If In-Car Tech Tell has an equivalent to Top Gear UK’s Captain Slow, I’m pretty sure I’m it. And if James May has a thing for old, slow cars, I have a thing for old, dumb phones. Too dumb, in fact, for our Chrysler 300 SRT8 test car.
I use the term “dumb” phone because, in this era of the so-called “smartphone,” I’ve not only elected to resist the Android vs. iOS wars, I’ve regressed from a monthly billed service to a pay-as-you-go plan. My wife and I simply weren’t using the minutes we were paying for on our monthly bill cycle, so we elected to get a prepaid phone service, which has resulted in cutting our mobile phone bill basically in half. The phone I use looks every bit like an impostor of a first-generation Blackberry, only with practically none of the cool capabilities– which earned it the endearing nickname “Dingleberry” from yours truly.
The Dingleberry is, in fact, a Tracfone-specific LG501C. Like all Tracfones ending in the “C” suffix, it operates on the CDMA network also known as Verizon’s airspace. That’s a good thing in my rural part of the country, where competitors like AT&T’s GSM network have splotchy, unreliable coverage. Here is where I mention, in case you weren’t aware, that all Tracfones ending in a “G” suffix work off of AT&T’s network, by the way.
So far, the Dingleberry has worked flawlessly when paired with the Bluetooth hands-free systems in all of our test cars. It also works perfectly when paired with my wife’s Nissan cube. But when I attempted to pair it with our test Chrysler 300 SRT8 last week, I was miffed to find it refused to pair up.
It was frustrating not simply because the phone refused to pair with the 300 SRT8′s Uconnect infotainment system. What frustrated me was that the Uconnect system could “see” the phone, as it would show up on the screen when searching for new devices, and my phone could “see” the Chrysler, as it would be displayed on the “Bluetooth Devices” menu of the Dingleberry. But when I hit the “Pair” button on my phone to get it to link up with the Chrysler, I’d get a progress bar that would go to about 75% before both the phone and the Uconnect screen generated twin error messages saying the devices could not be paired.
The Bluetooth connectivity in the 300 SRT8 can do a lot more than allow for hands-free calling. It can take advantage of apps for several useful things, such as internet radio or your personal music collection streaming over the car’s excellent Harman Kardon 19-speaker stereo. But my phone’s incapable of those cool things, and all I really wanted to do was be able to answer calls without fumbling with the phone and trying to set it to speaker.
I scanned the Uconnect website, and sure enough, my phone is not listed in the supported devices for Bluetooth connectivity. The site asks you which car you have and which infotainment system you have before finally asking you who made your phone and who your wireless carrier is. Tracfone, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not among the carriers listed because they’re not a “carrier” in the traditional sense. They make use of other carriers’ network bandwidth.
Given how excellent the car is overall, this tech incompatibility is a minor annoyance, in the grand scheme of things. And let’s face it, if you’re the type who is willing to spend an as-tested MSRP of $57,925 on this beastand burn through premium fuel at a rate of around 20 MPG, you’re probably also the type who doesn’t sweat paying a fat monthly bill for a smartphone under contract with one of the big-name wireless carriers.
Occasional lack of connectivity with ever-newer, ever-better infotainment systems is likely the price I’ll continue to pay for being In-Car Tech Tell’s Captain Slow– at least until I decide a Straight Talk Android is worth $45 per month. As it is, I’m only shelling out about half that amount each month when you balance out my Tracfone minute renewal purchases over an entire year, so it may be a while before the “Everyman’s Android” is part of my tech stash.