Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am an avid smartphone user. For years, my primary platform was RIM’s Blackberry and I appreciated the phone’s highly functional physical keyboard. When I changed jobs, my new company did not support Blackberry and so I was issued a Palm Pre Plus which I blogged about here. However, I also maintained a personal phone and back in March decided to upgrade to a Motorola Atrix 4G which is an Android based device. (I did not get the laptop dock.) Having lived with the phone for about 3 months, I wanted to share my thoughts.

Good: Speed

I will not go through the Atrix specs in detail, but one point of note is that the phone includes the new dual-core Tegra processor. Having never owned a single core Android phone, I cannot compare it directly, but can say that it is very fast. It virtually never slows down and runs everything application flawlessly. One of the areas where this is most visible is in Google Navigation. The route re-calculation functionality is instantaneous and I barely know when it happens. This is in sharp contrast to my Tom Tom navigator which takes a good 5 – 10 seconds to recalculate during which time you are driving blind. This phone is in sharp contrast to my Palm Pre Plus and previous Blackbery Bold 9000 both of which slowed down frequently.

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One of the challenges in today’s connected world is that we expect Internet and cellphone signals just about everywhere.  However, many rural areas are lacking in coverage and I recently embarked on a project to provide wireless service where previously there was little to none.

I frequently visit a summer house on a lake that has minimal cell coverage.  When walking outside, you are lucky to get one bar with AT&T while Verizon is a bit stronger, but still of questionable usability.  My goal was to find a way to deliver consistent coverage to a desk in the house.  Note that the objective was not to provide signal for the entire house, but simply to one location.  (This is an important distinction.)

I researched many solutions.  The first option was a femtocell.  Carriers provide femtocells which provide cellular coverage in houses using voice over IP and existing Internet connections.  The idea is a good one, but did not work in my case because the house did not have Internet access.  Additionally, the carriers charge around $10 a month for this service which is ridiculous.  Clearly, I needed an alternative approach.

The second choice, which I eventually went with, was a wireless repeater.  These systems include an outside antenna, inside antenna and an amplifier.  The outside antenna receives the carrier’s signal while the amplifier amplifies it and re-broadcasts it through the internal antenna inside the house.  Thus, all cell phones inside the house work normally because they connect to what is effectively the outside signal amplified.  There are a number of options to choose from including units from Wilson Electronics and Wi-Ex.  In general, the reviews of both units were positive.  Note that both companies also offer a range of accessories to improve signal quality and internal coverage area.

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I have blogged in the past (here and here) about my frustration with digital books and the Kindle.  It is a great device, but I have always struggled with the economics of the platform.  This is especially telling when compared to the option of borrowing books from the library which the Kindle has never supported…until now.

Amazon has announced they have inked a relationship with Overdrive, the company that provides eBook lending services to many libraries including mine.  I believe that this is a major accomplishment since it brings Amazon’s class leading eBook reader into the traditional library realm. (Read More »)

I previously blogged about my frustrating experiences with an AT&T aircard.  It was highly unreliable and caused extreme annoyance due to its ability to consistently connect.  Fortunately, I was within the return window and so sent the unit back to AT&T and then switched to a Verizon wireless card.  The Verizon experience has been completely different.

My company has not certified Verizon’s new 4G LTE cards which the carrier is heavily promoting.  Instead, I received a UMW190 instead.  One unexpected benefit of the UMW190 is that it also includes a GSM radio and so will work outside of the US.  This is helpful for world travelers, but I do not believe that it supports 3G GSM.

In short, the card has been solid.  Everywhere I have tried it whether in congested airports, cities or rural areas, the card has just worked.   To be fair, performance can be inconsistent ranging from around 60 Kb/sec to 1,000o Kb/sec.  However, this is mobile data and so I had expected as much.  Interestingly, I did notice a bit of signal stability issues when I used the card at an event with 400 people, but at its worst, the card still outperformed the lackluster AT&T unit.

I do see a need for LTE.  This card is great for general email and web surfing, but is not fast enough for bandwidth intensive activities like streaming video.  Since I primarily use the card for work, it meets my requirements quite effectively.  However, if I need to download or upload large files, a WiFi or wired connection is a better choice.  (To be clear large file uploads/downloads work fine, but are slow.)  I cannot help but wonder how much faster everything would go if I had the LTE model. 

In summary, if you are considering an air card, do not bother with AT&T.  Your best bet is to go with Verizon Wireless.  Interestingly, I am potentially getting an Atrix 4G on AT&T which has wireless hotspot functionality and so I may have another opportunity to test AT&T in the future.

I have blogged on numerous occasions about cellphones and historically, I have been an unabashed Blackberry user.  So it was with a sense of shock when I realized that my new employer would not support Blackberry phones.  I had two options:

  1. Windows Mobile – Not not the new and cool WMP7, the old crappy one that did not work well.
  2. Palm OS Palm Pre Plus

The choice was obvious and I went with a Palm OS-based device and chose the Palm Pre Plus on AT&T.  There are many articles discussing the basics of the Palm OS and Palm Pre and in this piece, I just wanted to share my thoughts on my likes and dislikes of the phone.  I have been using the device for about three months now and so have had ample hands-on time.  Note that these observations apply only to the Pre Plus; I have not used the Pre 2, Pixi or Pre 3.

What I like about it:

Touch screen – Palm has taken design cues from Apple and has done a good job in creating an OS that relies on touch gestures.  It is very easy to use the OS to open programs and switch between different open ones.  This was a particularly refreshing change from the Blackberry which relied on a trackball.  (Newer Blackberries like the Torch have a touchscreen, but I do not believe that the implementation is as efficient as found on the Pre Plus.)  Gestures such as double tapping and pinching for zooming work well.  The RIM OS really shows it age in contrast.

Multi-tasking – Palm OS does a particularly good job with multi-tasking and uses its card interface to allow for rapid and efficient switching between running applications.  It is very easy to quickly access your calendar or email while on a call.  This is highly valuable particularly in scenarios where you have a conference call and must switch between the calendar and phone for access code information.  RIM had multi-tasking too, but the process of accessing and closing applications was painful requiring a long press of the Blackberry button and substantial trackball scrolling.  Simply put, Palm’s approach is far more efficient and user friendly.

Web Browser – Let me start by saying that my last Blackberry was the Bold 9000 and so I never tried RIM’s newest browser.  The one I used was terrible.  It was highly inefficient and was made worse by corporate policies which often refused to load sites claiming that they were too large.  It was extremely frustrating and the web experience was questionable at best.  The Pre’s browser could not be more different.  It is a fully functioning mobile browser that mimics the experience of a desktop, and I have yet to find a site that the Pre has a major problem with.  A massive improvement over the crud that RIM used to pass as a browser.

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