Friday, November 6, 2009

Droid on Verizon a dud for typing

Today the Motorola Droid running Android 2.0 was released on Verizon Wireless. I went to my local store and played around with the phone for a few minutes. (Like the iPhone 3GS intro at AT&T, there were more salespeople than customers in the store! Not so much excitement.)

The Droid has a nice large screen and a fast, responsive processor. But the slide out landscape keyboard is nearly as bad as typing on glass. The keys are flat and square. The wide arrangement makes thumb typing hard without moving around. There is essentially no feedback since there is no travel in the keys. My typo rate was about 300% (3 wrong keypresses for each correct one)!

The Droid keyboard is a dud.

Furthermore, the control keys at the bottom of the screen (Home, GoBack, etc) were equally non-responsive. If you want a nice phone with a keyboard, the Droid is not it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sprint sends money!

In today's mail I got my $100 rebate check from Sprint. For a rebate, that was pretty good turnaround. It was 30 days ago (to the day) that I mailed in the completed rebate form. Terms of the rebate were that you must have the phone under contract for 30 days, so the earliest they would have sent the rebate was July 6th. Given that I was not at the head of the line, this was good service.

Of course, I would have been much better off if Sprint had just deducted the $100 up front! And the State of Michigan gets to keep an extra $6 in sales tax this way, too. So, my net cost for the Pre itself was actually $217.99, (and $74.19 for the Touchstone, and another $15.90 for an extra USB retractable travel cable.). Bottom line total is over $300 ($308.08).

So what's new: my budget for smartphone devices is $150/year. And service of $600-$800/year.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pre Review -- Part 3. vs iPhone 3GS

The obvious main competition for the Pre is the iPhone 3GS. True, for some, it will be compared to a Blackberry, or an Android, or a WinMobile, or a Nokia, or even a Treo. But, the "standard", for better or worse, is now the iPhone 3GS. And while I naturally have made many comparisons to the Treo 700p that I most recently used, I also had an iPhone 3GS for almost 3 weeks and ran it side-by-side with my Pre, which I had for a couple of weeks before I got the iPhone.

In the comparison that follows, I'm not trying to be comprehensive. There are many sources for detailed specs for each device (I recommend gdgt). And some things are cool (like Sprint TV, NASCAR, & NFL), or might be crucial to you (like music), but are irrelevant to me. So here is a summary of the features that, for me, separate the Pre and the 3GS, the winner for each feature, and why it excels:

  1. Keyboard: the Pre's physical keyboard is much better than typing on the screen.
  2. Multitasking: the Pre can do it; the 3GS can't. This really grows on you, to the extent that you find yourself wanting to "swipe" a 3GS app out of the way to get to the next one -- but you can't.
  3. Contacts; the basics are pretty similar, but the Synergy of the Pre, automatically updating from your Google, Outlook, and Facebook accounts, and merging them together, makes it a winner.
  4. Calendar: again the Pre outdoes the 3GS by tracking multiple calendars and updating over the air effortlessly.
  5. Phone: again pretty similar, but the 3GS wins by virtue of voice dialing, and an overall more polished feel to making, receiving, and controlling a call.
  6. Camera: both have plenty of pixels, but the 3GS has a better auto focus feature, video, and on-phone video cropping.
  7. E-mail: this is tougher. Both can do landscape, but the Pre only with an annoying hack. The Pre unifies inboxes & other folders nicely under user control; the 3GS takes more looking around, but it can search! The 3GS seems smoother and more mature overall, with features like automatic bcc, so it gets the nod.
  8. Messaging: both text ok. The 3GS requires a separate app for IM; the Pre not only has it built in, but integrates it with SMS, so that your communication with your contacts is seamless.
  9. Music/Podcasts: the 3GS is "the best iPod ever", so no contest. This is the one area that it can multitask. On the Pre, it is nice to have Pandora and the ability to sync with iTunes, though. I want a wireless podcatcher, though!
  10. Video: the 3GS has a bigger screen, so you'd think it would win, but they have the same resolution and this gives the Pre a much better looking picture. When on WiFi or 3G networks, they playback speed is similar. The YouTube app on the 3GS is a little more mature, but the Pre's is adequate.
  11. Google Maps: pretty comparable in most areas, but the killer is the Street View on the 3GS. Wow! It is just fun! And useful when your in an unfamilar area. Satellite view is nice, but sometimes it's just not enough.
  12. Battery: It's a good thing that the Pre battery is removable, because if I were on a crucial trip, I'd take a spare. I'm used to just getting through the day and charging every night, based on my Treo. But the Pre is a twice-a-day charge for me. Only once did the 3GS not make it for 16 hours of comparable use during my parallel testing. The iPhone may have a reputation for short battery life, but the 3GS was adequate for me. The Pre needs to improve.
  13. Updating/Backup: OTA (over the air) backup and update of the Pre are just nicer than the plug in and sync method of the past (invented by Palm). Apple and the 3GS still continues to use those nasty wires. And you have to remember to do it. The Pre takes care of you in the background.
So there it is: a baker's dozen points of light. I didn't talk about Web browsing, because they're pretty similar (except that the Pre's multitasking is a much better approach than the 3GS's multiple pages). And while the number of apps is certainly in favor of the 3GS, there were not any I could find that were better than what I ported over via the Classic app on the Pre running the PalmOS emulator. In fact, in one very direct comparison, the iPhone "Groceries" app by SplashData, is much inferior to the "SplashShopper - Groceries" running via PalmOS on the Pre, to the point of being basically unusable on the iPhone. Since I have no interest in games, I didn't even look at them on either the 3GS or the Pre.

