Tag Archives: wireless

Motorola Razr Maxx: How on earth did I overlook this phone??

razr_maxx

Okay, I admit, I know the answer to this question.

Some background
Recently while using AT&T’s network, I received several important calls. During those calls, the caller sounded fine to me, but my voice was so broken up they had to anticipate my comments.  I swapped my AT&T sim to a different phone. Problem persisted. Callers simply couldn’t make out what I was saying.

I realized my AT&T service had degraded. So, I decided to check out other carriers.

My previous experience with Verizon? Not good
My last experience with Verizon over a year ago had been disappointing. I had to use a network extender to make calls from home. Any calls I received while out walking the dog went directly to voicemail.

However, reconsidering cell phone service now in 2012, I recalled that Verizon prepositions generators at their cell towers prior to storms. In fact, Verizon was one of the few cellular carriers whose calls went through during Connecticut’s prolonged 2011 power outages. During one of those outages (the Snowtober storm aftermath), my home was without power for 5 days. (Snowtober storm was the real deal…. trees/limbs weighed down with wet snow brought down power lines, and many CT residents wound up living in shelters for several days when temperatures inside homes dropped to about 40 degrees.)

During that power outage, network support for most carriers’ cell phone calls was spotty. I used my Verizon iPad to read local news and help retiree neighbors stay informed. However, being able to also make cell phone calls  while one’s  home electricity & broadband internet are out would be priceless! Good reason to give Big Red another try.

Once I decided to retry Verizon, which phone? I briefly considered Galaxy Nexus but felt underwhelmed when I tried it hands on. I like the iPhone but prefer Android, and besides already have a Verizon LTE enabled iPad.

Oh wait, there’s a Razr with extended battery life?!
During my research, I stumbled across several excellent reviews for the Motorola Razr Maxx. I was fascinated by the phone’s amazing battery capacity (3300 mAh) and decided to visit a Verizon store to see it. For more interesting numbers, see Motorola’s Razr Maxx specs page for all the details.

My initial impressions of the Razr Maxx

  • Surprisingly thin at 5.15″ x 2.71″ x 0.35″
  • Nice clear, bright 4.3” screen
  • Despite motoblur interface overlay, very fast UI response… No lag
  • Superb call quality on both ends, even at home.  (Verizon’s local LTE network upgrades clearly help here, as well)
  • Good photo and video quality
  • Blazing fast Verizon LTE speeds:
    • At home, on average: 12,000 mbps down / 1000 mbps up
    • In downtown Hartford: 23640 mbps down / 12379 mbps up

When I use a phone, my main interests:

  • Does it do all I want / need it to do?
  • Is it enjoyable to use?
  • Will it last throughout the day or will I have to launch a 2nd career to keep it charged?

The Razr Maxx is one of few phones I’ve used that handily satisfies all these criteria. Interestingly enough, another phone I loved that met all these criteria: The Motorola StarTac.

I’d previously overlooked the Razr Maxx because Verizon network coverage at my home had been subpar. Recent Verizon network improvements resolved those issues, and I’m thrilled with both the Razr Maxx and Verizon’s LTE network.

Bonus tip for Verizon LTE phone owners
Verizon Wireless is currently offering a 2x LTE data promotion. If you have an LTE phone (whether you’re a new or existing customer), contact Verizon customer service to get this promo:

2x 2GB = 4GB LTE data plan for $30
2x 5GB = 10GB LTE data plan for $50
2x 10GB = 20GB LTE data plan for $80

If you have an employer/organization discount on your account, the 5/10 and 10/20  LTE plans may be discounted even further.

Bonus tip for new Razr Maxx users
By default, Motorola sets its social networking app to sync whether you’re on wifi or cellular data (you’ll see it listed in Settings > Applications >  Running Services containing the word “friendfeed”). For me, that default setting initially caused incredibly disappointing battery life.

For phenomenal LTE network battery life, go to  Settings > Data manager > Social applications and select (put a check mark by) “Set Social Networking applications to only sync when connected to a Wi-Fi network”

Summary
There you have it, my Razr Maxx review. While it’s not the newest phone out (was released a few months ago), if you have or are considering Verizon Wireless service, don’t overlook this phone like I did. It’s a keeper!

