2016 - Best No-Contract Mobile Phone Plans

After years of suffering through the major carriers' complicated (and expensive) multi-year contracts which included subsidized cellphones, 2016 appears to be a banner year for users as the last of the major carriers abandons subsidies.

Users may be paying suggested retail for their shiny new phones, but they will be benefitting from paying off the balance over a pre-determined period, or by paying in full upfront. And if buying an unlocked no-contract device, users can choose from a variety of lower cost prepaid plans. Some of the more popular ones are listed below:

  • Boost and Virgin Mobile - subsidiaries operate on Sprint's network
  • Cricket Wireless - subsidiary on AT&T's network
  • Go Smart and MetroPCS on T-Mobile
  • Straight Talk (with WalMart) on T-Mobile or AT&T, and Simple Mobile (on T-Mobile)
  • TracFone with multiple brands operating on major carrier networks
  • FreedomPop - plans range from free to discounted rates over Sprint
  • Republic Wireless - low monthly rates on WiFi and Sprint
  • TextNow - WiFi calling and Sprint network
  • Scratch, Ting, Ultra, H2O, and others offering low monthly rates; some with international calling and unlimited international texts
Perform a quick search on the above-listed brands and choose a plan which fits your needs. If you don't like it, change providers at the end of each monthly billing cycle.

Some of these providers (carriers and MVNOs) offer no-contract phones, while others only sell SIM cards. Prior to purchasing a mobile phone, check to see who has the best coverage in the area you plan to use it, and which operating system (GSM, CDMA) it utilizes. Also, if a 4G/LTE phone is important to you, be sure that it uses those frequency bands of your chosen carrier.

Some of the top-tier cellphone manufacturers have unlocked versions available, and these devices can be purchased from Amazon, Newegg, and warehouse clubs. Google and Motorola also sell direct, and have solid devices with outstanding reviews.

Good luck! 
The Google Phone - Nexus 4

I attempted to order the Nexus 4  phone from the Google Play store when it was initially released in late 2012. The order hung on the 'check out' page of the website, and the transaction was never completed.

Fast forward to 2013...with advance word of re-stocking on the N4, I waited for the item to appear in the Play store...two days after placing the order, I had the N4 in my hands.

Now, some five months later, I can happily state that it has met my (and many others) expectations. After a couple of small updates, the N4 is running Android 4.2.2. It is paired with a No-Contract carrier, but updates are OTA directly from Google's servers, with no middleman involved. I keep a couple of SIM cards available from various providers, and can switch depending on my coverage and/or airtime requirements for any one month. The jump from my previous carrier of 15 years to a no-contract carrier has garnered significant monthly savings...such that the purchase price of the N4 has already been recovered in a few short months.

While this may not be the route for some, it has been emancipating for many. In my case, I have VoIP available during most hours with traditional telephone handsets, coupled with other VoIP such as Skype, Google, and others. Wi-fi is available or within range 24/7, and the N4 stores every access point, so that connection is almost automatic. With a few apps from the Play store and Amazon, I configured the N4 to operate seamlessly between carrier and wi-fi signals. The integration with Google allows all email, calendar, events, and other notifications to reach me wherever I may be located, if I choose to receive them.

Several of the apps for the Nexus 4 are worth a mention. The Google Now app is one of my favorites, and anyone who has used Siri on their iPhone will appreciate the smooth operation of Google Now. Navigation, weather, travel time, airline schedules, sports scores, and other 'cards' can be saved for easy reference, with automatic updating.

The text-to-speech apps work well, but the built-in voice recognition on the N4 is almost flawless, and is periodically tweaked. It can be used for emails, text messaging, search functions, and other Google tie-ins.

The 8 MP camera has some excellent features, and you can read numerous reviews about it. I added a camera app which activates the shutter by sound (whistle, tap, etc.), so that I do not miss the blue button when holding the phone/camera in awkward positions (over my head at concerts, parades, etc.). I often reduce the resolution for attachments to mobile emails, when picture quality is not an issue, and have found that 3 MP is sufficient for most casual photos. This also helps with finite storage on the N4...which brings up another point.

For those concerned about the lack of a memory card slot, many providers have cloud storage available for free...Amazon, Google, Mega, Dropbox, etc. Save your money if you are concerned about the 8GB versus the 16GB version of the Nexus 4. Coupled with cloud storage, you probably will not have a memory issue and may opt for the savings of the 8 GB N4. If you use the Wi-fi Transfer app, you can transfer files to a PC from your N4 from time-to-time, and easily manage any storage issues.

There is much more to be said, but read the published reviews on the Nexus 4 to make your own decision...but send your carrier a message and bail out of your contract. It will be one of the more pleasant experiences for you and your wallet.


No-Contract Phones Coming of Age

No-contract phones and carriers are becoming attractive to subscribers nearing end-of-term contracts and others desiring to lower their mobile phone bills.

