone is so lucky.

My phone was a Samsung i900 Omnia. People would ask me if I had a smartphone, and I would say, “Yes, but it’s a stupid smartphone.” It was a minicomputer with a touchscreen and a data plan, but it couldn’t do the things that their smartphones could do, because—let’s face it—technology has changed a lot since 2008.

I’m finally catching up. Or starting to. I have to admit, my 2013 Sony still seems rather baffling…

You might well ask, Why didn’t I replace my phone sooner? This is Singapore, where a two-year-old phone is already considered ancient and a new phone is considered not only a necessary communication appendage but a necessary status symbol. Perhaps because of rather than in spite of this prevailing attitude, I was determined not to replace my phone until it stopped doing what I needed it to do: make phone calls, receive SMSes, and occasionally take photos of funny signs.

Still, do do those three things, it needed to be able to charge. Recently the phone started making a blinking noise when it finished charging, as if I was unplugging it and plugging it in repeatedly. This was worrisome. I stopped letting it charge overnight and only charged it when I was able to listen for the sound and unplug it. Also, it would only light up the charging light (and only charge) if the cord went in at a happy sort of angle. Also worrisome.

It was the second charger I’d used. I fried mine. Once when my husband and I came back from an overseas trip, I noticed a scorched smell. It was the fuse in the charger. Luckily, we still had my husband’s charger from before he lost his phone and got a new one. I was also using my husband’s earbuds-with-microphone because the clip on mine broke. But then the cord on his started acting flaky and I had to throw it away and go back to the one with the broken clip.

The paint, you’ll notice, is a bit scratched off in places. For a while, I carried the phone in a silicone case. That got annoying after a while, and I didn’t seem prone to dropping the phone, so I stopped using the case. Then, eventually, I dropped the phone. The paint got scratched here and there and flaked off a bit. No real harm done, though.

I dropped it another time, and the “on” button component fell out. I managed to fit it back in and snap the case closed. Phew.

When the charging process started getting weird, I thought maybe I would just buy a new battery and see if that fixed it. I also looked for another set of earbuds-with-microphone online. Sure, such things are everywhere, but they us a normal audio jack, not this specific, lame, rectangular connection Samsung was using in 2008. I did find a little rectangle-normal adapter cable for sale and thought about buying one.

When I spoke to a colleague who had an unused phone, I swear my Samsung phone heard me talking about replacing it. The battery went dead in my bag that day and completely refused to charge at all. Out of spite.

Poor thing. I didn’t mean it. Come back, please! We’re not done!

The next day, I got a new (old) phone from my colleague. I pushed buttons and jabbed at the screen experimentally, wondering what I’d gotten myself into. I wondered how I would charge the new when the battery ran down. I discovered that my SIM card was too big to fit in the new phone. I wondered what was on my SIM card. If I had someone cut it down to the right size, were all the contacts on there or in my phone? What about my SMSes?

Having done some research online about it, I figured my SMSes were in the inscrutable pim.vol database file on my phone. Seven years of text messages all squashed into half a megabyte of totally unreadable data.

I at least wanted to turn the phone on again, one last time, and copy down the numbers, even if I had to do so with a pencil and paper. Had I waited too long? Surely I should have figured this out already.

(You with the smart smartphone, quit laughing. Windows Mobile 6.1 did not give me an easy way to back up anything. Or if it did, I wasn’t paying attention. The Windows “My Phone” service apparently came and went without my noticing.)

In fact I had tried to copy off the data; it’s just that the software that goes with this phone really stinks. So there I was with a spiteful, catatonic Samsung holding my data for ransom and an empty-headed know-nothing Sony that made me feel like an equally empty-headed know-nothing. Sigh.

So off I went to the Sony Service Centre at Westgate at Jurong East. There was no wait, which was good, because the customer service rep was exactly as helpful as I had any right to expect. Of course they didn’t have the parts to fix my phone. I give her credit, though: she tried to plug it in, realized that her plug didn’t look like my plug at all, and passed the phone to a colleague in the back who tested it—or pretended to—and told me it wouldn’t charge for him, either. Had I thought of buying a new phone?

