Tag

cell phones

AT&T To Bring Free Wi-Fi To Starbucks And Beyond!

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This is awesome news in so many ways. AT&T plans to start implementing wi-fi networks at more than 7,000 company-run Starbucks locations nationwide (that’s pretty much all of them except in certain locations, such as Barnes & Noble, for example). The best part? It’s going to be free! If you have a Starbucks card, you will be allowed two hours of free, unrestricted access per day to the network. For anything beyond that, there’s a very nominal fee. If you’re an AT&T Broadband customer, you’ll have unlimited free access. The networks will be installed in the Spring in many markets, and all locations should have networks by the end of the year.

This is somewhat of a different topic, but it has been reported that AT&T has snapped up part of the 700 MHz wireless spectrum put on the auction block by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and plans to offer nationwide long-range wi-fi that will most likely be free for iPhone users (personal note: this would be incredible) and only ten to twenty dollars per month for iPod Touch users and computer users who do not have any kind of AT&T service plan. This makes complete sense and leads me and many other people to believe that we will never see the 3G-equipped iPhone that has long been rumored to come out this year. The chips used in 3G phones use too much power to be useful in a device such as the iPhone. Plus, this way there will be no update to the iPhone necessary and last year’s purchases, myself included, won’t be left out in the cold with an incompatible device. The profits for both AT&T and Apple would be enormous if iPod Touch owners embraced the service, and really, why wouldn’t they? The device becomes twice as useful in more places with constant connectivity to a wi-fi network, as opposed to just at home.

I’m really excited about the prospect of these plans being implemented!

Here are the links to articles on both planned AT&T services:

AT&T’s Starbucks Wi-Fi Networks

AT&T’s Nationwide Wi-Fi Network

Short Pump Sprawl Rant

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Any of you that know me pretty well know I run a local history website (I’m in the process of revamping it now, and it looks so bad at the moment I don’t even want to link it right now). I’ve watched the development of Short Pump from a tiny rural village eleven years ago to the sprawling suburban hot spot it now is. Sure, it’s great that those of us who live in the Far West End have pretty much everything we could want and need within a few miles of us, but it’s just gotten ridiculous lately.

Take for example the shopping center that’s opening up this weekend, Short Pump Station. It’s the one that was just completed across the street from Target. Next time you’re driving down West Broad Street, take a look at it. Notice how there’s ten or fifteen retail spaces for lease in the center, and only four are leased as of now. Why are developers building these shopping centers when there is no demand? Obviously, as the old saying goes, if you build it, they will come. Yes, this is true, they will eventually fill up the entire place with tenants, but look at what’s there thus far:

1) A Verizon Wireless store. Are you kidding me? There are five (count them… FOUR) Verizon stores within a one mile radius of this new store! There’s one in Best Buy, Circuit City, Short Pump Town Center, and on Broad next to For Eyes. I can somewhat understand when Starbucks puts a store on every corner, but a cell phone store? That’s insane.

2) Petco. I like animals… shoot, I have four cats. But what’s the need? I know we have a PetSmart right down the road, so it’s only natural that their competition would move in, but seriously.

3) Five Below. I’ve been to one of these stores up at Patomac Mills in Northern Virginia. What is it, you ask? Basically take the Made-In-China crap they sell at Dollar Tree and add a few “nicer” items, up to five bucks. There you have it. It’s geared towards teens and young people on a tight budget, but it’s still crap. We already have a Wal-Mart across the street for that.

The empty shopping center trend continues as you go west of the mall to Towne Center West, which opened this summer (pictured at top, left).

Next to Short Pump Station, West Broad Village is now under construction. Despite “planned traffic improvements” that Henrico County talks about all the time, it’s still going to be even more of a nightmare than ever to drive through Short Pump when it’s all completed.

But rest assured, all you Verizon customers, you’ll always have five cell phone stores within walking distance of each other that you can stroll between when you get stuck in gridlock traffic for three hours and abandon your car on Broad Street.

