Category Archives: Phones

Moving Stuff: Fun With Phones Part 2

With the up-coming move, the question about what to do with our home phone was resolved by beginning an attempt to port our home Voice Over IP (VoIP) number, in a two-step process, to the Google Voice service. In Part 1 of this process, we successfully ported the number from our original Speakeasy VoIP provider to a pre-paid T-Mobile cell phone. This part was necessary because Google currently, by policy, will only port cell numbers.

Last night, after waiting a bit more than 24 hours after the T-Mobile port (and having experienced no overlapping service), we began part 2 of the process. As this number is going to become my wife’s Google Voice number, she logged into the Google Voice service, where she selected the number port. At this point a form came up which required information about the T-Mobile account. Because we had purchased a pre-paid cell phone, T-Mobile didn’t really have any information about us in the account (not even a name or address), and it wasn’t clear if the port would succeed, given that Google was asking for things like address details. To head off any potential problems or delays, we headed to T-Mobile’s site to set up the account and provide the details. I think I would have preferred not to have given T-Mobile this information, but wanting this to succeed the first time won.

We filled in the newly-provided T-Mobile information on the Google Voice form, and after clicking on about a half-dozen checkboxes warning us about different aspects and consequences of doing this port, things looked like they went through.

Next up was payment via the Google Checkout service: they charge $20 to port a cell number to Google Voice. It’s a little odd, as T-Mobile didn’t charge us to do the port from the VoIP service, but the end result makes it worth it in my opinion. We went through the details of the Checkout process and paid Google the $20.

At this point, what I had been reading had prepared me for the fact that the Google Voice port request form has no input box for the cell account PIN, and because of this, the initial attempt will fail. Fortunately, the email telling us this came right on the heals of the one confirming the submission of the port request. We went back to the form, added the PIN in the now-provided box (you would think Google would just add this to the original form?), and re-submitted. This time we got a confirmation email that it went through, and would take about 24 hours.

We should know later today if it succeeded, and I’ll post the update once we get that confirmation, but we’re optimistic that we’re about to be one of the group for whom this process worked.

Update (Thursday evening): Success! Michelle’s Google Voice number was updated to be our old home number, and she updated her profile so the calls will actually be routed somewhere. I couldn’t be happier that this worked, and if I would echo anything from what others have written about this process, it would be: make your you provide as much information as possible (and have it ready!), and then don’t push the process – let things happen, and give it time between steps.

Moving Stuff: Fun With Phones Part 1

We currently use Speakeasy’s voice-over-ip (VoIP) service for our house phone, and one of the goals we had in mind for this move was that we somehow retain our phone number. Area codes don’t really matter that much any more, and lots of people (some of whom we even want to keep in touch with!) know and use our current number. And then there’s the hassle of updating endless accounts (banks, credit card company, etc).

The solution that came immediately to mind was porting our number to Michelle’s as-yet unused Google Voice account. Some quick research showed that Google’s policy currently limits porting to cell phone numbers only. No landlines, and VoIP is considered a landline. Further investigation showed a work-around: some people have had success in first porting their landline/VoIP number to a pre-paid cell phone, and once the dust settles there, do a second port of what is now a cell number to Google Voice.

Armed with this possibility, we stopped by a local T-Mobile store (recommended by the author of the post I was following because it worked for him) last night and purchased a pre-paid cell phone. The cheapest phone was a $25 Nokia, and we paid an extra $10 for 10 minutes of time: we should be using this as our home phone for all of a day if everything works. Once back home, I called T-Mobile’s support line – for some reason, they couldn’t do this part in the store – and initiated the port of our home phone from Speakeasy/Level3 (the parent company) to our pre-paid cell.

Unless they need any more information from us, this first part of the process should take anywhere from one to six days, with potentially a day of overlapping service. Once everything is settled (the original post I read said that most problems arise when people jump the gun on part 2), we’ll create a new Google Voice account for Michelle, and attempt the second port.

The upshot of all of this is you can’t really lose: the port will happen or it won’t. If it does, we move on to step 2. If it doesn’t, our current service doesn’t change, and we’ll resign ourselves to changing our number.

Update (Thursday late afternoon): Got a call back from T-Mobile saying there was a hiccup in the transfer request. As we had a pre-paid cell phone with them, they didn’t have our address on file, and Speakeasy/Level3 was requiring that information as part of the transfer. Got that updated with the rep, and they re-sent the request, which was accepted. The new schedule has a day to “go through”, and then another business day for processing and turn-around, which puts us at Monday at the earliest. The tech mentioned we’d know when it went through as we’d get a text message to the cell phone.

Update (Tuesday afternoon): Success! We weren’t notified, but as of Tuesday afternoon calls to our home number were ringing the T-Mobile cell phone! And there doesn’t seem to be any service overlap. I’m going to officially cancel the Speakeasy VoIP service today, and we’re going to give it until tonight before going ahead with part 2. Stay tuned for the details (in a follow-up post, which you can now read here)!

iPhone Update

Well, I’ve had my iPhone 3G a little over 2 weeks now, so I figured it was time for an update. There’s a few specific areas I’ll talk about, and finish with my fairly-short list of gripes.

