Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Φ Buys a Palm

Smarting at the prospect of prospect of paying $65/week for something that the Hilton Hawaiian Village should provide for free, dammit!, I called Verizon.  I knew they had a number of wireless options, including PC cards and stand-alone wireless hotspots, and although I suspected these would also be expensive, I wanted to at least find out what their terms were.

Verizon charges $40/month for a PC card, plus the cost of the card itself.  I don’t remember what the data limit is, but I suspect there isn’t one:  for reasons I won’t go into, my office is running its entire network off of one of these cards.  For $60/month, I can get a hotspot (the hotspot itself costs $50, I think).  Obviously, neither of these options would make any more sense than the $65/week.

But then the Verizon customer service representative offered me the Palm Pre Plus.  Although Verizon normally offers this phone for $50 with a 2-year agreement, I had a $50 credit towards a new phone with Verizon, so the Palm would essentially be free.  It’s a Smartphone, so it must be used with their $30/month data plan . . . but there is no obligation to keep the phone activated.  When I get back to flyover country, I can return to my Razr and cancel the data plan.  (I don’t have an ongoing need for a Smartphone, so this works out well.)  The best part of about the Palm is that it is apparently the only Smartphone with which Verizon offers “tethering” – connecting a computer to the internet via the phone – free for up to 5GB per month.  Data usage using the phone itself is essentially unlimited, but like all Smartphones the Palm doesn’t have a Flash player.  That means no Netflix and Hulu unless you are tethering, and 5GB would only get you, what, maybe a feature film and a half?

Let’s talk about the phone itself.

The first thing that needs be said is that the battery life is horrible.  My Razr runs for days on a single charge; the Palm, in contrast, dies in about half a day, probably because of the massive heat it seems to throw off.  To its credit, the Verizon salesman was up front about this aspect.  So you definitely want to get a car charger and keep a wall charger or USB connection wherever you know you’ll be stationary.  It takes a relatively long time to charge the battery; I’ve only managed to return it to full strength during an overnight charge.

The second Palm disability is that the GPS has a long sync time.  Although I didn’t have any prior experience with GPS to speak of, I knew that getting the initial fix was not instantaneous.  But the Palm took so long to establish my correct location (as opposed to an estimated location based on cell tower triangulation) that I initially thought it wasn’t working.  I was demonstrating this failure to an iPhone user who was able to get a position fix in about a minute; meanwhile the Palm was taking 15 – 20 minutes.  The worst part about this is that the Palm doesn’t tell you when the position it is giving you is the estimated fix or the GPS fix, and while the phone ostensibly allows multitasking, the GPS fix is lost if the user moves to another application.

The third strike against the phone is the slow data transfer rate.  I’m loading a 1.5GB video into the phone’s memory via USB cable as I write this; the transfer looks like it will take a full hour.  I’m pretty sure that movies transfer into the Touch a lot faster, although I have forgotten the exact time.  A further aggravation is that all other features (calls, browsing, etc.) are suspended during data transfer.  Come to think of it, all these functions must be used singly:  placing a call, for instance, suspends internet connectivity over the tether.

I don’t have any experience with Smartphones, not counting my Touch, but that said, nobody does OSs like Apple.  The Palm interface, while not impossible,  is also not intuitive in the way the Touch interface is, so be prepared for a steeper learning curve than you may be used to.

The Palm has a 3.2 megapixel camera with something called an “LCD flash”.  The phone automatically syncs contacts with Facebook and gmail, but not with with your old phone; this requires you to first download your contacts to a .csv file and then upload them to gmail.  The phone’s performance as a hotspot is solid over Verizon’s network.  The palm has a physical keyboard, which would be fine except that it slides out from the narrow end instead of the wide end.  This makes it more difficult to use than in ought to be.

Bottom line:  you get what you pay for.  This isn’t my dream phone (which hasn’t been invented yet), but it’s a good low-budget travel phone for people who only need wireless internet when they’re out of town and who can keep it plugged in most of the time.


Erik said...