Wawa’s Pesky “Mosquito”

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So I stopped at Wawa on Staples Mill Road Sunday night to get some gas and one of their really good chocolate chip muffins on the way home from VCU. As I stood there pumping gas, I noticed this awful pulsating, high-frequency tone that sounded like it was coming from the gas pumps. I had been listening to my iPod in the library while I studied for a good few hours, so I thought maybe my ears were ringing from prolonged music-listening. So I went inside to get my muffin, and when I came back, I heard it again. I looked around, and sure enough, there were two small white transmitters (pictured) emitting the tone, mounted to the underside of the metal roof over the gas pumps.

What are the purpose of these, you ask? Well a couple of years ago, the owner of a small retail store in the United Kingdom got tired of teenagers loitering around his shop and causing trouble. He realized that people’s ability to hear extremely high-pitched sounds decreases with age, and patented a device that emits an irritating sound that most people over the age of 25 or 30 can’t hear.

Apparently this technology has come “across the pond” as they say, and has landed at the neighborhood Wawa. I’ll be the first to tell you it works. It was so irritating that I don’t think I’ll be back to buy gas there unless I’m trailing in on fumes with no other gas stations in sight. That particular Wawa doesn’t really seem to be a hangout spot like some others I’ve seen, so I don’t really understand the need. The only thing I think they’re accomplishing is losing the business of legitimate, paying customers such as myself.

The relentless cat and mouse game between adults and youth goes on, though. Teenagers have hijacked the tone, turning the sound into a ringtone that can be used to be alerted to phone calls and text messages while in school. Teachers, usually over the age of 23 or 30, can’t hear the tone. Pure genius. I knew of several people who frequently used this tone in high school last year. Ready to take the “are you old” test? here’s the tone. See if you can hear it! Click here.

Textapalooza

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I just went to view my cell phone bill online at AT&T. Turns out I used 1,360 text messages last month, incoming and outgoing. Holy cow! I really didn’t realize just how much I text. Fortunately, I saw this coming to some extent and upped my monthly allotment from 250 to unlimited. It’s a good thing, because at $0.15 per message, I’d be looking at an extra $200 this month just for texting.

iPhone: Third-Party Applications?

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After originally saying they wouldn’t allow any third-party applications on the iPhone, Apple has just recently announced that it will, after all, open up its’ popular phone to developers. Currently, you can only use Web 2.0 applications through the Safari (internet) application, which of course offers limited functionality. I’ve never been so satisfied with any phone, or gadget for that matter, as I am with my iPhone, but this will make it even better. What would I personally download first? An instant messaging application and one that lets you send picture mail (can you believe you can’t send multimedia messages on the iPhone?!)

Click here for the full story on iPhone applications from Electronic Design’s website.

Trading In, Trading Up: iPhone

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Ever since the iPhone came out in late June, I wanted one really bad. I told myself I wasn’t going to get one. Well, for one, I had Sprint and had no intentions of dropping them. But when Apple dropped the price of the 8GB iPhone by $200, I just had to take the opportunity to get one. I know I posted before about my enV (I got Verizon after I dumped Sprint about a month ago, but bought the iPhone when they dropped the price and got my money back from Verizon- they have a 30-day money-back guarantee) and I have nothing bad to say about Verizon. Unlike Sprint, I had great service with them and got a signal just about everywhere, including my office building downtown, which is a concrete barricade for most all cell providers and even the majority of local radio stations. But, I just felt that I needed more of a PDA-like device to organize all I have going on with school, work, everything I do with church, and extracurricular activities.

I absolutely love my iPhone. It’s just like my Mac: intuitive interface, easy to use, simple yet powerful, minimalistic architecture, aesthetically pleasing, elegant, and is designed beautifully. Everything made by Apple just makes sense, and this device is no exception.

I’d like to go through and review each home screen application individually, as they appear on screen, based on my personal experiences over the past week. Here’s my personal review:

Text – Sending texts on this phone resembles an iChat conversation (it’s not too far off from AIM, either) with the talk bubbles and conversation-based layout. The on-screen keyboard is very easy to use despite it’s small size because of the shear precision of the touch screen interface.

