Good Morning, America, How Are You?

May 7, 2008

How often do things work out exactly as planned? I originally envisioned this blog as a kind of prepaid cellular service guide, a place where prospective prepaid consumers could handily glean all the pertinent facts and foibles of various pay-as-you-go providers, including comparisons and specific phone reviews, all while being mildly entertained in the process. Kind of like the Branson, Missouri of prepaid sites. Minus the Tom Jones impersonators and Kenny Rogers.

But the truth is that there are already dozens, if not hundreds, of sites with much more comprehensive information than I could ever hope to collect and collate and present in a coherently fantastic fashion. And frankly the thought of collecting and collating and presenting all that data fills me with a kind of greasy, unnameable dread, so much as to pose a dire threat to my sixteen-year sine vomito record. And as far as personal bodily ejecta records go, that’s one I’d like to hold on to, so I’m not taking any chances.

Thus the inevitable gap between imagination and creative reality grows a little wider, but then again I don’t have to sing “What’s New Pussycat” in front of sixteen hundred swooning early-generation Baby Boomers clad in skin-tight, lime green polyester pants suits. All in all, a fair trade-off. Sometimes life is sweet.

But when a particularly good deal warps into our sector and opens hailing frequencies, I’m bound by my original prepaid prime directive to let you know about it. Please read…on. Can’t find…witty…segue. Losing…all…cognitive ability.

T-Mobile To Go’s recent addition of a pay-per-day option offers three distinct benefits; unlimited 7pm-7am night calling, unlimited T-Mobile-to-T-Mobile calling, and a ten-cents-per-minute rate on regular calls, all for $1 per day, charged only on days which the phone is used for voice calls. This instantly catapults T-Mobile To Go past the likes of AT&T’s GoPhone, Verizon’s InPulse, Virgin Mobile, Boost, and Tracfone, issuing to these competitors a hearty, venti-sized, 1900Mhz Deutsche Telekom finger from its perch high atop the prepaid value obelisk.

For some, the per-day plan holds no attraction. Those who’ve attained Gold Rewards status on T-Mobile’s previous lone prepaid option appreciate the one-year, $10 renewal feature, which is understandable. (After adding $100 to their prepaid accounts, T-Mobile’s pay-per-minute customers can extend their service by one year simply by adding a $10 prepaid card, giving them just-to-have-it cell service for about .83 cents per month after the initial $100.)

With the pay-per-day plan, service is good for 90 days, regardless of the refill amount added. This equates to a just-to-have-it yearly cost of about $40, or $3.33 per month, with four 90-day $10 refill cards added over the course of twelve months. Still an awesome deal, even for the low-use customer.

There are, of course, some drawbacks. For the longest time, until about two days ago, I was T-Mobile’s biggest detractor, as their RF coverage is blatantly poor in many places, including where I live. Their prepaid phone selection is ho-hum; the Nokia 2610 that I used to activate my per-day service has been a pleasant surprise thus far, but the rest of the over-the-counter retail lineup is comprised solely of Samsung handsets. We’ve been down the proverbially foreboding Samsung-GSM alley before, so unless you can throw your Samsung GSM phone out the nearest window and bounce it off a tower stanchion, I’d think twice about slipping your SIM into one of those sinister contraptions.

Another drawback is the somewhat expensive texting rates of .10 cents for each message sent, and .05 cents for each received. While not at bad as GoPhone’s extortionate per-use messaging cost of .15 cents for each message sent or received (AT&T offers messaging bundles for much lower rates, which may be purchased every month only by calling customer service and hacking through a thicket of fifteen tedious prompts), I’d like to see a more economical texting option, even if it includes a higher per-day rate for unlimited texts.

Some might bemoan the lack of unlimited weekends, but considering that the $1 per day charge buys unlimited any-number calling fully half the time, from 7pm to 7am, there’s little to complain about here. The closest equivalent plan if used every day on GoPhone Pay-As-You-Go would cost over $50 per month, with $20 for 3000 night and weekend minutes and the $1 per day access charge. Verizon’s InPulse offers a $1 per day plan that features unlimited mobile-to-mobile, .10 cents per message in or out, and .10 cents per minute all the time. Not completely horrible, unless you don’t know anyone else with Verizon.