Which device is the winner? If it were running on the Sprint network, it might be the 3GS. But until AT&T adds more capacity and coverage here is Michigan, the Pre is the winner: a great device, a very good network, and a better monthly price, too.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The "New" AT&T

Two years ago, when I bought an origianal iPhone, and then returned it, the customer service experience with AT&T was pretty horrid (see iPhone Lansing).

This time, I had received an initial bill in the mail for $122.07, covering the $36 activation fee, initial few days of service plus a month in advance at the $40 voice + $30 data rate (no text messages), and the usual ridiculous array of surcharges, add-ons, and taxes. When I returned the iPhone 3GS on July 6th, they told me to call AT&T service in a day or two to get a final figure reflecting the cancellation of service.

When I got around to calling on July 13, I expected to pay for activation, 18 days of service, etc, or about $80. The agent looked up my record and asked why I had cancelled (bad network service, inadequate coverage area) and then "took care of" the bill. He apologized that it took so long, but when I asked what my balance was, he said zero! I'm expecting to receive a paper bill confirming that in a few days. But what a nice surprise. My trial with the iPhone only cost $19.90 -- the Apple 10% restocking fee.

The "new" AT&T comes out looking pretty good, even though they have an overloaded, and limited area, network. And Apple looks like a douche-bag with their 10% restocking fee, even though they have a pretty nice device.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Keyboard Madness

I had some time to kill at Best Buy while waiting for my Mother-in-law's Jitterbug phone to be updated. So naturally, I spent my time at the cell phone area testing keyboards.

The rap on the Pre is that the keyboard is too small, or not easy to use. But compared to what? I asked the staff person what the most popular Blackberries were, since that would be the competition. She said the Curve, the Bold, and the new Tour. I tested these plus the Palm 800w, Centro, Pre, and also the Nokia E71.

I typed my favorite test sentence: "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party" on all 7 keyboards.

 Here is my ranking:
1. Tour
2. Pre
3. Bold
4. E71
5. 800w
6. Curve
7. Centro

I'd place my old Treo 700p at 1.5, between the Tour and the Pre, and the iPhone 3GS at 5.5 ahead of the Curve ;)

So, for me, the Pre compares well. What keyboards are the ones that are so much better?!? Certainly not most Blackberries!

By the way, this post was typed entirely on my Pre. And there were only a couple typos.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pre Review -- Part 2. Cons (A Dozen Downfalls)

Where does the Pre fall short? What are the features that are lacking or less capable than other devices I've used (mostly Treo & iPhone).

