Tag Archives: at&t

BlackBerry Z10, one week in

Z10

When the AT&T BlackBerry Z10 came out last weekend, I wandered over to a nearby AT&T store to check it out. Turns out that was easier said than done… store employees had removed the Z10 from its display and stashed it in the back room. Why? They said it was because the theft alarm kept going off. Oy.

So, the store employee had to fetch it from the back room, and then charge it. Generally, store employees were negative about the Z10 — the guy who helped me had used it but reverted to his Samsung GS3, and another nearby employee flat out bashed the Z10. Clearly not a phone being promoted by this carrier…

I found I loved the Z10’s bright, crisp screen, the unified in-box, the swipe navigation (reminiscent of the HP TouchPad or Palm Pre). I also liked its physical size (larger than an iPhone but smaller than the big Android phones that are popular right now). I liked it so well that I bought it.

First, some technical specs for context:

Z10 specs

I’m really enjoying the Z10. BlackBerry 10 is a unique and enjoyable mobile operating system, and the Z10 is a great phone:

  • Overall user experience: Blazing fast. Navigating around the phone is fast (no lags), downloading and uploading data is fast (obviously dependent upon your data network), and great ping times (on AT&T LTE network). 
  • Hardware: The Z10 is big enough that displayed text is easy to read but still small enough to be easily used one-handed. The soft-touch, slightly dimpled plastic back feels nice and doesn’t pick up finger-prints easily.
  • Call quality: Both ends of calls are clear and crisp. No issues with dropping calls or audio/voice drop-outs while on calls.
  • GPS: GPS lock is insanely fast whether indoors or out. I was shocked by how quickly it warned I’d gone off-course when using turn-by-turn navigation in the car.
  • Maps / Turn-by-turn navigation: I live on a fairly obscure street that isn’t listed by some maps software, so I was delighted to find my street listed. I found turn-by-turn navigation to be very accurate, with the maps very easy to read in the car due to highly contrasting colors. 
  • Screen: As noted above, the Z10 screen is crisp, clear and beautiful. At 4.2″, it’s a bit bigger than the 4″ iPhone 5 screen. 
  • BlackBerry Hub: I’ve always loved BlackBerry’s unified in-box — no need to open several apps to see info about incoming calls, texts, tweets, email, etc. A huge timesaver.
  • Swipe navigation: While I find the Z10’s swipe navigation to be a breath of fresh air, it’s not completely new… it feels like it borrows the best of WebOS, Android and iOS. There’s a learning curve, but Z10 initial set up provides a demo to help new users learn the basics of getting around BlackBerry 10.
  • On-screen keyboard: Oh, I love this keyboard! It displays word suggestions on the keyboard “frets” and sometimes on the spacebar. It makes for a fast, easy typing experience. Tip: In the On-screen keyboard settings, set both Portrait Mode and Landscape mode to “In-column” to enable word suggestions to display just above the keyboard (vs under your fingers).
  • Web browser: The Z10 web browser renders content quickly and it’s easy to zoom in/out using pinch & zoom. While flash is supposed to be on its way out for smartphones (generally), it’s still super handy to have a flash-enabled browser. The Z10 browser includes flash but it’s turned off by default — you just need to turn it on in browser settings. 
  • Photo quality: I confess, I didn’t have high hopes for photo quality after reading some early reviews. However, photos I’ve shot have been sharp, nicely detailed and colors are natural. I’ve gotten some surprisingly good shots in low lighting. And the camera software is fast! The shutter fires as soon as you touch the screen — great for taking photos of active pets.

While Blackberry seems to catch flak for its young Blackberry 10 app store, I’m not finding the app inventory to be an issue. Of course, I don’t need any specialized apps — other folks’ mileage may vary.

The BlackBerry Z10 has been a delightful surprise. It retains BlackBerry’s traditional strengths (great keyboard, unified inbox) and adds a great new user interface that’s fun to use.

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My favorite Windows Phone apps

lumia900cyan

With the recent Nokia Lumia 900 release here in the U.S., I’d like to share my favorite Windows Phone (WP7, aka Mango) apps. If you have any favorite apps you’d like to mention, feel free to leave a comment.

First, a tip:
Follow these steps to access the Nokia Lumia 800/900 hidden diagnostics tool. Note:  Doing so will also add the app to your app list
– Go to your Lumia phone dialpad
– Press ##634# (the tool will then automatically open)
– Check out all the Diagnostic options, including Battery Status

My favs (in no particular order):

USAToday: Aside from being a great news app, the live weather tile is both attractive and handy

NY Times: Nice app if you’re a NY Times fan

BBC Radio Player: The most robust BBC radio app I’ve found on WP7. App provides a large variety of BBC Radio Channels

GoVoice: A must have app if you Google Voice — I use Google Voice instead of AT&T voicemail

Livescape: If you’ve used “Lose it!” or other food tracking / health apps, you’ll love Livescape.

Wordament: This great word game should come with a warning, it’s that addictive!

