Category Archives: Mobile Devices

AT&T Rocking 4G LTE in the Twin Cities

Looks like today is the day when AT&T flips the switch on full-time LTE for the Twin Cities.  I noticed back in September that the State Fairgrounds was lit up and providing some nice download speeds.  Also the U of M campus and a few other northern suburbs have been enjoying that functionality as AT&T was going through testing.

I can’t find an official release on AT&T’s website, but a few media outlets are reporting this too.

heraldonline.com

Star Tribune

Pioneer Press

Windows Phone 7 GSM Only at Launch?

Kind of a bummer for Verizon and Sprint customers who were hoping to have one of those new Windows Phone 7 devices in time for the holidays. 

Initial reports indicate that Microsoft will delay the launch of an OS that will support CDMA technology in order to focus on GSM.  This is probably for good reason as CDMA is widely used in the United States, but not much at all beyond that.  GSM is the predominate technology overseas and in other foreign countries.

That being said, AT&T and T-Mobile would be the first to offer the devices, while Spring and Verizon customers will have to wait till sometime in 2011, when CDMA support is rumored to be made available.

"We had to make some trade-offs," senior product manager Greg Sullivan told CNET today. "Even Microsoft doesn’t have unlimited resources. We had to prioritize doing fewer things, really, really well." (Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13860_3-20016752-56.html#ixzz102lPKtPl)

Virgin Mobile Doesn’t Survive My Bag of Gadgets

Only a week after I had purchased the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go USB card, I returned it to Best Buy, the exclusive reseller of this product.

Last week, I wrote about the Broadband2Go card with somewhat of a glowing review because of the fact that it was available without a contract and actually connected through Sprint’s EVDO network.

So why didn’t it survive my bag of gadgets.  It’s pretty simple. 

Windows Only Support

I use both a Mac and PC and most of them time I am using Windows on top of my Mac.  This means that wherever I go, I usually have my Mac with me so I can work on both personal and business-related stuff.

Even though the Virgin Mobile website indicates that the system requirements include Mac OS 10.3, and the modem drivers actually install on my Mac, there is no “Connection Manager” type software.  I did manage to get the modem to connect to the Sprint network, but attempts to surf the web were filled with errors and lots of slowness.

I should’ve known this from the beginning when I discovered that the modem had to activated (programmed) on a Windows PC.

Weird Connectivity Issues

I call it “weird” because I got it home and found that I only had one bar for reception off of the card in Windows.  The activation process was extremely slow – took me about 30 minutes in whole to get the card activated.  Page loads were slow.  I have never had problems with Sprint coverage in my house previously.

Questionable Customer Support

Since not working on a Mac was a deal breaker, I returned it to Best Buy.  I called Virgin Mobile to cancel my account and was greeted with someone who I couldn’t completely understand and in the end took about 15-20 minutes to close my account as he “worked on the system”.  I was holding a screaming baby for all of the 20 minutes, but that didn’t seem to make him work any faster.  When I was asked about why I wanted to cancel, I plainly told the rep that the card didn’t work on a Mac.  I didn’t expect any technical banter, but I did also mention that the Virgin website includes Mac OS in their system requirements.  In the end, my account was closed, but my opinion of Virgin Mobile, although somewhat appealing, is now questionable.

In the end…

I still wanted to have an aircard so I went back to Best Buy and purchased the AT&T Quicksilver aircard.  This aircard has support for both Mac and PC and was functional and ready-to-go when I left the location. 

Both Windows and Mac have a connection manager that gets installed as soon as you insert the card.  I found this to be handy. 

The only quirk for me was that the firmware update that was recommended required Windows to apply the firmware update.  My opinion is that if you are going to support an OS, make sure that your application and any required utilities also support the OS.  Although they clearly noted on the website that the Mac firmware update was in development, you need to have this.  If I am a “Mac-Only” user, I’m left in the cold if I need that firmware update (which according to the website connectivity issues and provides stability), things that most people would like.

Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go USB Aircard

I picked up a Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go USB modem for my laptop tonight.  I travel fairly regularly and like to have access to the Internet when I am on the road.  Since AT&T hasn’t enabled tethering for it’s iPhone users still, I wanted to find an aircard that would allow me to get Internet access wherever I may be.

