Category: Mobile

Verizon Gets the iPhone

As you might expect, people ask me a lot of questions. Because I review a myriad of cameras, printers, and cell phones, I always get questions about these devices. For the past six months, the two questions that I have been asked the most are: “Will Verizon get the iPhone?” and “When will Verizon get the iPhone?”

My answers have been:  “Yes” and “Sometime this year.” This week proved my answers correct. Verizon just announced that they will be selling the iPhone starting Feb. 10th with existing Verizon customers able to start pre-ordering on February 3.

Those of you who were waiting for this announcement can immediately start cheering. There is, no doubt, a pent up demand for the iPhone on a carrier other than AT&T. This is especially true in our area where AT&T service is slow and spotty. So if you are thinking about getting an iPhone from Verizon, here’s what you need to know.

The Verizon iPhone uses a different underlying cellular technology. AT&T uses the GSM technology while Verizon uses a technology called CDMA. You really don’t have to worry about the underlying technology except to know that the AT&T iPhone has a SIM card while the Verizon iPhone does not. Since GSM is the technology that is used world-wide, but CDMA is not, the AT&T iPhone has world-roaming capabilities but the Verizon iPhone will have extremely limited capabilities for world travelers.

Because of the differing technologies, an iPhone that was purchased from AT&T cannot be used on the Verizon network. In reverse, if you purchase a Verizon iPhone it will not be able to be used on the AT&T network in the future. In the Verizon iPhone, Apple also rearranged the antennas to improve reception. Because of this, the volume rocker switch has been moved slightly. You may not even notice the difference, but if you have an iPhone case that had a cutout for the switches, even the AT&T iPhone case may not work with the new Verizon iPhone.

However the iPhone 4, which is the current version for both AT&T and Verizon, will pretty much look and act the same. They look almost identical with Apple’s slick, thin, high-tech appearance. They will both have the 940×640-pixel Retina display, 5-megapixel camera with HD video capture, and FaceTime. If you have purchased Apps from ITunes for an AT&T iPhone, all of those Apps can be used on your Verizon iPhone.

The actual price of the iPhone will be the same at AT&T and Verizon. Both are charging$199 for the 16GB iPhone and $299 for 32GB iPhone. In order to get the iPhone to work, in addition to your cellular talk and text costs, you must also purchase a monthly a data plan. This is true with all smart phones on all cellular networks. AT&T charges new customers $15 a month for 200MB; $25 for 2GB. Verizon has not made iPhone data pricing information available yet, but the company’s data plans for other smart phones are: $15 a month for 150MB; $29.99 for unlimited.

One other difference between the two iPhone is that the new Verizon iPhone will be able to act as a hotspot, meaning that with an addition monthly fee to Verizon, you will be able to use your Verizon iPhone to get up to five other devices like laptop computers on the Internet. This, however, is not a big drawback for the AT&T iPhone as it is scheduled to get the same capability with a software update that will be available soon.

This brings us to another important point – iPhone updates. The iPhone has gone through 4 generations with each new generation coming with a major release of the iOS operating system, which runs the iPhone. Each of these was introduced in June. Each generation ushered in huge changes. These included things like the 3G cellular network capabilities, a compass, the ability to take video, a second camera, and a higher-resolution display.

This leaves everyone wondering if they should jump on that Verizon iPhone now or wait until this summer to see if a new version appears? The other question that is being asked is if the Verizon network is strong enough to withstand millions of new Verizon iPhone users. Although Verizon says that they are prepared for this, it obviously depends on how many iPhones Verizon sells and how much people use their voice and data network.

In any case, this is a win-win situation for consumers. Those of us who want an iPhone now have a choice of carriers and more competition between the carriers is good for the consumer.

iPhone or Android

Those of you who follow me know that I recently moved from AT&T to Verizon and from an iPhone to a Droid X. Well, now that Verizon is selling the iPad, it looks like they will also be having the iPhone soon. Wall Street Journal and others are betting that the iPhone will make its appearance on the Verizon network in the first quarter of 2011.

I made it clear that I am happier with Verizon than I was with AT&T, so several people have asked me if I would want move back to an iPhone when Verizon gets it. Unless the iPhone has some updating, the answer is no. I find the Android phone easier to use and much more customizable.

The one place that the iPhone’s excels is that their dual cameras are better than any Android that I’ve seen. After that, Android phones compare admirably or come out on top.

