Batt to the Future

My sister and I were early adopters of 3’s Skypephone; first the S1 (one of which is still used by mum, the other one having had its screen squished into oblivion by dad), followed by the glitzy S2. I remember a confusing dialogue taking place at the time of purchase: I was toying with buying a USB internet dongle (this was before the days of Mi-Fi), but the S2 had the capability of acting as an internet dongle as well as a phone. I suggested that I may be tempted (for the first time) to sign up for a contract, if I could have my internet allowance on my phone, rather than a separate dongle. I tried and tried, but was repeatedly told that that simply wasn’t the deal: you had to have a HSDPA internet-capable phone (without the internet), and a separate dongle (which couldn’t also be a phone). The mind boggled, I gave up, and went instead for two Skypephone S2 phones for a special offer of £100 (£69.99 each).

My phone worked brilliantly; at the time a huge, vivid colour screen compared to what I was used to, animated swooshy icons, smart exterior. I loved it. Unfortunately my sister, by chance, received the dud. She tried to tell me repeatedly that there was a problem with it, and for far too long I refused to believe her, thinking it was ‘just new’, she hadn’t gotten used to it, or maybe there was a bug, but it would be fixed in the next update. Alas, the support for both models of Skypephone was abominable, which was such a shame as the initial marketing surge promised so much potential (right now, in 2014, support for Skype on the…erm…Skypephone is being discontinued as we speak, if it hasn’t already been). When I finally realised that my sister wasn’t lying about the phone becoming a gibbering wreck after ten minutes of operation, with key presses producing cryptic nonsense befitting of the Enigma machine, I tried to take it back. It was repaired, and again, and again. Each time, it came back no different (except for a sticker on the display that you had to peel off, making it feel as if it had been given a once-over, even though this much was becoming increasingly doubtful). On the final attempt, we were told that if it was sent for repair again, and nothing was found to be wrong, we would have to pay for the cost of sending and returning it. I decided to ask if there was any way of getting a refund, but after checking on some sort of price checking website which looked like one for recycled phones, we were told its current value was no more than £3. I didn’t expect the full £69.99 retail price to be returned, or even £50 (half the price of the £100 deal for two phones), but since I’d only ever received one working phone, it would have seemed fair to me to return at least £30 (the difference between the retail price of one phone, and the deal price for two). But nope. £3. I decided to keep the phone…a pretend phone would cost more than that! And, who knows…maybe I’ll be able to fix it or salvage bits from it myself one day (wonder if I could use the screen on my Raspberry Pi?)

I can’t remember exactly when I purchased my (Blackberry-esque) Nokia E63, but it was shortly after receiving this disappointing news; probably some time in 2009. Android OS was but a fledgling, and Symbian s60 was at the cutting edge. I remember the excitement as I tried out the phone in the shop, pulling me from the cloud of dismayal at the failure of my sister’s Skypephone S2, and the worry that mine may fail the same way, someday soon. The fact that the salesperson pulled me out of that gloom and won me around to buying my Nokia was certainly no mean feat and probably deserves some sort of award. It was a unique combination of events: nowadays, it’s easy enough to listen to internet radio on your phone, but back then it was something entirely new to me. Having recently started my show on Off The Chart Radio, I was keen to listen to as many of the other presenters’ shows as possible, but couldn’t unless I was next to a PC. That was all about to change, thanks to the Nokia’s prominent Internet Radio app. It may have appeared basic, but it did everything you’d need it to; there was an internet radio directory, but there was also an option for you to add your own station, and it adapted to use the lower bitrate streams when using mobile data. It was perfect. It did email, Windows Live Messenger, Skype, had a full QWERTY keypad, looked professional; my first true smartphone. I remember the excitement as I unboxed it for the first time, and the horror as I thought I’d made a big mistake as we reached a part of the road with no street lights on the way home and I couldn’t see a thing I was typing, then the surprise and elation as the whole keypad brightly and evenly illuminated itself as if by magic!

This phone’s been a part of my life for a long time. Other, allegedly better phones have come along (don’t get me started on the iPhone…in short, chargers breaking, all the time) but I’ve resisted change. I was even given an Android phone as a gift; it’s great, but on a different network, so it’s become more of a mini internet tablet for occasional use, than a phone. I’ve kept my Nokia E63 going despite the leather-effect slip-on case literally falling apart around it (I haven’t even replaced the case!)

But there was one problem I couldn’t ignore. At first, I didn’t even realise there was a problem; I just thought the battery door had come loose, so I closed it again. Then it was loose again. Then it wouldn’t secure. Had the phone’s back cover had its day? I didn’t think so, the lugs all looked fine, the catches looked fine, I could see nothing wrong that would stop it closing in this way…until I noticed, by looking at the phone from the side, that the back cover was bulging ever so slightly near the middle. “Hmm, that’s odd” I remember thinking as I pulled the cover off once more, then got a bit scared. The battery was swollen.

“Ooh err…that doesn’t look good!” That was a dramatic understatement. I looked online and found various severe warnings about even using the phone at all, let alone charging it. I was terrified at the number of days I must have already been using it in its on-the-point-of-exploding-into-a-fireball state. I started looking for batteries online, but brand new batteries from Nokia would have cost a decent fraction of the cost of a new phone. For a few days I had no choice but to risk charging it; I had other phones, but none that would accept that SIM. I felt I should have been wearing goggles and heat-proof gloves (and flame-retardant trousers) every time I pressed a button. I ducked for cover every time I forgot and ended up putting the phone on tables a little too heavily.

“Aha! Batteries for £5! Bargain!” as I looked on a well-known reputable shopping website. Then I read an article which described how a load of counterfeit batteries had been released onto this well-known reputable shopping website, and I was glad I’d decided to wait to get one. These batteries had the potential to be as explosive as the swollen one I already had, or at the very best were said not to work very well at all, with shocking battery lives. Scary stuff.

When I found, I was therefore understandably skeptical. It was a shop I’d never heard of, but it seemed trustworthy and had a comprehensive range of ‘old’ phone batteries, and at a price (£12.98 inc. VAT and P&P) that seemed like a reasonable compromise between too-good-to-be-true and the full official retail price from Nokia itself. I’d seen some mixed reviews about their delivery of some makes of battery, but delivery of Nokia batteries seemed to be OK, so I chanced it. A bubble-wrapped envelope arrived on schedule, and the new battery (unswollen, and with its official hologram sticker) has been charging and discharging happily since July 2013. Battery life and behaviour is as good as new. I am a very happy first time customer, and if I’m ever in need of another battery, I now know where to go.

I hate how throwaway our culture has become, and this is a definite win for keeping old but still completely usable tech going. On that note, next up, I need to see how I can revive my old iPod…I’ve heard you can buy an adapter to replace the hard drive with a flash card…

About Jamie Nemeth

Physicist, fiddler/violinist and radio presenter, who dabbles in blogs and graphic design...

Posted on September 17, 2014, in General and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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