The Phone Quest

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No More Phone Booths!

One of the first things I had to do when coming home, along with doing loads of laundry, was to get a phone.

Well, technically, I have a phone. Two, even: a landline (primarily for telemarketers to call) and a cell phone that I never use because I haven’t bought minutes in ages.

I bought my cellphone a few years ago, after valiantly resisting sales pitches for months. I’m not a phone person: I do everything by email. But as the world was getting hooked, meeting someone without having a cellphone became increasingly difficult. “I will call you when I get there but I’m not sure when.” “But I don’t have a phone,” I would protest. “Can’t we set a time?” “Sure. Let’s say between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. But I will call you when I will know.” Etc.

So I gave in and bought a pay-as-you-go cellphone. A crappy one that dropped calls and stubbornly refused to connect me when it felt like it. I hated the plan I was on: I had 200 minutes per month but I had no way to check when the 200 minutes were up. “You have to write down the length of your calls,” said customer service when I called to complain. “Don’t you have a number I can call that will give me my airtime balance?” “Nope.”

I bet I never fully used my 200 minutes. Bastards.

This year, I knew what I wanted: a BlackBerry. I figured that a smartphone would actually be useful. Being able to check my emails on-the-go is great and plans were barely more expensive than for a dumbphone.

So I started shopping around. First, I went online. In Canada, we don’t have that many providers: the big three are Bell, Rogers and Telus. Then they are a few “alternative” providers such as Virgin Mobile, Koodo and Mobilicity.

I knew what I wanted: I didn’t care that much about the phone itself, but I was looking for a plan with unlimited calls to 5 or 10 numbers (yes, I have no social life) and some data.

First, I struggled with the lingo. I thought my English was pretty good but understanding the plans, more or less detailed on each provider’s website, was tricky. What the hell is tethering? A supertab? How much data do I need?

But what annoyed me the most was the inability to see the actual monthly plan rate at a glance. After killing me eyes on reading the fine print (sometimes occupying half of the screen), I decided to meet the devil face-to-face.

Armed with a friend and a Starbucks Latte (welcome back, first world!), we paced Bank Street where most of the providers have a store.

First we went to Rogers, where I explained I was looking for a BlackBerry and a plan. “BlackBerry sucks,” the employee told me in uncertain terms. “You won’t like it. They break right away.” I felt some loyalty to RIM. “But I had one at work and it was fine,” I protested. “Nope. They all break.”

We left Rogers.

Bell was next. This time, the employee didn’t have anything against RIM and he showed me the plans. “That’s pretty good,” I acknowledged. “So it’s that much per month, right?” The employee fidgeted. “Well, yes. I mean, plus voicemail, plus call display, plus activation fee and plus tax.”

Wait a minute: isn’t that included?

Not in Canada my friend! Cellphone plans here are a notorious rip-off, but it’s not like we have much choice. I got used to paying for incoming calls and to the fact my plan was going to cost me from $50 to $80 per month. Still, I wanted to know what I was actually getting for that price.

I left the store without a phone.

The following day, Feng came with me. “Can’t be that difficult!” he boasted. We stopped at one of these cellphone brokers places. “I have a great plan for BlackBerry,” claimed the employee. “$40 a month and you can get that phone for free with a three-year contract.” “So what do I get for that price?” The employee looked at me with pity. “A phone. Do you need airtime?” “Well, yes. It’s a phone after all,” I pointed out. “Okay, make it $55 a month. Do you need data?” “That’s kind of the point of having a smartphone,” I added. “Okay, make it $60 a month then. Plus tax, plus voicemail, plus call display, plus activation fee, plus system fee. Got two pieces of ID?”

The two pieces of ID stayed in my wallet. After visiting a few stores, we called it quit. “You know what,” said Feng, exhausted. “Buy what you think is best. There are no discounts, no good deals and they are all the same.”

So I went back to my first choice (Virgin Mobile, marginally cheaper) and signed up for a plan.

I now have a BlackBerry. I just have to figure out how to use it.




About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Can be hard for me too… two girls are happily using iphone and samsung galaxy SII and me…still the traditional type and really I know I will be lost if I have a smart phone.