For instance, the Retina display on the iPhone is fantastic. However, in a side-by-side comparison, the Super OLED screens on the Samsung Galaxy phones are almost equal. The iPhone is very thin and sleek, but it has a glass screen. Being just a tad clutzy sometimes, I would rather have a screen that is a little more drop-proof.

The Android phone’s let you organize things and let multi-task more easily than the iPhone. And for me, the bottom line is that the Android lets you customize everything. With the Andoid operating system you can have 7 home pages and you can put just about anything anywhere. That allows you to create a system of organization that let’s you access what you need quickly and easily.

I sure that Apple is working to improve the iPhone and in the future, it might be better than the Android phones. But for right now. Andoid is my choice!

Move from At&T to Verizon & iPhone to Android

Well, it’s been several months, so it’s time to give you an update on how my move from AT&T to Verizon and from the iPhone to Android went.

All-in-all, I can sum it up in one word. Fantastic. Although there were a few glitches, especially in my first Verizon billings, I am very happy with both Verizon and the Droid X.

I am truly enjoying the Android operating system and like it better than the iPhone operating system.

Some things are a little different with Verizon. For instance, at AT&T with the iPhone, voice mail just appeared on the iPhone with no extra charge. With Verizon I was having to call in to voice mail and listen to my voice mails in succession. After a few weeks, I also realized that this was using up minutes and making me go over the limit on my minutes. That’s when I found out that Verizon has something called “Visual Voice Mail” that is an addition $2.99 monthly fee. When I added that to my package, the voice mail appeared on the Droid as it had on the iPhone. It was much easier to manage and my minute usage went down considerably. I really wish that the Verizon rep had told me about this earlier. Yet, Verizon was nice enough to give me an extra 150 minutes for free during that first month’s voice mail fiasco.

Even with the addition $3 a month, my Verizon bill is almost identical to what my AT&T bill used to be. The service, however, is better. Now, I am sure that this differs in different parts of the country, but here in the Sandhills of North Carolina, the Verizon cell service is without a doubt better and faster. Also personal service that I received at the Verizon store as well as on the telephone has been better.

I still think that the cell phone companies need to be reigned in to stop the exorbitant charges for texting, the ridiculous long contracts, and early termination fees. Yet, Verizon has been both responsive and flexible.

Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate Cell Phone Review

Samsung has a new line of smart phones call the  Galaxy S mobile phones. These include the Captivate  from AT&T, the Epic 4G from Sprint, the Vibrant from T-Mobile, and the Fascinate from Verizon. These are phones that run the Android Operating System, have fast processors, and fantastic Super-AMOLED screens. They have a good design and sturdy built. All are candy-bar type phones with touch screens.

I took a close look at the Fascinate from Verizon and was blown away by the clarity of the 4″ screen. It was as clear and crisp as the iPhone 4’s Retina display. One big difference, however, is that the iPhone 4’s screen is made of glass while the Fascinate’s is plastic. When dealing with a device that can be easily dropped, I’ll opt for the plastic screen.

The Fascinate has a list of excellent features. The capacitive touch screen is quite responsive and is a joy to use. The battery life is adequate for a day’s normal use. Call quality on the Verizon network was excellent. The Fascinate has WiFi (802.11b/g/n), Stereo Bluetooth 2.1, and an AGPS radio. It can be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot. It takes 720p videos. The camera is especially nice for a cell phone. It has auto focus and an LED back light and you have more control over the settings than I’ve seen in any other cell phone.

I love the Android operating system. Although this is not a deal-breaker, I would have been happier if the Fascinate came with Android 2.2, which is the current version rather than the older 2.1.

So what’s else is not to like? Well, Samsung adds it’s own skin over the Android operating system and I am not a big fan of this interface they call TouchWiz.  It gives you Bing as the default search engine and does not allow you to change that. It has a silly on-screen puzzle-piece that you slide across the screen to unlock it. It also defaults to Verizon navigation instead of Google Navigation, which I like better. I wish that if phone manufacturers were going to add overlays like the TouchWiz, they would allow users to turn them on or off at their discretion, but right now that is not the case.

Bottom Line:

There are many good smart phones to choose from right now. The Fascinate is certainly a quite capable phone. Up against competition like the Droid X, the Droid 2, and the iPhone 4, it can hold its own. All-in-all, with the smart phone arena becoming more and more crowded, it becomes necessary to decide what is important to you and to make a purchasing decision based on that criteria. If you are looking for a cell phone with a great screen and a great camera, and you are using Verizon, this may be the phone for you.

