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Posts Tagged ‘cellphone’

Google Voice – Fixing the Multiple Voicemail Issue

October 27th, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Google Voice

The other day I wrote about an inconvenience with Google Voice – having Google Voice calls going to multiple voicemail systems. Well, apparently Google is coming through with a fix! This morning on Tech/MobileCrunch I read the announcement that Google had figured out a way to have Google Voice take control of your mobile phone voicemail.

And sure enough, on my own Google Voice screen, I saw this. Note the “Activate Google voicemail for this phone” link next to my mobile number:

Take Control of Mobile Voicemail

Take Control of Mobile Voicemail

This is an interesting development … because this really solves two problems. First, it prevents my mobile from picking up a Google Voice call and taking the message. Second, it also sends messages from people who call my cell number directly into the Google Voice voicemail system. So I get the benefits of transcription, and custom messages, and centralized voicemail management without changing my phone number.

I will take the plunge tonight after I get home from work and see if it works. But it sounds promising!

Categories: Technology Tags: ,

T-Mobile 3G in Boston — Improving Again?

October 14th, 2009 No comments

phone towerI swear that for the last few days my 3G signal has been getting better on my train ride home. I can hold a solid three or four bars of 3G from South Station all the way to West Natick. At least as far as I can tell. I’ll try to pay closer attention over the next few days to confirm.

Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Google Voice – Integrating it Into Daily Life

October 3rd, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Google Voice

voice_logoI finally broke down after waiting four weeks for my Google Voice invitation and bought one on EBay. So after salivating for a month with two separate e-mail addresses on the waiting list, I dropped a whopping $3.29 on a “buy it now” Google Voice invite from the seller with the highest feedback on the first page of listings. And I got my invite and had my account set up less than 20 minutes after hitting the pay button on Pay Pal. It was worth every penny – because I really hate to wait for things.

Now the question is, what the hell do I do with it?

My Phone Habits

The first thing I realized is that no one calls me — which is the result of a carefully crafted strategy of hiding from people for close to a decade. Seriously – T-Mobile must hate me because on any given monthly bill at least 90% of my cell minutes used are 3 of the 5 numbers in my My Faves plan. And two of those numbers are my wife! On average, looking at the last 6 months worth if bills, I made or received 4 non-Faves calls a month. And even then several were dentist and doctor appointment reminders.

As for my home phone — well, I’m rarely there and even when I am I don’t answer it for anyone except my wife and a select few friends. And they usually want to talk to my wife anyway.

So now what?

Google Voice promised to solve one of the problems I have: integrating my work life and personal life in the same equipment, for a low (read nearly free) cost. And if I actually needed my phone much for work, Google Voice should make this integration easy.

Work/Life Balance

I work for a rather progressive (at least in the IT sense) healthcare organization. And I also commute 1.5 hours each way to work, usually by train. My employer would be more than happy to provide me with a company laptop and cellphone or Blackberry or Smartphone (heck, even an iPhone), but I have chosen to use my own equipment instead. Why? (Most of my friends think I’m nuts BTW.) Because for at least 3 hours a day I don’t want to feel guilty when I do my own personal stuff using my laptop. And because, as progressive as they are, I can keep my own laptop on the cutting edge installing whatever productivity software I want. A company laptop would be open for me to install things, but they are still building them with Windows XP and Office 2003. Office 2003, 6 years after it was released! That’s just not acceptable for me. As for the cellphone, you can see by my Dash 3G posts I love to tinker with my own phones. And I don’t want to be the über-geek carrying two phones everywhere. So I decided to use my own Windows Mobile phone for corporate e-mail since linking through Outlook Web Access is so easy.

But how to deal with the cost of phone calls (in either minutes or dollars) when I’m away from the office? Like when I’m working from home since my job allows me great flexibility to do that when needed. I could just give people my home number since I have an unlimited digital phone plan through my cable provider — but who wants all kinds of people calling your home number.

