December 11, 2003

Phone phun

More on the saga of phone switching.

Two days ago, I received my Belkin Bluetooth dongle. Plugged it in and my Mac instantly recognized it.

Yesterday, I got the Sony Ericsson (I always forget whether to double the C or the S) T610 and Jabra headset. Reactions:

  • The phone has very nice industrial design. The buttons are small, but spaced so that I haven’t really had any fat-finger problems, and I really appreciate that they’re laid out as a keypad, not in the amorphous formations Nokia has favored of late. The joystick doesn’t always respond predictably to the “push in” action but is a nice idea. Screen is ok. Color screens on cellphones create more problems than they solve, but it does look pretty. Some have complained that it washes out badly in sunlight–this is a little bit of a problem, but tolerable. The phone’s overall size is a little taller than my old phone when folded, but as slim as the old phone when unfolded.
  • This is my first candybar phone. The previous one was a flip phone, and the one before that was a sort of hybrid that was a candybar–or rather brick–shape with a flap over the keys (this remains my favorite phone shape). This is the first phone I’ve had where I need to worry about accidental key activation–it’s already been making calls without me realizing it. This can be prevented using the key lock feature, but another problem cannot be: touching a key activates the screen; if the keys are constantly being pressed, the screen is always on, and with a color phone, that means the battery gets run down very quickly. The key lock should really be a dedicated slider, rather than a combination of regular keypresses. Time to get some kind of holster. One odd quirk is that the numeric keys can get hooked under the faceplate–when this happens, the soft keys and joystick stop working. Very frustrating and mystifying until I noticed the wayward key.
  • I was surprised that this phone doesn’t auto-discover the time.
  • As you can see, the camera on the phone takes amazingly shitty pictures. And that picture was taken in “high-quality” mode.
    sample photo from phone, depicting wacky Chinese space-babies
  • Bluetooth is a hoot. I love it. It’s a little fussy getting two devices to recognize one another, but from a security standpoint, that’s as it should be. Moving all my contacts from my address book on my Mac to the phone proceeded smoothly–everything is properly tagged, though I would have preferred that the “company” field be ignored. I suppose there must be a way to hack that… Apart from contacts, files can be moved back and forth between phone and computer via a little file browser. This is OK, but really, the phone should appear on my desktop like just another device. Using the Salling Clicker is great fun, in an incredibly nerdy way.
  • After following these very helpful instructions, I succeeded in connecting my Mac to the Internet via the phone. Slow, but usable. This is pretty nifty. Some bandwidth tests: I found a bandwidth-testing WAP page that works in the phone’s WAP browser: a pathetic 1.43 Kbps. (I have actually owned 300-baud and 2400-bps modems. Funny how these things come around.) Using the phone as a modem, and loading the 2wire bandwidth page, I get a more respectable 31.4 Kbps. By way of comparison, that page shows my DSL connection as yielding 1596.2 Kbps. Incidentally, this is much higher than DSL’s nominal 384 Kbps, but roughly in line with similar tests. The more informative Speakeasy tests show the following
      GPRS DSL
    Up 9 Kbps 214 Kbps
    Down 26 Kbps 1200 Kbps
  • The phone’s voice dialing works just well enough to be frustrating.
  • Sound quality seems OK. I can’t really comment on reception: there’s a T-mobile tower within rock-throwing distance of my home, so I always get 4 bars here, but at Gwen’s, I rarely get even two bars, as her neighborhood is poorly served by T-mobile (you hear that, guys?).
  • My speech coming through the Jabra headset sounds poor, but incoming sound is fine. The headset doesn’t feel very secure on my head, and apparently will not pair with my Mac, but it works. The phone comes with a wired headset that’s also OK.
  • The phone has a huge array of bells and whistles–both literally and figuratively. There are scads of annoying ringtones, and if you don’t like those, you can import more, or even compose them on a little in-phone music sequencer. No kidding: it has a four-track display (drums, guitar, keyboard, horns) with 32 canned snippets for each; you lay down one snippet per measure for each, and keep building up measures until you’ve got a song. I’m pretty sure Moby has traded in his studio for this phone.
  • Apart from that, this phone is complicated enough that you really need the manual. I couldn’t figure out how to put the phone into vibrate mode without navigating through four layers of menus until I found out I had to set one setting and then I could hold down the C key whenever I wanted to go into vibrate mode. The phone is also set up to encourage you to use its Internet connectivity more than you might expect–it has a dedicated Internet button on the side, and several menu options put Internet-based content higher up than content inside the phone. This strikes me as a bit cheesy, but I can live with it.
  • One interesting feature for managing the complexity of this phone is a feature called “profiles” (there’s a similar feature on the Mac called “Location,” which would obviously be a problematic name if applied to a mobile phone). Profiles are a group of settings for use in different situations–at home, in your car, walking around, at the office, etc. Switching profiles changes a bunch of profiles all at once. Good idea, poor execution. How?
    • The phone comes with several canned profiles; to change one, you select the profile as your working profile, and then edit everything. This makes it harder to reuse your existing settings and modify them–much better would be an option to save the current settings as new profile.
    • Although many features can be subsumed under a profile, there are some that cannot–for example, the key lock, which is handy when out and about, but useless at home.
    • Profile switching is mostly a manual affair. The phone does come with a headset, and it automatically switches to a handsfree profile when the headset is plugged in (but apparently not with the Bluetooth headset), so clearly there’s some ability to switch automatically. This approach should be extended: I’d like the phone to go into “at home” mode when it is within reach of my computer (as discoverable through Bluetooth), or perhaps when plugged in. This idea could be taken a step further by placing (or discovering) “bluetooth buttons” at other locations one regularly visits, so I could have one in my car, one at my coffee shop, etc. A bluetooth button needn’t be more than a transponder that identifies itself with a name and perhaps a GPS position.

My old number has not been ported to the new phone yet, but I have initiated the process. I wound up speaking with four different operators yesterday, each of whom told me I needed to talk to a different department (except for the last one), and each of whom encouraged me to bring my phone and an old Sprint bill in to a local T-mobile office in person (including the last one, but I insisted on doing it over the phone, so she relented). By the way, “port” seems to be the magic word–anyone who is transferring service from one carrier to another will save a couple minutes by using that word rather than “transfer,” etc. But the new phone does work, and is providing me with much amusement.

So, what would make the phone better? Better reception. A camera that’s actually worth using. A memory-card slot. Perhaps an MP3 player (though that would probably be politically unpopular at Sony). A slider to control key-locking, and making ring volume and silent ring part of the volume controls (why they are not is a mystery). The UI could do with a few tweaks.

I’ll update this entry as news develops.