Battery Life I’m going to go with the fact that my old devices were getting so bad, both in battery life and functionally, that a lot of the criticisms that people have about battery performance is not impacting me a whole lot. Yes, I have to plug it in daily, but one, I was already doing that for both my Blackberry and Palm, and two, I have power in my car, and I usually have it plugged into my laptop at my desk during the day, so that’s not usually an issue.

3G In addition to being in a pretty well-blanketed 3G area between New York and Philadelphia, my experience is that 95% of the time, I’m near a friendly access point, so the phone usually spends it’s time on 802.11g, rather than 3G. I’ve used EDGE only to test, and that was today (yup, I used EDGE for the first time today). The small amount of time I *have* been on 3G, the performance was adequate that I didn’t really notice a problem.

Typing I’ve already talked about this one in my last post, but I will say that I’m getting better, and it’s mostly alright.

Ok, I have to say (again) I’m really happy with this device, and am using it a lot. But nothing’s perfect, and here are a few of my major gripes. Cut-and-Paste is still the top of my list: I have needed this more often than I thought (but you usually notice absent things more, right?), and this really, really needs to be in the next update. Please? I’ve seen some great concepts for this.

I’m really not a fan of the newly-upgraded apps “forgetting” where the icon was, and putting it in the first available slot once the install finishes. Upgrading several apps at a time means spending the next little bit re-arranging everything again. Oh, and yes I know there are work-arounds, but there has to be a more efficient way to perform the backup when your syncing, right? I think my phone takes about 1/2 an hour to perform the backup.

For location-aware apps that provide a handy button to locate you on the map, why is there no hook in the Maps App to be told by what app is was called, and provide a “return to calling-app” button? Or if there is a hook, can that be documented so developers can start using it? I have several apps that suffer from this, and it’s kind of annoying.

One small thing, which kind of surprises me that either Apple or someone else hasn’t written: why is there no app that displays a summary: date/time, next appointment (or all remaining for the day), unread email/SMS message count, weather, etc? Even better would be to make it options for the lock screen. I’d love to see something like that.

This is a minor thing, but when you need it, and it fails, it fails badly: there are several instances where an app will display a list of stuff with a little round, blue icon with a white right-arrow in it. Two notable examples of this: the phone’s call list, and YouTube’s search results. The gripe is this: the target area for that button is *so* small, you’re almost always going to trigger the main function which, for the above two examples are “call the number”, and “play” respectively. Not great if you’re say, creating a new contact from your call list at 7am, or looking to simply bookmark a video slitting in a quiet auditorium (see my major rant about sound next). This target area really needs to be enlarged: I mean, how bad can it be to do so? The *entire rest of the line* is the trigger for the call/play function…

And now for my biggest gripe: sound. My Palm Pilot had different sound categories an app could be in, and when you pressed the speaker icon, you got a mixer that would allow you to individually control the volumes of each category, including a mute button for each one, and a master mute. As I’ve experienced, there does seem to be different categories for things that make sounds: the ringer/alerts (including SMS and mail), games/3rd party apps, YouTube, and the iPod. So why is it that when I switch the “ring/silent” switch (yes, I do realize it’s the “ringer” switch) to “silent”, it doesn’t mute everything? Expecting that, I was annoyed to hear a YouTube video make sound when I didn’t expect it to. Oh, and both the iPod and YouTube don’t even seem to remember the previously running volume state, resetting to 95% of full. I wonder if it would be possible for a developer to write a mixer app that covers the various sound-making apps.

The last thing I’ll mention has nothing to do with the hardware, but rather providers. Volumes have already been written on this subject, including the guy who got hit with a multi-thousand dollar data roaming bill, but why is roaming (and in this case, I’m limiting myself to traveling from the US to Canada, where I’m going next week) so expensive? I did a small test, whereby I put the phone on the EDGE network only, reset the usage counter, and for 10 minutes, used it “normally”: a couple of emails came in, I answered a couple, I used the Facebook app to update my status (which downloads my friends’ statuses as well), I used the Maps with GPS for a bit (including looking at some satellite imagery), I took a picture and uploaded it to my Flickr account, and there was probably some web access in there too. At the end of that, I checked the usage counter, and calculated, based on the “preferential” rate for roaming in Canada at $0.015/Kb, that that would have cost me $45. Excuse me? That basically makes the thing useless on my trip, and the “Enable 3G” and “Data Roaming” sliders will be firmly remaining in the “Off” position. Nice device, too bad I can’t use a lot of it traveling…

So that’s it: 2 weeks in, and I’m hooked: I’ve been playing with some quality free apps, the overall performance of the device is good, and even the most major of my gripes can be fixed in software, and not even necessarily from Apple. Oh, and not having to carry four devices is *wonderful*.

