Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting the OpenMoko

As our cell phone contracts expire soon, I wanted to take the opportunity to get a phone that I can hack the software on (I've been quite frustrated by the horrible software on my Sprint phone). I've wanted an OpenMoko Freerunner phone because it runs Linux and you have true freedom to change the software on the phone as you like, but I wasn't sure if I could convince my wife we should spend money on it. She surprised me, however, by promising me one for my birthday!

Actually buying an OpenMoko Freerunner turns out to be a bit difficult. The "Store" section of the openmoko site simply showed "Sold Out" with a claim that more phones would be coming in July, but it was already August and they hadn't updated that message. You have to go through one of their 3rd-party distributors. There's a catch: the only US 3rd-party distributor (GP2X) doesn't actually sell the latest version of the phone!! They are selling the Neo 1973, which is a prototype to the Neo Freerunner. Due to the similar sounding names, it would be easy to accidently buy the older hardware, which lacks some features and already isn't always supported in newer software releases. Read carefully before you buy!

As of today when I look on the site, it seems you can now buy the new phones directly from OpenMoko, but when we ordered mine earlier this month, the only place that had it was the Canadian distributor, Koolu. Having never bought anything from another country before, my wife and I were unsure how to pay for something in Canadian dollars with a US checking account, but it turns out the exchange rate is all handled automatically. We didn't have any problems with the Canadian company, Koolu, but we had a string of problems trying to go through the US company PayPal to get the phone paid for. First PayPal froze my wife's PayPal account because they flagged it as suspicious activity (because it was my wife's name on the account but the ship to was my name). After jumping through a bunch of arbitrary hoops to get my wife's PayPal account unlocked, PayPal dropped the transaction anyway because too much time had passed. So I ended up buying the phone on my account and PayPal ran it as an echeck instead of a credit card, which is not what I wanted. It turns out if you are PayPal customer, there is no way to tell PayPal to run it as credit, even though if you are not a PayPal customer, PayPal will run it as credit! What kind of crap company denies a service to their members that they will give to nonmembers? So I canceled the original transaction and re-ran it as credit and not as a PayPal member, and finally got the phone. However, instead of refunding my first transaction, PayPal double charged me, wiping out my bank account. The funds PayPal sucked from my bank account were there in my PayPal account, true, but I had only intended to pass money through PayPal, not deposit it there. PayPal wasn't going to return my money from the canceled transaction unless I specifically asked for it back. As long as I don't notice what they did, PayPal effectively had an interest-free loan from me. Bastards.
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