Cell phone puzzlement

I’m looking for advice on getting a new cell phone plan.

We have Cingular right now.  It is, without a doubt, the very worst call quality I have ever experienced.  The majority of our calls are dropped or so choppy as to be incomprehensible.  We’ve gone back to using the landline for calls that matter, because the cell phones are close to useless.  It doesn’t seem to matter much where we are, either.

However, it may be the phones, rather than the company.  I got the cheapest phones they would give me, and I have at least one friend in the area with Cingular service, who has not experienced the same problems with call quality.

Here’s what I want in cell service:

  • 2+ lines.  One for me, one for Stacey, and the option to add more for the kids as they get older, without adding too much expense.
  • A smartphone for myself.  It needs these features:
    • A QWERTY keyboard that can be used one-handed.
    • The ability to access the mobile versions of various web applications like GMail, Google Maps, Google Calendar, and RememberTheMilk.com easily.
    • The ability to browse arbitrary websites.
    • Bluetooth dial-up networking functionality, so I can use it as a wireless modem for my laptop in a pinch.  Doesn’t have to be super fast.
    • The ability to read books and PDFs.
    • Java
    • Nice to have: MP3 player, voice recorder, voice dialing
    • Things I don’t care at all about: camera, touch-screen.
  • Good reception in the Baltimore/Southern PA area.

Unfortunately, it appears that the cell phone companies simply can’t conceive of someone who wants both a multi-line family plan and a data plan.  It’s always either/or.  Does anyone know of any exceptions?

Notes on service providers:

  • Cingular: I’m up for a phone upgrade with them, so if I could upgrade to phones that did what I want and actually worked, I’d be willing to stay with them.  Also, they have the Nokia E62, which basically fits my smartphone needs to a T.  However, a) I can’t see any way to add a PDA plan to my existing service; it seems from what I’ve read that I’d have to buy another $50-a-month plan just to use the smartphone’s features; and b) also from what I’ve read, they have hobbled the E62 so that it is basically useless for anything other than the pre-installed apps.
  • Verizon: I get a discount from the company I work for if I go with Verizon.  So if I could find what I wanted there, I might be able to get it cheaper than anywhere else.
  • T-Mobile, Sprint, etc.: I don’t know anything about the others… are they any good?

I looked at the service reviews on LetsTalk, but for any given service provider the reviews were all either “I want to have it’s babies” or  “it killed my dog”, with an equal distribution of each.  Not very helpful.  I wonder if the cell companies amuse themselves by posting reviews of each other?

So, any thoughts?

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  1. I have Sprint/Nextel, which I got because I had to because I worked for them. =)

    I don’t know if they have the kind of plans you need, or if the Crackberry does all the things you listed (though it definitely at least does some), and to be honest I’m a pretty low-maintenance customer, but I’ve been very satisfied with them. My phone gets service even out in the wilds of MD or PA, and I don’t have much problem with dropped calls or poor connections. I have a free incoming calls plan that means I never, ever go over in minutes.

    Traditionally Nextel got good marks for technology and poor marks for customer service as well as being one of the more expensive services; I haven’t had customer service issues, personally, nor have I really explored other service plans because I don’t want to worry about having to buy a new phone and I don’t think my cost is too outrageous.

    So that’s my not-terribly-helpful assessment of Sprint Nextel. =)

    1. Interesting. I’m actually suddenly more interested in Sprint because unlike every other service I’ve looked at, they offer web/data access for $15 on top of the family plans; unlike everyone else who either make it impossible to find out how to add data service or they charge an extra $40 a month for it.

      1. I have had Sprinft for years now. I love the service, I get great covereage. I have not tried the upper-end tech models of phone service because for me I don’t need them… but between Sprint and Nextel, I would imagin ti could be quite good.

        I have had great luck with their customer service.