    Anyway I dont have urgent need to have one yet so I know it’s gonna take some time for me to figure out too…have fun with you BB Zhu 😀

  2. I went with Koodo – no contract and I could choose exactly what I wanted. However, I’m still trying to figure out my “smart” phone – it’s smarter than I am…
    Best of luck – and have fun – with your BlackBerry!

  3. Ugghhh. I hate how cellphones work in North America. The way you write it, it sounds like Canada is just the same as USA. It’s like you’re locked at the provider’s mercy.

    Right now I use a pay-as-you-go plan, with T-Mobile. I do have a smartphone, in the sense that I can browse the Internet and play music and whatnot, but I don’t have a data plan. After all, I spend a lot of time in front of a laptop anyway, that I don’t need more time and chances to browse the Internet using my phone. So I only use the smart abilities whenever I have a wifi connection that I can use.

    This way, I don’t have a contract, and I have full control of my phone, even regarding what brand of phone I want. Yes, the phone is much more expensive, but then I have no contract, and I don’t pay for services that I do not need nor use.

    • It makes sense! That’s basically what I had before, except I had an old phone with no Internet access. Unfortunately, pay-as-you-go plans for smartphones are really expensive here, and so are the phones. So it was cheaper to sign a contract.

      • Oh, what I did was just go to a 3rd-party like Amazon and buy an unlocked phone. Yes, it is more expensive, but I do like to control what phone I want (I am a sucker for Nokia). I then just inserted the old SIM I had from my old non-smartphone, and so I still have the original number, and I pay as I go as before!

  4. I hated shopping for mobiles in Canada, it always feel like a rip off!

    I still don’t like mobile phones but mine only cost about 10€ every two or three months, it’s just in case someone calls me to offer me a job 🙂

  5. “Blackberries break all the time”?? I do not know of any phone sturdier than the Blackberry. I have put mine through think and thin, I’ve sat on it, dropped it countless times, spilled beer on it, and it always bounced back. Give me a “break” Rogers 😀

  6. I feel your pain, there are no good deals in Canada and no matter how well I did my research, I always found unexpected charges on my phone. I hardly use my iPhone for talking, but love the GPS and for checking emails on the go.

  7. I got my Canadian friends pretty distressed when I told them about how much I pay for my phone calls 🙂 One of the good things about living in the hottest markets for cell phones. 😀

  8. whats the model of blackberry that you settled for?
    whats your package in the data … I mean whats the monthly limit that you will have to deal with?
    I am a blackberry fan and though nowadays they are practically doomed I am sticking with their products.
    it is a pity the canadian rip-off in this service … but then again it was your choice to get yourself under the snow … up there 🙂

      • I have torch too the 9180.
        got it for 49$ here in the states almost a year ago.
        isnt that bad 🙂
        I have a 200MB plan/month and isnt that bad, though I personally consider it a ripoff.
        maybe I can send you some apps (those dealt with under the counter) so you can enjoy the torch even better.

  9. I use virgin as well. I protest all plans in north america period! And I refuse to get a good phone, got mine in 2004. I pay $112 with tax and it lasts me for about 7 or 8 months worth of texting. I don’t want to cave in until they make their plans like in Europe.. So you’ve got someone just like you, including who I call!

  10. How come didn´t you check Mobilicity?

    When I spent three months in Toronto I suscribed to them. I had an all inclusive plan (Unlimited data, incoming calls, sms, north america long distance, everything) for just $45 a month, no string attached, no hidden fees, nothing, just that.

    I bought a $100 Smartphone, nothing fancy but works pretty good.

    Only downside is it didn´t seem to have good underground coverage, not as good as other companies, but overall it was excellent.

    Just my two cents.

  11. That’s very nationalist of you to go with RIM! I admit I am quite old-school phone user. I have a heavy phone from 5 years ago (can be used as a weapon in emergency) and a pay-as-you-go plan from Telus for $25. I don’t spend a lot of time on cellphone and I am online all the time so I won’t budge into buying a smartphone. Hope by now you are an expert user!

    • $25? That’s pretty good!

      I must say I love my BB. It’s so practical to be able to see my emails on-the-go… I don’t feel chained to the computer this way.

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