November 11, 2010

AT&T vs. Sucky Hotel Internet

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 12:46 am

OK, AT&T. You win. The Holiday Inn Express in Palm Springs, the Hilton in Northridge, the Sandman Inn in Santa Barbara, the Hilton Suites in Phoenix, and the Hotel Arizona in Tucson have finally broken me. Take your $10, and be happy.

My iPhone provides so much more of a reliable internet connection than the wifi at any of these establishments, that I have exceeded my 2GB data allowance for the month for the first time since giving up the unlimited plan.

I could have made it, I think. I was on day 28 of my month. If things had gone well, I might have just snuck in under the wire. But trying to stream TV shows on my night off sent me over the edge. It’s physically impossible. And it’s really pathetic that I could connect with a freaking phone and watch shows without interruption. On AT&T, no less! So I decided that the internet this month has been so sucky that I deserve to be able to watch a show I want to see on my night off, and I don’t care if I have to pay ten bucks to do it.

This is why I tolerate AT&T’s tethering plan. I know what happens when you tour. You get screwed over by every hotel you enter — blocking ports (this one blocks my favorite MMO, and AIM, of all things, and God knows what else), terrible bandwidth, and things that load so slow that whatever you’re trying to do just plain times out, even if that thing you’re trying to do is check your email. And then there’s the Herberger Theater, which blocks email ports. There are times when you are so frustrated by lack of bandwidth that paying $10 per GB for a connection that works and is yours alone is actually worth it. I knew this day would come, and I am not upset at AT&T. I kind of wish I hadn’t hit this limit on something so frivolous like a 500MB TV episode, when I have plenty of other TV shows on an external hard drive, but it was more about expressing my freedom to do whatever the hell I feel like on the internet, when I want to.

So there. Are you happy now, AT&T? I’ll be giving you your 10 bucks, and I said something nice about you. Mark this day on your calendar.

October 28, 2010

Wireless Priorities

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 5:52 pm

I’ve been sitting on this one for a while.

For many years I’ve been a member of Howard Forums, where totally dorky people go to talk about cell phones. I’ve been a member since 2003, at which time I was struggling with a T68i on AT&T, and about to switch to Verizon when cell number portability was introduced.

Even back then, one of my primary concerns was tethering. The T68i was one of the first phones that could tether, via bluetooth or infrared (remember infrared?). At the time I wasn’t as concerned with tethering my laptop as I was with tethering my PDA (remember PDAs?). Back in the day, smartphones were either clunky, poor in features, or both. If you wanted a really good PDA you had to get its internet from the outside. So it was a big deal that the T68i could tether pretty easily (easily being a very relative term). Verizon, of course, didn’t want anybody tethering, sharing, communicating or anything else, because they hadn’t figured out how to monetize it, so their phones did nothing. Except make calls, which was something AT&T’s phones couldn’t do, at least not in NYC. People make fun of AT&T in NYC now, but in truth what we have now is a huge step up from when you could press your head against a window and still not be able to get a call out.

A brief aside: on the plane to California I finished listening to one of my favorite podcasts: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (iTunes link), and his 4-part series on the Eastern Front of WWII. In it he remarks that the battle between Germany and Russia (or more specifically between Hitler and Stalin) was not a good-guy-vs.-bad-guy fight, but bad-guy-vs.-bad-guy. As I was about to contrast the policies of AT&T and Verizon above, I was initially going to say matter-of-factly that Verizon locked down their phones because they’re evil, which in that context seemed to imply that AT&T was or is not. This is not the case. They are both evil, just in different ways at different times. Being a Verizon or AT&T customer does not put you on the right or wrong side of a battle. Like the Russian and German civilians, you will be screwed no matter which side you’re on or who is dominating the other at the moment. So never take my bashing of one carrier as an endorsement of the other.

Anyway, I don’t read HoFo nearly as much as I used to, since I have been a smartphone user since 2005, and there are generally better forums for specific smartphones, rather than having to delve into the particulars of hacking your phone to work with your PDA. As an iPhone user in particular, there are much more focused places I can get my tips and user support. HoFo is a great resource for talking about phones and phone networks, but I generally only check it these days if I’m having an AT&T issue that isn’t directly related to the iPhone.

Because of this inactivity, I hadn’t updated my profile in years. HoFo has some nice profile sections that allow you to add information specific to the topics discussed, such as what phones you own or have owned, and what’s important to you.

