I spent a good part of my weekend replacing a defective iPad. Now that it's done, I'm not sure if I did the right thing.
Why Isn't Alcohol Served At the Genius Bar?
I rarely have a drink, but dealing with both Apple and AT&T is enough to drive anyone to a cocktail. Here's how my weekend played out.
Over the past few weeks, I've had horrible performance with my cellular coverage on the iPad. Instead of getting download speeds in the 20-30 Mbps range, I was lucky to even have a signal. My service showed only one bar, and much of the time it just said “Searching”, leaving me with no connectivity at all. I'm one of those folks who was grandfathered in with Unlimited service from AT&T, which means that I've been faithfully paying them since that plan started with the first iPhones and iPads. That's a lot of cash to throw around without getting any service in return.
My first concern was that the iPad was now defective. I bought it in March 2012, so it was out of Apple's warranty period. Fortunately, American Express has an extended warranty and I was able to use that to replace the iPad. That meant I ended up putting $299 + tax on my AMEX card and it'll take a couple of weeks to work it out, but I walked out of the Apple Store with a replacement iPad.
My Experience Replacing a Defective iPad
Although I'm glad that there is an Apple Store for those times when I need to go see someone to resolve an issue or get something right away, I truly hate shopping at the Apple Store. It's a cacophonous assault on my senses. There's no central place to go to ask a question or get service. You're at the whim of the people who work there. Sometimes they're very helpful. Other times they're just hipsters who couldn't get a job anywhere else and they pay no attention to people trying to get their attention.
When that happens, I'd discovered the perfect way to get attention from an Apple Store employee. Just go stand along the wall by some expensive, yet small, products. You'll look suspicious and someone will approach you. That's when you can actually get some help – when they least expect it.
Before I visited the Apple Store, I looked on the web site to figure out where to make an appointment at the Genius Bar. Didn't have any luck, so I just drove over and walked in the door. After dealing with my suspicious behavior, they made an appointment for me in another 90 minutes. Great. Now I can wander around the mall for the next hour and a half looking at things I'm not going to buy. Actually, that only took 20 minutes and I was back in the Apple Store standing by the expensive, yet small, products. Another employee approached and offered to let me have a seat while I waited. I'm digging this suspicious behavior thing so far.
My appointment time finally came around and I talked with a nice guy who declared my iPad was defective. I spent another 30 minutes on the phone with AMEX before they finally said what I wanted – just pay the $299 replacement fee and we'll sort out the warranty issues later. The Genius took my old SIM and placed it in a new (identical model, not newer model) iPad and wiped out the information on my old iPad.
When I got home, the same problem existed. Apparently the iPad wasn't defective, but rather the SIM card. I may have wasted my time replacing a defective iPad that wasn't defective at all.
Dealing with AT&T
On Sunday, I visited my local AT&T store and was surprised to see it was crowded. They also had a sign-up requirement for walk-ins and the guy told me it would be ten minutes. Forty minutes later, I finally got to sit down with someone from AT&T and I explained my problem to him. He immediately went into a spiel about combining my iPad and iPhone accounts together because it would make things easier.
Why can't anyone just deal with the problem I brought instead of the problem they perceive? By switching my plan to a combo, I would lose the Unlimited Data on both iPhone and iPad, and I'd save about $5 a month. I explained that I don't have a billing problem, I have a performance problem. After much back and forth, they eventually replaced my SIM card and verified that I still had my Unlimited Data plan.
If you're one of the folks still grandfathered into Unlimited Data, don't lose it. It takes almost an act of God to get it back. According to the guy at the AT&T store, he has to get approval from the state sales director, who then has to write a letter to some lesser Gods of AT&T, and you may eventually get reinstated. As AT&T is doing everything it can to wipe out any remnants of Unlimited Data, your odds of making this actually happen before you submit to their bureaucracy are extremely limited.
Testing the New SIM Card
The new card was in place and we tried the Speedtest.net app I've been using. Suffice it to say that the performance seemed just as unimpressive for the download, but now my uploads were much better. I've replaced the hardware and replaced the SIM card, so why am I still getting crappy performance?
Well, it may not be as bad as the app indicated. First, it wasn't going to “Searching” anymore. Second, we loaded some web pages and the performance was pretty zippy. We changed the server for the speedtest and saw some decent improvement, so part of the issue could have been the test itself.
Wel also looked at the possibility of my account being throttled. Per the AT&T guy, they will throttle an Unlimited Data plan when you reach 3GB usage per month. However, my usage was well below that threshold. He checked several months and I've been using around 1 GB per month consistently. There is no reason why my account should be throttled.
So, I'm basically going to live with it for a while and see how it works out. If it were not for the AMEX coverage, I'd be pretty upset about spending $300 to replace an iPad that likely didn't need to be replaced. On the bright side, it gives me an excuse to create a new Gelaskin. Now I just have to decide which of my photos will make a good skin for this iPad.
If you're suddenly experiencing some performance problems online with cellular service, check out the SIM card before you worry about the hardware. The AT&T rep said he's seen that happen plenty of times. My card came from my original iPad, then went into my iPad 2, and ultimately into the last iPad. That's plenty of time for it to suffer a problem. Maybe you won't have to spend as much time as I did fixing the issue.