My nephew got up at 2 a.m. to order his. My wife ordered hers at 1:30 p.m. and had no trouble. She really needs a new phone, having put up uncomplainingly with some sort of flip-open LG that might be the worst device ever made.
I took a deep breath, and tried ordering mine at 5:45 p.m. But first I had to register my account. After that, I didn’t get far. By then, of course, the site was overwhelmed with traffic and simply delivered error messages. I started repeating to myself what I always tease my daughter when she complains if eat all the Gummy Worms. “There’s a factory somewhere that, at this moment, is churning out tons of Gummy Worms. This is not a limited commodity. They are making more RIGHT NOW!”
I image the factory floor in China where they make iPhones. “Comrades! No weekend leave! Everybody on triple shift! Verizon has the iPhone!”
So what’s the rush?
Egypt is crumbling into chaos, in large measure because most people stand in line for a loaf of bread they can barely afford. But today, the first of an expected 14 million Americans will line up for a toy that would buy enough bread for Pharaoh’s banquet.
Now I’m thinking, what do I really need with an iPhone? I’m just getting to the point where I only mildly hate my BlackBerry with its crappy software and non-existent support. I no longer fantasize about smashing it on the driveway with my sledgehammer. That’s good enough for now.
At the test in Starbucks, the Verizon 4G wireless modem tested just great on reasonably up-to-date compters. Verizon rolled out is fourth generation wireless broadband service to some 40 locations last month. Speed test pages downloaded way faster than with a 3G cellular modem.
But, I wondered, would 4G show any difference on a sort of crappy old PC? About a year ago I bought a refurbished ThinkPad with a 40G hard disk and I-don’t-know what processor. And, of course, Windows XP. This one is old enough that it’s an IBM, not a Lenovo. I keep it around as a computer-of-last-resort if the other assorted machines around the house fail. Safari is the machine’s only saving grace. I simply can’t tolerate the crawling pace of Internet Explorer.
The VZ Access software supplied by Verizon installed with no problem. And it found the modem just fine. You never know with old PCs. The 4G modem is supplied by LG. It plugs into a USB port. With a somewhat ungainly design, it’s better to use the supplied USB extension cord.
The 4G reception inside of my house was adequate (the Washington, D.C. area is one of Verizon’s initial locations). Two of four bars lit up.
But, what do you know, web pages downloaded with surprising crispness, obviously faster than the 802.11n WiFi that is running in my house. The Thinkpad’s WiFi card is only 802.11g anyhow. More surprising, pages loaded seemingly as fast as a wired Ethernet connection to my FIOS service. A test at bandwithplace.com showed the reality of 8.81 megabits per second download and 2 megabits per second upload. Not wire speed, but an order of magnitude faster than 3G wireless.
So in my estimation, the investment in a 4G broadband data plan is worth it even on a relatively slow machine.
The battle of the wireless coverage maps is about to go up a notch. Verizon Sunday night switched on its long term evolution (LTE) wireless 4G service. The company is promising 7 megabits to 12 megabits per second downlinks and 3 megabits to 5 megabits uploads — that is, up to 10 times faster than its 3G network. Those are roughly the speeds promised by Sprint, which until now has had the 4G broadband wirelesss market to itself in the U.S. Verizon’s service will be available in 38 cities and 60 airports initially, including the Washington D.C. area and its three major airports.
Bernie McGonagle, Verizon Wireless’s associate director of federal government data solutions, said the service should be available on the GSA Networx contract and other vehicles shortly, but that it had to be up and running before the company could add 4G to existing purchasing vehicles.
The service is available via two USB modems. McGonagle said Verizon will offer 4G smart phones by mid-2011.
For the technically-minded, the services uses frequency division multiplexing, a way of using bandwidth efficiently that’s analogous to wave division multiplexing in optical networks. McGonagle said use of multiple input-multiple output antennas both at the tower and device ends helps maintain signal continuity at long distances from the nearest tower and faster throughput at closer distances. Verizon’s implementation will use a 2 x 2 antenna setup initially. He added that lower latency in 4G transmissions will noticeably improve the display of video and audio content on portable devices.