Calendar – Syncs with iCal (Mac) or Microsoft Office Outlook (PC). I have four color-coded calendars set up in my iCal: Personal, Work, Church, and VCU. They all sync seamlessly with the iPhone. All alerts, reminders, and other features remain intact and all events are editable on the fly. My Mac was already helping tremendously to organize my busy (as of lately) life, but now that I have my calendar with me at all times I always know what I have going on.

Photos – Displays photos automatically synchronized from iPhoto (Mac) or any set folder on your Mac or PC, or those taken directly with the iPhone’s built-in camera. Nifty interface with options for slideshows, transitions, and other cool things. You can also quickly zoom in or out on photos by “pinching” the screen (sliding your thumb and index finger together/apart).

Camera – Nice 2.0 megapixel digital camera that takes photos comperable to the iSight webcam built into my MacBook Pro. Good color quality with little to no brightness wash-out that you sometimes get with cameras on mobile devices.

YouTube – Excellent mobile version of the site with options for search, most popular videos, bookmarks, and more. Nice widescreen, full display of videos, fast loading, especially when connected to wi-fi as opposed to over AT&T’s Edge data network.

Stocks – As you could imagine, I’m not really into the stock market, but very nice interface for checking up on the performance of your favorite companies should you so choose

Maps – A mobile version of the Google Maps application, and just as with any Google software, it’s feature-rich and intuitive. “Pinch” to zoom in/out, view satellite imagery, get directions, search for the nearest anything (a simple search for Starbucks returns all the nearby Starbucks locations, complete with wi-fi information and phone numbers. Some even include store hours!

Weather – Simple, easy-to-use weather interface that shows the next few upcoming days’ weather forecast and high/low temperatures, easily customized for multiple locations

Clock – Includes a timer, stopwatch, alarms feature, and world clock that displays the time in any city of your choosing worldwide

Calculator – Does the job. Simple, big buttons, does what it needs to do

Notes – Similar to the Stickies application in Mac OS X, useful for writing down “to do” items or anything you need to remember

Settings – Controls for everything on the iPhone, including really cool built-in ringtones. A lot of times phones come with lame ringtones, but Apple did a good job with this.

Phone – Well, this IS why I have the thing, right? Among other things, yes. View all your contacts (synchronized from Address Book (Mac) or Microsoft Office Outlook (PC)), and just click to see all their details. Click below to get to your “Favorites” list (basically speed dial on most phones), and the voicemail menu brings up one of the coolest features: Visual Voicemail. No more dialing your mailbox to retrieve messages and listening to frustrating audio prompts from within. Visual Voicemail does just what it sounds like- visually displays your voicemail messages and lets you click on them to play (click below to stop or pause) and delete or save them, scroll through them much like you would with a song on the iPod, and call the person back, all with one touch of the screen. Amazing feature.

Mail – All mail messages and account settings are imported during sync, and you can set your iPhone to automatically check for new messages from multiple accounts up to every 15 minutes. Very sleek, nice interface, easy to read and reply. I have my two personal accounts, VCU, and GACC accounts set up and they all work together seamlessly.

Safari – The iPhone is the first phone to offer “true” internet, not the mobile version you find on most phones. With the ability to “pinch” and “pull” to zoom in and out on the page, you can easily view everything in a snap. The screen will rotate from the normal portrait mode to landscape (widescreen) when you flip the iPhone 90 degrees. Very, very cool.

iPod – All the features of a regular iPod, with the ability to actually hear the songs on the built-in speaker, and view Cover Flow (shows your album artwork like a jukebox) when you turn your iPhone in landscape mode.

So with all these wonderful features, I will say that there are actually a few downsides that I’ve noticed. Nothing’s perfect. Apple is due for another firmware update (1.0.3) within the next week or two, and I think they are going to squash most of the bugs. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

1. When I listen to music on the iPod application of the iPhone and open up Safari and get online, either Safari or the iPod application will crash sometimes. It’s about a 50/50 chance. You’re supposed to be able to multitask and have multiple applications open, so I think this is definitely something the update will address.

