I originally wrote this letter some months ago, whilst waiting for my phone to be returned. Imagining at the time that I would buy a new phone, I wished to express my discontent with your repairs. However, you pre-empted me by sending me a new phone before I got the chance to complain (sly move, HTC), and the letter was never sent.
Then I got a phonecall this morning asking me to answer a survey about how satisfied I was with the repair. As the young lady didn’t seem to realise my phone was replaced and never repaired, and I only got the chance to answer in choices between 1 and 5, I thought it best that I send you the full story after all. So if you will indulge me for a moment, I think your company could learn a few things from the harrowing road I have taken to get here.
Historically, I have always been a haphazard consumer of technology, effectively taking what has fallen into my lap and sticking with what works. Half the phones I’ve owned were given to me. The other half were acquired when those phones were struck by fault or tragedy, to be replaced with something similar. This was the case for the HTC Desire, but the tale starts with an iPhone.
My eyes were opened to the wonders of smart phone technology during a period of lonely months in the Russian winter when I was fortunate enough to be gifted an iPhone 3GS by a caring friend. It changed my life, as I interacted with the wider world from all locations. I could browse the internet or read electronic books whilst waiting for overcrowded busses, sheltering in abandoned buildings from packs of wild dogs and avoiding chainsaw salesmen in parking lots. Unfortunately, that phone was stolen from me by a treacherous chauffeur, masquerading as a comrade, and a void was created in my life.
By the time I abandoned Russia for the sunny shores of England, I had researched a replacement. HTC were the clear ones to beat Apple, and with devices at a fraction of the price, with the promise of greater customisability, I was sold. My aspirations were modest, I wanted only to replace the device that was stolen from me, and when I learnt that the Desire was a cheaper equivalent to the 3GS, my course was decided.
I had no designs on a new and glistening device, I simply turned to the second-hand market. Perhaps this was a big mistake, but as I’m sure you’ll understand it should not have made a difference. The device I purchased was in a good condition, barely used. I assumed it had been rejected for the superficial reasons that drive many people to abandon their wares in pursuit of the newest and most popular device. I had no reason to believe anything was amiss.
After many dreary months of suffering through Russian snow with little to distract me, the HTC Desire seemed like a blessing. An item with all the dreams and possibilities that the iPhone had once offered. I could read books, play games, and constantly check pointless websites, pretending that the many hollow moments of my life had some greater, connected meaning. It was different to the iPhone; more configurable, offering more possibilities, making me feel like I had taken a step beyond the wonders I had known before to find something that was really mine.
The problems started not long after my purchase. With some fascinating games downloaded to add value to my time lounging in front of the television, I plugged the phone in to avoid the battery-draining consequences. Things could not be so simple. I soon learnt that to play a game whilst plugged in had a bizarre effect on my phone: it overheated and reset. After losing numerous battles against robots due to this heinous crashing occurring at inopportune times, I learnt that it was best not to use the phone whilst it was charging. No matter, thought I, these things happen. I decided to move on with my life.
Ignoring that issue, I ambled on blissfully unaware of the problem that was poised on my phone’s horizon. Events overtook me, however, as I started to recall how useful the mobile internet could be. With frequent trips into London, my phone was no longer a tool to avoid boredom but an object of efficiency: train timetables, street-maps and even online dictionaries were enriching my life with the time they saved. But with them came the realisation that once in a while, when I was using the mobile internet, this HTC Desire harboured a terrible secret.
The problem was a simple one. My HTC Desire did not like 3G. It made it overheat and reset, just as playing games had done. Despairing that I had bought this second-hand phone, I thought it was simply a faulty device that the owner had done away with for this very reason – there could be no hope of repairing it. I was doomed to live without the convenience of mobile internet. Time went by as I revelled in this woe.
I eventually pulled myself together and determined to fight back, however. A disheartening trip through the South Downs drove home the sincerity of the problem. When my brother had to venture through small villages to find a man with a sofa, we were relying on my phone’s map functions to get there. Desperately trying to find our way, the phone crashed, and we were left stranded in a cul-de-sac, horrified by the prospect of failing to pick up the sofa, imagining that we would be reduced to sitting shivering on the floor like a gaggle of nomads. Fortunately we had the wherewithal to ask a stranger for directions, but the seed of fear had been planted. I saw what my phone’s adverse agenda was capable of.
