Hurray! AT&T brings high-speed cellular link to Brooklyn!

ATT Cingular LogoIt’s been in the works for quite some time. AT&T, in fact, did announce that they are expanding their 3G/HSDPA network and other good things will come to those who wait. However, last couple of weeks I did experience some cell service outage and started thinking that moving to AT&T’s GSM network wasn’t, probably, the best idea. Today, however, I was very much surprised, when while standing on a subway platform in Brooklyn instead of regular E icon I saw 3G . This is indeed very good, since now my newsreader is able to finish downloading all the packages in no time and I can, finally, follow the links from the blogs and feeds I am reading while on the subway.
On the same note – Verizon phone was showing EVDO icon for quite some time now. I just wasn’t really paying attention to it.

Let me brag a little on how this should benefit the small businesses (one of which I am a proud owner of). First of all – it lets you justify purchasing some of those cool smartphones or PDA phones. Not iPhone though, sorry, iPhone is still on a slow EDGE. Second, you may be able to beef up your sales pitch with the help of your web site – some of our clients have been doing just that (they report that the impact is tremendous). Third – it’s cheaper to communicate via e-mail/messaging/web then through the phone, although most of us don’t realize it yet. This, actually, allows you to purchase a plan with less minutes and use data connection for messaging. I am yet to test Skype on my HTC Advantage, but I am sure it’ll work much better then on EVDO.

With all that said – I can’t wait for WiMax. Oh, and Verizon – where’s my FiOS?


HTC Advantage 7501 has arrived

HTC Advantage 7501 with Windows Mobile 6So, the first impressions.
The device was ordered August 17 from Amazon, half a month after I have discovered the existence of HTC Advantage (aka Athena) 7501, but arrived almost 3 weeks later, last Friday. While unpacking I came to a realization that the device is just a little too big and a little too heavy. It’s of a size of a small pocketbook, yet I don’t really have any pockets for it (except with winter coming – maybe somewhere in winter jacket). So I end up carrying the unit either in hands or in my backpack, which isn’t really a good idea.

First off – the phone capabilities of this HTC Advantage 7501. Let me go ahead and make a bold statement. Anyone talking with this thing next to his or her head looks dumber then a monkey talking through banana. At least monkey has a reason for that, while no sane human being has no reason to talk into that big black box with shiny screen. Throughout the weekend I used speakerphone (it’s quite decent, try it). First thing I did when arrived at my office – paired my Bluetooth headset with Advantage.

Snap-on magnetic keyboard is a real blessing if you need to type URLs, SMS, short e-mail or use instant messenger, but don’t count on it for lengthy letters. It’s just a little larger then regular thumb keypad, and smaller then any decent size keyboard. I was, however, able to get used to it after couple of days. Keyboard acts as a screen protection when Advantage is stowed away, as a very firm stand (see picture) but absolutely gets in a way when using PDA in a portrait mode. HTC supplies the device with nice leather cover that holds the 7501 by special latches and the keyboard just snaps to magnets hidden in a flap. Overall, if you can get to any horizontal surface – HTC Advantage is a great tool, that will allow you to type away whatever you need.

Not quite so if you don’t have such surface. As a part of my daily routine I spend around 1 hour in NYC subway. Good thing I almost always get a seat. Bad thing that MTA didn’t get tables by them. Reading eBooks from large, 5-inch screen is much like reading a real book. Except for the sun, since the 7501’s screen is almost invisible in bright sunlight. Note to self: I think I saw a protective self-adhesive cover for screen, must try that tomorrow. Writing or typing while holding the devide in the air is very complicated, since the 7501 is much larger then any other PDA, keyboard isn’t in a right place and if you decide to go with on-screen tapping or writing you must hold the device in a proper fashion which isn’t an easy thing to do. Currently I am giving a try to Spb Full Screen Keyboard, but found myself adapting to use attachable one more and more often. After all, it is a real keyboard.

The built-in GPS wasn’t very useful last Saturday, when I was a bit lost while driving to Renessanse Faire. While passengers in the car were very supportive and understanding about my geeky need to figure out how to make Advantage show us right directions it still worked pretty slow, probably because I used Google Maps for Mobile instead of pre-installed, subscription-based (and for some reason non-functioning) TeleNav. We used Garmin Nuvi 360 in the meantime, to get to the place.

