Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Internet Connection Sharing is Amazing

I am on the road this week, working from a hotel and Starbucks primarily.  My hotel provides a wireless connection throughout the building which is a great thing.  The downside is that it basically dies in the evening when everyone gets to the hotel and slows the pipe to a trickle.  The other major downside is that it is incompatible with Microsoft VPN software.  What to do?

I recently switched phone providers from T-Mobile to AT&T.  The reason for this was actually quite simple:  It was waaay cheaper to switch to AT&T, get a brand new Blackjack 2 phone along with the 3G network offered there (T-Mobile is GPRS only right now) than to remain a T-Mobile customer.

I remember reading from Omar about using ICS with the Blackjack 2, so I give it a try.

Wow, the AT&T 3G network is amazingly fast (~863 Kb/s down, ~281 Kb/s up) for a phone.  But more to the point, it is faster and more reliable that the hotel wireless, plus it lets me VPN into work to boot.  That feature alone is worth the price of admission.  It's a shame that the Blackjack 2 doesn't have any way of getting Hotmail into your messaging app or that they didn't include ICS by default.  But, using the hack that Omar pointed out goes a long way to fixing some of it.  Very nice...

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

On Retaining Customers

When I see companies act against their own interests it really no longer surprises me.  I suppose I have become so jaded in a sense that I can now accept that people and companies are completely inflexible from what they have been told to do.  I see this all the time, from the people at TSA that cannot make a judgement call on whether a 5 year old is a terrorist, to company presidents that believe a good business model is to sell a single screw for 50 cents and ship it for $7 (not to mention who get pretty mad when you ask if they are serious).

Case in point, I tried several months ago to upgrade my craptastic HTC Wizard phone to the new slider phone from T-Mobile called the Shadow.  My office mate, David has had good things to say so far about it, so I figured I would give it a shot.  Here's the rub - I have been a long time T-Mobile customer, so I no longer have a contract.  However, that does not mean that I get new customer pricing.  In fact, it means I get zippo for being a loyal customer.  If I want the phone, I need to pony up either the full price or I have to pay $150 and get a new two-year contract.  Keep in mind, if I was a new customer, I would get the phone for $79 and get a two-year contract.  Where's my motivation?  If I switch to AT&T, I could get the Blackjack 2 plus a much faster 3G data connection (T-Mobile is still on pokey GPRS) for only $69 and *no* contract (Microsoft has an awesome deal with AT&T).  Even if I wasn't getting a stellar Microsoft deal, I could get that phone and data plan for much cheaper by switching companies.  I mean, if you are gonna get screwed into a 2 year contract, why not take the one that screws you for less?

I pointed out that it was cheaper and faster to go with AT&T than remain with T-Mobile to the representative on the phone.  They told me to try going to the store in Redmond as they might be able to do something there more for me (as they deal with Microsoft all the time apparently).  A few weeks later when I finally got to the store, the answer was the same - "Nothing we can do" and "I don't have the authority to do that".  I don't think I was asking for a lot - just give me the same pricing as a new customer and I will even take a 2 year contract.  T-Mobile keeps me as a customer, and I get a new phone - a win, win.  Sidenote: I wasn't really surprised because as I mentioned, I am used to this now and I was dealing with the same company, that if you change your service plan to a higher (more expensive) tier will automatically add a 2 year contract.  "We punish you for spending more on our services" is the motto here - how does that make any sense?

Long story short, I quit T-Mobile and I am using AT&T again.  I was able to get the new Blackjack 2 phone, plus all the accessories and a 4GB data card for *less* than the price of the T-Mobile Shadow, plus get a much faster 3G data connection to boot - all without a contract!

Don't get me wrong, I am probably trading one problem for another, but at least I was able to get a decent phone for now and walk away feeling better about the whole situation.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

KJAM is finally back and i-mate still sucks!

What's 5 months amongst friends, really? Did I mention that i-mate sucks?

It turns out that the original repair company from Florida, TOPP Solutions was booted by i-mate for poor repair service and the contract was re-awarded to PocketPC Techs (makers of WriteSHIELD). The best I can figure it, TOPP had been sitting on my phone for some months and not repairing it while they were going through turmoil with i-mate. Naturally, they just sent the phone over to PocketPC Techs with no information. This also delayed the repair a bit since then I had to contact the new repair place and update them on what the phone issue was as well as where to ship the damn thing.

Why was this ultimately i-mate's problem? Some people might wonder why I am not more pissed at TOPP than i-mate. The fact of the matter is that i-mate is ultimately responsible for their product and should stand behind it. After the first month, they should have just sent me a new phone or at least a loaner while it was being repaired. I contacted i-mate about this after the 4th month asking for a replacement or a refund and here is what they had to say:

Also, regarding the replacement and the refund, we would like to inform you that as i-mate company Head Office, we do not sell our i-mateā„¢ devices directly to our end users or customers but through our authorized distributors and resellers, so we cannot replace or refund your device.

