September 7, 2008

Tracfone Experiments

Filed under: technology — origamifreak @ 4:10 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Fed up with paying >$350/year to Verizon Wireless for phone service that I hardly use, I let my friends talk me into getting a Tracfone. I have pre-paid about $200 (should have been $150, see #10 below) for the same amount of minutes and a year’s worth of service.

Here are some things I’ve learned in the process:

  1. Have the phone you order online sent to your work address, because even though the order form doesn’t tell you this when you put in the shipping address, FedEx will demand a signature AT YOUR DOOR.
  2. FedEx drivers are very nice. At the first failed attempt the driver put his own cell number on the sticky note and when I called to ask about the second delivery, he agreed to put the package on a different driver’s truck so it *could* be delivered to work. This is after FedEx phone agents said they couldn’t re-route the box and that Tracfone had to do it. Tracfone had said that they couldn’t re-route anything after it had left the warehouse.
  3. To get a real manual that has actual useful information, go to the manufacturer’s website and download one from there. The thing that comes with the phone is virtually useless.
  4. The Tracfone website menu that is supposed to allow you to transfer your existing number to your new phone is broken. It kept saying that I needed to put in 5 digits for the zip code. I had.
  5. If you want to transfer an existing number to a Tracfone, DO NOT try to do it through the automated phone menu. The automated phone menu will cheerfully guide you through all the steps to activating the phone. WITH A TOTALLY NEW NUMBER. Instead, you should press the button for technical support, and have them talk you through it. (Who knew?)
  6. Once your SIM card has been activated, you can’t change the number on it. They have to mail you a new SIM card and you have to start all over.
  7. It takes at least a couple of days to receive a new SIM card via DHL.
  8. DHL is very nice. They are willing to leave packages between your screen door and front door, even if you aren’t home to sign for it.
  9. It takes about 5 minutes to get a new SIM activated with the old cell number, if you requested the “port” of it over 2 days ago.
  10. If you have a Double Minutes for Life phone, you do NOT need to buy the DMFL card. (This should have been obvious, but I was tired.) In the end I spent $50 more than I needed to, getting something I already had. *sigh*
  11. You can get up to 200 extra minutes if you use the bonus codes listed at
  12. When you add the airtime card is the point where you see the extra 100 minutes for switching from another provider. So in total I got 300 extra minutes.
  13. To set up your voicemail, call your cell number from your cell phone and go through the menu. Unfortunately this actually costs minutes. (GRR)
  14. To find out the email address of your new phone, send an email to your computer. There are two ways to do this: 1) text only “sms” 2) text and photos “mms”
  15. Both of the messages from the phone to the computer arrive quickly. They have different addresses: 1) and 2) (where XXXXXXXXXX is your cell number)
  16. If you reply to each of the above addresses from the computer to the phone, they take different times to arrive. The message arrived almost instantaneously. The message had a 640×480 picture attached and took 58 hours for the phone to notify me of its existence. It only took about a minute to actually download. See numbers 18 and 19 below.
  17. If you “save content” on the mms message, you can use the attached picture as your wallpaper. This is apparently the only way to transfer photos and other content to your phone, since the USB and bluetooth connecters are apparently for charging and headset purposes, respectively.
  18. Later on this photo will be unviewable due to “insufficient memory.” This is because the picture I sent, while indeed a 640×480 jpg, was also 134 kb. It’s actually pretty impressive that it arrived and saved at all.
  19. If you are sending a photo to the phone make sure it’s under 23 kb. In The Gimp this means that the ‘jpg quality’ slider should be set to around 75% on a 640×480 image. If you do this, the message will arrive almost instantaneously.
  20. The LG wired earset works just fine on the Motorola, and allows the radio function to work.
  21. Listening to your voicemail from a landline is tricky and depends on the provider. I was lucky to find a comment from someone on a message board who had figured it out and is in the same area code as I am. Your best shot at this is googling to see if someone has already figured out a solution. YMMV.
  22. You can’t transfer files between the phone and a computer via the USB, but you can charge the phone via a USB cable connected to a computer. Here’s how. I have tried the software/driver-hacking method, and it works.

Overall, it’s been quite an education. I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.



  1. Ha! I tried to use a trac phone when I went to NYC in February. It was easy enough to get – I just picked one up at Duane Reade. Well, I activated it over the phone and was making and receiving calls within the 3 hours (charging the phone and activating it; the hardest part of activating it was reading the sim card code – I needed a magnifying glass with a light the print was so small!!!) I was really disappointed with it (the phone itself was a cheap and nasty Motorola) and I couldn’t figure out how to use the voice mail. I consider myself technically adequate so this sort of nonsense was not tolerable. After watching the minutes tick away faster than you could say ‘There goes thirty dollars!’ I threw the phone away in disgust. On a subsequent visit in April, I brought an old phone with me and bought a US Sim card (T-mobile). Judging from your post, I’d say you have the better of the system! Some of us are getting too old for this sort of thing, faster than others! 😉

    Comment by Sofia Catt — September 7, 2008 @ 7:04 am | Reply

  2. “Cheap and nasty Motorola” sounds about right. The one I have is really functional (W376g) but it doesn’t feel as solid in my hand as my old LG VX-3200. I kind-of wish I’d gotten an LG rather than the Motorola, but I can live with it.

    I had help navigating some parts of the process – from the friends who convinced me to do this switch in the first place.

    Comment by origamifreak — September 7, 2008 @ 11:03 pm | Reply

  3. thanks for the chard tip! (see my comment on my post…)

    Comment by Sofia Catt — September 8, 2008 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

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