Phone can take a licking -- and a dunking

August 19, 2004|By Mike Himowitz

IF YOU remember the 1950s, you may also remember John Cameron Swayze (and if you're younger, don't tune out yet -- this gets contemporary pretty quickly). Swayze was one of the original network news anchors and, more famously, a pitchman for Timex watches.

Swayze's schtick -- which became a worldwide favorite and the subject of countless jokes -- was to tie a Timex watch to the propeller of an outboard motor, or toss it off the edge of the Grand Coulee Dam, or tie it to the fist of a cliff diver. After the speedboat, dam or cliff diver finished with this off-the-wall torture test, Swayze would pick up the watch and hold it up to the camera.

Of course, it would still be running, at which point the poker-faced announcer would gravely pronounce: "Timex: It takes a licking and keeps on ticking."

When Swayze died in 1995, that was still the official Timex slogan. In fact, the watchmaker didn't abandon it until last August, when it officially adopted a new motto, "Life is ticking," ostensibly because it was more likely to appeal to the 18-to-34 market.

But as a tagline for toughness, the old "licking-and-ticking" is likely to stay with us for a long time.

And that brings me to my son's cell phone.

Some months ago, I got a panicked e-mail from the lad (who's in that 18-to-34 demographic), asking me what he should do with his phone, which had become waterlogged and was no longer working.

Naturally, I asked what happened to it.

"I was at a party and it got thrown into the swimming pool," he explained.

And how did the phone come to be tossed into the pool?

"Well, it was in my pocket at the time."

Having attended a few raucous parties in my own youth -- at which fully-clothed guests occasionally wound up in the swimming pool -- I did not say what I was thinking, something along the lines of, "You idiot!" Instead, I suggested calmly that he try drying it out.

So on his way back to his apartment the next day, he started by taking the back off the phone, removing the battery, and putting it in direct sunlight on the dashboard of his car (it was sunny and hot). When he got home, he put the phone on a table and, using one of those goose-necked desk lamps, shone a 100-watt bulb on it from a few inches away.

About 12 hours later, he reported, he put the phone back together, and sure enough, he could make a phone call -- as long as he didn't need to use the screen, which was still dark. But after two or three days more, the screen came back to life, too.

He was greatly relieved, since like many young people, he uses a cellular phone exclusively and doesn't have a land line telephone. And replacing a lost or broken cell phone, as he found out, is far more expensive than buying it when you sign up for service.

I was surprised, too.

"Pretty tough phone," I said.

Fast-forward six or eight months to last week. A call from the same son, this time sounding half sheepish and half proud.

"You remember that phone that I fell in the pool with?" he said. "Well, I had another little problem with it."

The "idiot" light flashed in my brain again. But once again, I held my tongue and asked him what the difficulty was.

"This time I left it in my pants pocket and put it through the washing machine," he said.

"Including the wash and spin cycles?" I asked.

"Unfortunately," he said.

At least he had enough sense not to use the dryer. Instead, he went back to the tried-and-true. He took apart the phone, put it on a black table (the better to absorb the heat and dry it from both sides) and switched on the desk lamp again.

"This time I could see the water bubbling up under the glass that covers the screen," he said proudly.

And the result?

"Well, if you can hear me OK, I guess it worked, because I'm calling on it."

And that's when I thought of John Cameron Swayze. This indeed was a phone that could take a licking and keep on ticking.

I don't know if Samsung, which made the phone, has a particular knack for making tough hardware. But I learned a lesson from it: If your cell phone or some other battery-operated gadget is ever thrown into a pool while it's in your pocket, or (more likely), you drop it in the water or put it through the wash, don't throw in the towel. Use it instead.

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