That is a really original excuse: "we didn't sell it directly to you, so we can't do anything for you". Apparently i-mate believes that they are not responsible for the customer relationship. You can be sure I won't be purchasing an i-mate again and I really look forward to seeing that company go out of business.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Beware purchasing from i-mate

I didn't want to write this post.  Unfortunately, the time has come.  I was foolish enough to purchase an i-mate KJAM device about a year ago.  This is a Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Phone device.  I am sure I am butchering the name (Microsoft has branding problems, not me) of the OS.  Nino can probably correct me.

The phone is a rebranded HTC Wizard that I purchased through Mad Monkey Boy.  I should note here that MMB is in no way responsible for the problems.  In fact, I would highly recommend him for purchasing your Windows Smartphones and similar devices.

Anyhow, to make a long story short, my phone starting acting up in June of last year starting with the stylus falling out of the device due to some shoddy workmanship.  This seems to have been a common problem with everyone of the Wizard brandings (MDA, KJAM, Qtek, etc.).  Even worse, my phone started making a high-pitched whine each time I started or answered a call.  The whine would last approximately 30 seconds and then would stop suddenly.  I was about ready to pull out my hair it was so annoying.  So, before the warranty expired, I contacted i-mate and asked to get my device serviced and repaired.  It has quite possibly been the most frustrating customer experience yet.

Timeline:

  • 9/4/2006 - Ask for an RMA on i-mate web site
  • 9/6/2006 - i-mate responds asking me to reset my device first to see if it will fix my hardware problems.  Quite obviously a stylus problem will be fixed by a reset.
  • 9/6/2006 - I reply pointing out the absurdity of the canned response
  • 9/6/2006 - They respond asking for 5 pieces of information in order to process the RMA
  • 9/7/2006 - I respond with the requested information.
  • 9/8/2006 - They respond with a request for an additional piece of information
  • 9/8/2006 - I respond with the additional information
  • 9/10/2006 - I finally get an RMA so I can mail my device (at my expense) to a service center in FL.  Great, that only took 6 days!!
  • 10/6-9/2006 - Device is supposedly "repaired" and shipped back to me.
  • 10/20/2006 - I finally get my device since FedEx Ground center is located 30+ miles from my house and will not deliver to neighbor or leave package when I am not home (and I am on road 100%). Grrr...
  • 10/23/2006 - I leave voicemail to FL repair center indicating the major problem "the whine" was not fixed and even worse now.
  • 10/26/2006 - I leave another voicemail at FL repair center after getting no response.
  • 10/27/2006 - I email i-mate again and cc repair center explaining device was not fixed
  • 10/30/2006 - I finally get a response from repair center in FL and they agree to send a shipping label to me to send back device.
  • 11/1/2006 - A label is finally delivered to me (only 11 days!!)
  • 11/1/2006 - I indicate that now I have to leave the country and I don't want the device to be repaired and then mailed if I am not there to receive it.  I indicate I will have to wait until I get back to send the device.  In hindsight, this is incredibly dumb of me.
  • 11/20/2006 - I get back to the country and mail the device back to be repaired
  • 12/11/2006 - I receive notice that parts for my phone are on back order and will be in next week.  These are required for repair. Notice it was 3 weeks just to tell me this.
  • 12/11/2006 - I respond that I understand - I am so nice and patient.
  • 12/20/2006 - I inquire about the status of the phone that I have mailed in for repair the 2nd time one month ago.
  • 12/26/2006 - I receive notice they are still waiting on parts.  So much for the 1 week until parts get there.
  • 1/4/2007 - I ask about status again
  • 1/11/2007 - I ask yet again after no response for a week.  This time I cc i-mate support.
  • 1/11/2007 - i-mate responds (not the repair center) asking for the same information they asked for on 9/6/2006
  • 1/12/2007 - I respond yet again with the same information
  • 1/18/2007 - I ask yet again after no response from either i-mate or FL repair center.  Still waiting...

So, in recap, it has been over 4 months since I have had a working phone.  It is still in limbo at the FL repair center and no one will talk to me.  i-mate is not stepping up and taking responsiblity and just replacing the damn thing.  Moral of the story:  if you buy a $700 phone, make sure you use an AMEX or something like that so you can at least get your money back when the manufacturer holds your phone hostage for 4+ months running and under no circumstances buy an i-mate device.

Friday, 29 December 2006

The Best Bluetooth Headset yet...

I have had 3 Bluetooth headsets over the last 3 years.  My latest headset is the Jawbone.  So far, I am really liking it.  If you haven't heard of this particular headset before, it makes some pretty bold claims to essentially eliminate all background noise using 'military grade' technology.  This makes it suitable for talking on the streets, in the car, and with the TV (or music) on full bore at a bar perhaps.  I can honestly say that the device pretty much works just like the demos on its website show it does.  In fact, it works so fantastically well, most people have trouble believing you are on headset and not a dead quiet room.  I tested this with my wife by standing in front of the TV and cranking the volume.  She couldn't hear it at all...