1. Tasks are less capable than Treo. A primary reason I carry a smartphone is for the PDA features, especially Tasks (ToDo List) and Calendar. Palm created the PDA market 13 years ago, and the Treo was a highly evolved version of the ToDo List. I have made use of almost all the features. The Pre is missing several of them: categories, alarms, repeating items, sorted lists, priorities (5 vs 3), record completion date, and multiple views. I've tried to work around some of the missing features in the native Pre Tasks, but that is essentially impossible. I can only hope that future versions will introduce some of the more robust features that are a Palm hallmark. In the meantime, I'm using the Classic app and running my transferred ToDo list from my Treo.

2. Calendar lacks some important features. Again, Palm chose not to implement categories in the calendar. I'm used to quickly looking at my month view and seeing color-coding to indicate the type of activities on each day. The Pre overlaid calendars (from Google and Palm Profile and Outlook) can be color-coded and act in this way to some extent. But, they turned off the color coding in the month view!! Everything is just gray. I could set up a different Google calendar for each of my Treo categories, but it wouldn't show up, except in the day or week view. This is just a mistake on Palm's part. I hope they fix it. Also, the Calendar reminder alarms are very limited. I'm used to setting anywhere from 1-99 minutes, The Pre only provides for 5,10,15,30, or 60. This is particularly frustrating as my two most common reminder alarms are 20 and 90 minutes! Interestingly, items that were transferred from my Treo retained their alarm times. It's a shame the Pre took a step backward in this area, and I hope updates will add more back.

3. Memos are completely different. Again, no categories, no private or secure items, and practically a limited number due to the "post-it note" paradigm, rather than a list paradigm. Furthermore, my Treo Memos didn't even transfer to the Pre (something I'll have to remedy with a support call someday). Meanwhile, they transferred from my Treo into the Classic app just fine, and I'm using them there. The Pre memos are ok for a quick note, but not for the kind of lists and memory aids I had in the Treo (and continue to use in the Classic app). I may have to look to another app with native Pre support that handles lists. The secret (secure) items will need to be put into something like SplashID (which I'm using in beta) or just kept locked away in the Classic app.

4. Only 4 direct access launch buttons. On the Treo, there are also 4 buttons, but 3 of them are assigned a second "shifted" function, and the side button below the volume control is assigned a function, too, so in effect there are 8 functions at your finger tips in one "click". True, the Pre can find any app via universal search from the keyboard, so usually within 2 or 3 "clicks" you can call up what you want. And the launcher view has 12 or more per page. But the Treo also has alternate screen views that provide more or different functions, and the iPhone has a whole screen full of buttons all the time. It's just that launching on the Pre seems to take more thought and more time. Palm has again gone backwards from it's manta of Jeff Hawkins to reduce the number of steps to do anything. In their desire to keep the home screen esthetically clear, they've given up some functionality. Not good in my view. I suppose I could just keep the launcher open all the time. Maybe I'll try that.

5. Touchscreen collects fingerprints. This is to be expected and also true of the iPhone, and the Treo to a lesser extent. But the Pre uses the touch interface extensively and so a daily wipe is manditory and often mid-day as well. Of course, I prefer keyboard shortcuts or command line control over mouse, too. I guess I'll get used to touchscreen in time. But I'm glad there is a keyboard on the Pre, or I'd probably not have it.

6. No video recording. Not that I ever did much, but it's ironic that the Pre drops the feature, just as the iPhone adds it. It's handy once in a while when a snapshot just doesn't quite capture the action. The Pre camera is nicely improved over the Treo, but why no video?

7. No voice: memo or dialing or command. Again, not something I used much on the Treo (memo that is, it didn't have dialing or command). But while testing the iPhone 3GS, it was kind of neat to make a call or request a tune. And even my wife's old Nokia dumb phone could voice dial.

8. No removable storage (SD card). Again, this may not be a big deal, as the 6GB+ of available built-in storage will likely be more than enough for me, since I don't carry around my whole music library. Right now I only have 2 John Coltrane songs on my Pre. If I want music, I'll probably just stream Pandora. On my Treo, I mainly used an SD card for photos, and again, only a few MB worth. The only reason I'm uncomfortable is that there is no way to back up or load data in a hard sense. So I guess the Pre is more of a netbook than a notebook.