Next stop was M1 at The Clementi Mall. The customer service rep said she could not cut my SIM card, but could sell me (or rather, the account holder) a replacement for S$35 + GST. Right. Good to know.

Maybe a mom-and-pop mobile repair place could help me with the old phone. The first one said, “we don’t have the parts for this”, just like the Samsung lady. The second one said much the same thing, but with more scorn.

I bought that purple case for the Sony, whose battery cover seemed a bit fragile and prone to smudging—the case was the last one that particular shop had for my model. Was I okay with “purple color”? I could have kept looking, but a purple bird in the hand is still a bird in the hand.

At that point I was really discouraged. If my Sony was already old, nobody was going to be able to help me with my Samsung. almost stopped asking around, not that there was any lack of stores selling phone cases, phones, phone cards, and repair services. I decided I would inspect the used phones in the showcases before making any inquiry; a shop that had phones that looked only as flashy as mine would be less likely to laugh me away—and more likely to be able to help.

Finally, I asked at Ideal Mobile Communication. Yes, they did repairs. Yes, even, maybe, for old phones like mine. The first thing the guy did when he put down his noodles was take out a Samsung charger just like mine (!) and try charging my phone with it. While waiting for it to try to charge, I looked around and noticed, at the bottom of the rack, a package containing a case for the Samsung i900. My seven year old phone model. I smiled. It seemed I had come to the right place.

The guy (Eric) listened to me describe the phone’s behavior and said he thought it was the connection point inside the phone. He said he might not have parts but could send it for possible repair (S$45). Did I want to come back in an hour? I thought about it and handed my phone over. I wandered around, bought a drink, and went back too early. So I wandered around some more.

I bought and ate a meal. Unhappily. I trusted that the guy would not run off with my next-to-worthless phone—if he’d wanted to steal from me, he would have stolen the phone with the SIM card and SD card still inside, and would have asked me to pay cash for the repair up front. The real worry was that I thought my phone was dead for good, with my contacts and messages buried inside because I was too stupid to see the warning signs and get that stuff out in time. All. My. Fault.

When I returned again, there was news of both kinds. The bad news was that the charging connection, if that’s what it was, was not fixed. (No parts.) The good news was, the guy had a battery charger for S$28 that would let me charge the battery outside the phone. He plugged in the battery for a little while, then showed me that the phone could once again turn on.

“It’s alive!” I said, with open relief. “Thank you!”

It didn’t occur to me that if the charging connection point was broken, the data connection point was probably broken, too. I could now scroll through the phone numbers and copy them down, but turning the phone on was only half the battle, as far as the SMSes were concerned. I was not going to transcribe those with a pencil and paper.

Saturday was spent doing other things. Life goes on, new phone or no new phone… The universal battery charger meant I could keep using the old one for another day. I suppose, like a terminal cancer patient, it accepted that it had a foot in the grave and made its peace with me.

On Sunday I switched phones. It was quite a process. Actually, it still is. Like I said, I’m not used to the Sony.

I went down several blind alleys and barked up a couple of the wrong trees trying to find a way to get my contacts and SMSes off the Samsung.

I found some tool that just stripped the phone numbers (but not the associated names) from my pim.vol file.

I found a free-to-try tool that worked, but was sold by some company through their website, which no longer existed.

I tried to see whether I could hack the program to make it think I had a license. I know next to nothing about Windows programming, but I managed to unzip the CAB file and use PE Explorer to view the bundled resources before I realized you can’t edit an executable file without the source code. I mean, I shouldn’t be able to figure out how to trick a licensed program after an hour of Googling.

The solution was Dotfred’s PimBackup, a free program which not only does backing up (for the purpose of restoring data to the same or a similar device) but also does exporting. I used it to create CSV files for contacts… and for SMSes. God bless you, Fred. Specifically, God bless you with lots and lots of Paypal donations, my US$20 among them. I donated because when you get more than what you pay for, it’s nice to pay for what you get.

