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Posts Tagged ‘smartphone’

A New Android Chapter

January 12th, 2014 No comments
This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Nexus 4

I hate the iPhone. There, I said it. I really, really do. It’s not a particularly good smartphone, regardless of the generation. iOS is an incredible inflexible operating system (widgets? Hell no!) and the phone itself is loaded with proprietary connectors (can you say Thunderbolt) and processors the same as everyone else. Nope – I’m an Android person, plain and simple.

A couple of years ago I smashed my old T-Mobile G2 because the dying GPS finally got to me and replaced it with an HTC Amaze 4G. The battery life was terrible as I wrote here, but after a while the phone settled down (after I rooted it and installed a real ROM) and has been my daily driver for more or less two years. The short version is that the main problems had nothing to do with the hardware and little to do with Android. As usual, they were software problems introduced when a phone manufacturer wants to try and be Apple. Almost no one offers a true Android phone these days. Most manufacturers take stock Android and load it up with all kinds of extra junk. HTC has their “Sense UI.” Samsung has “TouchWiz.” Both of these and all similar “improvements” do nothing more in my opinion than take a perfectly good Android device, slow it down, reduce battery life, and generally make it hard to manage a device because they add so many proprietary settings and hide so many stock ones that I might as well buy an iPhone. I hate them all. I hate my wife’s Galaxy S3, I hate my friend’s HTC One, and I couldn’t stand the Sense UI crap on my Amaze so I finally rooted it and installed Cyanogenmod 10.1 as my daily driver ROM. I’ve never looked back. From now on it’s stock Android (or at least close to it) for me. Which leads me to my new adventure …

New Phone Needed

One main problem with the HTC Amaze is that it wasn’t popular. The Samsung Galaxy S and later S3 stole the thunder from the Amaze and this device signalled the beginning of HTC’s downfall. What a shame because I have always liked HTC devices. For as long as I’ve had smartphones I’ve used HTC devices. I’ve had:

  • an HTC Herald (T-Mobile Wing) Windows Mobile phone
  • an HTC Maple (T-Mobile Dash 3G) Windows Mobile phone
  • an HTC Desire Z (T-Mobile G2)
  • an HTC Ruby (T-Mobile Amaze 4G)

The problem with a phone that isn’t popular is that aftermarket developers don’t do a lot of work on it. Custom ROMs can be hard to find, as can quick and simple tools for rooting etc. I won’t make that mistake again, which means that I probably won’t be buying an HTC phone again any time soon. So what does that leave? Well, in the Android world, if you want something that gives the purest Android experience, you buy one of the Nexus devices that Google markets itself.These phones run stock Android. I like them a lot. But I don’t like the current $350 price for the 16GB Nexus 5. That’s a tad too much for me.

The good news is, Nexus devices are popular with the kinds of people who develop custom ROMs for phones, so there is always support for older generations of Nexus devices. Meaning that enterprising people already have Kit Kat running on the previous generation Nexus 4. So that is what I am going to do … but a used Nexus 4 and bring it to life as a full-featured daily-driver with all the bells and whistles. I’ve found what looks like a good one on EBay and I won the auction last night for $203.50 including shipping. The phone should be here this week.

In a nutshell, here were my criteria:

  1. Google Nexus device.
  2. Either carrier unlocked or already on the T-Mobile network.
  3. Clean IMEI.
  4. Close to new condition.

Having found all that I believe that with some work I can root and install Cyanogenmod (or another ROM) and patch the radio in the phone to work on the T-Mobile LTE network and end up with a phone that performs as well as any brand new off-the-shelf phone for under $250. Plus have a lot of rooting fun along the way.

So, look for some upcoming posts about my progress. And hopefully I will have a new phone by next Monday.

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

T-Mobile G2 – Initial Impressions

January 23rd, 2011 No comments
This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series T-Mobile G2

I recently announced that I retired my venerable Dash 3G phone from T-Mobile and upgraded to a new G2.I’ve had the new phone for several weeks now, and I’ve even taken it to Europe for a week. And I really like this phone. Here are my impressions after the first few weeks.