9. Short battery life. This is somewhat of a concern. So far, I've never made it through a whole day without a recharge. Since I work at home and my touchstone is right on my desk, it's not too big a deal, but I am concerned. Only rarely would my Treo run down after 16 hours of use. The Pre typically goes from fuil charge to 20% remaining in about 5 or 6 hours. And I make very few phone calls. It may be, though, that the phone signal is weak and the battery is being drained trying to reach the cell tower? Or maybe the fact that my most used app is the Classic, for Tasks all day long? Whatever the reason, a battery should last all day unless heavy use of phone calls or browsing.

10. No landscape in e-mail. Yeah, I know about the secret code "RocknRollHax". But why isn't it just enabled by default? Easter eggs are for kids. Missing an important feature is just annoying.

11. Not enough native apps. The Treo has thousands of apps; the iPhone has thousands of apps; the Pre has 30 apps. Fortunately, via the Classic app, I can (and do) access some important PalmOS apps from my Treo. And I like Pandora and AccuWeather. Some things, though, would be much better in WebOS. And some things that the iPhone 3GS had, like the Public Radio Tuner, would be nice to have. Many of the apps I looked at on the iPhone, though, were useless to me. I'm mostly not interested in games or music, so that leaves out a very large part of the app store catalog. And a couple of things I tried, like Groceries, were awful on the iPhone. I use SplashShopper every week for my grocery list, and while the PalmOS version runs ok under Classic, it would be nice to see what they can do using WebOS. I do miss PocketQuicken and PeanutReader and DietDiary a bit, even though I didn't use them much. It's nice to have them on board. They are all PalmOS, so I could load them, but, again, native apps might be better.

12. Browser shortcomings. Of course, every mobile browser needs Flash support, and none has it -- yet. Bring it on and soon! And there is no way (that I've found) to right-click on a link and download what it's pointing to (like a podcast). Again, I'm being picky, since I don't think any existing mobile browser can do that either. But, hey, this is supposed to be revolutionary WebOS, isn't it?

So, overall, I guess I'm most disappointed that Palm took somewhat of a step back in it's PDA functions and intuitive user interface (minimize the clicks!). Most of the other shortcomings may well be fixed as software updates (and apps) come along in the next few months. I'll have to live with the limitations, but that's always been true.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pre Review -- Part 1. Pros (Fourteen Fine Features)

What are the features that make the Pre better than anything I've used before? Or the things that it does better? These are the Pre Pros:

1. Multitasking. Something we take for granted on our computers, but have assumed wasn't possible or needed on our smartphones. But when you have it, you never want to give it up again! On an iPhone I'd wear out the home button switching from app to app, and on my Treo, the menu and function keys took a beating. And it was oh, so frustrating to be looking a a Web page or a calendar item or talking on the phone and wanting to switch and do something else only to be limited in the possiblilities. I've already become so used to it that I can't go back. There is also an underreported "advanced gesture" feature that you can turn on which allow switching tasks with a left-to-right or right-to-left swipe across the entire gesture area with apps fully open. You don't have to tap the home button first or have the cards in reduced size. I typically have 3 or mre cards open at a time and swipe from card to card without ever returning to the home screen.

2. An outstandingly clear and beautiful screen. Bright, readable, useful. Which makes e-mail and browsing practical.

3. Complete HTML e-mail with reasonable speed and readability. The Treo was never quite up to snuff on e-mail. Clearly Blackberries and the iPhone have had this down for a while, but now my Pre has become my first line of e-mail reading ahead of my desktop machine.

4. A Web browser that is quick enough and usable with the multitouch screen. Again, browsing was possible on the Treo, but not for long or frequently when side scrolling was needed and rendering was sometimes incomplete. In my tests against the iPhone 3GS, the Pre matched it most of the time and exceeded it some of the time. Now all we need is a Flash player.

5. The ability to play audio and video podcasts. The ability to sync with iTunes to load the podcasts! In the past, sometimes I'd go thru the trouble of loading or downloading a podcast onto my Treo, but it was hit or miss, and generally not worth the time it took. And video playback and quality was sketchy. Now if there was some kind of wireless podcatcher or sync
for the Pre, the process would be complete.

6. Calendar and Contact Synergy. It is amazing and helpful to have automtic wireless synching with Google, AIM, Facebook, Outlook (although I don't use it all). I can see my son's and wife's Calendar items and don't have to duplicate them in my own -- they just appear! And Contacts update themselves to some extent, if on Facebook.