The mythical, wonderful Samsung Galaxy S II (SGS2)

This spring, I decided to move over to AT&T from Verizon after learning my Verizon phone was hopelessly buggy 6 weeks into my contract, with no remedy offered by my Verizon store. Combine that issue with pockets of poor Verizon network coverage areas in my neighborhood, and I decided it was time to move my wireless service.

When I opened my AT&T account, I picked up an Infuse 4G. I’d never been fond of Samsung phones until the Infuse, and it was love at first sight: The gorgeous screen, the minimalist controls, its thin/light form factor. I was sufficiently impressed to write an Infuse 4G review.

But I kept reading about a mythical phone, the Samsung Galaxy S II. The more I read, the more curious I became… what was this wonderful phone? Could it be there was an unlocked Samsung phone similar to the Infuse but even faster and more responsive?! And thus my unicorn hunt began…

I’d had an AT&T account lucy_n73for several years, and for much of that time used unlocked Nokia phones. I realize it’s fashionable to bash Nokia lately, but I loved Nokia camera hardware and the fantastic shots Nokia phones enabled.

But I digress…
Since my Infuse was still new, I tried to distract myself but the Samsung Galaxy S II (SGS2) continued to beckon. I read reviews, I visited phone import stores online, I pondered. I liked the Infuse. The problem? I thought I’d like the SGS2 even more. Finally, I decided to pick one up despite the high ticket price that goes with buying an unlocked phone.

I’ve had my SGS2 for about a month. And you know what? The SGS2 is the best cell phone I’ve ever used. Based on user reviews on CNET, I’m not alone:

  • Very responsive. No lag, no waiting.
  • Great camera and photo quality
  • Excellent voice and audio quality
  • Gorgeous, vivid screen
  • Re-sizable (!) stock widgets that are both informative and attractively minimalist
  • Thin, light, and beautiful

sgs2With most phones, there’s a certain amount of waiting… waiting for an app to open, waiting for the phone to connect to the network, waiting, waiting, waiting…

That changed with the SGS2. I never realized how speedy a phone could be. View SGS2 specs here.

There are other advantages to the SGS2:

  • I stumbled across this thread on xda-developers.com, where you can find updated SGS2 firmware along with instructions for flashing – the post originator is very sharp and generous in helping other users with questions. NOTE: Flashing these firmware doesn’t require rooting, and at the rate Samsung has been releasing regional updates to the SGS firmware, SGS2 users can always be running the latest, greatest firmware. I’m currently running the XXKF2 firmware on my SGS2 (Android 2.3.3); this firmware’s build date is 6/10/2011 (fabulous battery life with KF2 firmware, by the way!).vent-case
  • A very cool official Samsung “vent” case – a lightweight but very functional case for your SGS2. I love that its rubberized finish makes the phone grippier while its design preserves the phone’s thin, light form factor. I picked up this case on ebay.uk from ebayer bluejamgem – they put the case in the mail very quickly – I received it in about 5 business days (from the UK).
  • If you want a more substantial case, Case-Mate offers 2 SGS2 cases. I picked up a Barely There case and it offers a bit more protection than the vent case.
  • Looking for a Samsung desk dock for the SGS2? I found that the SGS2(with the vent case on) will fit into the official Samsung Infuse 4G desk dock.
  • I went with a Zagg SGS2 Invisishield screen protector bought via zagg.com since none were available locally. Because I don’t have much luck applying screen protectors, I took my shiny new phone and Zagg Invisishield to Best Buy and the nice folks there applied it for me for a small fee (well worth it, btw!!).

I only have one concern about the SGS2: I wonder what will happen when U.S. wireless carriers decide to “customize” the Galaxy S II experience. Will it become a laggy beast, like so many other smartphones? We’ll see, and I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen. I’d love for folks buying a carrier-branded SGS2 to have the same fast, responsive SGS2 experience I’m enjoying.

Bottom line: I love the SGS2 and highly recommend it unlocked. If you have questions about the SGS2, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to respond.

Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR-48): Discovering Developer Mode

After being surprised and delighted to receive a Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR-48) a few days ago, I’ve been blogging about my CR-48 initial observations and day-to-day experience.