Within the past few months, mid-range smartphones utilizing Android operating systems have attracted quite a few buyers, considering that some monthly rates start as low as $30 USD for unlimited data. While the airtime minutes for voice are relatively low, new apps for VoIP allow unlimited airtime over data connections for a low monthly or one-time fee. This can supplement voice minutes when WiFi is available.

One Android model which I have used is the no-contract version from T-Mobile...the Samsung Exhibit II. When coupled with the Wal-Mart/ special pricing, the $30 plan works quite  well. While in the office, WiFi usage and voice quality are excellent, and the only limitation is during travel time on 3G/4G.

Another model which I have tested is the LG Optimus V on Virgin Mobile. I have used one for several months over WiFi, and the 300 minute airtime with unlimited data is a relatively inexpensive $35 per month. The only negative of the phone is the memory management for apps, which translates to a lack of RAM on the device.

I would anticipate more mid-to-higher end phones being available this year without the need for a 2-year contract. And with coverage usually being a non-issue, many current contract subscribers may be able to cut their monthly bills in half...or more.

Apple Announces iPhone 4S(teve)

Apple's announcement of the iPhone 4S with GSM and CDMA radios on October 4th was a disappointment to those expecting a redesigned phone named the iPhone 5. Those folks will have to wait...

However, the 4S has a dual-core A5 processor, the Siri Assistant app incorporated into the device, a better camera with 8 MP, HD (up to 1080P) video, and video stabilization. iCloud is included with the new operating system iOS 5, and provides the user with free 5 GBs of network storage for music, apps, photos, etc.

Sadly, on October 5th, news that Apple co-Founder Steve Jobs had passed away reverberated through the tech community and the consumer world alike.

R.I.P. will be missed.

Virgin Mobile Intros Motorola Triumph

Virgin Mobile will introduce the Motorola Triumph in July, with Best Buy already taking pre-orders for July 19th.

The Triumph will be the most feature-rich Android to date by a no-contract carrier. With Froyo 2.2, and Flash support, the Triumph includes some impressive specs:

  • 4.1 inch touch screen (WVGA)
  • 1 GHz Snapdragon processor
  • 1400 mAh battery
  • 512 MB RAM for increased app storage
  • up to 32 GB micro SD card support
  • 2 GB micro SD card included
  • HDMI port
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Front facing camera; 5 MP auto focus rear camera with 720p HD video and LED flash
  • Stock Virgin theme; no MotoBlur; easily customizable
  • 3G (EVDO rev A) and Wi-fi
  • GPS navigation (Google Maps, etc.)
  • Hotspot capable
  • Android Market
One thing missing is a dedicated camera shutter button in horizontal mode.

Pricing will be around $299 (USD), according to Best Buy. Other retailers may offer incentives as SKUs become more available, but the price seems reasonable considering no contracts are required.
How the Cellular Carriers Have Failed Us

After twenty-plus years of cell phone use, and being held hostage to their hardware and their rate plans, I have found a solution that works well for me, and may be good for you, also.

With AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile demanding compliance on a "take it or leave (it)" basis, I finally had enough. Apparently, many other subscribers have walked away, too.

When Sprint announced its "4G" phones with a $10 premium, even though 4G service was not available in most areas of the country, it seemed reasonable to say "enough is enough".

That should have been the case with AT&T's lousy service during the introduction of the iPhone. But peer pressure being what it is, many chose to stick it out and complain, but not leave.

Verizon hasn't been any better, with some of the highest-priced plans around (remember that Verizon is a joint venture, and that the parent company was formed through a combination of the Baby Bells and GTE-arguably one of the most expensive wireline telcos).

Most subscribers need a phone first, and somewhere down the line, Twitter and Facebook become a priority. Subscribers want access to their email and text messages, and with so many Wi-Fi locations around, it is easy enough to retrieve and transmit messages with a Wi-Fi capable device.

The key solution seems to be an unlimited data plan with a no-contract phone. But iPhones and Androids are not presently carried by the no-contract providers (not the high-end Androids, at least). And most subscribers did not want to carry two devices (cell phone and PDA) in the past. But with the new iPod Touch 4G, the game has been changed. It's thin body and iPhone 4G features make it easy to carry, and also access all of the Apple apps, without the AT&T monthly fee. And with an Android on Virgin, Boost, or MetroPCS, one can have access to those apps while paying a low monthly fee for their voice minutes and enjoying unlimited data over 3G.


Samsung Epic 4G from Sprint

Sprint and Samsung announced today that another 4G phone, branded as the Samsung Epic 4G, would be available later this year for USA markets. The Epic 4G will join the HTC EVO as the only 4G models operating on domestic markets. Sprint also announced that 4G service would commence today in Salt Lake City, St. Louis, and Richmond, VA.