Video playback was a major disappointment. DivX programs encoded to 512×384 pixels with 24 fps were a snail-paced slide show (I used Core player, since Windows Media player just won’t accept the DivX video at all). For comparison – the previous HTC that I owned (BlueAngel) was able to play the files flawlessly (if only dragged a little during fast-action sequences, but I don’t watch movies on PDA at all, so it’s okay). However, when I re-encoded files using Pocket DivX Encoder – everything just started flying (and files took much less space – around 100MB for PPC video as opposed to 600MB for source). Now 8GB microdrive starts looking real spacious.

Concluding the first impressions I should add that charging via USB cable yields weird results – battery indicators showed anything they wanted and not the real status of things. Another dis-Advantage is that device is using miniSD memory cards, instead of full size SD (I believe there was plenty of space for it) or microSD.

Knowing how lazy I am I probably would not post a full hands-on review, but I will try to get pictures of line-up of all my devices – Samsung i607, Verizon VX6600 (HTC BlueAngel), HTC Advantage and maybe even iPhone. Stay tuned.


Phones Issue

Last Saturday I switched to Cingular New AT&T. The circle is complete now. My first phone was some brick Nokia from AT&T with 200 minutes calling plan. I don’t even remember what I paid (something around $30 – 40, I believe). Good thing was that the phone was virtually indestructible – it was dropped, accidentally thrown, stepped on, fallen off various heights. It still worked for me and even after I gave it to my (older) sister, who was even less cautious. Bad thing was that getting through to me was mission impossible.

Then I switched to Sprint and (not knowingly) got the ever-famous StarTAC phone. The phone was so good, I didn’t want to leave Sprint even after 70% of my calls were dropping or I couldn’t get a connection with full-signal bars on my phone in the Middle of Manhattan. And in the basement I was living in it only worked if placed on top of my 19″ MAG monitor, where it was constantly falling off of. With a little push from my ex-girlfriend, I switched to T-Mobile.

The phone I got was some cheap small Motorola that didn’t really want to be bothered with both incoming and outgoing calls. Some smart movements later I switched to Samsung SGH-R225. One more indestructible phone, I had three of them, after servicing me for over three years I gave them away. As far as I know – they still work. Another Samsung’s creation – E715 – was next to perfection. Small, yet comfortably fitting the hand, it was my all-time favorite. I still have it somewhere around. Unfortunately, while trying to unlock it something went wrong, service in Ukraine reflashed the memory with Vodafone firmware, but it still says “Phone is locked. Return for servicing”.

But the reason I later switched to Verizon was that they have their glorious EVDO Rev. A network, that allowed me to use their phone/PDA (Audiovox 6600 AKA HTC BlueAngel, CDMA edition) to browse internet from virtually everywhere. Or pair it with my laptop via Bluetooth and use as a modem. In the middle of Manhattan you can get a decent speed (around 400-500Kbps), but if you are somewhere where the phone is in the roaming mode (as I found myself around Bear Mountain) – you are out of luck. Still, it’s a great (although quite heavy) device, too bad Verizon “went TV”. By the way, the screen on today’s PDA phones is much much better for viewing video, then on any “smart” phone Verizon currently has to offer. I watch TV shows all the time on my 6600’s screen when I work out – for anything except feature movies it is excellent.

So why AT&T again? Because they’re 3G (although in Brooklyn the most I got was either EDGE or GPRS). Because they GSM (meaning I can use any HTC/ETEN device I can get stateside, including HTC Advantage/Athena which sits in my Amazon queue). Because I can use same device in Europe without much hassle and not hunt for yet another device to take with me. Because if anything happens I can take the SIM card out of the non-working piece, put it into a backup phone and instantly have my phone connectivity back, so when my clients call me – they wouldn’t get a message like “Please call a backup number XXX-XXX-XXXX” just because it takes a week to replace insured Verizon phone.

Overall – it’s not like the Cingular/ATT is significantly better, it’s just more convenient to continue to do my business. And last, but not least, you should have seen my girlfriend bouncing off the walls and dancing with her brand new iPhone. I already feel a bit jealous.