Dipping Toes in 1X Waters

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By BeenFooled
April 8, 2003

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My old cell phone finally broke. RIP old Samsung 6100 (IS95), you served me well.

Walked into a Sprint store thinking I'd spend $150 on a new low-end PCSVision phone.
Turns out $150 got me a high-end phone, since I was upgrading to a plan with Vision. So I scored a Samsung A500, currently one of the two top phones from Sprint. I've been playing with it for a few days, quite intensely at the weekend.

I am happy with the phone and am familiar and quite happy with Sprint for voice. These comments relate to the "3G experience" of the phone, the new part for me.

As expected, the phone screen is too small to really view any kind of rich content - especially now that we are all used to high quality multimedia on our computer screens. The viewable area of my phone screen is 128x112 pixels.... ummmm.

It's a great gee-whiz gadget: I downloaded a smattering of pictures of the family, a bunch of games, etc., all for free (see later comment). I even paid $3.95 (good for a month) to try a news service by the name of 1KTV. This gives a color slideshow to accompany the spoken text on a quite wide variety of news items. Not too bad.

The main disappointment is that everything I downloaded had to be done through a (free) third party site. Sprint seems to positively discourage you from actually sending any data through your phone, unless it is carefully controlled by them. You'd think you'd somehow be able to get a picture of your family into your own phone easily (other than by buying the Sprint camera, that can be attached to the phone). But no, you have to go through some rather convoluted route, which I believe would be quite daunting to 99% of the audience. It's certainly a lot harder than you'd think. All along Sprint warns you ominously that you are not downloading "trusted content".

Another disappointment is that stuff takes forever to download! Say what? Where's the speed of this 1XRTT device? Downloading even a short text email message takes perhaps 20-40 seconds - I am sure there's a lot of handshaking going on as overhead, but really, we are talking about 200 bytes + text headers: this should take a second or so. And wasn't this supposed to be "always on"? Very weird.

I have bought a data cable, I will try to use the phone as a laptop on my modem, and we'll see if that goes any better. This is another thing Sprint discourages you from doing: good luck finding any data cables out there, certainly not from Sprint. In fact, even the Sprint store guy confirmed to me that Sprint is purposely stashing these cables because they cannot tell if you are connected using Vision through your phone (unlimited free) or using your phone as a modem off your laptop, for which they'd like to charge you the per megabyte rates they charge business CDMA-modem users, but do not know how. Therefore you substantially have unlimited dialup connections if you get hold of the data kit. We'll see - I'll report.

So far I'd say the cool factor is worth the few extra bucks for Vision. And the few tidbits like email to the phone etc. will have staying power. Most websites fail to load properly (buggy browser I think), so as a surfing device this is not operational. Good news is that there exist plenty of hacking sites out there for the phone (this particular model seems to have caught the attention of the "open your source" crowd), so a lot of stuff is being developed for it. A lot of it is in its infancy, but Sprint's own offerings seem to be pre-natal (if you want to carry the metaphor), so better than nothing. (I wonder if this is because Sprint insists on rolling their own J2ME stuff rather than Brew? I wonder if the Brew experience with Verizon would be any better). Since it's so few bucks I expect a few people will sign up for Vision.

But I don't think that I am holding a broadband mobile killer app in my hands right now.

(bleeding edge and long QCOM)

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