The specifications from the Sprint new release are impressive:

  • 3G/4G capability
  • Samsung 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird Application Processor
  • 4-inch Super AMOLED capacitive display with pinch-to-zoom
  • Google full HTML browser
  • Android 2.1
  • 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot capability - connects up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices
  • 4G data speeds (WiMAX) - peak download speeds of more than 10 Mbps; peak upload speeds of 1 Mbps; average download speeds of 3-6 Mbps
  • 3G data speeds (EVDO Rev A.) - peak download speeds of up to 3.1 Mbps; peak upload speeds of 1.8 Mbps; average download speeds of 600 kbps-1.4 Mbps
  • Dual camera: 5 MP camera/camcorder with autofocus, Power LED flash and 3x digital zoom for HD video (720p) recording for capture and playback on an HD television and front facing VGA camera for video chat and more
  • Samsung's exclusive AllShare service to wirelessly share stored music, pictures and HD video to other DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) certified™ home electronics, including HDTVs, monitors, digital cameras, printers and more.
  • Media player with 3.5mm stereo headset jack
  • Sprint applications including Sprint Football Live, Sprint Navigation Sprint TV®, and NASCAR Sprint Cup MobileSM
  • Bluetooth® 2.1 with A2DP Stereo and EDR
  • Built-in WiFi®: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Digital compass, six-axis motion sensor, proximity sensor, light sensor, GPS
  • Expandable memory: 16 GB microSD card included; supports up to 32 GB
For additional information, see:


Sprint Eliminates Loyalty Discounts

Sprint, along with the top two wireless carriers in the USA, is limiting the choices of plans available to subscribers who want to have the latest and greatest mobile handsets (i.e.: EVO, Hero, Droid, iPhone). If current subscribers want to upgrade to one of the newer so-called 'smartphones', they will have to pony up the additional $30 to $50 per month for the 'privilege' of using one of the devices. Sprint maintains (as does Verizon and AT&T) that the latest smartphones are data intensive, requiring an unlimited data plan (It does not seem to matter that Palm Treos and 3G Centros are smartphones, and many subscribers use them with their existing and lower cost unlimited data plans). At Sprint, this would require longtime subscribers to give up their 'Loyalty Discount' and perhaps other perks (6pm off-peak, bonus minutes, etc.) added over the years, resulting in higher monthly bills for fewer services.

Note: The 'Loyalty Discount' was recently removed from Sprint subscribers' accounts, resulting in an immediate increase in monthly charges.

At Verizon and AT&T, subscribers have long complained about the high-cost data plans that must be added to the basic subscription in order to purchase the higher end handsets such as iPhones and Droids. And all major carriers offer corporate discounts and off-sheet deals to their partners. But while Sprint has continued to bleed subscribers over the past few years, it seems to fly in the face of logic for them to eliminate existing discounts (without notification) for their most loyal subscribers.

Sprint has had a large number of pricing plans over the years, and within the past year has decided to pare their offerings to only a few...Everything Data and Simply Everything. They also offer family sharing plans as a part of the primary plans. And while many would argue that Sprint offers lower cost plans than their two larger rivals, others would state that Sprint's handset line was lacking in the 'wow' category (
until the EVO was recently released) or that Sprint's coverage area was not as wide as their competitors'.

As with any product or service, consumers are often advised to vote with their wallet...(i.e.: If you are not satisfied, buy from someone else). Today, the no-contract carriers are offering all-inclusive plans starting at $40 per month, with taxes and fees included. Boost, which operates on the Sprint network, has a $50 plan and a Blackberry plan for $60. Metro PCS offers plans from $40 with unlimited calling and roaming in their markets. AT&T offers their 'go phone' with unlimited talk and text for $60 per month (web is an extra $20 for 100MB).

At some point, no-contract carriers will undoubtedly be offering Android-based handsets at unsubsidized prices, especially since the BB has broken the ice. Perhaps then, major carriers such as Sprint will re-think their policies to retain their long-term subscribers and also allow them the freedom to purchase and use any handset with their existing plan, and keep their loyalty discounts, too.

Sprint HTC EVO Arrives

Today (June 4 2010) marks the arrival of the much-touted (and reviewed) HTC EVO 4G at Sprint stores and authorized retailers. For a full feature list, click here.

The EVO purchase price will generally be $199.99 after rebates and discounts, plus applicable taxes. The plan pricing with a 2-year contract starts at $80 per month ($69.99 plus $10) and includes the 'everything data' and unlimited mobile-to-mobile. Airtime includes 450 anytime minutes, with unlimited nights & weekend minutes after 7pm M-F.

There are varied opinions on the pricing structure and 'surcharge' for the EVO, since it is WiMax capable but 4G service has limited availability in USA markets. It will be interesting to see what the adoption rate is during the first few months of availability. There is a point at which price versus perceived value becomes an issue, and in this instance, it is not the device itself but the monthly premium for those outside of a 4G coverage area.

Those of us who have been around the tech sector for many years seem to marvel at the innovations that have occurred, while realizing that the utility of some devices remains questionable. In tough economic times, consumers are forced to make choices for items they desire against items they truly need. It may be one factor in the growth of the pre-paid cellular market, as subscribers realize that having a smartphone that does everything is overkill for some who are sitting at a desk during the workday with their full-blown PC. Business travelers may have one need (i.e.: blackberry), while most other workers can 'get by' with a regular cell phone and a text messaging plan.

