I’m nearing the end of my contract, and I’ve been tempted by T-Mobile’s aggressive promotions like 4 lines for $100 and most recently free rollover data. But I worry about their coverage. Then I learned of the Free T-Mobile Test Drive where you can get an iPhone 5S shipped to you and try out their service with unlimited talk, text, and data for 7 days. All for free. You just have to return the phone to a physical T-Mobile retail store by the end of the 7th day or get charged $375 + tax. If there is damage like a cracked LCD screen or the Find my iPhone feature is left active, you’ll be charged $100.
I signed up online, agreed to the $700 hold on my credit card, and they shipped a phone out to me. 2-day shipping time passed, I started it up, but the phone didn’t work. Well, the phone turned on and apps worked fine on Wi-Fi. The T-Mobile service didn’t work. I saw bars and “T-Mobile” on the screen, but under the phone number setting, it said “Unknown”. All phone calls went to T-Mobile customer service. When trying to access the internet using 4G, it would only pull up a T-Mobile website stating that the phone was not activated on a data plan. Warning: this is a bit of a rant so you may want to just skip down to the bottom line.
Naturally, I called T-Mobile customer service. I was stuck in the usual phone tree hell, as there was no option for the 7-Day Test Drive and I wasn’t a new activation or an existing customer. I had no phone number to type in. Eventually I reached a human. I’ll call her Human #1.
T-Mobile Human #1: Hi, may I help you?
Me: Yes, I just received a phone from your T-Mobile 7-Day Test Drive promotion and I am having trouble getting the service to work.
T-Mobile Human #1: What is your name? (I give it to her)
T-Mobile Human #1: What is your phone number?
Me: I don’t have one.
T-Mobile Human #1: What is your account PIN?
Me: I don’t have one.
T-Mobile Human #1: What is your account number?
Me: I don’t have one. I’m on a test drive. I do have my order number, though.
T-Mobile Human #1: Hmm… let me transfer you. I’ll need to put you on hold for a few minutes.
T-Mobile Human #2: Hi, may I help you?
Me: Yes, I just a phone from your T-Mobile 7-Day Test Drive promotion and I am having trouble getting the service to work.
T-Mobile Human #2: What is your name? (I give it to him)
T-Mobile Human #2: What is your phone number?
Me: I don’t have one.
T-Mobile Human #2: What is your account number?
Me: I don’t have one. I do have my order number, though.
T-Mobile Human #2: Okay let me transfer you. I’ll need to put you on hold for a few minutes.
Me: Umm… okay.
I’m not kidding, this actually happens AGAIN with Human #3, and then I get transferred to tech support.
T-Mobile Human #4: (All the same questions again…) Okay, what is the ICCID number under your Settings > General > About?
Me: 8914 2121 2121 1212 555 (not actual number but I did give it to him)
T-Mobile Human #4: Well your SIM is not showing up as activated on our system. I’ll need to transfer you back again.
Me: You know what, I’ve been on the phone for half an hour. I am already running late. I’m going to go.
I wait until the next day and hope the phone activates on its own. Nope. So I call T-Mobile again. This time the person (#5) is in a crowded call center and I can barely hear her amidst the noise. She has no idea what the T-Mobile Test Drive is. She wants to transfer me. I just can’t go through that again so I hang up. I happen to have an errand that runs by a T-Mobile store so I just decide to return the phone.
I walk into the store and tell them I need to return a Test Drive phone. Surprise, they don’t know how to do that. I should mention that this promotion has been running for over 6 months and T-Mobile boasted that over 12,000 people had already done it. The two young men take the phone and ask me what the phone number is. I tell them I don’t have one and the phone doesn’t work. They ask to look at the phone.
T-Mobile Human #6: Your phone isn’t activated.
Me: I know.
T-Mobile Human #7: So they sent you a phone that doesn’t even work?
T-Mobile Human #6: We don’t know how to accept this return.
Me: Well, the promo is on your website and it clearly says I can only return it at a T-Mobile store. So here I am.
T-Mobile Human #7: Uhh, we have to call the manager.
Eventually another employee came by that knew the proper return process. I asked if they could just activate the phone in the store, but they couldn’t. I made sure to get a receipt stating that they received my device back and confirm that I’ll be charged $0.00. So after dealing with eight different T-Mobile employees and wasting well over an hour of my time, I still have no idea how good T-Mobile’s coverage is in my local area. It could be great.
For my troubles, I did get to keep the Apple OEM earbuds that came with the phone. Yay. I guess they think it’s icky to share earbuds (and I agree) so they ship brand new ones to every Test Drive customer along with a refurbished iPhone.
Please, T-Mobile, if you’re going to run a a test drive promotion, you need to use it as THE perfect opportunity to show the best side of your company and gain a customer!
Bottom line: I like the idea of letting people test drive the network. I do suspect T-Mobile coverage can be good enough if you stay in major metro areas. I liked being able to order the kit online and have it arrive at my door. Returning at a physical store so they can manually check the phone’s condition was better than having me mail it in and praying it gets there safely with a fair inspection. This way I knew I’d be charged nothing when I returned the phone. But T-Mobile needs to make a special department or hotline for this promo as their customer service folks are uninformed. Hopefully, most other people who do this test drive get a properly activated phone and don’t have to deal with the same issues.