It started resetting more frequently. It was worse than ever, crashing not only when I turned on the internet, but also when I tried to reboot it afterwards. It took a great degree of patience and careful timing to load the phone and turn off the 3G before it had a chance to crash. Sometimes these efforts could leave me without the most basic functions of my phone for hours. I trawled the internet for ways to resolve the problem.
The suggestions were exactly what one would expect. A factory reset. Lose all your data, retry everything and try again. The phone equivalent of an IT technician telling you to turn your computer off and on again. Naturally, I attempted it. All my customisation was gone in an instant, though I was confident much was immediately restorable: my Google contacts, my music, my downloadable apps, there were all easily replaced. I did the reset, and set about rebuilding my electronic empire.
It did nothing to help. I was still plagued with the inability to connect to the internet on the move, plagued by the game of trying to turn the phone on before it gets the chance to turn itself off. If I still had hair, I’d have pulled it out. Finally, I was pushed to breaking point and sought to get the phone fixed by a professional.
Imagine, after these months of trauma, my amazement to discover that HTC phones are covered on a warranty based on the date of manufacture rather than the purchase. I never thought such a thing possible. But why not? If someone makes a device, why should they not support it. I was overjoyed, what a noble company. It made no difference where my phone had come from, HTC were willing to make it work. The problem, after all, was something buried within the phone’s design.
The first responses were what one might expect. Try the factory reset. I kept calm, I explained that I had already tried this, and after a few more suggestions that I reset the phone I finally managed to convince your team that there was something wrong with the phone’s hardware. They agreed to take a look at it, and took the phone in for repair. I was optimistic. Everything was going to be okay.
The phone was returned on a sunny afternoon, in a delightfully friendly new box, with a note saying that parts had been replaced. I determinedly started the task of setting it up again, reorganising my contacts, downloading apps again. I even received a phonecall from a cheerful young HTC technician who explained what had been replaced and encouraging me that we were in this together, the phone would live. Everything seemed to have been resolved, HTC had saved the day.
Then I came to try and use the mobile internet. And then the phone reset. And then I couldn’t load it again. And then I sobbed bitter tears of disappointment made, bleeding from my previous hope. The problem persisted. The promise of those friendly technicians amounted to naught; whatever parts they had replaced, however positive they had seemed in helping me, they had apparently done nothing. The phone reset, again and again. If anything, the problem was worse. I struggled to use the phone once more, and turned away from it to the wretched old handset I’d used whilst it was sent away for repair.
As much respect as I’d felt for HTC before, I then felt equal hatred. Why had no one checked to see if the problem persisted? What had they attempted to repair, if not the problem I’d described to them? With a heavy heart, I spent a few days sending messages back and forth to the support team, negotiating a few more suggestions that I attempt a factory reset, until convincing you to take my phone back and actually try to repair it this time.
For two weeks or so whilst this was going on, due to my reliance on my Google contacts and my naive belief in the ease of restoring my phone, I was without many of my recent contacts, dwelling in isolation by the sea. I could not listen to music on the move. I was reduced to the status of a peon as I shuffled around the streets without so much as a game of Angry Birds to bide my time.
When the phone returned a second time, I held little hope of it actually being fixed. I reluctantly started using it again, restored my contacts, reinstalled the minimal amount of apps and the least number of settings. It worked, though. I hardly used the mobile internet because I had gone so long without it, but it worked. In time, I came to rely on the phone again, and the convenience seeped back into my life, but the damage had been done. When I lost the iPhone, I lost a lot of progress in the eBooks I had been reading and ultimately gave up on them. After gaps of time without my HTC, and numerous resets and reinstalls, I gave up on much more. It became a tool of utility, rarely entertainment. It was functional, but the trust was gone. It no longer felt like something that was a stable part of my life.
A long time passed without event. The phone helped me out in times of disorientation and when useless trivia needed to be clarified at a moment’s notice, and I even came to gradually game on it again, when I discovered how Wordfeud could waste time in the office. At one point I even had the opportunity to use the most advanced Samsung phone instead of my HTC, but trusting I already had all the functions I wanted, and unwilling to reapply my settings to another phone, I declined. Despite my tribulations, I was satisfied.