Personally, I like the latest Android-based phones, having used smartphones since their introduction. The synchronization with Google products is particularly useful, and the video streaming is quite an improvement over other devices. The processors are much faster than earlier non-Android phones, and the difference is noticeable. For many folks, whether all of this is a compelling reason to jump may determine the short-term success of the EVO.


And Now...The nexus one

Forget the speculation...Google finally delivered the nexus one. And the press is all over it with mostly positive reviews. iPhone killer? Hardly. But give it some time to gain momentum, and with multiple carriers, an ever-increasing app population, and reasonable pricing, it could overshadow the iPhone, at least as a conversation piece.

Check the specs on any reviewer's site: AMOLED screen, 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, voice recognition, proximity sensor, accelerometer, Google apps including Voice, and so on. This smartphone has been called a SuperPhone, but in fact, it's a mobile PC with voice capability.


Droids, Hero(s), iPhones

Forget all of the speculation about whether this phone or that phone is an iPhone killer. Most of the reviews are essentially the same. And the discussion should not be about the hardware, as much as it should be about the network and the outrageous limitations placed on the subscriber's use of the hardware.

Take for example, Verizon's series of "there's a Map for that" commercials. Verizon Wireless, partly owned by VodaPhone, is also the successor to the old GTE and Bell Atlantic, which the latter evolved from acquiring NyNex and others. Due to their legacy systems and costs, they saw their market share dropping as a result of wireless and internet competition. They have never REALLY been competitive (just look at their Public Service Commission filings in the states where they operate) with other telecommunications companies. And now, they want to criticize the Apple-AT&T partnership (which is odd, since they were also part of the old Bell RBOC structure) and make some potential customers think that a better deal is being offered by the carrier.

The best wireless deals come from companies like Boost (which operates on the Sprint all-digital network), MetroPCS, and StraightTalk (via Wal-Mart and TracPhone and operating over Verizon's network) in all-you-can-eat packages for $50 or less per month. If you talk a lot, and need email access, these are good deals.

Buy an iPhone and pay a minimum of $70 per month to AT&T for their data plan add-on. Buy a Droid, and pay the same minimum to Verizon Wireless. Likewise, at Sprint, buy a Hero for $179 with a two-year contract, and be forced to buy or upgrade to one of two unlimited data plans starting at $70 per month. Read the fine print at AT&T or Verizon, and you will find that you need to peel more dollars from your wallet for text messaging and/or picture mail, mobile-to-mobile, MMS, etc. Most subscribers will be paying $100 per month or more for the 'privilege' of carrying around a neat handset (which will be the last generation in a few weeks or months).

At some point, subscribers will realize how much money is being spent while the handset is sitting idle next to their PC. If they are in a hotspot, they have the same functionality on a netbook or notebook with a larger screen. And if they are on Skype, they can call all over North America for $2.95 per month unlimited.

So, why are the wireless carriers charging $100-$140 per month for unlimited calls? And why won't they include tethering as part of the package? And why do they have limits on data usage (read the contract)? And why is the early termination fee (ETF) so high? And why is there a two year contract? And why does off-peak airtime begin after 9pm (for most carriers)? And why does Sprint require one of two data plans for the Hero, Pre, and Moment, when many customers already have unlimited data on lower cost plans?

Consumers beware...weigh your options.

Sprint's HTC Hero...with Android

One of the better SmartPhones to hit the market was released on October 11th by Sprint ( a few days earlier by agreement with Best Buy). I was fortunate to get a sneak preview of the HTC Hero and the many useful applications available to users, and can state that it is one of the most full-featured PDA/SmartPhones thusfar released.

Many reviews have been written in anticipation of its public release, but subscribers to Sprint will find that it takes advantage of their excellent 3G network, and has full integration with Google services such as GMail, documents, maps, GoogleTalk, etc. Most Sprint users will be required to have a data plan such as the Simply Everything (SM) or the Everything Data plan. The former has unlimited voice, text, data, and the latter has 450 minutes peak airtime, unlimited nights and weekends, unlimited data and text.

For users with older unlimited data plans, the verdict is still out on whether they will be 'allowed' to purchase and use the HTC Hero or other PDA/SmartPhones such as the previously released Palm Pre and upcoming Palm Pixi and Samsung Moment without purchasing a new plan. They could lose many of the benefits of their existing service plan, and that may prompt them to jump ship in favor of lower cost unlimited minutes/data/text and no-contract carriers (can you say Boost or Straight Talk?).

Personally, I already carry a Nokia Internet tablet with wifi and Skype, so unlimited cell service is only worth about $2.95 per month (Skype's fee). And wifi is widely available in my area. But it would be convenient to have an all-in-one device like the Hero, Moment, or Pre running 3G.

