My wife found this vintage 1990 Radio Shack commercial last night touting the new, ‘portable’ car phone. Amazing how far we’ve come in 20 years, but also how well the ad foreshadows the fact that people with cell phones walking around in public will become a major source obnoxiousness by the year 2010.
Yesterday I was attending a conference down in Mass, and I managed to forget my phone at home. Of course, I needed to negotiate a complicated vehicle transfer with my father-in-law after the meeting, so the lack of communications was really annoying. Finally frustrated with checking email at random hotspots to get return text messages, I stopped at a Borders and hopped on the free wifi (yes, I bought my obligatory coffee). I was able to download Skype pretty quick, and after charging my laptop for a few minutes, slink outside to call from an alcove in the mall. Surprisingly, the call quality was pretty good, and even on the relatively slow Borders network I was able to stream the call and look up directions on Google maps simultaneously. Car exchanged, mission accomplished.
Thank goodness technology can help us find workarounds for our dependence on technology.
I recently stumbled on a service called CellSwapper, that facilitates transfers between people with existing cell phones and contracts. This lets you switch providers or phones without having to pay the ugly early termination fee, or worse yet, full price for a device. The two-way swap feature is unique and helpful, but there aren’t a lot of phones on there that are any good yet (no HTCs and no Droids). Still, it shows promise.
If you own a Treo 700w or 700wx, you’ve probably noticed an annoying tendency of the phone to drop calls when either another caller rings in or a voicemail notification arrives. Turns out this is a known issue with those models of Treos, and Palm as a patch for it.
It’s actually very simple to apply the patch, and if you’re a Verizon Wireless customer you can download it OTA directly from your phone. URL for the mobile page is http://www.palm.com/us/support/mobile/downloads/audio_patch_vzn.html, and you can also get to the page by choosing ‘Support’ on the Palm homepage on your Treo (assuming you haven’t set it to your own homepage).
I’ve had my phone patched for about 3 days now, and I haven’t lost a call since. I’ve had multiple people ring in while I’ve been on the phone, and although I haven’t seen a voicemail come in simultaneously with a call, that’s probably because having a second caller ring in no longer drops both calls. I still can’t pretend I like my Treo, or that I think it’s well-designed or reliable, but I have to admit this really makes it about 5 times less annoying to deal with on a daily basis.
The following is a sponsored review of a site which allows you to compare long distance phone service from multiple different carriers.
If you’re looking for the best deal in long distance phone service, LongDistanceUS is a good place to start. The major companies’ plans are all laid out in order from least to most expensive per minute, and things like monthly fees, minimum usage, and customer service call wait time are listed for each company.
Of all the features listed, the average call wait time for customer service was the most significant in my mind, since something like ‘Excellent’ customer service is a relative term. It’s also nice to see the sometimes ‘hidden’ charges like monthly fees listed right alongside the per-minute pricing, so that you can easily evaluate the plans in their entirety.
LongDistanceUS.com also offers similar comparisons for cell phones, internet phones, calling cards, local service, and business long distance. Their selection of providers is pretty extensive for all categories. For example, the listings for VoIP phone companies goes well beyond just Vonage, with about 10 different providers listed for comparison purposes.
You can also plug in your zip code for a listing of plans available in your area, as some of the carriers may not be nationwide. The site also offers helpful information, such as how to switch long distance service, and has a few FAQ pages covering commonly asked questions about long distance service from companies other than the Verizons and Sprints of the communications world.
Of course, one caveat should be noted here. While the site does claim to be ‘unbiased’ in its listings of the different phone companies, there doesn’t seem to be any areas for user / customer feedback on the different providers. While it’s highly likely that all the information on LongDistanceUS is actually unbiased, there is no way to prove that customer service call times for certain companies were ‘skewed’ by calling them at peak times, or other such tactics. If someone from LongDistanceUS would care to comment and satisfactorily explain the methodology employed to make determinations of service quality, and other specifics about the site’s rating system, I would be completely sold on this site. As it is, I would definitely use it as a starting point for finding a phone company.
While last week saw the much-promoted and heavily-anticipated arrival of the iPhone, another significant advancement in wireless telephone service slipped almost under the radar. German-based telecommunications giant T-Mobile announced the addition of a new feature known as HotSpot @Home, which allows subscribers to use their cell phones over their home wireless network, with unlimited calling, for about $10 a month. For anyone who’s had problems with weak service in their house, or who wants the ability to use their cell number as their primary number, this service has been a long time coming. I personally don’t have a land line at home, but sometimes my cell phone won’t ring in certain parts of the house, and of course, mucho daytime minutes can cost mucho dollars, so cell phones have historically tended to make good land line substitutes only if you could call after 9pm. If only I had T-Mobile service as far north as I am, but no such luck.
As far as the technology goes, ZDNet’s review found a lot to like about the service, and just a few criticisms, chief among them that the service only works with two phones right now.
The bottom line: Despite a few problems when transitioning between cellular airwaves and wireless networks, the T-Mobile HotSpot @Home service is a great idea. You can save money, get better reception, and possibly even get rid of your existing landline. However, we would wait until the service supports more phones.
Another interesting note about the service: since T-Mobile’s approach to wireless has been targeted at family plans in the U.S., you can also purchase the @Home plan for up to 5 phones for only $20 a month, meaning each member of the family can have a private line with unlimited minutes, a feature that will surely have parents rushing to the store in droves.
Utilizing the built-in emergency GPS locater found in most cell phones, this site can help you track down your cell phone (or someone else’s), assuming it is currently turned on. For those of us in the United States, the accuracy is within 25 meters (shouldn’t it say 80 feet???). This is a great service for people who have had their phone recently stolen / lost, as you can just find out where you left it from the site, then go search that 80 foot circle until the little critter appears. It’s a little frightening in terms of privacy, but with companies like Nextel offering GPS tracking for employee phones and the like, what is privacy these days anyway? Plus, you can confuse people this way too–just put the phone somewhere you’re not, and you’re good to go. It worked for Ahhhhnold in Total Recall.
As a side bonus, the site also has a good article entitled “Are you smart enough for a smart phone?”
A couple of weeks ago, while preparing to slog through an almost impossible-to-read map on my Blackberry to find directions, I discovered that Google has made a mobile version of their map software available to Java-enabled handheld devices, including my Blackberry 7130e. For a full list of supported devices, visit this page. The software is pretty easy to use: just type in an address or business type, and the map will show you where it is and/or how to get there from where you tell it you are. It is undeniably neat to navigate to, say, Sandusky, Ohio and ask Google to show you all the pizza places in town, even if you’re nowhere near Sandusky, Ohio.
The interface is obviously much better, since it’s designed for the tiny screen of your phone or PDA, not a computer monitor (my Blackberry was capable of using the Google Maps page beforehand, but it took forever and was very unwieldy). You can save favorite locations or searches, and zoom in and out quickly and easily. In fact, my only complaint is that, while the software offers both a road map and a satellite view, you cannot overlay the two as you can on real Google Maps. Other than that, though, this is a worthy download for your phone. Just visit mobile.google.com on your phone’s web browser to get the app.