2. No picture mail (!). Can you believe that? A phone that can send emails, have full web access, and get on YouTube can’t send multimedia messages? Wow. There is a workaround I’ve found, though. You can email photos you’ve taken on your iPhone, so let’s say you wanted to send a picture to a friend who has Verizon. All you have to do is email it to FRIENDSNUMBER@vzwpix.com and it will be sent to their phone as a picture message. Cool, huh? It sucks you have to do that, but it works.

3. No instant messaging/AIM support. The texting application looks like iChat and resembles an online chat, but for some reason no AIM support was included. This is rumored to be included with the update that’s coming out, so we’ll see. There is a nice version of Meebo built for the iPhone, though, although it sometimes causes Safari to crash.

4. No video support. This is also a rumored update. The camera is completely capable of good quality video, so I think this will be supported.

5. Limited settings. The Settings application is very clean, but limited. For example, you can’t change the alert tone for texts, voicemail, email, or calendar alerts. Lame!

Overall, the iPhone is amazing. It’s far beyond any of the competition. Years away, I believe. I’m very happy with my purchase and look forward to the future additions and updates.

Everything’s Changing

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This has been an interesting week thus far. Things are kind of stabilizing. Nothing was ever that wrong, and I appreciate all the comments and Facebook messages (of both concern and praise) I got from my “vent post” this past weekend. Everyone seemed to share my sentiment about the mess up at The Dominion Club. I might have written all of that to let off some steam, but I wasn’t exaggerating how things are at the club, and I’m obviously not the only one by far who feels the way I do.

So anyway, as the post title suggests, I’m in a season of change in my life right now. One obvious change is college. I start classes Friday, and even though I’m living at home, there’s still so much change around me. A few of my really good friends have left this week for their respective colleges away from Richmond, and it’s just weird right now. It’s strange to think that they’re not coming back until Christmas. I feel a little disconnected at the moment not living on campus at VCU, especially after visiting Jen’s dorm and seeing all the bustling activity going on down there, but I know I’m going to meet a lot of cool people who I’ll end up becoming friends with, so it’s not a big deal. I’ve already met some really nice people in just the few times I’ve been on campus.

So I made another change today, hopefully for the better. I switched from Sprint to Verizon. Now I know I’m going to get a bunch of fingers pointed at me if I don’t first make this disclaimer: I know I’ve always told anyone who asked me why I didn’t have Verizon all the reason I didn’t want it (I was happy with Sprint, Verizon has (supposedly) bad customer service, and their phones are slow because of all the software they cram into them), but I don’t think I’m being completely hypocritical by switching. I have plenty of justification for my move. Just about all my friends, those I call and text both a lot and a little, have Verizon. Plus, for some reason, Sprint’s service has degraded a lot lately. I’m not really sure why. You’d think if anything it would get better as they build more towers and improve their network coverage, but who knows. I’ve had it for less than a day as I write this, but already I’ve noticed that I have a very strong signal everywhere I’ve been, including at church, which has notoriously been a really bad dead spot for my old service.

Review of the LG enV:

The new enV by LGThe service is better, sure. But what about the phone? It’s awesome. I got the new model of the enV by LG. The battery performance is far better than my old phone (often I would charge my old Samsung Blade all night and the battery would die after normal use by dinnertime), not to mention it’s just really cool. It has a dual-interface, meaning you can use almost all of its features on the front of the phone without opening it (and frankly you can’t even tell it opens up on first glance), but when you do open it you’re presented with a full “QWERTY” keyboard and crisp widescreen LCD that, believe it or not, comes close to the resolution of my MacBook Pro’s screen. The 2.0 megapixel camera has a very good white balance, and pictures actually look like they were taken on a full-featured digital camera rather than looking like the bright, washed-out pictures most phones’ cameras (including my old Blade) produce. Video quality is better than on many phones, and Verizon’s mobile internet service looks great and runs fast. Email came through almost as fast as over my Comcast broadband at home. Overall, after an afternoon of heavy use, I’d give my new phone 4 1/2 stars out of five.