Skype to the Rescue

So I turned to Skype. With a cheap (currently costing me ~ $4/month for a SkypeIn number) subscription and SkypeIn number, I have a real telephone number that isn’t my home number for people to use. To get clear calls in my home office, I bought a Belkin F1PP010EN-SK Desktop Internet Phone for Skype, and assigned its MAC address to the highest priority queue on my internet router. And no one has ever suspected it wasn’t a regular landline.

For my mobile phone, I can use the Skype client, at least when a Wi-Fi or 3G connection is good. But on a mobile, the call quality deteriorates very rapidly as the signal changes.

The Problems

Thus my problem. I needed a solution that would allow me to give a “mobile” number to work contacts which would ring my Skype line when I was home in my office or my cellphone (via a regular cell call) when I was out. It would also be nice if I could prioritize co-workers from other work calls. Google Voice seems to fit the bill nicely. It’s routing functions allow me to direct calls to different phones at different times, and I can set my Google Voice number as one of my Faves so the calls don’t take up minutes. Perfect! Now I can use my cell phone like a cell phone for work calls without eating up my personal minutes, and also direct those calls to my home Skype line when I’m working at home (because my cell phone signal inside my house is sketchy, that’s why — otherwise I wouldn’t need Skype at all).

And that’s the way it’s currently set. Now I just need to get my Google Voice number into circulation so I can see how it works.

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

3 Weeks With the 3volution ROM

September 23rd, 2009 1 comment
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series 3volution ROM

And it’s awesome!

This is just a quick post to confirm what a number of people already know — the 3volution ROM for the Dash 3G is solid. I’ve used and abused the phone for 3 weeks now and it is still fast, clean, and stable. The only bug I’ve found so far is that the Fn key doesn’t work in the Skyfire browser, if you’ve clicked a link in an e-mail to launch it. It works fine if you start the browser on its own. Weird.

But otherwise I can say that Windows Mobile 6.5 looks and performs great. The other day I realized that as I was walking to work, I was running Pandora, connected to my bluetooth headphones, Google Maps was running with Latitude turned on, I had Nimbuzz and GV Dialer running in the background, and I was sending and receiving e-mail on an Exchange account and a Google Apps account. And the phone didn’t even slow down when I switched screens. I am impressed. Together, the Dash 3G and the 3volution ROM are a fantastic pair.

New Dash 3G ROMs Being Cooked

August 28th, 2009 No comments

[Update: I’ve flashed my phone to ookba’s 3volution ROM. See this post for the flashing procedure and this post for my initial review.]

Closely watching XDA-Developers member ‘ookba’ who has been cooking some new ROMs for the Dash 3G based on the Windows Mobile 6.5 core and his “3volution” design. (The Dash 3G ships with a Windows Mobile 6.1 core.)

ookba is on his second release as of today (Build 3VO.1.00.082609). I usually wait for the early adopters to find the most critical bugs (like a white text on a white background problem in the first release on the caller ID pages so you couldn’t see who was calling.) But I think I’ll be flashing my phone soon.

ookba’s released ROMs for the HTC Maple (T-Mobile Dash 3G) found here and for the HTC Cedar (Sprint Snap & Verizon Ozone) found here.

For those not familiar with cell phone software, here is a very basic primer, at least for Windows Mobile / HTC phones.

Operating Systems

Like any computing device, a cell phone has an operating system or OS. For the Dash 3G, that OS is Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard.

Unlike regular Windows XP or Vista, when a cell phone manufacturer and carrier decide to release a Windows Mobile phone, they have the ability to customize the OS to a great extent. Think of T-Mobile’s “My Faves” application as an example — this is something T-Mobile builds into the phone’s OS.

The OS for a cell phone resides in a memory chip on the phone that the phone itself can not change or write information to. So it is called Read Only Memory or ROM. The copy of the computer code that resides in this memory is called a ROM Image, or also simply a ROM. So, in the lingo of cell phone hackers, the terms ROM and OS are interchangeable.

Almost anyone can use a  Software Development Kit (SDK) (called a Kitchen) to build their own ROM (called “cooking” a ROM). Getting it installed on the phone is the hard part.