Amazon Kindle: To keep up with your reading

Amazon Mobile: To shop!! (There’s even a separate AmazonFresh app.)

Bing Picts Downloader: Find gorgeous wallpapers via recent Bing featured photos

Das Image: Another versatile wallpaper source

Chrome Bookmarks: If you are a long-time Chrome desktop  browser user, this is a great way to access your Chrome bookmarks. (There is a similar app which also appears to sync with your recently opened Chrome tabs, called Chrync, but I haven’t tried it yet.)

Nokia Drive: Accessible via the Marketplace… Fabulous Nokia software that provides voice turn-by-turn navigation. Be sure to also check out  the Nokia Maps and Nokia Transit apps.

Rowi: A fast, full featured twitter app

Netflix: To watch Netflix on the go

Tech News Now: A nice news aggregator

Windows Phone News: A nice news aggregator, focusing on Windows Phone coverage

WpFandora Pro: An attractive Pandora app

Zillow: The zillow app you may know and love from iOS, Android, etc. I used to love Zillow until I noticed my home value is lower each time I check. Smile with tongue out

Zune Pass: Although not considered as cool as some other music discovery services, I LOVE Zune Pass. Well worth the $10 monthly fee.

Samsung Galaxy Note (N7000): My review

Once upon a time not so long ago, there was a phone called the HTC EVO 4G. When photos and reviews began appearing on the web, I scoffed at how impossibly huge the EVO seemed with its 4.3 inch screen. I went to see it at a Sprint store. I left, satisfied that I’d seen what I’d come to see. The next day though, I kept thinking about the EVO and how much I’d enjoyed using it at the store. I returned that day to buy it, and became a delighted, long-time EVO 4G user.

In 2011, Samsung released the Galaxy Note (international version) with its 5.3 inch screen. I didn’t become interested in the Galaxy Note until AT&T released the Note in February 2012, giving me an opportunity to see and handle it. I was surprised that it didn’t seem outrageously large when I handled it, and realized it might fit the sweet spot between the portability of a phone and the easy-on-the-eyes screen of a tablet.

I bought the white AT&T Galaxy Note (model I717) — I loved it for the beautiful, easy to read screen and S-pen (stylus). I realized, however, that the AT&T model had some features that I found to be impediments:

  • The LTE data capability would have been wonderful if I had LTE network coverage in my area. I don’t though, and was disappointed that I couldn’t find a way to turn LTE off! My battery life suffered, and I didn’t even get super fast data speeds to compensate 😉
  • I missed being able to wake up the phone easily by pressing on a physical home button. Instead, I needed to reach up, locate, and press the power key to wake the phone. Possible, yes. Convenient, not so much.

So I decided to return the AT&T Note, and bought the international version (model N7000) instead. It solved the two AT&T Note issues I’d experienced since it didn’t have an LTE radio but did have an easy to locate/press physical Home button.

Now that I’ve had the Note for about 6 weeks, is it right for me? Read on:

  • Screen: I still love the big, bright, easy to read screen. I haven’t normally been one to browse the web on my phone but the Note makes it such a pleasant experience that I’m doing more browsing on the go.
  • S-pen (stylus): My handwriting makes chicken scratches look good, it’s that bad! But the Note’s handwriting recognition software is good enough that I can use the S-Pen to take notes on my Note and accurately convert it to text. The S-Pen is fabulous for making annotations. And it’s also quite handy for playing “Draw Something.” 😉
  • Samsung TouchWiz interface: I actually like TouchWiz. It’s fairly customizable, and I love how it allows me to do two things not easily done on all Android phones:
  1. Take screen shots
  2. Change the system font
  • Battery life (on the International model): I’ve found battery life to be quite good. I tend to leave GPS & Mobile Data enabled all the time, although I do use WiFi for data at home.
  • Phone Audio & Voice quality: I’ve found Audio & Voice quality to be good. However, I should mention I normally use a bluetooth headset with mobile phones (including the Note).
  • Camera (Still & Video): Photo and Video quality is very good.
  • Easy to update firmware: Especially with the international model, it’s super easy to update the firmware using Odin PC software and firmware available on xda-developers.com. No rooting required!

I’ve found some excellent accessories which others may find useful as well:

  • Skque Clear TPU Gel Case: A no frills clear case that protects my Galaxy Note, but lets the lovely white Note finish shine through. (The white Galaxy Note does not provide a textured back, and it can be slippery without a case!)
  • Generic Horizontal Belt Clip Case: Nothing fancy, just a way to clip the Note to my slacks. Although no longer sold on Amazon, probably available on ebay and from other outlets selling Galaxy Note accessories.
  • Desktop Dock for Samsung Galaxy Note: Gorgeous charger dock that can be used in either portrait or landscape orientations. Expensive but worth it.

