technology travel

Starbucks Experience – coffee, cakes and Wi-Fi

Due to some personal commitments (read: being engaged to a wonderful beautiful woman) I spend quite some time in a Starbucks near 7th Ave South and East 11th Street, New York, NY, waiting to pick her up after work. Regular visitors and staff already know me well enough to stop making passes on me, as well as learning that whatever I order is “to stay” and not “to go”. So, this post isn’t about them.

Before the ill-known Wi-Fi take-over by AT&T this Starbucks’s connection never had an issue. I come here with either one of my three laptops (my personal favorite T60p, smaller X61s or horrible company issued HP Compaq 6710b). None of them had any troubles connecting to T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi. Not until some time after AT&T took over.

Now, I am not trying to bash AT&T altogether. I am happily using their 3G with either BlackJack or Tilt (sometimes with my laptop tethered) while my fiancee’s second most loved thing on Earth is her iPhone (I hope I still hold the first place). What I was expecting to see from this clash of providers is that at the converted locations customers would experience intermittent outages while on T-Mobile hookup. You know – login process times out on you couple of times. Then some of your web sites are so slow that you can’t really so anything. Then the connection is dropped for no apparent reason. And that is just what I have been fed up with for previous two weeks. So much so that I had changed my weekly routine that I only have to spend one day of the week at that location.

A ticket submitted to T-Mobile customer support two weeks ago finally got answered today. In brief it says: “Yes, it’s a converted location, if you have any problems – call this number or that number”. Surely, just a template, with some name attached to it. Two weeks to send a canned reply – something tells me it isn’t a company that cares about me being their client. After all, if I decide to go with AT&T for Starbucks’ Wi-Fi, it’s going to cost me two times less money. Once the takeover by AT&T is complete, there would be not much incentive to keep T-Mobile, right?


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.