Hardware

You can find the official specs on the official G2 site. The phone is made my HTC and has all of the main features that I was looking for, including a decent display (doesn’t have to be iPhone 4, Retina quality), a slide-out keyboard, and reasonable speed. I also like the idea of removable memory cards so I can expand the memory as needed. The phone has a decent camera and the touch-screen is sensitive and smooth.

The slide-out keyboard is an interesting design. Rather than a traditional slide mechanism, this keyboard flips out using a “Z-hinge” design (this phone is also known as the ‘HTC Desire Z in other markets). This hinge has received a lot of bad early press because it tends to come from the factory very loose or quickly loosens once the phone is used. Just go to YouTube and search “G2 hinge” to see more than you want to, but here’s a representative video:

Based on my use, I don’t have a problem with the hinge. Is it loose? Yes. But I don’t wear the phone on a belt clip or type while lying on my back, so I don’t experience the problems that some people report. But I advise anyone thinking about this phone to take the issue into consideration just in case it will bother you.

One downside to this phone: it’s heavy. This is not a super-thin iPhone 4. Compared to an iPhone it feels like a brick, and it’s not easy to pocket. It definitely doesn’t fit easily in a pocket inside a suit jacket, and it can be a pain to carry in a pants pocket too. But I’ve eventually gotten used to it. If you are looking for something sleek though, this isn’t it.

The keyboard is great. I admit I love HTC phones, and this is my third in a row. I started with my beloved T-Mobile Wing (also known as the HTC Herald) and replaced that with my Dash 3G (also known as an HTC Maple).  And HTC keyboards have always been great. The keys are nicely domed so my fingers can find them easily, and they have a nice ‘clicky’ feel. As far as smartphones go, this is a great keyboard to type on.

The GPS is solid and the camera is decent. I am so happy to have a decent GPS because the GPS on my Dash 3G was perhaps the worst GPS implementation in the world.

So, for my uses, this is a solid device for daily use.

Software

The phone ships with a lightly customized Android 2.2 (Froyo) OS that implements most of the native features. When the phone originally shipped late last summer it did nit implement one key 2.2 feature, Wi-Fi tethering (portable hotspot functions). However, T-Mobile did make these features available in a November OTA (Over The Air) update, and my phone downloaded and enabled this within hours of activation.

A good and quick review of the 2.2 features is available at the Android Developers website.

T-Mobile has largely left this OS unadulterated. If you are interested in an experience that is as close to native Android as possible, as opposed to something like Motorola phones running ‘MotoBlur‘ then this is a good choice. In its raw form, I thin Android is an excellent, if slightly less polished alternative to the iPhone’s IOS. In fact, I prefer Android in many ways (more below). And the G2 implementation is solid and quick. No lags or performance issues in my version anyway.

And as always with Android, the OS integrates perfectly with Google services. My domain (havasy.net) runs e-mail and calendar on a Google Apps account. So the mail and calendar integration built into Android works fantastically.

Network

T-Mobile get a lot of shit for being a third class network, even behind Sprint in most people’s eyes. I have no idea why. I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for over 9 years now, from right after the Voicestream acquisition. I have never considered switching. Do I have fewer bars than my Verizon-owning friends? Yes. But I also pay a lot less for service and have many fewer restrictions. Case-in-point: T-Mobile still sells unlimited data plans and allows tethering for only an extra $15.00 per month on . That means that I pay $45.00 per month for unlimited data and unlimited tethering. Seriously. And legitimately. No cheating required. On Verizon, an equivalent plan isn’t possible. The best you can legitimately do is $70 per month for a 2GB smartphone cap and a 10GB mobile broadband cap. Pathetic.

For where I use my phone the most, the T-Mobile network works fine. And tethering is important to me. I commute by train for 3 hours every day, and tethering allows me to use my laptop during that time for things like graduate school classes.

And, on the G2, T-Mobile has released their version of Wi-Fi calling. Which allows the phone to connect to an available Wi-Fi network if the cell signal is low and make calls over Wi-Fi. This is not true VOIP like Skype, since T-Mobile still charges plan minutes at the normal rate, but can be useful in certain situations. Like if you live somewhere that has spotty coverage. Or, and this is critical for me, if you travel a lot. I took the G2 to Brussels, Belgium for 5 days on business and was able to use my hotel’s Wi-Fi connection to make and receive calls with no international roaming rates. That’s right. After being afraid to turn on my phone because of horror stories about thousand dollar bills from roaming charges, I set it to Wi-Fi only and it worked perfectly. Imagine that – a world-band phone that finally allows worldwide phone calling. Unbelievable. I love T-Mobile more and more all the time because of features like this.