Disaster struck about two minutes before I was due to leave for a flight to Lanzarote. I was doing a final check of my emails and the phone told me I had an app to update. I declined to update the app, and the Desire did not like my decision. It seized up. I did all that I could to get it to respond again, but it would not. And then it died. No button would make a difference: when I plugged the phone in, no light came on. It was no longer a phone, just a piece of lifeless plastic that mocked me with inactivity. I don’t imagine I need to explain to you the feelings it conjured, having my phone die on me moments before setting off to a volcanic island.
It was stressful not to be able to plot my journey back when I returned at an impossible time of night, and more stressful still to have been forced to resign a slew of Wordfeud games that were in progress. The greatest stress came a while later, though, when I attempted to restore this dead phone. Once again I contacted support, and managed to negotiate getting the phone taken in for repair. Once again I was resolved to losing all my settings, starting afresh with a newly fixed phone. A week passed and the phone came back to me, and I was delighted to think that I could now continue my life.
The phone did not turn back on. I plugged it in and a light came on. Then went off again. Through a series of unplugging and replugging, removing and replacing the battery and waiting through a series of resets, I eventually loaded the phone. A few hours later it crashed and started continually resetting again. It became impossible to load once more. And, as had happened the first time I sent it in for repair, back with the 3G issue, I was led to wonder exactly what had been done to repair the device. Did the technicians actually try to turn the phone on at any point? Considering that was the reason I had sent it in for repair, it seemed remarkably odd that it should return in a state where it was immediately clear that it wasn’t turning on. In fact, I can’t imagine any issue that I could have sent it in for that would not have made the failure to turn on apparent.
A circle-jerk of contacting people from support began again. Again I was told to attempt factory resets, and it took some time to convince you that this was achieving nothing. Despite the fact that it was impossible to do the reset because the phone would not load. A variety of support workers offered me their names and advice, but the friendliness of those support technicians I had encountered in the first instance now seemed hollow and insincere. Battling a horde of encouragingly well-meaning but ultimately useless contacts, I finally convinced the support staff to take the phone back in for repair.
It was here that I finished the original letter, with a short diatribe about my lack of faith in HTC, fully intending to buy a new phone when I received the old one back (no doubt still not repaired). Things took an odd turn at this juncture, though. The phone was gone for much longer than usual. I made enquiries, left stranded without smartphone capabilities, and I was told ‘it could take 7-10 working days’. Until someone told me it could take 4-6 weeks. No one seemed to know where the phone was. And then, unexpectedly, someone phoned and told me it was over. The phone could not be repaired. Would I accept an HTC One S instead? At the time, I didn’t know what an HTC One S was, but I accepted only to be through with this nightmare.
Of course I then learnt how good a deal this was. An old HTC Desire being replaced by one of these lovely new One Ss, how could I possibly send my letter of complaint then? Well played. It was not the end of my troubles, though. The new handset arrived without the back cover. I’ll spare you the details of this last escapade, but essentially it took another month or two before I got the cover, and until that time I couldn’t use the internet on the phone. One final punch to the gut before parting ways.
Now I have been delighted by my new phone, it is a fantastic device and I could not have asked anything more from a company that I’ve never even directly given money to. But I have paid for it in the traumatic ups and downs this experience has thrown my way. I no longer feel the same enthusiasm for phones that burned as a life-giving fire during that Russian winter. For less than 4 months of the two years I’ve owned an HTC, I’ve been unable to use my phone. I’ve had to send it in for repair twice as often as I should have. My emotions have been wrought every which way by the promises of hope that have been laid before me and shattered by inconceivably incomplete repairs. Did those technicians know my phone was beyond repair from the offset, and simply hoped I wouldn’t notice? Or did they continually fail to address the problem at hand? I’m not sure which option frightens me more, and I don’t imagine we’ll ever know the answer. It has been a long and cruel journey.
I am sure your hearts were in the right place, wishing to support your customers, but I can’t help but feel I was helped by people who do not know what they are doing. And that, my friends, as any paramedic is likely to tell you, can often do more damage than good.
I apologise for the excessive length of this letter, I just felt that a half-dozen questions rated 1-5 didn’t really do my experience justice.