  2. You might try buying one of the Cingular disposable phones (about $30) and try it in your area to see if it’s the coverage or the phone. We’ve had Cingular for a few years now and I’ve been pretty happy with them. Every now and then we have to call about a bogus charge (usually activation or something when James gets a new phone). The coverage is good and it’s worked everywhere in Baltimore I’ve tried it, although I’ve only rarely made it further north than the Owings Mills area. We have a family plan and it’s about $160 a month for everything, which includes all the smart phone services on my husband’s phone and shared minutes plus txt messaging for me. I had the multimedia services for awhile (I think it was around $20 a month for unlimited everything), but after the initial excitement of having a camera phone wore off, I wasn’t really using it.

    My husband’s company thinks they’re going to switch to Sprint because they’re offering much better pricing and data services. If we end up switching before you do, I’ll let you know how the coverage is. And you know, if we switch and you don’t I can hook Stacey up with a pink Razr. 😛 That’s what I see as Sprint’s big shortfall – no pink Razr and I just hate Bono too much to get the red one. I’ll make them ante up for a treo I guess and then paint it pink or something!

  3. I have the Palm Treo 650 and for that I can say:

    1. QWERTY keyboard is good, although I doubt I could use it one-handed with ease.
    2. Web apps are usually doable, some (eg Google Maps) weren’t available for Palm until much later though… I do have Mergic VPN (for work VPN) and pssh (works pretty well, it reboots the phone on occasion though)
    3. You can browse websites. Due to the speed (Treo650 doesn’t support Verizon’s high-speed EVDO; the Treo 700 series does) it’s not that comfortable though.
    4. Bluetooth dial-up networking works with a hacked bluetooth manager .prc file. Works well on my work laptop (Dell Latitude D610 running Ubuntu dapper)
    5. Yep, everything available for Palm works on this. I haven’t personally tried any PDF viewers though; the Treo does come with DataViz, some apps for excel/word/etc. which I haven’t bothered using. Weasel Reader works for etexts.
    6. Java — yep, J2ME stuff works on here.
    7. MP3 player builtin via RealPlayer, you can buy better ones (eg PocketTunes) for it. There is even one called MMPlayer that views videos (mpegs, some avi’s)
    8. Crappy camera on the 650 (640×480); not sure what the 700 has. Touch screen obviously (it’s a Palm)

    VerizonWireless gives me splendid reception in the Baltimore and almost all around the Southern PA area. Caveat: Treo 650 doesn’t support EVDO so you can’t get highspeed, and the 1xRTT standard rate is usable but noticeably slow, especially when browsing websites or using it with Bluetooth DUN. 700 supports EVDO. Verizon assrapes you for the data charge; unlimited data plan is a $45/mo extra option. Luckily the 650 is available through Sprint and Cingular too. They have the 700p out (Treo 700 with PalmOS) which might be better; a coworker has it but I haven’t really spent any time getting to know its features.

    PalmOS is one flaky son of a bitch; even with a conservative list of applications it enjoys rebooting. I’ve honestly never had it reboot in the middle of a call before though. The default mail app, VersaMail, sucks ass besides the fact that it supports Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync with calendar sync-up. There is a 3rd party app called ChatterMail that kicks ASS, but last I used it it didn’t support calendar sync. I should check up on that because I did buy a license for it and thus can still use it…

    All in all, I am pleased with my Treo, and the benefits do outweigh the annoyances. (It doesn’t reboot *that* often… maybe once every couple days with heavy use?)

    1. I’m a crackberry user with verizon, I get great coverage in baltimore and good coverage when I’m in PA. (more in the gettysburg/fairfield area though.)

      I don’t know much about the pricing (probably the typical 40$ extra for a data plan) but one feature I LOVE is the tether function: for 15$ a month more I can hang my blackberry off my laptop and it functions as a EVDO modem. pretty quick as well.

      1. Yeah, with this “hack” the Treo acts as a modem just the same; only Verizon doesn’t know about it AFAIK (thus it doesn’t cost $15/mo extra) … obviously not sure about the legality of that though.