I thought about purchasing an AT&T card, but wasn’t crazy about having to sign another two year contract even though the hardware was free, or pay $60 per month for data access.  In addition, monthly data transfer was capped at 5 GB.

Other vendors like Sprint and Verizon offer similar plans.

The one that I found that was pretty intriguing was the offering from Virgin Mobile called “Mobile Broadband2Go”.  Virgin Mobile prides itself on not signing it’s customers up for contracts, but providing affordable hardware and service at competitive prices. 

The USB modem cost me $99 at Best Buy.  While the competitors tend to give away their hardware for aircards, they get you by signing the two year contract and put you in a position to pay an early termination fee if you decide to quit your contract early.  $60 is a lot of money on top of an existing cell bill just to provide data access.

I intent to use it both with my work laptop which is PC-based running Windows 7.  I also plan to use it with my MacBook Pro.  I thought I would activate it using my Mac, but what I found out is that when you insert the USB modem into a USB port on your Mac, it will automatically start the installation of the modem drivers.  However, the configuration of the connection is completely manual and up to the user.  The process is a little different on a Windows machine.  When you insert the USB modem, an installation for a Connection Manager is started which installs the required drivers and an application to manage the aircard connection.

The important thing here is that initial activation of the modem has to take place on a Windows PC and not on the Mac.  Since when Connection Manager is started, it brings you to Virgin Mobile’s website where you can enter all of your account information.  It in turn gives you a couple sets of numbers which have to be entered in the Connection Manager to program the modem before it is usable.  During this time you will also select a rate plan or how you want to handle the data access on your account.

Once I followed the process to activate the modem on the Windows PC, I was then able to take it out and put it into my Mac and make things work. 

Why did I pick Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go?

1. No contract commitment (and no activation fee)
2. Pay-as-you-go Plans
3. Uses Sprint EVDO Network

Why I would possibly consider another carrier like AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon?

1. Quality of network
2. 5 GB data transfer/month vs. 1 GB max on Virgin Mobile
3. Price savings on larger data transfer plans

Who is the Mobile Broadband2Go suited for?

In my opinion, it is probably best suited for the person that needs occasional Internet access while on the go.  If you are an everyday road warrior, you’ll probably find that traditional aircard plans are better suited for you.

Get Schooled at iTunes U

This is pretty cool.  Apple is partnering with educational institutions and using iTunes as a mechanism to get educational content to a user’s mobile device such as an iPod or iPhone. 

“Mobile learning” as it is dubbed, allows students to download content when it is convenient from a school-created website or from the iTunes Store.  If the student is using an iPhone, they can discuss the content via chats, email, and social networks 24×7.

“Today’s students expect constant access to information—in the classroom and beyond. Which is why more and more faculty are using iTunes U to distribute digital lessons to their students. And now, with the 3.0 software update for iPhone and iPod touch, iTunes U is directly accessible over both cellular and Wi-Fi networks through the iTunes Store.”

Educational content is delivered in the form of a podcast.  Podcasts can contain both audio and video which means that a lecture that contains both spoke as well as slideshow content can be integrated into a single download and automatically pushed to a subscribing student via iTunes.

Much if not all of the content from institutions like Yale, Oxford, and Wharton are free, so not only can students take advantage of this resource, but so can adults already in the workforce looking for a refresher from categories like Mathematics to Social Science, Humanities and beyond!

You can check out iTunes U here.  (iTunes is required)

Are The Technology Gaps Ever Filled?

First and foremost, I am a Windows user. I have been forever. I was a “blue badge” so I was very much a “fanboy” of Microsoft from the platform to desktop apps to mobile devices and still pretty much am. I have also opened my eyes to other computing technologies like the Mac and iPhone.

I used to try to make my Microsoft software work the way I wanted in every case. There really wasn’t any other solution. I have moved away from that thought process, and accepted that some other technologies do the job better.

Take Windows Mobile for example. I owned no less than 10 devices in a matter of less than five years because I thought that the issue had to be the device, not the platform. Last year, I finally purchased an iPhone. I absolutely love this device and it will take me a long time to go back to Windows Mobile. Perhaps if Microsoft controlled the hardware platform for Windows Mobile devices, they might share the same success that Apple has had.