The Good:

  • Excellent screen
  • Good sturdy design
  • Good camera and video capability
  • Speedy
  • Wonderful camera features
  • Adequate battery life
  • Wi-Fi hotspot mode

The Bad:

  • Ships with Android 2.1 instead of 2.2
  • Poorly placed USB port
  • Voice commands through Bluetooth not available
  • Music player lacks sync’ing and playlists
  • Lighted keys turn off too quickly
  • Default search engine is Bing, not Google, and we couldn’t find a way to change that
  • Defaults to Verizon Navigator instead of Google Navigation in all areas

To read my more detailed review with pictures, check out Hardware Secrets.

Common Cents Mobile from Walmart

Common Cents Refill Card
Common Cents Refill Card

Common Cents Refill Card

Just how good can a mobile phone with prepaid service that you can purchase at Wal-Mart be? Well that’s what I set out to inf out when the folks at Common Cents Mobile sent me a Samsung M340 (Mantra) cell phone along with a pre-paid card worth $20 of cell phone service.

Actually the Samsung phone is an attractive clam shell phone that has a nice shape and fits nicely into a purse or pocket. This is a basic phone. You probably won’t want to use it to listen to music. It has a camera, but takes terrible pictures. And surfing the Web on this phone is possible, but cumbersome. That means that this is a good phone for making and receiving phone calls and handling your address book. It has voice dialing, voice commands, and is Bluetooth compatible. You probably won’t need much else in a basic phone.

Common Cents uses the Sprint backbone, so if you get good service from Sprint in your area, you will get good service from this phone. Overall call quality is good and battery life is excellent.

The pre-paid Common Cents service works quite well. Just purchase a refill card from Wal-Mart or refill your phone with a credit card by calling Common Cents or going to their website. Common Cents prices are some of the lowest that I’ve seen. They also differentiate themselves by rounding down instead of rounding up when you make or receive a call. So if you make a call that lasts 1 minute and 35 seconds, most other cell phone companies will charge you for 2 minutes. However, Common Cents will only charge you for 1 minute. This can result in substantial savings.

Bottom Line

This  phone is has very good call quality and excellent battery life. The phone’s menus are easy to navigate. The phone book is good and the functionality gives you everything you need in a basic phone. The voice dialing and voice commands are a welcome feature.

Most won’t use a phone like this for email or surfing the Web, but it is nice to know that this functionality is available if needed. Unfortunately, the phone itself is marred by low-resolution displays, poor photo quality, and a proprietary charging port. If you can live we these hardware drawbacks, the phone will serve you well.

The Common Cents service seems to be excellent. Calls we made to them were handled well. The website is informative and easy to navigate.

The Good

  • Small and comfortable in the hand
  • Good call quality
  • Excellent battery life
  • Easy to navigate
  • Good address book
  • Inexpensive
  • Good, inexpensive Common Cents pre-paid service
  • Voice commands and Voice dialing
  • Common Cents service is well-priced
  • Round-down minutes feature is very good

The Bad

  • Low-resolution displays
  • Poor photo quality
  • Proprietary port for charging
  • Proprietary headset port

Check out my full review with pictures at Hardware Secrets.

Simple Cell Phone for Seniors – Snapfon eZ One

Snapfon ez ONE
Snapfon ez ONE

Snapfon ez ONE

While millions are clamoring for smart phones and manufacturers are putting a lot of time and energy into producing them, it is refreshing to know that there are still some simple cell phones whose main function is making and receiving calls. The Snapfon ez ONE is just such a phone.

While the focus is on telephone calling, the Snapfon also has some simple additional features like texting, an FM radio, and a fairly bright LED flashlight. There is, however, no MP3 player.

As you can see from my picture, the Snapfon has a very large numeric dialing pad. The large white numbers (28-point font)  on a black background are very easy to read. They are lighted so they are perfect for those with vision difficulties. The phone also has a talking keypad feature. You will also see clearly marked navigation keys and a green answer (OK) button and a red end key.

The Snapfon is an unlocked GSM phone so it can be used with GSM compatible carriers worldwide. In the U.S., both AT&T and T-Mobile provide SIM cards that can be used with the Snapfon. There are also many smaller local carriers whose unlocked SIM cards that can be used by the Snapfon. The Snapfon will also work with pre-paid SIM card providers, as long as their SIM cards are not locked.