7. Integrated messaging among IM, GTalk, and SMS. This is handy indeed when contacting my kids, who each use different phone networks and methods. Also, the inclusion of unlimited text messages in the Sprint Pre data plan means I'll use them to contact my kids, which is often their preferred method.

8. App Catalog. The Pre takes a lot of stick for having only 30 apps so far, compared to the iPhone's thousands. But the ability to just wirelessly load a new program is a vast improvement from the sync methods of a Treo. And among the 30, I found a few that are very useful to me: AccuWeather, Pandora, SplashID, and most of all, the Classic (PalmOS emulator). I'm sure there will be more, and it's very handy to get free updates over the air.

9. Classic app!! The ability to emulate PalmOS has been a terrific transition tool, immediately loading all my existing Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Memos in the format I'm used to. The same data was converted / loaded into my new Pre Profile in the native apps, but some features are different. It's comforting to be able to see how things compare right side by side (literally, with multitasking!). And a program like SplashShopper, which I use every week for groceries, can run unchanged, until the Pre version comes along. In effect, there is a whole library of existing apps from PalmOS that can run on the Pre. Arguably, many are more useful than anything on an iPhone.

10. GPS and Sprint Navigation. Using Google Maps with GPS on is much more useful. And the included Sprint Navigation service means you don't need a separate GPS/Nav gadget in your car. Not that I've ever had one, but it sure is handy to use when needed.

11. WiFi. Of course, it's assumed now in all high end smartphones, but the Treo never had it and it sure is handy when cell reception is p0or (like right in front of my computer!). In comparison tests against the iPhone 3GS, the Pre is faster, too. And it's practical to browse the Web or read email at the lunch table or in the living room or on the porcelain throne ;)

12. Automatic backup and updating. It's reassuring to know that everything on the phone is backed up wirelessly every night to Palm Profile servers via the Sprint network. And it's nice that over-the-air updates take place to revise the software/firmware of the phone with regularity. No more downloading and syncing to get patches.

13. 3.2 megapixel camera. When I got the Treo 600, I wondered what I'd do with a camera. But it is surprisingly useful to be able to snap a quick picture. My old Fuji film camera has now been gathering dust for almost 5 years. I never bothered to get a digital camera at all. The improved quality of the Pre is appreciated, too. I miss the video that the Treo 700p had, but not much, as I think I only show about 10 videos in 2-1/2 years. The Pre may get video via software update eventually.

14. And finally, WebOS. The new operating system is a fairly well-though-out set of methods and gestures for managing all the functions and features of the phone. It looks good, it works smoothly, and as Arthur Clarke wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced Technology is indistinguishable from Magic.".

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pre Review -- Part 0. Preface

This is a kind of background to a full Review of the Pre -- laying out my prejudices and preferences, so that any reader can have a frame of reference to my coming comments.

So many reviews that I've read come with baggage from the reviewer. Many reviewers have not been around that long, or used many other devices than an iPhone, so all comparisons are to the iPhone. Apple's marketing is so good that you'd think they invented everything, even though they've only had a phone for 2 years. Palm, on the other hand, DID invent a lot of the smartphone features that everyone else has copied.

So, here's my backfround. My life has been about organizing and being organized. Long ago, I used to carry a small paper datebook for my appointments and a small notebook to keep track of my expenses (to the penny -- every month!). Phones had dials and were black and sat on a stand. Watches had hands and dials, too, and were worn on the wrist.

But, then along about 30 years ago, watches got screens and buttons, and multiple alarms, and eventually could store and retrieve your appointments. I had a whole series of Casio data watches in the '80s. Then a clunky, but pocketable cell phone, And a series of Digital Diaries to keep track of appointments and a phone directory completely replaced my paper calendar in the '90s. Eventually, I got a Palm Vx and there was great joy in being organized. The money notebook went away, too, replaced by Pocket Quicken.

Finally, the advent of the smartphone: the Treo. I waited until it seemed perfected and jumped aboard with the miraculous Treo 600. Only one device in my pocket! Phone, PDA, e-mail, all the great Palm OS apps like Pocket Quicken for money tracking, Splash Shopper to make paper grocery lists obsolete, even Score Pad to keep score at the baseball game, with instantly updated stats every innning! The new century was here and it was fantastic.