I also have a MacBook Pro, which runs virtualization software so I can run Windows. Since most enterprise companies still use Windows as a primary platform, I too still use Windows for 95% of my work-related business. I have had few issues with the Windows platform for the most part; I was even a fan of Vista. I didn’t see all of the same issues that caused droves of people to jump on the anti-Vista bandwagon. I still prefer Vista to Windows XP, a sentiment that isn’t shared by many. But at the end of the day, I run it on my MacBook. I do most of my blogging from a Mac now, I get all of my newsfeeds on the Mac, and Twitter too! Bottom line, a lot of Mac apps offer better stability and robustness compared to their Windows counterparts. Whether this is related to the platform or just bad coding, that’s a topic for a different day. Microsoft wins at a lot of battles – I favor Visual Studio and Office 2007. Those have been solid, just as a lot of the server apps like Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint.

Since I have had my Mac I have looked for ways to synchronize files and folders. Between my Macs would be fine, but across platforms would be even better. Apple’s MobileMe is a nice solution, although I don’t believe $99/year is worth what it gives me. Yesterday I was searching around for file sync tools on the Mac again and came across Microsoft Live Sync. I’ve used Live Sync for file storage on the PC side, but I was surprised to find that a Mac client was available. I installed it on both of my Macs, as well as my Vista laptop and work laptop too. I started syncing folders and they appeared across the platforms. Amazing! (and free too).

Looking further, I started digging into Microsoft Live Mesh which bridges the gap for connected devices allowing them to sync files and access their desktops all over the Internet. This provides the ability to access applications on one system that might not be available on another. Better yet, Mesh incorporates mobile devices and Macs. File synchronization is great across platform, but I wish I had the ability to remote control my Mac from one of my Live Mesh PCs. Since the remote control uses an ActiveX control in the browser, this is not possible on the Mac, but bringing a Java applet into the mix might take away this barrier.

I would say that in the last 2-3 months, Microsoft has introduced some very interesting technologies like Bing and Live Mesh (beta). Bing is closing in on it’s Google competition, and I have even started using it as my primary search engine. We’ll see how the landscape changes when Google finishes their open source OS.

So, with all this being said, it’s really not about being an Apple Fanboy or a Microsoft Fanboy, but more-so about who delivers the best solution for the problems at hand.


First Look: HTC Touch Cruise

cruise I had originally ordered this device back at the beginning of November.  What I found most intriguing when I was looking for a new device was that this device was small, light, and had a GPS on-board. I put in my pre-order and expected it to be in my doorstep the week before Christmas.

No such luck.

As product release dates slipped, so did my hope of getting my hands on this powerful little device.  About two weeks ago, the shipment date had again slipped to the end of February.  I decided it was time to cancel that order, and put in an order for what I considered to be the next best device: the S730. 

From my last post, you now know that I received that device.  The problem was, I received a shipping notice for “my shipment” last Friday.  When I clicked on the link, it took me to my original order, which was supposedly canceled.  The difference was it was on a UPS truck somewhere between here and Chicago.

I decided I would take my chances and give the Touch Cruise a try.  So, last night I received my package and proceeded to unbox this device.  What a surprise.  Smaller than I expected, almost smaller than the S730.  How could so much goodness be squeezed into such a small casing?

Well, to make a long story short, I took my S730 and put it on eBay tonight.  I definitely like the Touch Cruise and everything it has to offer.

So, what makes the Touch Cruise so much better than the S730?

Processor & Memory
Although both of these devices have the Qualcomm MSM 7200 400 MHz processor, it seems that something in the way the Touch Cruise is setup makes it noticeably faster.  The Touch Cruise does have 128 MB RAM compared the 64 MB RAM on the S730.

The lag issues that I experienced with the S730 are non-existent on the Touch Cruise.  I run a number of applications at once on the TC with no problems, while running 1 or 2 apps on the S730 yielded memory errors rather quickly.

Size
About the same size as the S730 without the extra thickness as a result of there not being a keyboard on the Touch Cruise.  This is something I thought I would miss, the the onscreen keyboard works decent enough to get around with, and I have found several free iPhone-like keyboard apps available for Windows Mobile online.

Battery Life
Considering what this device is capable of, I was rather impressed with the batter life.  I used the GPS for about 35 minutes this morning, used DirectPush all day long, took several phone calls and with all that, I still had 75% of the battery remaining at the end of the day.  The Touch Cruise ships with the 1,350 mAh battery, compared to the S730’s 1,050 mAh battery.