Protection

Cell phone carriers and manufacturers are notoriously protective of their OSes. So every cellphone is locked in multiple ways to prevent people from changing the software. The two most common locks for GSM phones (like the Dash 3G) are CID locks and SIM locks. The SIM lock prevents a SIM card from another carrier from working in your phone, so you can’t move to another carrier easily. More important to the OS is the CID (Carrier ID) lock, which prevents software ROMs not “signed” by the carrier from installing on your phone. This is why you can’t normally change the OS on your phone.

Luckily, there are some very talented people out there who are able to break this lock for most phones.

Bootloader

Every cell phone is equipped with something called a bootloader, which is a program that is designed to take the ROM Image from its memory and load it into the working memory of the phone (normally, this resets the phone to its factory settings, and can be invoked on the Dash 3G by powering the phone off, then turning it on while holding the volume up button).

This bootloader also verifies that the image its loading is a “signed” or authorized image. It does this with an SPL program (no idea what SPL stands for).

In order to replace the ROM on a phone you need to defeat this security check. One way is to defeat it permanently (a Hard SPL break). Another way is to change the routine so it can be bypassed as needed (Soft SPL break).

Updating Sequence

So, this means that the basic sequence to changing your phone’s ROM is this:

  1. Change the SPL security.
  2. Load or ‘flash’ a new ROM image to the Phone’s ROM.
  3. Engage the bootloader to load the new ROM to the phone.

Of course the devil is in the details. A very good primer on flashing ookba’s ROMs is: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=551959

I’ve Officially Given Up on the Dash 3G GPS

August 24th, 2009 2 comments
This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series Dash 3G

The other day I wanted to track my progress on a walk across Boston. I started near Government Center and walked 2.5 miles down Boylston Street past Fenway Park to the Green Line stop at Fenway. Never mind that it took 9 minutes to get an initial GPS lock, but even on an open street the phone lost GPS signal 9 times in 2.5 miles. It would drop to 0 satellites on the display and take anywhere from 30 seconds  to 5 minutes to get a fix back.

That’s just horrible.

The ext day I broke out my OnCourse Bluetooth GPS. It typically gets a fix in less than 15 seconds and never loses a signal. So I’ve gone back to carrying an extra GPS receiver because the built-in one is simply garbage.

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

T-Mobile Dash 3G: Closer Look at the GPS

July 26th, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series Dash 3G

In my initial review of the T-Mobile Dash 3G, I made some comments about the GPS functionality. Specifically, I complained about HTCs power management and the sensitivity of the receiver. I wanted to take a closer look at the GPS after a few weeks of use.

Power Management

I still think HTC’s power management scheme is a problem. Essentially, when the phone puts the screen to sleep it shuts down all other functions except the basic processor and the cellular data service. This includes the GPS and Wi-Fi. The problem is the conflict this causes with modern location-based services like Google Latitude. What this effectively means is that you can’t use Latitude or track your movement with something like GPSed unless you set the power so that the screen doesn’t power down during use. What really annoys me is that many GPS applications have a setting that is supposed to prevent the screen from turning off, but many don’t seem to work on this phone. What’s even worse, is that locking the screen overrides the power settings! So even if you set the screen to not turn off, if you lock it, it will turn off anyway! That’s simply wrong. Try carrying the phone in a pocket with Latitude enabled and without locking it. Just see who you ass-dial when you sit down.

Multi-Program Use of the GPS Works

On a positive note, a common criticism of HTC and other GPS implementations is that most programs access the GPS output directly. Which means only one program can access the GPS at a time. So it’s not possible to use a navigation program at the same time as a tracking program. There are several ways that people have overcome this, including a popular software program called GPSGate, which acts like a GPS data server that several programs can access at once.

It appears that this implementation has solved the problem without the need for 3rd party software. Today I was able to simultaneously use my Garmin navigation program at the same time as GPSed to record my route. Both programs worked flawlessly. This is a huge convenience and helps offset the power management issues in my mind. I don’t know that it totally offsets the power issue, but it helps. No special configuration was required to make this work — the GPS receiver appears on COM 4 in this implementation. Just set your program to find that port and everything should work fine.