Yesterday, I decided to try out Developer mode after reading an article on ChromeOSSite.com. It’s an easy process, essentially flipping a switch located in the battery compartment, rebooting and a few other steps (outlined by ChromeOSSite.com here). When I first rebooted, I was greeted by an unnerving screen that declared the OS unverified. Clicking on this screen took me to screen explaining how to re-load the OS (the provided url mentioned loading the OS onto a thumb drive and re-installing). OOPS!

All I needed to do was to remain on the initial boot-up screen following reboot. By waiting at that screen several seconds, the system beeps a few times and then boots into the user log-in screen (as expected). Whew!

My understanding is that developer mode enables:

  • Shell access & other geeky fun: As I kick around in the CR-48, I may want to delve more deeply — developer mode enables this exploration
  • More frequent OS updates: The “normal” (non-developer) mode provides a beta experience. As soon as I rebooted into developer mode, a new OS update was downloaded — perhaps an OS version closer to alpha than beta?

So far, the Developer OS version seems slightly faster than the beta. The OS still struggles with pages containing Flash plug-ins and chugs a bit when trying to load several bookmarks at a time. But hey, it’s beta (or perhaps even alpha), right? Bugs and rough edges are to be expected…. just part of the experience.

I’m still surprised that I haven’t needed to revert to using my Vaio (aside from a short time on Friday). I’m finding the Chrome OS user experience enlightening in just how much I live on the web.

I haven’t yet used the built-in Verizon 3G connectivity, and may try this out today away from home. I love that 100MB is provided free monthly, but a little concerned about how quickly I could burn through that. Luckily, Verizon has included an unlimited day pass for $9.99 in their CR-48 data plan offerings.

I’ll continue to blog on my CR-48 observations — leave a comment if you have any questions.

Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR48): A few more observations

I was thrilled to receive a CR48 notebook a few days ago, and have used it intensively for the last day. (See my initial observations post.) It’s an interesting device and I’m finding it enlightening as it’s making me aware of how I extensively I use the web.

As a baseline, I should describe how I’m using the CR48 and the laptop it’s (temporarily) replacing.

  • Usage: Home power user. Because my job requires use of business and technical apps not available on the web, I would not be able to use a web-only notebook for work.
  • My own laptop: I have a Windows7 Sony Vaio Z laptop that I love — it’s small, light, and still feels powerful despite being 1.5 years old. After a hard drive failure last fall, I’ve preferred to use web apps (rather than installed apps) whenever possible. That approach saves me from having to maintain current version of installed apps (since a web app will always serve up the newest version), and frees up hard drive space. I use Google services extensively, especially since I’m an Android mobile user (HTC EVO, which I also love!).

Now, a few more Chrome OS observations:

  • Mouse-less: I use a laptop’s trackpad and keyboard extensively, rather than using a mouse. I find the CR48 supports this use case well — there’s even an interactive onscreen keyboard help to provide guidance about keyboard shortcuts. (I think the CR48 probably supports using a mouse, but haven’t plugged one into the USB port to check.)
  • Web vs installed apps: If you rely on installed apps for computing, you won’t like the CR48. Since I have a preference for web apps over installing additional software onto my laptop, the CR48 feels like a natural fit for me.
  • Singular focus: On my Vaio, I’ll generally have multiple windows open and more than one window displayed at any given time. With the CR48, I can have multiple tabs open but only one is visible at any time. I’m finding I really like this singular focus — it’s less distracting.
  • User experience: Despite the CR48 processor being slower than my Vaio (and thus I wait a bit longer for several pages to open at a time), I’m finding the CR48 to be fun to use. In fact, I used my Vaio for a few minutes last night, and found that I missed using the CR48!

I can definitely see using the CR48 as a lightweight mobile notebook. I also think there’s an interesting (and almost polar opposite) use case for the CR48 as a net device used by less tech savvy folks to check email, reading web pages, etc.

I’ll continue to post observations over the coming weeks. If you have a specific question, please let me know in comments and I’ll do my best to check it out for you.

From iPhone to Moto Droid

Today, I took the plunge and moved on to an Android OS phone, Verizon’s new Motorola Droid.

droid

I like my iPhone 3GS, but have been feeling disappointed in how Apple keeps the phone OS and app store so locked down. I recently “jailbreaked” my iPhone, and it only served to reinforce my feeling that the phone is capable of so much more than Apple enables users to leverage. So, I read a few Droid reviews this weekend and wandered over to a nearby Verizon Wireless store today.