Applications
One of the nice applications that I found on the Touch Cruise was Opera, a web browser with the ability to do screen scaling and a bunch of other features.  You can buy it retail, but its kind of nice to see it included with this device as a competitor to Internet Explorer.

In addition, TomTom Navigator 6 is included.  No maps are bundled, but you get to download one free city map.  That’s kind of lame, but I guess it gives you enough of a taste to see if you want to buy the while map package for $150.  I am sticking with my ALK CoPilot Live 7.  CoPilot has some great features.  The only complaint I have is that the maps in my neighborhood are out of alignment, which is annoying when trying to navigate out of here.

Overall Impressions
Like I mentioned, I listed my S73 on eBay tonight.  I really have a lot of faith that the Touch Cruise will be my device for some time to come.  I’m getting used to not having a keyboard and going back to a touch screen, but it won’t be long till I don’t even realize that I don’t have them anymore.  The added GPS functionality is great and can be used for any GPS-aware app like Windows Live Search and Google Maps, both of which I have loaded on my Touch Cruise.

First Look: HTC S730

s730 I received my HTC S730 from Mobileplanet.com a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve been using it now to replace my T-Mobile Wing.  Here’s a quick rundown on what it does and my experience with it so far.  I’m pretty particular about what I expect from my mobile devices.  The closest I’ve been to a perfect device was with my T-Mobile Dash.  Let’s take a look at how the S730 stacks up.

Size
The size of the S730 is perfect to slip into your pocket, although a little thicker (about .75 inches) than what I am used to.  Having had the Wing and the T-Mobile Dash, this phone fit the candy bar profile, but obviously wasn’t quite as thin as the Dash.  The weight seems lighter than the Wing and comparable to the Dash.  Overall, size is nicer and fits well in the hand.

Battery Life
Battery life so far seems to be pretty decent with DirectPush and Bluetooth all day.  I usually hook it back up to the charger before bed every night.  I haven’t used it enough to run it below 40-50%. 

Performance
The S730 has the new Qualcomm MSM 7200 400 MHz processor which is suppose to be pretty fast and also have the GPS capabilities built into the chip, however the GPS functionality is disabled on this particular phone.

Initial indications are that the device really isn’t that fast from a visual perspective, but speculation amid the Internet is that HTC is not shipping the correct driver (or any driver for that matter) for the video on the device which shows up in performance from anything like loading an application to screen refreshes.

Additionally, even though the device ships with a 256 MB ROM and 64 MB RAM, on a cold boot the device will only have 10-12 MB of free memory which doesn’t leave much for running applications.  This memory problem has also been acknowledged and is suppose to be fixed in an upcoming ROM release.

As far as data performance is concerned, this device supports HSDPA (high-speed data), however, T-Mobile in the US has very limited if any coverage for HSDPA at this time.  Users in Europe have found that HSDPA tends to eat lots of battery.

Applications
This is a smartphone, so it ships with Windows Mobile 6.0 Standard.  This means that the Office Mobile applications included are only capable of reading documents and editing existing documents; they cannot create new files.  For some, this is a shortfall, but then again, I don’t know how many people use Windows Mobile to actually create Office content.

Nothing out of the ordinary ships with the S730 from an application standpoint.  The standard Windows Mobile apps apply, as well as a Task Manager, but other than that, nothing special to write home about.  But why include any apps when you don’t have the memory to run them? 

Extras
A front and rear camera on this phone is a neat feature especially when video calls become more mainstream.  Until real high-speed data is available in the US, this probably won’t be all that useful.  Nonetheless, the camera on the front of the phone is a VGA camera, while the camera on the back is a two megapixel.  I’ve heard complaints about this, but what do you really expect your phone to do?  It’s a high expectation for a device that does practically everything else for you while in your pocket.

Overall Impressions
The size of this device is perfect and it fits the role of phone first, data device second.  This is the type of device I prefer. 

The sound quality is decent and the phone worked when expected.  Again, I use it as a phone first, and then email second.  It’s important for me to receive my email and calendar, but its critical that I can answer my phone when it rings and the party on the other end can hear me.

The performance isn’t quite there yet for the power user and hopefully with the help from HTC and a new ROM release, these issues will be taken care of.  However, the typical user in most cases will find the performance and capabilities of this phone completely acceptable.