McGonagle said Verizon is also adding megabit Ethernet to its towers so the terrestrial backbone itself will be less of a bottleneck. Plus, a set of services called IP multimedia subsystem is maintains sessions as locations and transport protocols change.
Verizon’s 4G service will also use the 700 MHz spectrum formerly used for television broadcasting. The company obtained the spectrum, known as Upper C Block, in an FCC auction in 2008. Google had entered the fray, using its clout to have open access rules attached to the sale, but it is unclear at this point how that will translate into services to users.
For now, both modems available from Verizon — one a Pantech and one an LG — receive both 4G and 3G network data. They will be priced at $99 retail. Plans are not cheap, at $50 per month for a 5 gigabyte limit and $80 for 10 gigabytes, and $10 per gigabyte it you exceed your plan.
When you work in morning drive time radio, as I do, you learn to go to bed early and turn out the lights. Or in my case, put on the plush blackout blindfold since 8:30 p.m. isn’t exactly my wife’s idea of a normal bedtime. So we live sort of overlapping lives.
The other night I was up ’til 9:30, in bed watching YouTube videos on an HTC Droid Incredible over Verizon’s 3G wireless network. After my earlier post excoriating the BlackBerry, Verizon Federal loaned me some Google Android phones to play with. And so one way to test it was to watch videos–specifically some really obsure ones of pipe organ recitals. The Incredible did a, well, nearly incredible job of smooth motion video. The pipe organ — which produces frequencies beyond the capabilities of even the most capable analog hi-fi systems of yesteryear — was at least recognizable on the Incredible’s tiny transducer. The Incredible could also drive my studio grade headphones with no trouble. But of course that was still a lo-fi experience, as is all compressed sound.
None of this would have occurred if Apple offered the iPhone on Verizon’s network, because I would likely have gone from Palm to iPhone. Funny, but just this week Steve Jobs, who knows his company is running hard on all 12 cylinders, publicly jabbed Google and Research In Motion for having inferior software.
Android phones have been on the market long enough that both the strengths and weaknesses are well known. Google’s OS is a powerful, multitasking environment that has attracted tens of thousands of apps, although not as many as Apple. 90% of the apps in either case are stupid wastes of time. The differences between it and Apple’s iOS have sparked the religious debates typical of these camp issues.
Let me say, I would buy a Droid except HTC Sync is incompatible with Macs, and I am an all-Mac guy. At least the Blackberry pulled in contacts from both G-mail and Mac Address Book. In general, though, the situation in syncing all devices is inadequate to integrate the sources of information people have. Some of my contact information is in gmail, some in the native Mac address book. Of all the things the super-smart phones do, basic organizing still hasn’t surpassed what a Palm could do five years ago.
For real working people, the ability to sync with Microsoft Outlook is a must. And although iCal on my Mac would not sync onto the Droid, some outlook appointments from the radio station mysteriously did.
I also tried the larger and heavier Droid X by Motorola. Both phones are packed with features. The Incredible is slicker, a delightful shiny machine, while the X has high definition video but a clunkier case with a kind of rear foot sticking out the back. The Incredible has touch-pads for its four standard front buttons plus a circular, optical cursor pad. The pad is too close to the other nav touch-spots so I ended up hitting the wrong function too easily. The X has mechanical front buttons. I haven’t yet tried the Motorola Droid 2 with a generously-sized, slide-out real keyboard.
The Droids’ browser was noticeably faster and crisper than that of the BlackBerry. And the pinch-or-flick finger motions on the touch screens let you zoom in much more finely than on the BB.
I’m not a total convert to virtual keyboards, but the on-screen keyboards of the Droids are okay once you get used to them. The Incredible, however, is almost too sensitive, and because of the software design of its e-mail program it is very easy to inadvertently touch a couple of wrong buttons that get you completely lost, unsure where, for example, a reply was lost, sent partially-written, or saved as a draft somewhere.