Sensitivity and Lock Time

[Update – 7/31/09 — Because I always reserve the right to be wrong — there is a quick note posted by an xda-developers member on his blog about a better experience with the GPS lock time than I report (see http://bupahs.blogspot.com/2009/07/htc-dash-3g.html). As with all things on the internet, I encourage you to evaluate the different experiences and draw your own conclusions. Hell, maybe even go to a T-Mobile store and ask them to fire one up for you and see how the GPS works for yourself.]

This is another issue I’m having. When the GPS is first enabled it needs a perfect view of the sky in order to obtain a satellite lock. If you don’t have a clear view, expect minutes before the GPS locks, And this isn’t affected by whether or not the HTC Quick GPS program is used. In addition, the GPS receiver seems to lose signal more than any other I’ve used before. I even lost signal in a completely open part of the Mass Pike (I-90) around Newton and it took 2 minutes to get it back.

Conclusion

On balance, the GPS seems OK, as long as you can get a signal. Of all the issues, I think the lock time and signal capture are the ones that concern me the most. I can find a way to carry the phone so that I don’t need to lock the screen. But the GPS doesn’t do any good unless it works when you need directions. And a GPS that can’t get a signal might as well be a brick.

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

What is T-Mobile’s 3G Coverage Really Like?

July 18th, 2009 No comments

Real-world Experiences in and Around Boston, MA

Note: Update 8/19/2009: As I suspected in my recent post it appears that T-mobile has expanded coverage near my house. My house is between the Mass Pike (I-90), Rt. 9, and just west of I-495.  So I assume this means that coverage along the highways has been improved. The map has been updated to reflect these changes.

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&vps=1&jsv=166d&msa=0&output=nl&msid=114567696637192567932.00046eedc72ba1a4ca36d

It’s generally accepted that T-Mobile has the worst 3G coverage of all the major carriers in the US (and also the worst coverage in general). But I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for more than 5 years and with the exception of places in far northern New Hampshire and in rural North Carolina, I haven’t really had a coverage problem. In general, my experience tells me that the coverage is about the same as AT&T/Cingular. And I base this on my experience carrying an AT&T Blackberry for work alongside my own T-Mobile personal phone for 3 years.

T-Mobile 3G Speed

T-Mobile 3G Speed

So now that I have my new 3G phone, I decided to keep track of my own experience with 3G signal. The completely unscientific results are included in the Google Map above. Green indicates that I had a 3G signal — Red means that I did not. Yellow areas are places where the signal fluttered in and out. Most of my survey is done while driving. Where pins or waypoints are noted on the map, I was tracking my position with GPSed — other times I simply noted my position while driving and what the signal was doing. I simply layed a line over the road with the results. In areas where I moved around a lot (like the North and West End in Boston where I work) I overlayed a shape.

Anyway, this is a snapshot in time and not meant to be the definitive map of coverage. But it might be useful for someone looking to see of T-Mobile will work for their commuting needs around Boston.

As far as speed, my first tethered experience was positive and comparable to the best speeds I saw using a Verizon 3G USB modem. Above is the Speedtest.net result while tethered in downtown Boston.

The latency is more than I’d like, and the upload was a little slow, but 730 kbps down is a respectable speed for a PC tethered to a cell phone via a USB cable. It’s also twice the average speed I see using the free Wi-Fi on the MBTA Commuter Rail.

Speedtest.net from a moving train ...

Speedtest.net from a moving train ...

To try this as a head-to-head with some other results I’ve reported, I ran a second test on 7/20/2009 while tethered on a moving train between Back Bay Station and West Natick. These results were somewhere around Newton, MA:

Essential Windows Mobile Software For My New T-Mobile Dash 3G

July 12th, 2009 No comments

As I set up my new phone, I am keeping track of the configuration changes I’m making and the software I’m adding.

GPS Navigation

garminGarmin Mobile XT ($99 from Garmin, cheaper elsewhere) — I used this for several years on my Wing and found it to be a very competent navigation program. I’ve used it locally a great deal, as well as using it to navigate from Boston to Ohio and on various trips to California, Florida, North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania. Garmin Mobile XT ships on its own micro SD card.