So, there you have it… my Galaxy Note review along with buying considerations if you’re trying to decide between the AT&T and International models. Questions? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

AT&T’s Samsung Infuse 4G… A First

AT&T and Samsung recently released the Samsung Infuse 4G. samsung_infuse_4gIt’s a first in several ways:

  • 1st Smartphone with a 4.5” screen
  • 1st AT&T Android phone that allows users to easily install apps from sources other than the Android Market (finally!)
  • 1st AT&T Android phone that I’ve found appealing enough to buy

I had read pre-release articles about the Infuse, and knew it had a large screen and very thin profile. Yet I was still wowed I saw the Infuse on its Sunday release.

Initial impressions:

  • Huge, beautiful screen (4.5” measured diagonally)
  • Unbelievably thin

Now that I’ve had the phone for several days, more observations:

  • Love the big screen. Makes checking news, email, twitter a delight. Like the HTC EVO released a year ago, the Infuse form factor is trendsetting.
  • Still amazed by its thinness
  • Single core yet very responsive
  • Surprisingly good battery life. After a few charge cycles, I’m finding it could last two days without charging
  • Comfortable, easy to use even for folks with small hands (like me)
  • Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface is okay – easy to use. I love that users can easily change phone font!
  • AT&T’s network, while reviled by many, has both excellent and poor coverage areas, with good coverage at my home and at work.
    • I’ve had good voice quality, no dropped calls.
    • Connects to data network quickly
    • Data speeds are fast (although not technically 4G): Fastest I’ve seen has been 6MG down, 1.5MG up. Folks in better network coverage areas would likely see faster speeds.

I haven’t been wowed by other Android phones offered by AT&T and was downright turned off by AT&T locking down phones so that apps could only be installed from Android Market.

That all changed with the Infuse! It offers the functionality I want along with a form factor that feels like the future of smartphones.

AT&T’s Option Quicksilver USB vs Sprint’s Sierra598U USB (Cellular Modems)

I recently upgraded my laptop to a Sony Vaio VGN-Z610Y (which I LOVE, byz_gallery_two_comps    the way, but that’s another review).

In order to leverage the Vaio’s portability, I decided to get a cellular modem to enable mobile Internet access. But which device and carrier?

I have a generous corporate discount for AT&T via my employer, so AT&T was an obvious option. I had read a lot about Sprint’s data access, and found Gizmodo’s nationwide wireless provider comparison (using cellular modems) especially interesting, so Sprint appeared to be another good option.

Off to the wireless stores I went…

At AT&T, I picked up an Option USBConnect Quicksilver. quicksilver I was actually hoping to get an express card form factor, but AT&T is apparently phasing out them out. That left a PC card format (which my laptop doesn’t support) or USB. I went with the Quicksilver based on reviews I’d read online.

598u

At Sprint, I picked up a Sierra Wireless USB 598U based on online reviews. Also, Gizmodo’s nationwide comparison test was quite compelling since it showed Sprint as having the fastest cellular network, on average, nationwide. I confess, I’ve never been fond of Sprint as a wireless carrier (don’t prefer CDMA due to being “locked into” a specific device for the life of a 2-year contract and Sprint’s customer service and billing accuracy can be underwhelming). I was disappeared to learn post-purchase that although my employer has a corporate discount negotiated, Sprint does not apply discounts to their $59.99  data plan for wireless modems.

Well, what did I find once I got home?

During my at home testing, I felt underwhelmed by the AT&T Quicksilver – speeds were consistently slower than the Sprint 598U. I was disappointed to the point of packing the Quicksilver up for imminent return. Here are the metrics from my at home testing:

AT&T Quicksilver (at home, evening) –
Average download speed:  .97 Mb/s
Average upload speed:  .143 Mb/s

Sprint 598U (at home, evening):
Average download speed:  1.137 Mb/s
Average upload speed:  .243 Mb/s

However, I’m not really planning to use the cellular modem at home. Time to hit my usual haunts and check out performance.

How did these cellular modems/networks perform out and about?

AT&T Quicksilver (out & about, business hours) –
Average download speed:  1.82 Mb/s
Average upload speed:  1.213 Mb/s

PEAK download speed:  2.74 Mb/s
PEAK upload speed:  1.25 Mb/s

Sprint 598U (out & about, business hours)  –
Average download speed:  .829 Mb/s
Average upload speed:  .499 Mb/s

PEAK download speed:  1.77 Mb/s
PEAK upload speed:  .61 Mb/s

Clearly, the AT&T Quicksilver is faster in places I like to visit locally. I don’t travel a lot, so I’m satisfied with basing my purchase on network speeds where I live & work in Connecticut. If I traveled more, my choice might be different.

I’m also quite happy with AT&T as a wireless service provider, and have stayed with them longer than any other carrier (and I’ve tried them all). I logged into my AT&T account today and was delighted to find my corporate discount already applied to the Quicksilver’s monthly data plan. My experience with AT&T has generally been “no hassle”, and buying and getting up to speed with this device has been quick and easy.

Decision: AT&T Quicksilver

How I performed this analysis (for data geeks 🙂
I ran Speedtest.net 3 times per modem in each location, and then averaged the results. When I had reason to think another process could be concurrently accessing the Internet, I re-ran the test.