Have a look at the HTC Evo. This is my first smartphone, as until now I used a basic cell phone and a Pocket PC. I can honestly say that the whole is finally greater than the sum of the parts.

Battery life is still a weakness, but I can get two days without charging under moderate (typical for me) use. GPS syncs pretty fast, and the maps display your fix accuracy in meters so its easy to tell. This is a true multi-tasking phone so calls are never interrupted by data access or doing other stuff on the phone.

Sprint has a plan add-on that allows you to use the phone as a wireless hotspot, but I have not used this yet. 4G speed, when you can get it, is pretty darn fast.

8-mp camera with super-bright LED flash (that can be used also as a surprisingly effective flashlight).

Its not God, but it's worth a long look...

trumwill said...

You can't talk smartphones without an immediate response from me. A few things:

1. Are you sure that you are not on the hook for two years of data plan? The contracts are usually written such that if they subsidize a smartphone, you have to have the data plan for the term of the contract regardless of which phone you use. I was told that if my wife downgraded to a regular phone that we would still have to pay for the data plan even if we couldn't use it.

2. Windows Mobile does have Flash, though it's kind of weak. I can play videos, though I wouldn't venture to try Hulu. On the other hand, YouTube has its own app that works swimmingly. I'd imagine they have an app for Palm, too.

3. One of the downsides of Verizon is that you can't use data and voice at the same time. That's mostly Verizon. I can call and receive a text at the same time, but that's about it. I didn't have this problem with AT&T.

4. I think the PC cards also have a limit of 5GB/mo, though that doesn't include any WiFi time you use, which is unlimited. They're not meant to be used the same way you would use a regular Internet service, even if it's on the computer. Verizon is actually the only carrier without any data limits on the phone itself (Sprint has unlimited 4G, but that's only because it's not being heavily used yet). The rest have (dishonestly secret) ceilings.

5. If the Touch is using WiFi, it's definitely going to be faster than 3G. There's really no contest.

6. One thing to consider in the future is to get a used smartphone. That way you don't have to worry about contracts at all. Yeah, you pay a little more out of pocket, but it's all about the freedom, baby! Particularly if it's not something you plan on using all of the time. I guess it doesn't matter so much if I am wrong about #1, though.

7. Battery life is an issue on all smartphones, though yours seems particularly bad. I can go 2-3 days on my WinMo phone at its best, though sometimes it gets in some loop where battery life dies at 10% an hour with regular use. My wife's WinMo phone actually goes a week or so without recharge, though she doesn't use it much at all.

Φ said...

Trumwill: Thanks for commenting. I yield to your expertise in all things SmartPhone. :-)

1. I just checked my plan at MyVerizon, and the data plan has in fact been removed. I do have a two-year commitment at some level of service -- I can't up and switch to Sprint, for instance -- but I don't seem to have any requirement to keep the data plan. I'll let you know how my next bill comes out, but the opportunity to switch back and forth between phones seems like a good deal for someone like me who doesn't need a smartphone except occasionally. Indeed, I'm thinking of trading in my Pre (I think I can do that for another two weeks) for something a bit more viable; even if I have to pay $15/month extra for tethering, it's not much of an issue if I only use it a few weeks a year.

2. The Verizon salesman promised -- promised! -- that Flash would be coming out for the Pre this fall. But I've heard this song'n'dance for almost a year now about Androids with nothing to show for it.

3. According to this article, the no-simultaneous-voice-and-data limitation applies to the 3G network in general, but that the limitation is lifted in the 4G network.

5. One of the cool things about SmartPhones is that even if you take them off the cell network, they retain all other functionality: camera, music and video, WiFi. The other thing that doesn't seem to be working is the GPS, but that didn't work so great to begin with. So basically I have a backup Touch for when my children don't want to share.

7. Yeah, the battery life is one of the reasons (along with the busted GPS) that's making me consider trading it in for something else. I don't mind having to charge it once a day. It's having to charge it 2-3x/day, for an hour or more at a time, that's aggravating.

Erik: we considered switching to Sprint a few months back, but just didn't have confidence in their network. But I was able to get Verizon out in the middle of Nowheresville, Big Island with only one dead zone that I noticed.