Because Garmin ships on its own micro SD card, it really precludes you from using your own high capacity card, which is ultra critical on phones with no memory like the Wing. It also means that on phones where the micro SD slot is not easily accessible, switching the cards is a royal pain. I understand Garmin’s anti-piracy motivations, but the solution is horrible. They could at least sell the program on a 4 GB card so it would come with extra space, but they don’t. So, I followed the instructions at http://forums.wireless.att.com/cng/board/message?board.id=samsung&thread.id=54245 and it worked like a charm — my software now runs on the 4 GB SanDisk card permanently in my phone.

Google Maps (free download — go to http://m.google.com/maps on your phone) — A great program for walking around a city and finding stores, restaurants, etc. A version ships along with the stock T-Mobile ROM, but be sure and upgrade if you want to use the latest features. mobile_logo The current version incorporates Google Latitude, a free service that broadcasts your position on the map to your friends and vice-versa. While this may be a little creepy if the settings allow broadcast to the public, when you’re on foot and trying to meet a friend and one or both of you isn’t familiar with street names, it’s really handy. As far as finding destinations, many people prefer Windows Live Search. I’m kind of partial to Windows Live myself, but I keep Google installed for Latitude.

gpsedGPSed (Free download – $9.99 for premium version) — This is a new category and something that I’m setting up for my wife. In addition to Garmin’s excellent navigation program, sometimes you just want to record where you’ve been. GPSed is the program for that. The program sits on your phone and logs GPS coordinates as you travel. You can set waypoints so you can add photos (geotagging) them later. What makes this client cool is that it integrates with popular social networking sites (like Facebook) and can upload “live” updates at different intervals so people can track your progress. Of course this requires a data connection so it isn’t going to chart your progress through the Amazon rainforest, but it’s still pretty cool. The GPSed site itself integrates with Google maps and Earth and is a pretty good sharing site in its own right.

Web Browsing

skyfireSkyfire (Free download) — The browser on Windows Mobile 6.1 sucks. Particularly the T-Mobile implementation of it with the “web2go” default homepage. (The 6.1 version is way better than the 6.0 version, but still lacking.) That leaves two alternatives: Opera and Skyfire. Opera is the king of the mobile browser, and I used Opera on my Wing and previous Blackberries for years. But Skyfire is now the best in my opinion. Skyfire is free. Opera isn’t. Skyfire defaults to a desktop browsing experience with the ability to zoom (like the Safari browser on the iPhone), Opera doesn’t. Decision made. Skyfire rocks.

Screen Capture

ilium_logoIlium Screen Capture (Free Download) — I use my phone for both work and personal use. Some of the projects I am responsible for at work integrate SMS messaging into medical settings. So I am often setting up different messaging schemes and testing them on my own phone. The results often need to be turned into some kind of document or manual. So screen captures from my mobile are critical. Ilium fits the bill perfectly, and at the right price. It’s simple and it works.

Taskbar Modification

The stock Windows Mobile taskbar stinks. The very first change I wanted was a better battery indicator that told me how much charge was left with better precision that the stock 4 sshot002[1]bars. This can be accomplished by a registry hack, but I simply installed the files shown in this post from XDA-Developers and got the actual battery percentage. (See the screenshot in my Dash 3G post.)

I really wanted colored icons for the battery, but finding a taskbar designed for QVGA resolution and GSM is tough. Most are CDMA and so don’t have the EDGE/3G icons, but rather the CDMA/EVDO icons. So I next tried the FInixNOver taskbar at http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=424926, but it is a VGA set and the battery display doesn’t fit (the % reading is unlegible at the top of the screen as seen in this screenshot). But honestly, I hate the stock taskbar so much that I’d rather have the colored battery symbol with the smushed test than the stock one. But I will remain on the lookout for a QVGA/GSM set of decent icons. If anyone knows of a set … please leave a comment.