The Treo 700p came along and added faster speeds, practical Web browsing, video recording, a better keyboard, and even some audio and video (TV on your phone!). Since then, though, Palm has stood still, and the iPhone came along and changed everything with touchsceens, a terrific browser, and YouTube video!

So now we expect our phones to be as good as our computers, and act as music players, cameras, e-mail clients, Web browser, media center, as well as send amd receive calls, text messages, and IMs. But I still expect to be organized, with the same brilliance of PDA that Palm introduced 13 years ago. I expect my pocket device to be easy to use and functional, ahead of being a fashion accessory or a music player. The Treo always got a bad rap as being clunky, but it fits my hand and pocket perfectly well. Blackberries don't get called clunky, but most are not as svelte as a Razor was (remember those -- everyone had one).

Keep this background in mind as you read my review of the Pre (and the 3GS). These are my biases. This is my perspective. Function over Form. Organization ahead of Style.

Battery drain on the Pre, but quick recharge

I've had my Palm Pre for over a month now and used it every day. And not once have I made it through an entire day without running the battery down to the 20% warning level. For a while, I didn't realize that the GPS is quite draining to have on all the time. Lately, I've had that turned off. I spend quite a bit of time in front of my computer and that is an area of weak cell service, so maybe that accounts for some of the drain -- the constant straining of the radio to reach a cell tower. Another factor may be that I constantly run the Classic emulator to manage my Tasks list, transferred from my Treo. It does background checking to sound alarms, which might be hard on the battery, too.

The good news part is that the battery recharges pretty quickly. Tonight, it chimed for juice at 5:40, so I put it on the Touchstone charger during supper, and when I checked back 35 minutes later, at 6:15. it was already up to 90%.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

One hand operation is a snap

One thing I appreciate about the Pre, especially after years of using a Treo, it the ability to use it with one hand (one thumb, basically). I can pull it from my shirt pocket and slide open the keyboard, which turns it on, in one smooth motion. I can then answer a call, respond to an alarm or alert of email, or initiate a task with a touch or swipe on the screen, or start a search or make a call (speed dial) by touching a key on the keyboard.

While some one-handed operatiion is possible on the iPhone, for the most part, it takes two hands to tango. And typing on the glass keyboard turns in to hunt-and-peck torture, compared to two-thumb speedery on the Pre.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Walk in the Park

Two years ago, when I tried out the original iPhone, I was successful in using it in a local large park, a couple miles from my home. So, I knew when trying out the Pre and the 3GS, I needed to make a return trip and test the speed and browsing from a friendly picnic table. One reason this is a good location is the presence of a cell site atop a nearby water tower just south of the park. Cell service in the park is generally very good.

So, what did I discover? For starters, both phones showed 5 bars and the EV/3G indicators on. I fired up the browsers and loaded the iconic Web site, and got timings of 28 seconds on the Pre and 21 seconds on the 3GS. I also loaded, a site I visit every day. Again the 3GS bested the Pre 16 seconds to 33. I also ran several mobile speed tests (downloading a random file) from Here it got more interesting. On the Pre, I got speeds (in kbps) of 444, 654, 685, and 229. On the 3GS, the results were: fail, 804, 989, 215, fail, fail. So, while it achieved higher speeds at times, the iPhone (on AT&T) also failed to connect half the time!! This is similar to the experience that PC World got in it's tests, (wherein AT&T failed to connect about 1/3 of the time.

This was a quiet Friday night with hardly anyone in town! What would happen when the circuits are busy? The AT&T network seems shakey, at best.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Day in the Life of 3G

My various speed tests led me to want a better understanding of the cellphone data networks, so I did some Wikipedia and Google research (mostly fruitless and confusing) trying to make sense of 2G, 2.75G, 3G, EVDO, 1xRTT, EDGE, HSDPA, etc. I came away more baffled than ever. This is not surprising, since there (apparently intentionally) is no standard of comparison.

I did find an article from PC World, however, that shed major light on the issues. I highly recommend it: "A Day in the Life of 3G". The summary:

"During March and April, we spent a day testing the major 3G services in 13 cities across the United States. Verizon's service showed a combination of speed and reliability, Sprint's results lent credence to its 'most dependable' claim, and AT&T's network showed fast upload speeds in most cities."