Pros:

  • Fantastic job at eliminating background noise - you have to try it to believe it
  • Good volume and call clarity
  • Fairly comfortable fit with lots of ears hoops and buds to choose from
  • Swanky stylish - though this is going to be a personal choice I suppose
  • Good battery life and talk time so far.  No scientific testing, but seems to last for hours of talking in daily use

Cons:

  • Pricey.  It is only at Cingular Wireless stores right now and costs $120.  Not a terrible price if you compare it to what these things cost years ago, but not great either
  • Proprietary charger.  I wish it used mini-USB, but it actually uses standard USB at one end and a custom charging tip on the other (which I am sure to lose)

All in all, this one is shaping up to be my favorite headset of all time.  The call quality for both you and the receiver is fantastic.

For comparison purposes, I will also list my last two headsets here and the lowdown on each.

My previous headset was the Plantronics Discovery 640.  All in all, it was a pretty good headset.  Unfortunately, I lost it or someone relieved me of it.  I have all the accessories still, but not the headset.

Pros:

  • Great talk quality in relatively quiet settings.  Very sensitive mic
  • Tons of accessories and charging tips make it versatile and easy to travel (can be charged from a AAA battery in a pinch)
  • Comfortable to wear for long periods once situated
  • Reasonable price for what you get
  • Small - and I mean small.  I might have just lost this one from it being almost too small

Cons:

  • Don't bother using in a noisy car (or with the A/C on and blowing near the mic - even on low).  People regularly complained it sounded very noisy in the background.  This one did very poorly against the slightest wind
  • Perhaps it was me, but I had a hell of a time getting the thing situated on my head such that it would stay and not feel like it was going to fall off.  Once it was on and felt set, it was comfortable, but I found myself constantly trying to adjust it to get it just so

Even with those cons, I was going to purchase the thing again to replace my missing one until I saw the Jawbone.  If you don't feel like spending more $$ and like getting lots of accessories, this one is for you.  Supposedly, there is a DSP model now that is similar to this one, but cuts down on the noise that people I called complained about.

Finally, we come to my first headset, the Motorola HS850.  This one managed to die exactly 1 day after the warranty expired.

Pros:

  • Cheap.  It was expensive when I bought it, but now it's pretty cheap
  • Boom folding turns it on and off.  This is very convenient.  Opening the boom when your phone rings will answer the call (it pairs quickly).  This means that your battery life on this one is pretty good since you can keep it off until you need to talk and then it is on very quickly

Cons:

  • Amazingly crappy volume.  This was my biggest beef with this device, part of it might be blamed on my phone, but I think the majority of the problem was with this device.  Good luck hearing anyone while driving - I must have driven people nuts saying "uhh... can you say that again?"  If this device would have had an ear bud, it might have been great
  • A lot of people complained they couldn't hear me on this device.  I am not sure again how much is to blame on my phone and how much was this device.  Let's just say that the other headsets have not had any problems like this

If they have fixed the volume problem in later models, it is a pretty decent headset for the money and the folding boom is very, very handy for an off/on switch (that's what I miss most).

Saturday, 07 May 2005

Morse Code beats SMS messaging

Now, why doesn’t someone create a program for smartphones that allows us to type in Morse Code then?

http://www.160characters.org/news.php?action=view&nid=1541

 

Tuesday, 22 March 2005

Magneto ROM leaks

Windows Obscenely Long Name Mobile Experience 2005 PocketPC Smartphone Edition (what are they calling it these days?) seems to have leaked onto the web and torrent networks. It appears to be the ROM for the XDA II, but it might work in other models. I hope that an update for the MPx220 is eventually released, but somehow that seems unlikely. My understanding from other sources is that they have been aggressively trying to keep Magneto under wraps, but not so much so that folks can't look at it, but rather early versions did not play nicely with the carrier's networks and caused some havok.

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

MPx220 ROM Upgrade no longer available

For the last few weeks, Motorola decided to pull the ROM upgrade that I had previously referred to. Before anyone asks, NO - I don't not have a copy of it and I don't know where you can get one. I can only hope that Moto pulled it to quickly put up a new and improved version. However, it is more likely that they just hate their customers and wish them hours of frustration as they fruitlessly search to try and fix the bugs that shipped with their phone to begin with.

Saturday, 05 February 2005

MPX 220 ROM Update

Well, it appears that someone at Motorola has decided that it might actually be cheaper and more customer-friendly to issue an end-user installable ROM update for the MPX 220 rather than make customers send the phone to Motorola and wait an indeterminable time (sans phone) while the ROM update was installed for them and finally returned.

http://www.motorola.com/mdirect/hellomoto/experience/mpx220/flash/softupdate.shtml

Happy upgrading.  And no, it does not lock your phone when you upgrade (unlike mailing in your phone to Motorola).