If you live in a strong coverage area, along with all other factors considered, T-Mobile has made a bold move that demands the heavy-use prepaid consumer’s serious consideration. Along with their recent 3G rollout in New York City, it makes me wonder what else they might have up their sleeves.

Whatever it might be, it’s gotta be better than lime green polyester pants suits.


Whey of the Samurai

March 26, 2008

samurai.jpgWhen it comes to technology, the Japanese sure know their stuff. This is why, when shopping for a new phone, I always take a look at the newest offerings from Nokia.

A few days ago I signed up for a contract plan with AT&T and came away with a spiffy new N75 for $50. After taking it home and fiddling with it for the better part of a day (six hours), I returned it and opted for a Samsung slider that gets slightly better reception than two Dixie cups tied together with bakery string. I knew this about Samsung, though, so I take this one on the chin and move on. At least it was free. Or closer to $2400 if you consider the cost of the contract over two years, but whatever.

The difference between Samsung’s CDMA handsets and their GSM handsets is like the difference between cannoli and dog shit. (For those of you in Tifton, cannoli are better.) I don’t know what the problem is, but any Samsung phone on AT&T or T-Mobile is bound to exhibit more charmingly antisocial personality quirks than Ed Gein at a church potluck; it’s not that they’re bad phones, specifically, but certain design choices leave me shaking my head and wondering with more than idle curiosity exactly why the ham salad tastes a little funny.

For instance; the A737 is the third consecutive Samsung handset that I’ve used on AT&T in which it is impossible, after thorough scrutiny of all documentation and phone menus, to save incoming text messages directly to the phone. All incoming texts are saved to the SIM, which has an average capacity of about 30 messages, making it necessary to move each individual message to the phone one at a time. My initial response to this is to chuckle a little, then seek out an irresistibly cuddly little woodland creature and step on his adorable little head.

Why? Why do they torment me with delectable CDMA morsels of Ghirardellian temptation like the Hue, which is only available ’round these parts on the Lenny Small of wireless networks? Why do seemingly capable phones like the A737 and the Sync begin to shake and piss on themselves as soon as they’re mated to a GSM provider? It seems as though certain manufacturers shine like Van Eyck when dabbling in one particular air interface medium, yet go all Van Gogh on your ass when working in the other.

Which brings me back, in a roundabout way, to the Nokia N75.

Nokia knows GSM like Oprah knows Ho-Hos, so it’s no surprise that the N75 is generally well-regarded by industry mavens. My biggest problem with it is that it’s larger than I like a phone to be, meaning you could use the thing to paddle your way across the Styx in case Phlegyas is on vacation in warmer climes (cough-Florida-wheeze) that week.

One of the more annoying facets of the N75’s design is that it’s covered with chromed buttons and keys, which collect fingerprints like Mr. Moose collected ping pong balls. I’m one of those ambulatory antiques who thinks that shiny things with fingerprints all over them look like, you know, shit, and I’d prefer not to publicly doucherize myself by wiping down my phone every fifteen seconds with a microfiber cloth. If it hadn’t been for its ungainly heft and cheesy, blinged-out keys, along with the odd rubbery skin that covers the outside, and a UI that’s slower than Paris Hilton completing the Sunday NYT Crossword, the N75 and I would have been a perfect match. It’s too bad that these things so often don’t work out, but like Captain McCluskey, the N75 hadda go. It was just business. Nothing personal.

Its replacement, the Samsung A737, is capable enough, though not without considerable shortcomings. It’s impossible to select a different color scheme for the UI, so unless you’re a big fan of Halloween or the Cincinnati Bengals, you might be disappointed. The phone automatically engages the keylock every time the slide is closed, whether you want it to or not, which must be manually removed by either a button combination or sliding the phone open. There’s no way to change this, and it’s as annoying as providing room and board to an alligator. In your pants.

There’s the previously mentioned text-to-SIM problem. There’s also no way to change the packet data connection without contacting Samsung’s customer service. And, as usual, the signal strength isn’t the best.

Just a little bit o’ control over my own communications experience would go a long way towards drawing me fully into the Samsung GSM compound, spotty RF reception and all.

I’ll even bring my own Krazy Straw.