I had everything I needed from my old phone. It was time to kickstart the new one. I tried resetting it using the software option to wipe the data. That didn’t work. I tried following some online reset instructions that involved holding down the hardware buttons. That didn’t work either. Fine.

I left the house. I took two forms of ID (employment pass and passport) for myself and for my husband, who’s the actual the M1 account holder, and a letter that I wrote and he signed, saying I was permitted to get a new SIM card. Because bureaucracy.

I went to M1 at Bugis Junction to get a new SIM card. I typed in my phone number and FIN to get a queue number. The machine did not give me a slip of paper, but said it would SMS me when it was my turn, which would not have been helpful if my phone wasn’t working. It was, though, and I got an SMS saying the wait was currently about 20 minutes. I thought maybe I wouldn’t have to wait that long because the queue numbers on display seemed almost caught up with mine. However, I think I did wait the full 20 minutes in the noisy, crowded, orange shop. Maybe I should have gone on a weekday.

Finally I was summoned to one of the five bar-counterish islands to talk to a customer service rep. At first he thought I wanted to add a SIM card and use two phones with the same number, which costs more. I clarified. He took my letter and ID (I only needed the employment passes after all) and came back with a SIM card. He put it in the Sony phone and said we were done.

I felt odd walking out after that. Did I need to stop by the cash register or something? No. In the end, S$35 + GST did not need to change hands.Why?

  • Maybe the first replacement SIM (and this was the first) is free.
  • Maybe they do normally charge for replacement SIM cards, but my husband’s phone bill is so high that we’re special.
  • Maybe it’s a discretionary thing and the guy pitied me on account of my ancient SIM card and ancient phone.
  • Maybe the guy and his manager were just glad I was asking for a new SIM card and not a new phone, which they might have had to give me.

A few minutes later, the new card was activated, and the old one, which the guy did not take from me, was (presumably) deactivated.

Next stop, Sony.

I spoke with a young female employee and explained that I wanted to reset the phone, which was just given to me by my colleague, but that I’d tried and failed. She tried the same thing.

While the phone was (perhaps) erasing data, I asked her about the anime figurines in the store, which were promoting a Playstation game based on a long-running TV series. She asked me how long I’d been in Singapore (seven years, the same length of time I’ve had my Samsung phone) and whether I liked it (yes, except for the climate). She told me Singaporeans like to replace their phones often. Yes, I’d noticed that.

When the phone rebooted, I saw that it was in fact reset. Then somehow as she passed it back to me, the camera came on and I didn’t know to turn it off… she took it from me and said “you just push the back button here, see?” Right. The back button that’s not a button, but an invisible part of the screen I didn’t know was there. This was going to take some getting used to. I thanked her, exited sheepishly and made for Funan.

I wanted to see if the LaserFlair at Funan had a sale like the one at West Coast Plaza. The Funan branch didn’t do rentals, but they did have some new discs on sale. I bought three.

Then I wandered past shops that were mostly closed looking for earbuds-with-microphone and a 32-GB SD card for the expansion slot for the Sony. For comparison, I think My Samsung had 8 GB of internal memory and a 1 GB card in the expansion slot. That was enough for a ton of photos I never had to delete and a bunch of music tracks, which I eventually did, mostly because I wanted to replace them with a bunch of Chinese lessons.

I saw some earbuds in the atrium sale but kept looking. I saw the exact same ones at a higher price in an upstairs shop, and kept looking. I went in Challenger. They had several kinds of earbuds, so I was able to find some at an agreeable combination of color, price, and perceived quality. They also had an SD card. For good measure, I bought a powered USB hub from them. (Then I got talked into buying a two-year Challenger membership for S$30 which saved me S$7 but is refundable, assuming I happen to remember to ask, if I don’t save S$30 in two years.) Purchases completed, I went out to catch the bus. Mission accomplished.

When I reached home, I powered off the Samsung phone and removed the battery. I put the phone, the battery, the charger, the earbuds-with-mircophone and the data cable in a ziplock bag. All this equipment rests in peace next to my Creative Zen Micro mp3 player.

It’s waiting, like Excalibur at the bottom of a lake, for a hero who has need of it.