For those who think the Hero might be an iPhone killer, think again. The Hero is superior in many aspects, and is also must less expensive to own and operate. The Hero is memory-upgradeable, has excellent battery life (user-replaceable), and tons of applications, all running on arguably the best all digital 3G network. No start-up snafus like the initial iPhone release on AT&T's network. But the Hero is not an Apple product, and much of the iPhone's success is due in part to Apple's reputation for quality products and ease of use. The Hero is, however, a worthy competitor, and it will be interesting to see how Q4 sales affect both Sprint and AT&T.

For evaluation of new products, manufacturers and carriers should contact us directly.

Windows 7 Should Be Free for Vista Users

After all of the problems with the Vista operating system, PC users will now be bombarded with advertising for Windows 7. Apologies and refunds apparently are not part of the campaign from Microsoft.

I have been using a pre-release version of Win 7, and the interface is very smooth and user-friendly. But after experiencing so many problems with Vista during the first few months of its release, I, along with many professional users and reviewers feel that MS should offer an inexpensive upgrade to us, similar to Apple's low-cost Snow Leopard upgrade. Windows 7 might be worth $20 to $30 USD to users, as operating systems go, but the future is not about operating systems, and there does not seem to be a compelling reason to pay exorbitant amounts for inferior products.

Hey Google...hurry up and deliver a clean OS.

Vista...Use At Your Own Risk

We recently added a new H-P desktop to our network, equipped with Vista Home Premium edition as the standard operating system. The PC was loaded with features including a 360GB hard drive, a fast front-side bus, 15 in 1 card reader, 6 USB 2.0 ports and IEEE 1394 Firewire, SPDIF output, 8 channel audio, NVIDIA chipset, SATA connectors, and more. We opted for the AM2 socket, and a fast AMD Athlon X2 dual core processor. One factor in buying the Vista machine was the pending release of Vista SP1.

Out of the box, this machine was easy to set up, and within 30 minutes had been added to our LAN. The Vista OS was somewhat different from the XP-based machines which we will continue to operate, and after personalizing the display and file system, it was easy to use. Due to our investment in software and peripherals, this desktop will be used only for communications, media, and local work until Vista drivers and upgrades are more available. We also allocated disk space for a dual-boot system, so that XP can be installed in a separate partition.

There have already been a number of issues with compatibility, but with XP machines nearby, we have avoided the pain which many users will experience through an OS upgrade such as this. Locating and adding new drivers is time consuming, so we acquired many of these prior to the machine's arrival, and placed them on a USB flash drive. Also, we anticipated problems with scanners, Bluetooth devices, webcams, et cetera, so having network devices or dedicated terminals for those applications has helped.

Within the past few days, I encountered a problem synchronizing my Palm smartphone with the Palm Desktop 6.2.2 software on Vista, and that bled over to the XP-based Palm 4.2 version. After a few hours of online research, I found no solutions, and resorted to checking the Palm file system. I discovered duplicate files and backup (bak) files in the Palm folders were causing the problems, and once removed, the system worked fine.

One of the actions we took early on was to order and install a new PCI express graphics card along with a higher wattage power supply. The HP unit worked fine, but the onboard graphics has some limitations (including a VGA output, rather than a DVI), and a new graphics card would require additional power anyway, so hence, the changeout.

The Vista Premium version includes the Media Center Edition, and may be enough justification for the upgrade if users do not have MCE on their XP machines. We installed a HDTV USB dongle to the unit, and within minutes were enjoying HDTV over the air with the included antenna. We also hooked it to the cable box, and recorded several programs with the DVR software. The MCE interface is excellent, and can be used as the default program for this device. The audio system and software is also highly rated and well matched. The voice recognition software is also easy to learn and use.

While there are several areas that are potentially frustrating during any OS upgrade, we have limited the problem areas through advance planning. We backup our system and network regularly, as anyone should do, in the event of a crash or failure. Thusfar, aside from a few BSODs with Vista, we have been satisfied with the results.


Nokia Unveils the n810 Internet Tablet

Not content to have the n800 out in the market for a full year, Nokia announced the release of an upgrade to their popular device. The n810 should be available in November.
With mostly incremental improvements to the tablet, the most noticeable change is the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The camera is built-in next to the screen, rather than being the pop-out side version from the n800. The D-pad and buttons are located on the slide-out, making for a clean 'iPhone'-type appearance when closed. All in all, a much more functional design. See our previous post on the n800 for other features.

There may be some sticker shock, however, with the MSRP listed as $479 (USD).


Palm Centro...from Sprint PCS

The latest mobile phone from Palm is officially available from Sprint PCS. The new Palm Centro is a smaller version of the Palm Treo and is offered through Sprint at prices as low as $100 with activation.

Initially available in the color black, the red version will be available the first week of November 2007. The Centro has a list of features typically available with the Treo...Palm OS, Palm Desktop Manager and Hot Sync, 1.3 MP camera, touch screen, keyboard, web browser, VersaMail, Pocket Tunes, Bluetooth 1.2, Documents to Go, etc. Screen resolution is 320x320 and measures 2.2" diagonal; internal memory is 128MB, and it has an expansion slot for micro-SD cards. Sprint states that the Centro will offer broadband speeds with EVDO, but has not stated which version or if it will be upgradeable. Additionally, the Bluetooth version of 1.2 does not have the stereo capabilities (A2DP) of version 2.0 which is available on other Sprint products at present (Samsung and HTC Mogul). Are these deal killers? Probably not, but keep in mind that the attractive pricing is for new Sprint customers and for existing customers who add a new line of service and a data plan.