But, read the entire article, and you will learn a lot. The meaninglessness of "bars", for example, and the importance of "backhaul".

And remember: the Network is as important, if not more important, than the Device. And all data service (like politics) is local! Your results may vary, so test them before you commit to a two-year, multi-thousand dollar contract.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How's the Northern Network?

We took a weekend trip to our summer place "up North" (about 20 miles southeast of Traverse City). This was a prime test of the speed of the Pre and also the iPhone 3GS. How far would the 3G networks extend? In the past, I've had pretty good Sprint service on the Treo 700p and even ok on the old 600 (almost 5 years ago!). This is important, since we have no phone or internet service at the old 1911 farmhouse; even electricity was an add-on!

It didn't take long to find out. On our drive, just north of Lansing (the other side of I-69) the iPhone dropped off the 3G service and onto Edge. It never recovered all weekend. This is consistent with the AT&T coverage maps. Sprint, on the other hand, has pockets of 3G around most cities and along long stretches of the highways. Over two days I took many speed readings and Web site load times, the Pre ranged from 80-900 kbps; the iPhone from 20-190.

To be fair, at our summer house, both were on 2G in the range of 80-150. This is much better than 2 years ago, when AT&T had no service (phone or otherwise) at all. But overall, Sprint is a more consistent network. There were multiple times when the iPhone wouldn't connect or would drop service. On Sprint, there was only one data dead spot -- southeast of Cadillac along M-115. In that area, only roaming phone service was available.

Bottom line: if you want smartphone highspeed data service in Michigan north of the 3 main metro areas, stick to Sprint, and avoid AT&T.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Adjusting to new technology

Had to buy gas this morning. When I'd filled the tank, I wanted to note the miles on the odometer & trip meter before resetting. But no stylus pen! My Treo was at home. So I called my wife and had her make a notte for me.

While driving home, I smacked my forehead and thought"Why didnlt I just make a note in the Pre?" As pennance, I'm osting this frpm the Pre, unedited. 

It's hard to adjustvto new technology and change 4-year old habits!

Take me out to the ballgame

We to a Lugnuts baseball game Thursday night, and naturally had to test out the Pre (& the 3GS). First trial was at about 6:30 pm to fire up the AccuWeather apps and check for "game time" temperature and a look at the radar, since showers were threatened.

The Pre popped up in about 5 seconds. The 3GS spun it's wheels and stalled out. Even though both were showing 5 bars and 3G status, the AT&T network was apparently overloaded in downtown Lansing just after work hours.

A later trial between innings (around 8:30 pm) found the 3GS back to life and responding in 5 or 6 seconds, too. 3G speed is great -- but only if you have it when you need it.

Cell phones -- the call-droppers! or Why we still have a land line

One of the most annoying things about cell phones are calls that get dropped in the middle. This seems to plague me at home in front of my computer most of all (actually not surprising when you consider how much radio noise is emitted by electronics). But that's where I make many calls, responding to voice-mail or e-mail, when a conversation is needed, or following up on bills or service requests.

So, I was pleased that the Pre seemed to suffer less from this plague than my Treo 700p, even though they are both on Sprint. During a couple weeks of use, I think I've only had one dropped call. But, I did miss a few incoming calls which showed up a voice mail a few minutes later.

The iPhone on AT&T also suffered a dropped call. Ironically, it was when I was using it to call Palm about a wierd e-mail glitch on the Pre. The Palm support service was pretty good, until I realized I was talking to a dead line.

Maybe we'll have to get one of those "pico-cells" to boost reception in the house.

So that is why I generally make important support service calls or inquiries using our land line. It's basic local service that costs around $20 a month (including all taxes, surcharges, and fees!!). Long distance is four cents a minute (I think), but I haven't made a toll call for over 5 years.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Speaker volume of the Pre

The external speaker on the Pre is located in the top back, a good place for shirt-pocket listening. The strength however, is, while not weak, at the limit. I usually keep the volume control at 8 of 10. Sometimes, in anoisy environment, I have to turn it all the way up to 10. It seems like 5 of 10 would be more appropriate for normal listening. On the iPhone 3GS, by comparison, it's continuous slider delivers good volume at about 60%, leaving room to boom, so to say.

