Back in December I got a stellar deal on a lightly used iPad 2 (64g/3G) for Kim.

Lately, T-Mobile has been pushing their own special brand of crack

  • namely their “200 MByte/month free for life” plan, wherein one gets a SIM for the iPad (or Android or whatever), activates it, and then gets (drumroll) 200 MByte/month. Of course, if you need more there are data-limited “impulse purchase” day/week/month plans which one can buy on a one-off or repeating basis. The one-off month plan costs the same as an AT&T monthly plan for the same amount of bandwidth ($30 for a couple of gigs), while the auto-repeat billed one represents a 33% discount for the same thing ($20/month). No wonder they’re giving AT&T heartburn (an activity which, by the way, I fully support).

Now, the iPad 2 is most assuredly on T-Mobile’s “supported” list, so on Tuesday despite not having Kim’s iPad with me (it’s remarkably difficult to pry it out of her hands) I sauntered on over to the big pink store while waiting for a dinner order to be prepared at Moby Dick’s. Fifteen minutes in and out including the queue to get served, I figured this was gonna be smooth and fast.

How wrong I was.

Got home. First problem was that there was no PIN set on the SIM, and I used up two guesses trying (didn’t try 0000; that would have been the third and killed the SIM), then 20 minutes on the phone trying to convince the people at tech support that they should set the PIN on the SIM remotely, which is absolutely possible… Finally, after 30 minutes on the phone, success, or so I thought.

Well, the iPad was registering with T-Mobile, but we were stuck in a walled garden, “welcome to T-Mobile, please sign up for mobile internet management”. We logged in to the account, everything looked fine. Tried waiting two hours. Tried rebooting the iPad. Nada. Gave up for the night.

Along came Wednesday. I want to the T-Mobile store after work. Different two guys at the store. They tried to try to help me. That’s not a typo. They made a creditable attempt to upsell me and suggest that I had to buy other stuff, like some sort of initial one-off ticket to complete activation. Nope. Insinuated that the 200mb/month free was only for people who had a line with them. Nope, try again guys. We goofed around for well over an hour. No joy. Closing time came, and I was about done with goofing around, and said I’d just as soon just have my money back since this was costing ME too in terms of time, and that it just wasn’t worth it. They invoked the clause in the contract that said that prepaid plan sales were non-refundable. One of them even told me that he’d “gone above and beyond” in “giving me a new $20 SIM” to see if that resolved the problem. I smiled and said that I didn’t really consider replacing something that they thought was broken as delivered was “going above and beyond”, and that while I thought he had tried very hard to fix my problem that I thought his company was failing him by not adequately backing their product, pointing out that he had no better luck calling the private T-Mobile-Only tech support line than I had calling the John Q. Public one. He suggested that I come by in the morning and talk with his manager since she’d successfully set up an iPad 2 recently.

Thursday now. My errand count was through the roof, so I took a personal day from work and ran around doing a whole bunch of things, including going back into the big pink store for the third day in a row, to deal with yet another set of staffers. Found the manager, explained all my difficulties to her. She spent quite a while poking at the iPad, no luck. One thing that she noticed was that there is apparently a submenu item in the Cellular configuration menu in Settings that was… missing. Huh. How odd. Time to turn to the online forums (luckily the cash register PCs have full Internet access; you can’t say as much for the apparently-open wireless in the store which turns out to only be for VPN back to corporate). Guess what… I’m not alone. Well then.

We goofed around for a little while longer, the better to get my wasted time today up over an hour just like yesterday. Finally I said I’d just like my money back. The manager said she would try and see if the system would let her. My response was that if it didn’t want to that she shouldn’t waste too much time on it, that I’d just dispute the charges with the credit card company and handle it that way. Of course, this prompted a reference to the “non-refundable” clause in the contract. I took this as an opportunity to explain (in small words) the concept of “implied warranty of merchantability and/or fitness for a particular purpose” and observe that the contract does not have a disclaimer on either, concluding that the credit card company would have no trouble with charging back T-Mobile particularly considering that I had gone well beyond a good faith effort to get their service to work.

By this time, I finally had my receipt for refund.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere. In light of my experience I would remind my readers that we are not in Europe, and even here in the future in 2014 the notion that a prepaid SIM bought for BYOD hardware will work without drama or indeed even work at all, is not a foregone conclusion. If you were thinking of doing this with your iPad 2, or any tablet for that matter, you really ought to bring it with you to the store and get them to activate it for you. And whatever you do don’t hand over payment before you actually see it working with your own two eyes. Don’t buy any of this nonsense about it “taking a couple of hours” for the information to percolate through their system. If indeed that’s true, then they can wait a couple of hours to get paid too.

Caveat emptor.