Nokia N800....Convenient WiFi Device

Nokia recently released the long-awaited update to their Internet Tablet (tabelet) N770 device. The N800 is more stylish and has broader market appeal than the Linux-based 770. Reviewers were not kind to the initial release of the 770 back in 2005, but with updates to the OS such as Internet Tablet 2006, even the 770 breathed new life. And a recent price cut has Amazon and other online retailers pushing the 770 out of the door at around $140 (USD). What a deal, if you don't mind a little frustration.

Back to the N800...this is not an Internet phone; not a PDA; not a cellphone; not a compact notebook computer; not a Pocket PC. Very simply put, like its predecessor the 770, the N800 is an Internet browsing device with a high resolution display in a small package. And, oh, it is also based on the Linux OS...and that's a good thing.

There are numerous occasions when a computer user wants to check email, or catch up on the latest headlines without booting up the PC, making coffee, and returning to their PC to find the Windows logo still on the screen. The 800 solves that problem by (almost) instantly pulling up your landing (home) page when a WiFi connection is available. Check the news through RSS feeds, pull up GoogleTalk or Gizmo to IM or for quick connections with VoIP (Skype, too), or listen to streaming media and Internet radio.

If you already own a smartphone with Bluetooth, an MPEG player, and a fast 3G connection (that would be the world outside of iPhone users), you might use the N800 for its larger screen (800x480) and an Opera browser that looks similar to what you might view on your regular PC. Great for roaming around the office or the house on WiFi when cellphone data connections are iffy, and the time to get on and off of the Net are paramount.

Another benefit may be for those travelers that want to quickly check their email or news shortly after boarding a plane, but before the FAs start looking over your shoulder and reminding you to turn off your phones, PCs, and handhelds. Hibernating your notebook and stowing it takes minutes; the N800 only takes seconds.

One other thing...if you are not comfortable doing a bit of tinkering with software applications, command lines, and trial-and-error computing, you may be frustrated by this and similar devices. But, if you want to browse the Internet quickly without booting up the PC, and enjoy the mobility available within the confines of a WiFi signal, you will really enjoy using the N800.


iPhone Debut...Will It Change the World?

So much has already been written about the retail release of the Apple iPhone, it seemed superfluous for us to add our observations. And for those consumers interested in purchasing the product, most have decided to do so for emotional reasons, rather than utilitarian ones.

Granted, the iPhone is a slick device...exactly what one should expect from Apple. The early adopters have a brotherhood of sorts with Apple, and price is rarely an issue. The features list is more than adequate, and more should be added in time. But, understand that this is a device for individuals, not corporate users. Blackberrys and Treos still rule that area, and with other manufacturers touting models with similar features and at lower prices, the cellphone/MP3 player/camera/Wi-Fi/push-mail device is becoming widely available.

Since we review smartphones on a regular basis, one of the criteria we use for evaluation is the carrier network. In the case of the iPhone, its carrier is AT&T. And as a data network, it lags far behind Verizon and Sprint in speed. With a two-year agreement required for the iPhone purchase and activation, the user experience for an iPhone user who travels frequently will most likely be a negative one. And with the announcement of the rate plans beginning at $60 (USD) per month for 450 minutes with unlimited data, most subscribers will end up paying more for overage.

Budget buyers will opt for the 4GB version at $499; the 8GB lists for $599. Perhaps a 32-inch HDTV would be a better choice for an entertainment device at that price, but harder to carry around.

One announcement that may truly change the world is the iPlayer being released on the same day as the iPhone. The iPlayer is brought to you by none other than the BBC. This is a video on demand (VOD) device for your PC, and will allow BBC programs to be downloaded within seven days of their original broadcast, and viewed for 30 days before expiring.


Palm Treo 800W Info

Word is out that a Palm Treo 800W will be released through Sprint PCS in Q4 2007. The 800W will sport Wi-Fi, EV-DO Rev A., Microsoft's WM6, and no antenna stub.

It is likely that the expansion slot will be a micro-SD supporting 2GB cards. Also, the rumored 1.3 MP camera could be upgraded to a 3.2 MP as this blog has suggested in previous posts. No confirmation on portrait/landscape mode, but the display should be a 320x320 screen.

If Palm gets it right this time, Bluetooth 2.0 should be included. Look for a late summer release, now that the Mogul is out.

Sprint Intros Mogul from HTC

The newest smartphone on the market in the USA comes from Sprint PCS. The Mogul, manufactured by HTC, is a successor to the PPC-6700, and features numerous enhancements to its predecessor, including a 2.0 MP camera with LED flash, Bluetooth 2.0, 256 ROM and 64MB RAM onboard. It runs on the newly released Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 Professional Edition operating system. The processor is a Qualcomm MSM7500 400 Mhz, and the battery is a LI-polymer 1500 mAh.