Facebookfacebook

Facebook for Windows Mobile 6 (Free download from Microsoft) — For at least a year, Windows Mobile was the orphan of the facebook world. Blackberry users had a dedicated application, so did iPhone users. Windows Mobile users were left with the m.facebook.com web page, which is lacking in features like uploading photos. There were a couple of others that came and went — products of well meaning developers who just didn’t have the time to get them quite right or to keep supporting them. But finally Microsoft of all people have stepped in to fill the void. They apparently decided to include a Facebook app in the Windows Mobile 6.5 release, and finally got around to unbundling it and releasing it for the rest of the Windows Mobile 6 family. Works great — makes me happy.

System Maintenance

total_commander
Total Commander (Free download) — If you want to do anything with your phone beyond installing simple stuff, you are going to need to manipulate system files and change registry entries. For thesetasks, nothing is more highly regarded than Total Commander.

GMail/Google Apps Calendar Management

OggSync Pro oggsync(Free basic version limited to 1 calendar; $29.99 annual subscription for Pro version with unlimited accounts and contact sync) — Many people share their smartphone for work and personal use. I like to keep my appointments separate as well, but remain aware of work or personal commitments when trying to schedule things. Like many people, I keep work stuff on my Outlook account at work (which syncs via Outlook Web Access (OWA) in Windows Mobile) and my personal stuff on my Google Apps calendars hosted on my own domain. Google has released new sync features that allows Windows Mobile to sync calendars live, but it uses a form of OWA and a current limitation of Windows Mobile is that it can handle only one such connection at a time. Thus users like me who use OWA for work have no way of syncing our Google calendars to our devices. Enter OggSync. It’s a little complex to use sometimes and it seems like the company’s support is fading (I think the Google sync feature ate a lot of their business) but for many of us with both business and personal accounts on our phones, it’s the only thing that works.

Games

kevtrisKevtris (free download) — One of many Tetris clones, this version is optimized for QVGA screens. It has several different game variations which offer enough variety and challenge to help you while away long plane flights or time in the DMV line.

Music

logo_pandoraPandora (free download — should be able to get by pointing mobile browser to www.pandora.com, but CABs also available on the XDA-Developers Maple forums. Here’s the CAB I used: Pandora_wm6 ) — I’ve never been one to really get worked up over the one-device-does-it-all idea. I don’t mind carrying around my iPod and my phone and my PSP at the same time. But I have to admit, getting Pandora on my mobile phone could be the game-changer for me; it’s the killer app for 3G in my mind. If you’re not familiar, Pandora is internet radio produced by something called the Music Genome Project (read about it …). The Music Genome Project takes literally hundreds of thousands of songs by all kinds of artisis and assigns attributes to them based on how they are constructed. This allows the Project to easily find related songs or songs of a similar style. The premise behind Pandora is to choose a favorite artist or song, and then the system automatically feeds you other songs or artists related by style. As you give each suggestion the thumbs-up or down, the system learns your preferences and the selections get better and better. If you like music, this is an incredible way to discover new songs or artists. And it’s free … Pandora works remarkably well on my Dash 3G — even when I occasionally switch to EDGE speeds. If you like music, you definitely need to try it.

T-Mobile Dash 3G — First Impressions

July 12th, 2009 8 comments
This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series Dash 3G

Yes, you can tether it!

[Updated 7/20/2009 — with tethering instructions and updated impressions.]

[Updated 7/24/2009 – additional comments / GPS issues.]

[Updated 10/19/2009 – Bluetooth tethering.]

Bottom Line: The Dash 3G is a competent Windows Mobile smartphone with a pleasing form-factor. It has sufficient processor speed and memory to run lots of applications and is kitted out with GPS, WiFi, and 3G capability. However, the price is steep compared to other smartphones with similar or better capabilities. Because of this it appeals a lot to diehard T-Mobile customers looking for a 3G device with grown-up features like simple Exchange integration and easy tethering. For other users however, a Blackberry, G1, or even the forthcoming My Touch might be a better value and offer more wow-factor.

Full Review

I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for years. For the last two years, I’ve had a T-Mobile Wing smartphone, and I just might be the only person in the US who actually liked it and thought it was a great phone. But, it isn’t 3G capable and getting a fast connection to supplement the poor wireless [see this post] on my daily train ride is becoming a necessity. So I was stunned when my wife discovered, quite by accident, that T-Mobile had finally released a 3G smartphone that wasn’t the G1.