Overall

I am extremely pleased with my G2. It’s fast, solid, and versatile. In fact, after several weeks I like it so much more than my iPhone 3GS, even with the new iOS 4 update.

Why I Like the G2 More Than my iPhone

  • Hardware
  1. Replaceable battery. I think it’s criminal that Apple requires you to have the phone repaired to get a new battery.
  2. Physical keyboard. I’ve had my iPhone for more than a year and I still hate typing on it.
  3. Dedicated camera button. Sometimes you want to take a quick picture.
  4. Expandable memory. Want an extra 32 GB? Just pop in a new microSDHC card.
  • Software
  1. Widgets. Not everything should be forced into a tiny icon. Android lets you add display widgets right to your homescreen if you want. Weather forecast? Twitter stream? Sports scores? No problem. All displayed right there with no need to click into an app.
  2. Tethering!
  3. AppStore not policed by arbitrary policies. No need to wait for Apple to approve an app before downloading it.
  4. Real multi-tasking with background processes. That means real notifications from apps for Facebook updates, Twitter updates, etc.
  5. Integration with Google services. I get push e-mail without Exchange. For free. No Apple (Mobile Me) subscriptions required.
  6. Wi-Fi calling. Worked great in Europe.
  7. Real app integration. Like the way Skype integrates with your dialer so you don’t have to launch apps to use additional calling features.

Conclusion

So – if you’re in the market for an iPhone alternative that allows real data usage, I say you can’t go wrong with the G2. Both my wife and I have them and we simply love them. And despite its perception, I think of T-Mobile as a top-teir international carrier who I have nothing but praise for.

There will be more to come I’m sure as I have the phone for a while, but right now I highly recommend the G2.

Categories: Technology Tags: , , ,

Goodbye to Windows Mobile … Hello Android

January 22nd, 2011 No comments
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series T-Mobile G2

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I was one of the last holdouts using Windows Mobile on a smartphone. For about 18 months I have been using a T-Mobile Dash 3G phone as my primary personal device. I actually like the phone a lot. It was a great 3G performer and I like the form-factor. It was light and thin and easy to carry. The stock Windows Mobile operating system was terrible though – so I set about flashing a new operating system (still based on Windows Mobile though) that made the phone much better. All of that fun was chronicled in a series of posts and are among the most read posts on this site.

T-Mobile G2

But – it was finally time to upgrade the capabilities and move up to a real smartphone. I knew several things that would inform this decision:

  1. I remain uninspired by my iPhone (my work phone). It works fine and there are great apps, but it’s just an OK phone with some quirks that I don’t really care for.
  2. I was staying with T-Mobile as a carrier. I’ve been with them since around the time of the Voicestream acquisition and they have always been good to me. Their rates are reasonable (especially for data) and their customer service is the best.
  3. I wanted a slide-out or other physical keyboard. One of the things I hate about my iPhone is that the on-screen keyboard is such a pain to use. I really like physical keys.

This really limited my choices. Basically, T-Mobile currently offers two phones with keyboards: the MyTouch 3G Slide, and the G2. Since the G2 is advertised as 4G (OK, 3.5 G on the HSPA+ network) guess which I chose.

That’s right – I went to my local T-Mobile store and the guy there hooked me up with a BOGO deal. With upgrade credits (my contract was up 6 months ago), loyalty credits, etc. I walked out of the store with two brand new G2s (one for me and one for my wife) for $200 with a new 2-year contract. How can you beat that.

I’ve had the phone for just over two weeks now and I’ve even traveled to Europe with it.

And I can say that this phone KICKS ASS. I love it. Expect more detailed information in the coming days, but if all you want is a basic recommendation, I say you cannot go wrong with this phone.

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: , ,

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!

AT+CGDCONT=1,”IP”,”wap.voicestream.com”,””