Cell claims don't hold water

26 June 2017 - 08:33 By WENDY KNOWLER
Man with cellphone. File photo
Man with cellphone. File photo
Image: iStock

Many people regard their smartphone as their most prized possession, given the roles the little gizmos play in our professional and private lives.

Hence battery life and "ruggedness" are prime selling features, and both are major challenges for the manufacturers.

Many phones are marketed as being able to withstand the likes of exposure to water, drops from reasonable heights, dust and extreme temperatures.

But I recently dealt with two readers' cases in which the marketers' claims didn't help them when their phones malfunctioned.

Case 1: How rugged, exactly?

Plumber Dirck van Breda of Somerset West took out an MTN contract in May 2015, choosing a Caterpillar (Cat) phone - with a two-year warranty - because, he says, the MTN salesman led him to believe that the phone was indestructible.

The company's website is full of assurances such as: "Our phones combine high-end technology and our renowned commitment to innovation with tough military standard credentials - so even in difficult situations you know your Cat phone is on your side ..."

But earlier this year, when Van Breda dropped his phone onto a tiled floor from standing height as he was pulling it out of his pocket, the screen and casing cracked.

He took the phone back to MTN, who forwarded it to Cat's repair and warranty agents, SSS Cellular, who said the phone was uneconomical to repair and refused to take any responsibility for it, he told In Your Corner.

"Bear in mind there are no screen protectors or cellphone covers on the market for these phones," Van Breda said. "I was told they are unnecessary because the phone is so rugged."

So he did an early contract upgrade in order to get a new handset - another Cat!

I first approached SSS Cellular for comment, and when I got no response I took up Van Breda's case with MTN. The network and Cat have since offered Van Breda a new phone "as a gesture of goodwill".

His original phone had a rating of IP67, MTN said, meaning it passed a drop test of 1.2m, is waterproof up to 1m for 30 minutes, is impervious to dust, and can withstand temperatures of -25°C to 55°C.

"It was not advertised as 'unbreakable'," said Bridget Bhengu, MTN's senior manager of public relations.

As it turned out, it didn't survive a drop from Van Breda's pocket, which was "maybe slightly more" than 1.2m, he said.

Lesson: Don't trust what a salesman says - find out exactly what claims by the manufacturer the device can withstand. Especially if you're tall.

Case 2: Waterproof claim didn't hold water

Bellona Mentor of Boksburg took out a contract with Telkom Mobile in December, choosing a Samsung S7 as her contract handset, which Samsung markets as being waterproof.

Not quite six weeks later, the phone was refusing to power up, so she took it to SSS Cellular, which gave her a repair quote of R2284.

"I refused to pay because the phone was still under warranty, and took it back to Telkom's Alberton branch," she said. They sent it to SSS Cellular, which, interestingly, supplied Telkom with a repair quote of R9300 and then reduced it to R5436 when Mentor objected.

But the bigger issue was that she was being made to pay for the repair of a phone under warranty - and under the Consumer Protection Act's powerful six-month warranty, at that - because it was said to be "liquid-damaged".

"So is Samsung's claim that this phone is waterproof just a PR exercise?" Mentor asked.

Responding, Telkom's group executive for communication, Jacqui O'Sullivan, said it was true that the S7 was waterproof, so Mentor was not liable for the cost of its repair for liquid damage.

"We will also ensure refresher training on the product to ensure that there is no further miscommunication going forward," O'Sullivan said.

Mentor was delighted to hear that, but said she'd prefer a replacement phone - which the CPA entitles her to - given that her supposedly waterproof phone had somehow become damaged by liquid. At the time of writing, Telkom hadn't confirmed that Mentor will get a new phone.

Clearly it's unacceptable - and illegal - if you invest in a rugged phone and it fails to live up to a particular "invincible" claim, and then you are made to pay the price.

But make sure your perception is matched by the manufacturer's detailed, written description of its phone's ruggedness. It may not be as life-proof as you think.

CONTACT WENDY:E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.zaTwitter: @wendyknowler