Dash 3G (lifted from T-Mobile.com)

Dash 3G (lifted from T-Mobile.com)

Cheap Data?

But that wasn’t the best part. It seems that T-Mobile has “grandfathered” their Windows Mobile Data Plan users so that Wing users (and original Dash and MDA users too) can have unlimited 3G data for the $19.99 a month we currently pay for EDGE data. You read that correctly … $19.99 a month for unlimited 3G data. And … according to two separate T-Mobile reps, tethering is allowed. So in spite of what you read elsewhere, you can tether the Dash 3G (as in it works — Internet Connection Sharing ships with the default T-Mobile ROM) and you are allowed to do it without getting booted off your contract. (In fact, here is the official HTC FAQ post about internet sharing.)

Tethering

So, HOW do you tether your phone as a modem? Well for Windows users this really couldn’t be easier. I tethered my phone to my Vista laptop via a USB cable in two easy steps. Really.

  1. Get a USB cable and connect phone to PC. Do not sync phone via the connection.
  2. Go to Start/More/More/Device Management/Internet Sharing on the phone. Select “USB” for PC Connection and “T-Mobile Data” for Network Connection. Hit connect.

To paraphrase Gordon Ramsay completing a recipe on the F-Word, “High speed connection sharing via T-Mobile wireless. Done!”

In the old days, and with some older operating systems and phones, you needed to configure your phone as a modem and use dial-up networking to connect to the data network. This meant configuring data providers on the phone with names like “wap.voicestream.com” and then configuring modem initialization strings on your PC with things like “AT+CGDCONT=1,”IP”,”wap.voicestream.com”,””” and dial-up numbers like “*99#.” Ugh… Windows Mobile currently uses NDIS drivers to make all thet mess go away. This is one of the few areas where Microsoft has shown true value with Windows Mobile by making it compatible with XP and Vista to make this simple. (For information on the old way of configuring tethering, see this at Howard Forums or this). I have successfully set up a Vista laptop and a XP laptop using the simple 2-step process above.

Bluetooth Tethering

OK, so the cable method isn’t cool enough for you. Well luckily old King Harald I is coming to the rescue. Bluetooth tethering is almost as simple as the USB kind. At least as long as your computer’s Bluetooth drivers allow you to join a Personal Area Network (PAN). To connect via Bluetooth, do this:

  1. Go to the Connection Sharing settings as outlined above. Except, instead of selecting USB for the connection type, select “Bluetooth PAN.” If prompted to turn on “discovery” for the first connection, do it.
  2. On your PC, click your Bluetooth icon and select the “Join a PAN” or similar option.
  3. In the selection window, choose your phone by name. Click connect. If prompted, enter the PIN.

And that’s it — you should be connected. (Note, your exact procedure may differ depending on your PC’s Bluetooth software.)

And, by the way, this works perfectly for tethering a Mac as well. Yes, you read that correctly, you can tether a Mac via Bluetooth to your Windows Mobile phone. I have done this successfully on my 13″ MacBook. Just set up the Dash 3G for a Bluetooth PAN and add a new device on your Mac. Exchange the codes and you’ll be paired. Then simply select the data connection under the name of your phone on the Mac Bluetooth menu.

So what’s the drawback? Well, it’s primarily that T-Mobile’s 3G service coverage generally sucks (see my ongoing tracking here). Even in the first cities where T-Mobile began their 3G rollout, coverage is spotty at best. And outside those metropolitan areas it’s non-existent. But if you’re lucky enough to be in a 3G coverage area (and since I work in Boston, I should be, at least when I’m in the city) I dare you to find another carrier that allows unlimited 3G data for $19.99.

Internet Sharing -- Built Right In

Internet Sharing -- Built Right In

Impressions

I’m having a tough time with this. On the surface, the Dash seems like a very competent Windows Mobile smartphone. It is fast, has plenty of memory, and the Windows Mobile 6.1 ROM that ships seems like a decent improvement over the WM 6.0 that I am used to. I like how thin the device is, compared even to the current generation of blackberries. And although only QVGA resolution, the screen suits me fine.