One final, amusing note: I tried to call AT&T today to inquire about international roaming. I tried several numbers (two 800 numbers and 611 from my phone). Each time, I navigated to a different part of their menu tree, and every time I got to an option to speak to a human, there would be a pause, some clicking, following by the “number not in service” tri-tone. I could not find a way to actually speak to a human there, and it would seem that the telco couldn’t configure their phone systems properly. Ah, who am I kidding – it was probably deliberate.

Finally Have My iPhone!

Well, after what seemed like a long wait (see my post a month and a bit ago), I’m holding an iPhone 3G in my hot little hands. Appropriately enough, this post is being written on the device itself!
Let me say right off, I love this thing, and a day after I got it, I can say it is everything I was expecting. That’s not to say it’s not without its annoyances, but so far nothing I didn’t already know about.

So a bit of background: I’ve had a palm pilot of one sort of another for almost a decade, but the technology in that space hasn’t really gone anywhere that I wanted to go. So first and foremost, I was looking to the iPhone to fill that slot. This is the primary reason I didn’t get the first version – the lack of apps. I’m happy to say that after downloading a bunch of free apps (and whittling them down), and making my first purchase, I’m 90% of the way to having everything I need – and the other 10% isn’t anything major.
The second major point for me was shedding some of the gadgetry I usually carry with me, which was the old phone (yup, I’m coming from a Blackberry), the afore-mentioned palm pilot, a compact digital camera, and an older iPod. The iPhone doesn’t have the same capacity as the iPhone my iPod, so it’s just going to be for podcasts and a few favorite albums, the phone’s camera won’t replace a real one. Despite that, going from four devices to two is still a big win.

After a couple days of use, I’m very happy with this, and look forward to the coming updates that will hopefully add a few things like cut-and-paste (I’m in agreement with a lot of folks on this one: I’ve already needed it a bunch of times), better home screen handling (including icon placement of an app after an update), and better IMAP folder organization would be great. I also hope some of the minor stability issues get addresses.

Finally, I want to address two of the biggest complaints: battery life and the keyboard. I haven’t found the battery to be too horrible, as it gets me through a day of pretty heavy use (my wifi, 3G, and Bluetooth are always on). Of course, I’m coming from a pile of old devices that needed to be recharged if you used them at all, so maybe I’m not the best judge. Secondly, the keyboard: I’m definitly getting better, but it does take some getting used to. I’ve stopped fighting the predictive text, and it helps quite a bit. My biggest problem is where my thumbs actually come in contact with the screen, resulting in off-by-one errors. These are mostly caught by the predictive text, but when you’re typing a ‘v’ or a ‘b’ for a space, your words run together, defeating the thing that’s trying to help you. Guess I just need to slow down 🙂

Getting My New PDA … In a Month

Well, the WWDC keynote is over, and the only announcement made was the new 3G iPhone (although that included the SDK and other news for developers, the App Store, the new firmware, and the rebranded .mac (which looks to be fairly tightly-coupled with the iPhone)).  Most of the obvious rumours were true, which made the overall announcement somewhat underwhelming.

The two major positives were the battery life and the new low price ($199 for the 8G, $299 for the 16G).  The fact that it’s thinner and has GPS was a nice addition.  Proving again that I am not the typical user, there’s no 32G version, presumably to keep the price down, although would it have killed them to offer a 32G version of $399 or even $499 (I was prepared to pay that anyway)?

So now I have some decisions to make.  Oh, I’m over 95% positive I’m getting one, but it’s not going to be replacing my iPod any time soon, and it would appear that the specs on the camera didn’t change at all (the Apple Store’s iPhone 3G page lists the camera’s sensor at 2MP), so I’m definitely not giving up the camera.

The one positive in this is that they trotted some developers on stage to talk about their apps.  Most of these demoed apps that will be around the $10 mark, but a number of really good, clever and useful apps were also shown that are going to be free.  That gives me hope that using this as a PDA is going to be a no-brainer.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that because of the reach this new device is going to have, I see an extension of the so-called “Web 2.0” business model to release, for free, a companion app for the iPhone.  And given that I can do most of what I want in a PDA on a collection of Web 2.0 sites these days, I’d say my problem will quickly be solved.  What will be nice about that is you won’t need to worry about installing yet another sync conduit – your data will just be there whether you access it from your iPhone or any other web browser.

The biggest disappointment in all of this of course, is that the new iPhone won’t be available until July 11th (I betcha those over-enthusiastic people who started lining up in front of Apple stores a couple of weeks ago are feeling a little foolish right now!).  An interesting move on the part of a company that wants to move millions of these things this year, especially considering the previous-generation iPhone has been out of stock for over a week.  Oh, well, I’ve waited a year, I can wait another month.  More time to get more detail on this device, it’s new OS, and what kind of software will be available.  If I get buyer’s remorse on this one, it’ll be my own fault.