Erik said...

Yeah, provider network makes a big difference. I've been with Sprint for years, living in three cities, and have never not had a signal except in rural TX, WV and in AK. My brother was just out here (NC) with his AT&T iPhone and had trouble getting signal where I had no problems. And 4G is here in NC but not SoCal, where I was a few weeks ago. Go figure.

Also, Android-based phones like the Evo can do flash, even the new 10.1 beta. iPhone too, AFAIK. Scuttlebutt on the street is that Netflix is in the process of making an app for Android. Hulu will probably follow, but they have nothing now and seem to be in fact actively blocking watching via Android as there have been several little 'workarounds' or custom apps that enabled it but now don't work. Wonder what's going on there. But the browser on the Evo is terrific and handles just about any flash site I've thrown at it.

Erik said...

re: no-simultaneous-voice-and-data, I could swear that I've done this but now that I think about it I may have been on Wi-Fi at those times.

trumwill said...

1. I agree, it's a great deal! That's why I am a bit surprised that Verizon is letting you do it.

3. Looks like it's a GSM vs CDMA thing. AT&T and T-Mobile both can on 3G and Verizon and Sprint can't (on 3G).

5. Yeah, before switching to smartphones I used PDA's for essentially the same functionality sans phone. Now that I've got both in one device, though, I am really reluctant to switch back to using two devices. I actually considered getting a Touch briefly cause even I am not immune to Apple's charms, but like the iPhone it just doesn't do what I want a smartphone or PDA to do.

7. The battery life of your phone doesn't surprise me, though the amount of time it takes to charge up does a little. Mine never takes more than 3 or 4 hours. Are you charging through computer/USB or a wall? Mine is painfully slow charging from USB.

8. Note that there is generally a $35 restocking fee if you switch your phone out. They tried to charge me a restocking fee when I swapped a defective phone, but I talked them out of it.

Φ said...


7. Yeah, the really lengthy charge times for the Pre came from the USB laptop charge. The wall socket charge was much faster. The Touch, in contrast, seems to charge as fast via laptop as via wall socket.

8. Good point about the restocking fee. Hopefully, my service calls about the GPS will help my case that the fee should be waived. Alternatively, maybe they'll refund my phone credit and take the $35 out of that rather than making me pay out-of-pocket.

Erik: Didn't I read somewhere that the iPhone in particular had weak reception quite apart from the AT&T network? I know that the WiFi receiver on my Touch can't get signals that my laptop can.

Regarding Flash: Yes, YouTube does work on the Touch and SmartPhones, but is this because the YouTube app plays Flash or is it because YouTube videos are dual-formatted? Frankly, I've read several contradictory accounts of why Netflix and Hulu don't run on the Touch and SmartPhones.

trumwill said...

7. Have you installed the sync'ing software onto your laptop? One thing that helped me was to uninstall it. With the sync software, battery recharge was being hindered by its maintaining a connection to transfer files and sync the device. It didn't bring it up to the same speed as plugging it into a wall, but it helped. Don't know about Palm (or if you even installed the software).

8. I think that they only waive the fee if you replace your device with the same model. Then again, I suspect that you're a shrewder negotiator than I am.

9. Mine does have bonafide Flash on it. Or a weak version of it. It's not limited to YouTube videos, but I also don't think that it runs all Flash programs. And honestly, it's such a resource hog that I sometimes consider uninstalling Flash altogether.

Erik said...

I know that the WiFi receiver on my Touch can't get signals that my laptop can.

This is my experience as well. The range is not as good, but if you are in range the throughput is very good. Eventually this will be offset somewhat when 4G gets more mainstream. When I do have a 4G signal (usually not at home, I live on the outskirts of town) the speed is very good.

I don't mean to sound like a Sprint (or HTC) marketing rep. Indeed, I still kept my old phone active because I was really only giving myself a 50-50 chance of keeping the Evo. But I have to admit I'm very impressed so far.

Erik said...

Full Adobe Flash player in Android 2.2 download: