Free is Good

Smartphonegeddon (42/365)
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/30s, f/3.5, ISO 200

While the Egyptians were busy throwing out Mubarak, my wife and I went over to a local T-Mobile at a suburban Orlando store and took advantage of their two-day any-phone-free offer to upgrade our ten-year-old mobile plan, as well as get some fairly current smart phones.

We've had a family plan with T-Mobile, and Voice Stream Wireless before that, for over ten years. Sometime around 2006 I let the contracts expire because I was beginning to get tired of T-Mobile and was seriously thinking of switching to another provider, specifically Cingular or Verizon. Then AT&T finished buying out Cingular, and Verizon, on closer inspection, turned out to not be all that much better than T-Mobile.

Meanwhile, I purchased simple dumb-phones or slightly smarter feature phones without contract, simply because it was cheaper and it left me with flexibility. That was the policy until sometime last week when I heard the rumors about the T-Mobile sale.

So today, I worked from the house. Late in the morning the wife and I headed over to a T-Mobile store and started to look at what was on offer. When all the dust finally settled, we had:
  • Switched our plan from four basic lines to a two-year contract, two-line unlimited data plus two line basic service with 3000 shared minutes for $30/month more than what we'd been spending;
  • Picked up a free HTC MyTouch 4G smartphone to replace my LG GS170 basic flip phone
  • Picked up a free HTC G2 smartphone to replace my wife's LG dLite feature flip phone
  • Picked up a free Samsung Gravity T for the oldest daughter, replacing her Gravity 3
  • And activated a fifth basic spare line with a free Gravity 3 for an additional $5/month.
Both the smartphones are capable of taking advantage of T-Mobile's so-called 4G network.

Both smartphones are absolutely incredible, especially considering they were free. What was both interesting and sad was the lone HTC HD7 Windows Phone 7 model that T-Mobile has. I almost selected that phone for myself, but decided to go with Android, not out of any ideological reason, but because of the question I have as to the long-term viability of Windows Phone 7. I've actually played around with some Windows Phone 7 handsets, and they are quite impressive. But they fall short in some critical areas, and with the just announced hookup between Microsoft and Nokia, I think I'm going to sit back for the next 24 months and see which Windows Phone 7 heads. By then the dust will have pretty much cleared and I'll have a better idea as how successful Windows Phone 7 will turn out. Maybe by then I'll make a decision to own a handset.

But right now I'm learning how to effectively use the 4G, and my wife is learning, sometimes painfully, what it means to own the 2G. I'll have a detailed review up and comparison of both on 'thews reviews laster, but right now I can tell you that even though both handsets were made by HTC with the same version of Android (well, nearly the same; the 4G has 2.2.1 while the 2G has 2.2), I've can't believe the jarring differences between the two. I'll have more to say about that as well.

And while I'm at it, let me throw a brick-bat at the Swype. My wife tried to use it and called it (and I'm quoting here) "a pile of shit." She says that using Swype reminds her of the hard time she had trying to use the Nook Color; at time's it fails to respond to touches, and goes into the occasional odd freeze, as if it's doing something behind the scenes. She's basically sworn off using Swype on the G2 to quickly input words.

I won't even try; Swype reminds me of the stylus-based 'cursive' input on my old Handspring and Dell PDAs. You had to be very careful how you drew on the screen, and more often than not you wound up having to go back and correct the software's mis-interpretation of what you really wanted to input. After watching my wife struggle with Swype, the thought came to mind of how little we've progressed between what I had with my Handspring and what's being offered with Swype.

I can't offer a definitive reason for why T-Mobile made such an audacious offer this weekend, but I can guess; the release of the iPhone on Verizon. I won't venture into the forums where arguments rage over whether Verizon's initial iPhone offering was a success or failure. I tend to believe with the argument posited on Ars Technica, that AT&T has done such a poor job launching each release of the iPhone out to its customers that we don't know what a successful launch actually looks like. It may be that Verizon was able to launch their iPhone to large numbers of subscribers without having to create long lines and frustrated first adopters. We'll just have to wait and see what the official numbers look like.

The next two years are going to be interesting. In a way I'm glad I'm on the sidelines.


  1. I am keenly interested in the Windows phones as well. They have the chance to really take the world by storm. Android is great but is somewhat fractured with handset quality and offerings from software developers. And as for Swype, give a run. It was a little weird at first but once you are used to it there is no looking back.


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