This is what my profile looked like when I found it:
I think the most important phone feature is:
reliable reception

I think the second most important phone feature is:
fast data

I think the third most important phone feature is:
lots of software choices

Is this the answer of an iPhone user? Fast data, yes. HSDPA is far faster in theory than Verizon’s EVDO could ever be. Software choices, well yes, there’s an app for everything. But my #1 priority was reliable reception. At the time I updated this, I’m sure I was a Verizon user. That just struck me as really odd and strangely hypocritical. Not that there’s anything wrong with changing one’s priorities, but it’s interesting how a phone can suddenly make the most important priority a non-issue.

So I updated my profile, since it was embarrassing that I was an iPhone user and said that on my profile, and also since it’s obviously no longer true for me. So I thought about it for a few minutes and decided on:
I think the most important phone feature is:
easy sharing of data between cloud and desktop

I think the second most important phone feature is:
fast data

I think the third most important phone feature is:
reception (mostly for data)

You know what else is really interesting? No mention of tethering in either case. What is up with that? Is it because those other things like reception and bandwidth are requirements for tethering? I suppose tethering isn’t actually a “phone feature” as much as it is a carrier decision. Most advanced phones support tethering from the manufacturer, whether the carrier chooses to enable it or not is something else entirely. In fact if it wasn’t for tethering, I wouldn’t be writing this post, cause the Hilton wants $10/night for internet. Thanks to tethering, I blog on.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting to get this unexpected snapshot of my changing beliefs about mobile computing, and how the industry has changed consumer expectations in recent years.

January 12, 2008

I Have Left Verizon and Palm

I call this: phones — Posted by KP @ 12:25 pm

One thing I haven’t mentioned because of all the time I spent working and blogging about Frankenstein, is that I have had a major shift in my telecommunications life.

To recap:

  • I have been a Palm user since 2000 (my first Palm phone was the Treo 650 in 2005)
  • I had AT&T from 1997-2003 and HATED it — couldn’t make calls indoors
  • I switched to Verizon and despite hating their policy of crippling all the good features out of their phones, their reception is pretty much perfect in NYC.
  • I am a Mac user and as such am opposed to Windows Mobile for both philosophical and logistical reasons.

Then this happened:

  • As I excitedly blogged in May, Palm released the Treo 755p for Sprint. My Treo 650 at that time was dying.
  • Verizon was rumored to be releasing it in July, then it failed testing
  • I bought a 700p and extended my contract because I seriously needed a new phone
  • I was one of the first people to get the maintenance release for the 700p that supposedly fixed it. This blog made PalmInfocenter, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world, despite being labled a “he.”
  • The Maintenance release turns out to have some horrible bugs, and a relatively minor one which causes the phone to randomly make audible DTMF tones even when silenced.
  • After way too much time they release another fix which still doesn’t fix the DTMF bug (which I was able to notice within 30 seconds of buying the phone). It turns out the 755p also has the bug.
  • At this point I give up on Palm OS.
  • Months go by, the 755p continues to not be released, and the 700p continues to be buggy.
  • Palm announces that their next generation OS is at least 12-18 months away.
  • Verizon is rumored to be soon releasing the HTC XV-6800, known as the Mogul on Sprint. This is a Windows Mobile 6 device. By now (September) I’ve decided to turn to the dark side for multitasking and a modern OS. Meanwhile AT&T is about to release the Tilt (aka HTC Kaiser), which is the next generation version of the 6800.
  • The 6800 fails testing. AT&T announces the Tilt release for October 5.
  • October 5, I call all over town before I find an AT&T store with one in stock and jump in a cab on my lunch break.
  • I try out the Tilt for a month and decide to keep it and cancel my Verizon account, with 20 months left in my contract.

So my AT&T experience has been quite good. Reception is definitely not as good as Verizon’s, but it’s the difference between being able to make a call from the basement of a basement behind a cinderblock wall or not. My usage has shifted a lot in the last few years, too. I use my phone far more for data than for voice, and I find AT&T’s 3G and HSDPA networks to be very fast. Overall my Tilt accesses the internet much faster than my Treo, which is probably more to do with the phone’s hardware and software than the network, but the important thing is that it’s faster.

I’ll be posting more details about this whole experience in the future, specifically from the perspective of someone moving from Palm OS to Windows Mobile.