Podcasts on the Pre

One of the features of the Pre is it's ability to sync with iTunes, which is handy for loading up with podcasts to listen to on the go.

The Pre's playback management is nice (especially when compared to the iPhone 3GS*), in that is has both a time elapsed and time remaining display, and when fast-forwarding, it speeds up after 10 minutes of elasped time on the meter, so positioning, or re-positioning in an hour-long show is possible. Unfortunately, if you accidentally hit the stop button, or overshoot and reach the end, it reverts to the beginning.

One other minor annoyance: the podcasts seem to get cut off just at the end during playback, that is they stop a few seconds before they should.

*The iPhone has no time display at all, just total time of posdcast. Also, it's fast-forward is audio-cued and pretty slow. For long podcasts, it was impractical to reposition to the 2nd half of the show.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Standing in Line" at AT&T

Out here in the middle, things are pretty quiet for Apple & Palm hysteria. Maybe it was the overnight rain or maybe it's "these troubled times" (especially here in Michigan).

On Friday morning, June 19th (iPhone 3G S Day!), I went to the the local AT&T store at 8:30am, expecting to stand in line. There was NO LINE! I strolled in and was greeted by 6(!) salespeople. One escorted me to the counter where one of 4 cashiers signed me up for an iPhone 3G S. I was out the door by 8:45, BEFORE the stated "open to the public" hour of 9 am. Pre-order customers were served starting at 7 am, but the sales folk admitted it had been pretty quiet. There were only three or four other customers browsing in the store when I left.

Quite a contrast to the big cities on the coasts, and to a year ago, and especially two years ago.

Mall Walking Intelligence

Took a rare trip to the local mall on Saturday looking for a replacement shower radio and a dual alarm clock (odd how electroninc things all fail at once!). As I spent a couple hours making the circuit, I took the opportunity to inquire and observe at the cell phone kiosks and stores.

Radio Shack still has no Palm Pres amd no idea when they'll get them. The AT&T store sold out of iPhone 3G S late on Friday and isn't expecting more for "a week or two". But you can direct order. There was only one other person looking at the two display models. They are pushing the 3G model at $99: "the best deal in smartphones with the 3.0 software". The Sprint kiosk had no Pre or expectation of getting one, and only a couple of customers. The Verizon kiosk, though lacking any cool smartphones, had over a dozen customers!

The mass market cares most about the network for phone calls and texting, not cool, expensive smartphone devices and data plans. Around here Verizon is by far the #1 network, with Sprint #2, and AT&T a #3 (with a bullet). T-Mobile and others are not even in the game.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Standing in Line at Sprint

With five months of anticipation from the January CES show to early June, the Pre was possibly going to be as big as the iPhone. Two years ago, the lines were epic (see my iPhoneLansing blog post). This time, not quite so much. Still, with the Sprint store opening at 8:00 am on a Saturday, I figured to have a chance if I got up at 6, and arrived at the local store at about 6:30 am. No problem -- there was one person in a chair at the head of the line and 3 others in cars. I got out my lawn chair and became #2 in line.

About five minutes later, the first Sprint employee arrived, and the other folks decided to join the line. By 7am, several Sprint employees had arrived and about as many buyers.At 7:30, a friendly Sprint employee (he'd chatted with us before going in when he arrived), came out with numbered flyers and handed them out to the 20 or so folks in line. A few more stragglers arrived close to 8, and he came out again and gave them numbered forms, too. The line was 25 long.

At 8, they let the first 6 of us in. They had 3 cashier stations and also 3 other sales people. Folks waiting could play with the demo model. One staffer was in charge of helping us activate the phone and anseriing immediate questions. As each person checked out, they let another person in the door. All in all very orderly. They said they had 30 phones, so everybody got one. When I called back later on in the day, they were sold out, but with more expected in a Monday shipment.

I guess I coulda slept in.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's June: summer -- and new smartphones!

It seems like every year I'm looking at a new smartphone. This year (finally!) it is the Palm Pre. I've been a Palm Treo user for 5 years (on Sprint) and a Palm PDA user for 10, so I was eagerly anticipating the release of the Palm Pre to replace my aging, out-of-contract, Treo 700p.