I confess, I didn’t expect to like the Droid. Recent iPhone competitors haven’t really turned my head (e.g., Palm Pre). However, picking up the Droid and navigating around, I liked what I saw. No stock Verizon apps, seamless Google app integration (not surprisingly), and a useful notification bar at top. Apps, while not as numerous as the iPhone app store, are certainly numerous enough to fill my extensibility needs. I’d read that the touchscreen and navigation seemed to lag at times, but I haven’t experienced that.

droidcardock

The screen is large and gorgeous! There are 3 options for entering text: a physical keyboard and 2 virtual keyboards (portrait and landscape). I’m especially intrigued by the docking accessories — both the desk dock and car dock change the stock user interface to better reflect navigation choices for those scenarios. Those accessories weren’t available in-store (apparently most stores were understocked), so I’m awaiting their arrival via mail — look for a review on those coming soon.

DroidDeskDockIt’s still early but so far I like what I see. Verizon coverage isn’t quite as good as AT&T’s where I work and live, but it’s not horrible so I don’t foresee returning the phone for that reason.

I’m excited about Google’s innovation in the online and mobile space, and think I’ll really enjoy the new Droid.

If you have any questions about it, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll respond with what I know — I definitely have more to learn.

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.

I was wrong about the Kindle…. musings of a new Kindle 2 owner

B000FI73MA In June 2008, I posted an article entitled Kindle: Still too expensive at $359. I shunned the original Kindle as too expensive and frankly, too ugly. As much as I love books and reading, I couldn’t imagine spending $359 for a device that looked so dated.

There, I’ve said it. Even with my affection for shiny, new gadgets, what’s on the inside counts but what’s on the outside counts, too.

Flash forward eight months to February 2009, when the Kindle 2 was announced….kindle2

Suddenly, what I’d previously thought was overpriced became quite compelling. Was it the addition of text to speech? Was it the prettier design? Was it the influence of my Kindle-owning friends? Those answers and more below, in my initial impressions as a Kindle 2 owner.

What I like about the Kindle 2:
Solid, quality construction: My initial impression upon removing the Kindle from its shipping carton was, “Wow, this is really solid.” Of course, it requires the same care in handling as any electronic device. However, it’s thin but doesn’t feel fragile.

Text to speech: It doesn’t quite sound natural but yet isn’t so digitized as to be unlistenable. This feature will be handy for those times when my eyes are tired from gazing at a computer screen.

Intuitive navigation: I confess, I took a quick look at the user guide but didn’t pay attention to navigation instructions. I just picked up the Kindle 2, and started using it.159175-kindle2-350_188

The screen: Crisp and easy to read. It has a matte (not glossy) finish to reduce glare when reading outside. 

On board dictionary: What reader doesn’t at times encounter a word they’d like defined? With the on board New Oxford America Dictionary, one doesn’t even have to put down the book to look up a definition. Nice!

 

Amazon’s eBook selection: I’m a long-time Audible.com (audio book service) subscriber. As wonderful as Audible.com is, sometimes I want a book that’s just not available in audio format. Enter Amazon’s Kindle book store which offers great variety, and pricing (many at $9.99) is still far less than buying the physical book.

3G wireless connectivity without monthly subscription: Considering the cheapest cellular data plans cost an average of $20 to 30 per month, the Kindle’s always on wireless helps justify the device’s pricing. Of course, this always on wireless has its benefits for Amazon – it makes it incredibly easy to buy books.

What I’d like to see improved:
Variety of Kindle newspaper subscriptions is too limited and most are too expensive considering their digital format: I set up a Kindle subscription to The Irish Times since I love the perspective non-U.S. press offers and I thought the subscription pricing was reasonable at $5.99 per month. I love the Wall Street Journal but my current annual online subscription costs less than twelve times the Kindle WSJ $9.99 monthly subscription – I’ll keep my web-based version, thanks.

And, frankly, that’s all I can think of that I’d change. I am delighted with the Kindle 2, and very impressed with its quality and the attention to detail that has gone into its design and implementation.