Snapfon Back
Snapfon Back

Snapfon Back

The Snapfon also has one surprise feature. On the back you will see a  large orange-red button. This is the S.O.S. button. After you activate and program in the numbers that you want the S.O.S. button to call, in an emergency you simply hold the S.O.S. button for 5 seconds. This will sound an alert and will activate the automatic emergency calling. The phone will consecutively call the 4 numbers until it received a response. If you don’t enter any numbers, the phone will call your local emergency response center.

The Bottom Line:

The phone has large keys and a talking keypad that will be welcome to the vision impaired. The S.O.S. button will also appeal to many users because it offers an emergency lifeline without an additional monthly costs.

This phone is easy to setup, easy to see, and easy to use. Because it is unlocked, you can choose your own service and service plan. It costs about $100. Check it out at: http://snapfon.com.

Pros:

  • Very good size and shape
  • Unlocked
  • Big, bright keypad buttons
  • Large, 28-point screen font with large text
  • Large clear text on screen
  • Talking keypad
  • Long battery life
  • S.O.S. button
  • Useful LED flashlight
  • FM Radio

Cons:

  • No radio presets
  • Proprietary headset
  • Sliders on side seam loose

Gmail Adds Ability to Call Phones

Last month Google started a new Gmail feature called “Call Phones”. While you could previously use Google Chat to chat with online friends while using Gmail, this new feature allows Gmail users to call phones right from their email account. What a great idea! Not everyone is always online. So when you are checking your email and you want to discuss something in further detail, you can now reach your friends whether they are online or not.

You simply click on the “Call Phone” link that appears on the left side of the screen and Google will immediately place the call. Calls to anyone in the United States and Canada are currently free. This includes calls to landlines and cell phones. Calls to other countries are cheap, as little as 2 cents a minute for many. Check the Google Voice website (https://www.google.com/voice/rates) for rates. The new service even includes computer-to-computer video calls.

Gmail users took to this new feature by the droves.  In the first week, they made more than 10 million calls using the new Call Phones Gmail feature. I was among the new users. I couldn’t wait to try out this new free service.  Every landline, cell phone call, and International call that I made was crisp and clear. Like Skype, there was a slight delay on International video calls. I made some calls with Skype and immediately followed them up by making the same call with Gmail. I would have to do a larger sampling from various Internet connections to give call this a real test, but in my limited testing, the Gmail calls were equal to or slightly better than the Skype calls.

With Skype you get free computer-to-computer calling but have to pay a fee for calling land lines or cell phones. With Gmail even these calls are free. However, Google has only promised free calls for the rest of this year. After that, they may be charging for some or all of the calls.

If you already have a Gmail account, you can try out this new service right from your Gmail screen. If you don’t yet have a Gmail account, sign up for one at www.google.com/gmail. Once you install and open Gmail, you just click on the “Call Phone” link. You will be prompted to download the Google voice and video plug-in. Then a window with a dialer keypad will appear. Place the call by typing the names of a contact in your Google contact list or by entering a number clicking “Call”.

Of course, you must have a microphone on your computer to take advantage of this free calling. If you don’t have one, you can purchase one for just a few dollars or you can invest a little more and get a web cam that will sit on top of your monitor and act as both a camera and a microphone.

The Gmail calling feature works just as it is. But it can be augmented by another Google free service called Google Voice. If you have a free Google Voice account, you can also get incoming calls through Gmail. Once you set up Google Voice, you can have calls to your Google number, which they give you at no added cost, forwarded to your cell phone or other lines as well. To use Google Voice with Gmail you will have to click on the Settings in Google Voice and put a check mark in the box next to Google Chat in the list of forwarding phones.

Using Google Voice in conjunction with Gmail will also give you access to even more features such as call screening. With this you can send a caller to voicemail and listen while they leave you a message. You can click “Join” at any time to pick up the call.

With Google Voice, you can also get several other perks. Your voice mails can be turned into text and sent to you as email. You can record incoming calls. You can switch from a call that you took or placed while in Gmail to any phone that you have listed as a forwarding number in Google Voice. So you can start a conversation on your computer, but finish it on your cell phone. If you use the Google Chrome web browser, you can click on any telephone number you find online and have Google dial it for you. Google is constantly adding new features, so you can expect Gmail Calling and Google Voice to just keep getting better and better.

I only found two caveats when using Gmail to make phone calls. The first one is that the calling window comes up in the extreme lower right of the screen and may be obscured by other windows. The other is that your microphone may not be automatically recognized by Gmail. If that is the case, click on Settings, choose the Chat tab, and then choose the proper microphone.

Google’s free calling may not be around forever, so if you want to try it out, do it now. In today’s economy, any way we can cut costs is more than welcome.


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