Mogul was introduced on June 18th online, and will be available through the retail channel in July. It is slightly shorter than the 6700, and has no antenna stub. Like the 6700, it has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a touchscreen display, with portrait and landscape viewing. This keyboard makes the unit a bit thicker than many PDAs, but this tradeoff is a positive one and is thinner than the 6700. The display is a 320x240 pixel (which WM5 did not support), so upgraders should be pleased. Bluetooth 2.0 supports stereo headphones, and the WiFi chip allows surfing without using Sprint's Vision service. That being said, the Mogul will run EV-DO on Sprint, and is scheduled for a software upgrade this Fall when EV-DO Rev. A becomes available.

The music player supports MP3/WMA/WAV/AAC/AAC+ codecs, and the Mogul uses a micro-SD card slot supporting up to 2GB for additional storage. Sprint includes a 512MB card with the unit.

The Mogul utilizes a mini-USB port and includes a split adapter for simultaneous charging and headphone use. Sprint and HTC have included AC travel adapters, mini-USB adapters, stereo earbuds with microphone, and a horizontal carrying pouch.

Other features include an IR port, external car antenna port, speakerphone, voice dialing, and voice memo.


Television News Is Dead

In a society with an increasing appetite for instant gratification, television news has become obsolete. Surveys from companies such as Nielsen show viewership down overall, and especially in key categories such as the 18-49 age group and demographics.

Digital media and the internet have siphoned viewers and listeners away. Increasingly, more people are reading stories and watching videos over their internet connections, both land-based and mobile. Time-shifting has also allowed individuals to watch/listen at a time of their choosing, and where VCRs left off, devices such as Tivo have picked up and moved light years ahead.

Television and radio news has been slow to incorporate the habits of these consumers of news. Television broadcast networks still have the evening news shows, which provide 22 minutes of headlines in a 30 minute time slot, and regurgitate what has been on the wire services for the prior 23 and 1/2 hours. News divisions of the major networks have the same sources that you and I have online...Associated Press and Reuters...providing the bulk of the reporting and posting. In fact, the overpaid 'stars' of the evening news are simply newsreaders (as they are referred to in many countries) and provide little drawing power to the broadcasts. Combine that with the alleged bias of many reporters and newsreaders, and it should come as no surprise that TV sets have gone dark, or at least changed channels in many consumer's homes.

Palm Treo 755 Misses An Opportunity

The new Treo 755 from Palm is a Sprint PCS version, and is an 'upgrade' from the 700P. But it fails in its attempt (if that in fact really is the strategy) to upgrade existing Treo users. New subscribers do not have a choice, and that said, will be satisfied with the features Treo users have come to expect: good displays, nice features, reasonable pricing.

But for Treo 650 or 700P users, the 755 presents few compelling reasons for an upgrade. And considering that 650 users have been around for a couple of years now, this seemed like the logical time for an upgrade. Sad to say, but users will have to wait or switch to another brand and/or carrier.

What Could Have Been...

Palm could have introduced a Treo with these enhancements:

  • Portrait and landscape viewing
  • a 2/3/4 megapixel camera
  • better display lighting in bright environments
  • better volume control for noisy environments
  • a standard stereo audio headphone mini-jack
  • a regular SD card slot (650/700P users with SD cards would be obsolete)
  • Bluetooth stereo
  • WiFi
  • EvDO - Rev A capability


Palm 755 and a New OS

Rumors about a new Palm Treo 755 have surfaced, with a release for the 2nd quarter of 2007. Some incremental improvements to the 700P are being introduced, but perhaps no compelling reason to upgrade. Among the changes are an internal antenna, EVDO, and built-in voice dialing.

Also, Palm announced that a Linux-based operating system is under development, and is planned for release later this year.


A Vista In Your Future

Is there a new Vista in your future? Unless you are an Apple or Linux user, the answer is most likely 'Yes'. The real question is 'Should I run out and get Vista today?' And that is a much easier question to answer.

If you are planning on purchasing a new PC, Vista from Microsoft will be included with most retail systems sold. But there is no compelling reason to upgrade to Vista anytime soon if your system works well under Windows XP.

Manufacturers and software publishers will attempt to persuade you to upgrade your operating system and hence, their new application software versions, memory upgrades, video card upgrades, et cetera. And if you haven't upgraded your system in the past five years, that may be a good idea, economics notwithstanding.

If you are at home browsing the internet and sending e-mail back and forth, stay where you are. If you bring work home from the office and open word processing software and spreadsheets, then just keep doing it.

Unlike the jump from Windows 98/ME to XP, Vista is designed for more media-related activities (i.e.: music and video files). Not everyone I know is frustrated because their PC won't 'talk' to their home stereo system. I recently bought an adapter that allows me to hook my MP3 player to my home stereo cost: $4.95 (USD).