On the other hand, both the virtual and real keyboards have dedicated <.> and <@> buttons (with the virtuals also having <.com> buttons) — all shamefully lacking on the BlackBerry.
Beyond the feature details, the Droid experience is simply richer and more satisfying than that of the BlackBerry, which seems clunky in comparison.
Which gets to the philosophical question of which smart phone camp is best. Of the Big Three, the market is voting Apple, Google and Blackberry, in that order. Whether the new Microsoft Windows 7 phones catch on, it’s too early to say. All but Google share the philosophy of strict control over hardware so that the user interface is the same no matter which phone you choose. With Apple you get a choice only of how much memory you pack in the iPhone. Google has opted for the open strategy, which means hardware manufacturers implement the OS however they want. My feeling is, so what? Most people only use one phone at a time.
I felt good about the Droids immediately, whereas after months I still don’t love the BlackBerry experience. In my opinion both OS/application sets have a way to go, but the Google OS and the applications that come with the Droid are all superior. None of these machines, iPhone included, is as intuitive to use as the advertising would have you believe, but they’re still indispensable to a digital life on the go.
Is it possible to really like a mobile device? Nah.
People with Androids and iPhones seem enamored enough. But the rest of us, not so much.
After having owned and used a Palm Pilot, Palm III, Palm IIIc, Palm V, Palm VII, Palm VIIx, Treo 600, Treo 650 and Centro, I decided to make a switch. The new Palm Pixie seemed flimsy, and although Hewlett Packard had acquired Palm, I thought it would be too long before a better device came out. And the Palm operating system had become stale.
So I took the plunge into Blackberry. Why not iPhone? Simple. I wanted to stay on Verizon’s network. Verizon, for whatever faults it has, has always provided good support.
Since everyone else in the business world that doesn’t have an iPhone seems to have a BlackBerry, I joined that crowd. Now I’m wondering, what is the big deal? The BlackBerry is a mediocre system. What I’ve learned:
1. In 2010, it is still a horrible chore to switch platforms if you hope to keep a database of contacts and preserve your calendar. Retail store help is universally ignorant of any sort of practical understanding of how people actually use devices. Once you transfer data from one device to another, you’ve got weeks and months of corrections and de-duplications to do, one contact at a time.
2. The Blackberry desktop sync software is pathetically primitive and slow, actually a little worse than Palm’s ancient application, and it doesn’t come with a nice organizer app for the desktop like the venerable Palm Desktop. And, BlackBerry Desktop simply doesn’t capture everything you’ve entered into an application it does purportedly sync with like Address Book on the Mac. Or it takes every iCal entry and puts it twice on the device. Or something else goes wrong. Moreover, it does not capture photos from the BlackBerry and move them to your computer. I do give it credit for being Mac compatible.
3. Whereas Palm offered free online help in the form of chat sessions with a person, Blackberry has no free support unless you go through the carrier. Otherwise you pay BlackBerry $60, or are on your own with an incomplete instruction booklet or a confusing online knowledge base. For one problem I encountered you get back a matter-of-fact message: no fix. I’m afraid to download the updates when advised by BlackBerry — the first two times I tried it wouldn’t load or install and I don’t want to wipe out the device.
4. The BlackBerry device itself is only so-so. I don’t know why, but I expected a dramatic increase in speed and spiffiness when I unwrapped my BlackBerry Tour 9630. I give it high marks for battery life, solid construction and good looks. The screen is bright and sharp. But some of the software is inferior to my humble, discontinued Palm Centro. Switching between phone calls is an exercise in faith. The browser seems several generations old. The messaging and dialing interfaces are due for an update.
5. While the keyboard is good, there is no dedicated <.> button. If there is a way to lock the shift or supershift buttons, I haven’t figured it out.
E-mail, of course, is the BlackBerry’s strong suit, and I have three accounts coming into mine that keep me up to date when I’m on the go. But I’m still searching for the device that’s a good phone, good organizer and good e-mailer all in one. I’m stuck with the BlackBerry for a year. I’m getting used to its limitations and finding new little things to both love and hate.