Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Review: Virgin Mobile Kyocera Oystr

I hate cell phones and everything about them. Actually, mostly I just hate cellular service providers. I hate how they won't tell you what their monthly rate actually is--only the "base" rate before any "surcharges" they can tack on at a whim, making it impossible to know how much the phone will actually cost before committing to a service contract, and also giving the provider the ability to effectively raise your rate while you're locked into the contract.

My wife has wanted me to have a cell phone for some time now, and I've always resisted. But with the baby coming in a few months, she couldn't wait any longer--she bought me this:


It's a Kyocera "Oystr" with a Virgin Mobile prepaid by-the-minute plan. Phone calls cost 18 cents per minute, text messages 5 cents each, and you have to pay a minimum of $20 per 90 days to keep your account active. That would be a lousy plan if I intended to use the phone for recreational talking, but since we got it primarily for logisitical/emergency stuff, it's probably cheaper than a monthly plan.

(Actually, minutes cost 14.4 cents each since my wife got a $50 prepaid card on sale for $40 at Target. I was a little worried when I saw that the printing on the card indicated it expired a week ago, but Virgin Mobile accepted it as payment anyway.)

The Oystr's styling is a little garish, but I've seen much worse. Feature-wise, it's pretty good for a $20 phone--it has a color screen, speakerphone, web browser ($1.00 per day or 500KB, whichever comes first), text messaging, games, voice dialing (which I haven't tried yet), and I think maybe you can talk on it too. Good enough for what we need it for. There's no camera, but I doubt I'd be satisfied if there were one, especially since there'd likely be no way to get pictures out of the phone without paying. (Another thing I hate about cell phones. Every little button push costs money.)

So despite having a stupid name and Storm Trooper aesthetics, the Oystr seems to be a workable phone with a good feature set for the price. I just have one major complaint with it--the bundled ringtones, wallpapers, and "screen savers" (what the heck?) are all absolutely horrid. I'm convinced Virgin Mobile hired someone on the Windows 3.1 team to create the user interface--the plaid background and the colors reminiscent of "Hotdog Stand" bring me right back to 1993. Not only that, but the "superphonic" ringtones sound like the PC speaker sound driver on a 386SX. I'm certain Virgin Mobile bundled such awful graphics and sounds intentionally, so they could try and sell you decent ones for $2.50 each.

The pink skulls-and-roses background seen here is seriously the least visually offensive background that comes with the phone (click for a larger view):


At least the phone let me replace the "Virgin Mobile" welcome tag with something more appropriate.

The bundled ringtones include a generic monophonic annoying beepy-thing and three irritating "superphonic" ringtones that would not appeal to anyone over the age of 12. So if you decide to buy one, be sure to factor an additional couple of bucks for a ringtone that won't make your ears bleed. Just be sure to get a polyphonic one, not a "superphonic" one. I made the mistake of buying a Babylon 5 soundtrack ringtone, which sounded very nice on the computer, but was so badly clipped as to be virtually unrecognizeable on the phone, even at minimum volume. I suspect the audio file itself was shoddily processed, because it sounded much worse than the bundled "superphonic" ringtones (which already sound pretty bad). I wrote to Virgin Mobile support asking for a refund for the defective ringtone, which they refused. (I'm not surprised. That would go against rule of acquisition #1, after all.) I also asked whether it's possible to upload my own ringtones or graphics, and they said it is not.

Still needing a ringtone that would not infuriate me every time I heard it, I spent another $2 on a polyphonic one that sounds like an old rotary phone ringing (and it actually sounds the same on the phone as it does on the web preview, if you can believe that).

So now I have a cell phone. I don't know how long I'll keep it--the beauty of the prepaid by-the-minute plan is that I can ditch this one easily if I find a better deal somewhere else. The next phone I buy, however, will need to accept custom graphics and ringtones--and do so in such a way that I don't have to pay every time (i.e., USB or Bluetooth--not over the cellular network). It'd also be nice to be able to transfer address book entries from a PC, because typing on the little cell keyboard makes my fingers hurt in short order.

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