My Treo smartphone already has Bluetooth and talks to my PC via a Bluetooth dongle on notebook and desktop units. My wireless network works just fine on Windows XP, and streaming video and audio from one to another is smooth, not choppy on 802.11(g), and is encrypted.

The idea of getting excited about a new operating system is yesterday's news. All I really want to do is connect to the internet and use internet-based applications. My Treo handles word processing, spreadsheets, calendars, and e-mail. It plays MP3s and connects to high-speed internet. And all of this on a Palm OS.

But, like many others, when I am ready for a new PC, I will be getting one with Vista onboard. Until that day arrives, I will be plugging along with XP on my PCs.


HDTV PRICING...DOWN...Down...down

If you purchased a High Definition Television this holiday season, you probably were prompted by the numerous advertisements and the 'lower than last year' pricing. Prices will continue to fall, especially since the peak retail selling season is now over.

Manufacturers and retailers alike have little time to celebrate their recent sales figures, as they enter the slow season...spelled N-O F-O-O-T-B-A-L-L. For consumers, however, this could be the right time to buy, if you need a new set and weren't already coaxed into buying during December.

As for which type to buy, it really comes down to what size set is best for your home setting. Typically over 50 inches leans toward Plasma, as LCDs have not yet reached the mass market in that size. But for 27, 32, 37, and 42 inch models, our preference would be for a LCD version.

LCDs don't require cooling systems, and give relatively good brightness and contrast. Most are UPS shippable, and easy to set up. Life expectancy runs 25-50,000 hours of use, with generous limited warranties. Buy one on your credit card, and chances are that the warranty is automatically extended for up to an additional year by the card company.

Be sure to check the connections on any set you may be considering, and then look at the additional costs of the cables and adapters. If you want to connect your PC to the big screen, most have an RGB input on the HDTV, but we would recommend looking for a DVI input if your PC has a high end graphics card with a DVI output. DVD players and cable boxes may have HDMI outputs, but check to be sure. And don't forget the additional cost of HDTV programming from your cable provider.


Sprint's Treo 700WX

Sprint is introducing the newest version of Palm's Treo, the 700 wx. The latest version runs Windows Mobile 5, and has broadband service capability through Sprint's EVDO network.

The Sprint EVDO is quite fast, (for mobile phones), with speeds of 400 to 700kps in major metropolitan areas. Sprint is continually upgrading the system and expanding the coverage areas.

The Treo 700 wx has mobile versions of Microsoft Office, and links with Outlook for e-mail connectivity. Other features include a PDF viewer, Bluetooth 1.2, a 1.3 megapixel camera with audio and video, a built-in speakerphone and voice memo application, and voice dialing.

Palm Intros Treo 700P

Palm is introducing the Treo 700P Smartphone, the successor to the popular Treo 650. The 700P, as had been widely speculated, will have the Palm 5.4 operating system, an improved digital camera with 1.3 Megapixels, 128MB of onboard memory, and updates to popular Palm-compatible software.

The Palm 700P has a 320 x 320 display, unlike the 700W's 240 x 240, and sports an SD card slot for additional memory. The 700P also has broadband capability for use on Sprint and Verizon's EvDO networks. Palm does not support a Wi-Fi SD card, claiming that the EvDO networks should provide suitable speed for users.

Some other features included:

  • Bluetooth 1.2 - clearer reception and less 2.4GHz interference than 1.1 version;
  • Improved Blazer browser, with streaming capabilities (listen to Internet radio, etc.)
  • Software: PocketTunes (basic), VersaMail, Documents To Go 8.0 (with PDF), VPN;
  • A software CD with free and for-purchase programs;
  • Voice memo application (formerly a third-party add-on);
  • Personalized ringtones for all address book entries.

We were unable to determine if issues such as volume control and lighting had been addressed, but overall, a much-improved Treo with familiar Palm features is now available.


The Future of MP3 Players and Video Camcorders Is Not Good

According to a senior executive with Nokia, the categories of video camcorders and individual MP3 players will die. Anssi Vanjoki predicted the fate of the devices by referring to a Nokia 2000 forecast.

Nokia is the world's largest camera manufacturer, having produced 100 million cameraphones this past year, according to a Reuters article.

The fate of the single MP3 player looks gloomy, as well, according to the article.

Top end smartphones have combined cellphones with digital cameras and camcorder capability, and the quality and optics are improving. The smartphones are also equipped with MP3 players, high speed Internet access, voice recorders, and productivity software such as calendars and e-mail.

Manufacturers plan to add additional features to low and mid-level phones as the top end market becomes saturated.


RAZR Fixed
The RAZR glitch at Motorola has been fixed, according to CEO Edward Zander, and shipments have resumed.


Motorola Searches for RAZR Cure
Technicians at Motorola are scratching their collective heads, attempting to find a solution that has prompted the company to suspend production and distribution of their popular RAZR cellphone. Users have reported glithces such as dropped calls while using the RAZR, and thusfar, software patches and reboots have not solved the problem.
Stay tuned...