On the other hand, after two days, the transition from a touchscreen PDA to a smartphone is proving to be a pain for me. But this may be more my problem and may go away after I finally get used to some things.

Here are some impressions of the hardware:

  • The processor is speedy. There is little lag when moving around. There is plenty of memory for installing apps.
  • The keyboard is cramped but very usable. The keys are domed to help your fingers find them, and it takes little time to get used to the layout. Some reviewers, including Devin Coldewey have complained about the layout, but I think he’s picking nits. If you can’t get used to slight keyboard variations in the span of two SMS messages you have no business buying new smartphones.
  • The trackball is smooth and reasonably sensitive right out of the box; setting it to high sensitivity makes it even better.
  • The volume buttons on the left side are in a horrible place relative to the cover for the data/charging/headphone connection on the right. I change the volume EVERY time I open or close that cover. After a full week with the phone, this is really pissing me off.
  • Speaking of the cover for the data port, it’s a pain to open.
  • The screen seems bright and clear enough to me.
  • HTC has an odd power-management scheme which shuts down the GPS receiver whenever the screen powers down. On the surface this makes sense –if  the GPS is used for guidance and who would really be navigating when the screen is blank? But it poses serious problems when using a GPS app that isn’t for navigating. Like GPSed for route plotting or other location services. This should at least be a configurable option but I can’t find out how to fix it.
  • Another GPS issue is the reception. I have friends with iPhones and they can keep a GPS signal inside of buildings! The iPhone AGPS setup is solid. HTC claims that this handset supports AGPS, but if they’re serious then either the HTC or T-Mobile implementation sucks. Because you need to be standing somewhere under an open sky to even have hope of getting a lock when you first enable a GPS application. Near a window? Not good enough. In a car? 50-50 chance that you’ll get a lock in under 5 minutes. Outside under a perfectly open sky — then maybe 10 to 30 seconds. Once you capture the satellites then you have a decent chance of holding some signal inside a car or train. But this receiver definitely loses signal faster, and takes longer to get it back, then either my old Blackberry or my OnCourse Bluetooth GPS that I used with my Wing.
  • Similarly to the GPS receiver, Wi-Fi goes to sleep when the screen does and if you’re somewhere without cell coverage (a distinct possibility with T-Mobile) you stop receiving any mail whenever the screen blanks. Not cool HTC. Thanks to a reader’s (Alex) insight (see comment #2) I’ve seen the error of my ways. Although the default settings put the Wi-Fi connection to sleep after the screen powers down, you can turn that behavior off by going to Settings/More/Connections/More/WLAN Settings/Power Mode and unchecking ‘auto turn off WLAN if no WLAN or user activities after LCD OFF over:’. Gee. I can’t imagine why I didn’t find that little gem at first glance … it’s only 6 menus deep. [superemotions file=”icon_smile.gif” title=”Smile”]

As for the software, I am having some issues:

  • The default themes and color schemes suck. There’s not one palatable combination in the whole bunch, and, unlike my last Windows Mobile experience, you can’t easily switch to a simple black background (I finally took a picture with the built-in camera while covering the lens to get a pure black photo and set that as my background).
  • Why are the system font-size choices only “normal” and “large.” Where the hell is small? Not everyone has bad vision and some of us would like to see more than four e-mails in a list. That’s inexcusable — having to resort to a registry hack to change the default font size to something smaller than 10 point should get someone at Microsoft or HTC or T-Mobile fired.
  • The task bar is horrendous. The icons are bland white and convey little information. It’s so bad that an entire underground of programmers has developed to provide noting but improved taskbars! (See http://forum.ppcgeeks.com/showthread.php?t=54514 as an example.) UPDATE! I’ve flashed a custom cooked ROM onto my Dash 3G and it has great custom colored taskbar icons baked right in!

Note — regarding coverage, the 7/20 update of this post was written while tethered on the train between Back Bay and West Natick. Coverage is decent so far!

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