First of all, please forgive the crudity of this illustration. I didn’t have time to build it to scale or to paint it.
One of the very best neato things about living on the edge of forsaken nowhere is that when plagues once again descend upon the nations and bands of flesh-crazed reavers begin terrorizing the countryside, you’re usually the last to go. Usually.
After that the list of benefits begins to diminish somewhat; I can hear my heartbeat in the disquieting nocturnal stillness, and one time I watched a giant water bug fly off with a bunny. Not a Superman-Lois Lane, Can-You-Read-My-Mind kind of fly-off-with, but a fly-off-with of the most unsettling variety.
Having lived cheek-to-bowel with sixty trillion people in the Sphincter of the Universe™, gaining a little elbow room seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately, we gained enough elbow room for, hell, I dunno…everyone, and now it’s a ten-mile one-way trek to the nearest McDonald’s. (We never eat there, but it’s a reliable proximity marker of civilization.) For those who require a sports reference to comprehend any distance longer than “over there,” that’s the length of 194 football fields. Or if you’re from Toledo, 924 bowling alleys.
This means that on the metaphorical scale o’ quality, cell reception out here lies somewhere between a mummified squirrel’s rectum and a bucket of cockroach feet. Often I can’t decide which is better.
When we backed the moving truck to the front door and began tossing our crap into the house, we had a contract plan from Cingular–two TDMA Nokia handsets (3360 and 5165) with 300 anytime minutes, unlimited N/W, and .25 cents per message. Cingular worked fine where we came from; hardly a dropped call and reception as clear as the air of Asgard, but here my sturdy little 3360 simply looked confused for a moment, then uttered a plaintive “Mom?” before collapsing to the floor, unresponsive. I still dig it out and fiddle with it from time to time, marveling at the fact that the once-diminutive pre-GSM Nokia weighs about as much as a rump roast.
This is why reception and call quality are of utmost importance in any handset that I buy. Many people who review phones on publicly accessible websites fail to make the distinction between reception quality and call quality; they assume that a loud, clear earpiece means they’ve got good reception, when all it really means is that they’ve got a good earpiece. Good reception coupled with a good earpiece is just about unknown–I’ve had plenty of phones with one or the other, but trying to find both is like trying to find an ethical lawnmower repairman or an intelligent radio talk show caller. Truly good reception quality (not to be confused with “good enough” reception) can’t be credibly discerned by someone living forty yards from a tower.
The phones that I’ve used with the best reception performance are the Motorola C139, the Krzr K1, the Razr V3xx, the Motorola E815, the Motorola V190, and the BlackBerry Curve 8310. This means that the phone will find and keep a radio signal where others might falter and display a “no service” message. However, this doesn’t mean that the phone will have great earpiece quality; the V190 comes to mind in that it will hold on to a signal like a salivating constrictor, but I’d rather communicate using paper airplane notes than talk on it for any length of time–the earpiece not only distorts voices, it’s uncomfortable to hold against your head. The toothy bastard will snag a radio wave, though, and with an earbud or the loudspeaker it’s not bad at all.
The LG Scoop, from Alltel, is an example of a phone that gets mediocre reception, yet offers superior earpiece quality. It’s also free of most of the deal-breaking hidden quirks that drive me insane after a couple of days, like unnecessarily complicated text messaging menus and poor construction quality. The Scoop’s drawbacks are mainly its size and the questionable usefulness of its qwerty keyboard, which is too big for efficient double-thumb typing.
I have very, very few gripes with the Curve 8310, simply because it does everything that I want it to do, even without using it for email or any of the native BlackBerry services. It has great call quality and good reception in an area that, four years ago, was a one-provider rodeo. The screen and back cover are easily smudged, but I’m trying very hard not to be such an obsessive tit about it. To demonstrate how much I’m growing, I didn’t even affix a custom-cut PSP screen protector to my Curve. Fingerprints still hurt, though. A lot.
When it comes to buying a phone, especially on a contract plan, first check out the provider’s exchange policy. If they don’t let you bring that lemon back and exchange it for something else at least once, don’t sign with them. Don’t let anyone push you into overbuying something that you don’t want or need just because he’s low on contract activations that month. Instead, do some research on your own; check out Cnet’s excellent mobile section, along with Phonescoop, and HowardForums for honest advice from people with no personal financial stake in your phone purchase.
And remember, as with any business, it’s not their money until the check clears.