        1. The plus of the BB is that it charges off the usb port. our rep told us they didn’t support the treo b/c the battery drains so quickly its almost pointless.
          I think the 15$ is unlimited data on the tether…I’m pretty sure it works anyway without the extra fee, you just pay by the K.

      2. XV6700 does it without a hack. In fact, I even thing I got directions on how to do it from a Verizon tech support once.

  4. http://www.openmolo.com/

    Linux based. Completely open.

    VGA display (640×480) – DOUBLE the resolution of the iPhone.
    MiniSD storage (64Mb flash), 128 RAM.
    2G EDGE data.

    X11 / Gtk based. (But of course you can change that at will).

    Shipping in February / March.
    Developer version comes wth hardware development gear such as JTAG cables etc.

    Now I’m appealing to your inner UNIX guru.

    $350 *WITHOUT* a contract.

    1. openmolo.com doesn’t resolve. Are you sure that’s the right address?

    1. Interesting, but I’m more interested in something that works than in something to tinker with.

      I know, I know; bad geek, no doritos.

      1. I will say, that Steve Jobs got that aspect quite right.

        People want working functionality first…

        BTW…I picked up a Pharos i500 bluetooth GPS unit for $130 and Odyssey nav software for $60. So now for about $200 I have a GPS unit (a lot cheaper than the $1,200 installed in truck OR the $400 mobile ones)

  5. Kimberley says it’s your phone (albeit I am skeptical)…

    I have always liked Verizon’s coverage. Even in the middle of Cornerstone a few years back I was able to get cell coverage (althought weak) where as people on other providers did not.

    I also have the Verizon EvDO service…which just rolled out into the York area and might have coverage in your area. It’s pretty fast, it was sometimes even faster than my DSL line. But the speed isn’t as consistent and is very dependent on signal quality. Download is faster than upload, though Revision A EvDO is coming soon and that greatly increases upload for VPN, etc.


    We presently have 2 phone lines. I use a XV6700 PDA phone running Windows Mobile 5. It’s a better PDA then phone. But that’s to be expected. In part due to the fact that it has a full QWERTY keyboard which is not really able to be used one-handed. (No one seems to know how to design anything these days.)

    I have found that Pocket IE doesn’t browse Google’s more advanced features well if at all. I downloaded Opera but it’s only a trial. They want $35 for their browser. I wound up being so busy I didn’t get to test the trial.

    Do have Windows Media Player (mp3), voice recorder and voice dialing.

    I am not sure if I have Java on the phone.

    I could try to open a PDF but I am not sure if there is a pocket version. (Personally, I think PDFs suck. They are excessively slow. Although FoxIt opens PDF’s up in about 1/4 of the time that Adobe does.

    I have been able to browse a great many websites. I find Flash is really one of the best mobile applications. Scales better than most things. Heck, I can even play BoohBah.com on my PDA phone.

    Bluetooth dial-up networking I am not sure about. I have heard that some have done bluetooth DUN for modem connections for the EvDO. I just tether it to my laptop. Note, the speed of downloads with my laptop using the PDA as a modem are much faster than the PDA browsing.

    TOUCHSCREEN is important if you get a Windows based PDA. Essentially TOUCHSCREEN = Windows Mobile, without = Smartphone (no ability to modify Word documents, and a lot less usability).


    Data plans….

    If you want to use the phone on the wireless celluar networks you will need a data plan (specifically unlimited data plan). These run about $45/month. You can still use the PDA’s without the data plan. (ie: My 6700 has WiFi so I can browse and use it on any wifi connection.)

    That said, this weekend we drove from New Haven, Connecticut to York, PA with my wife using the internet for about half the trip. I was pretty surprised at having signal for much of the trip. Verizon’s done a good job filling in the in-betweens of major markets.


    If you can wait probably a month or two there are several new phones coming down the pipe for Verizon in the PDA end of things. When you visit for beer I can show you my set-up.


    Sprint – has EvDo and decent coverage from what I hear. But I’ve always heard the issue with Sprint is they focus on the major cities and highways. When you leave those then service becomes an issue.

    T-Mobile is GSM based. Presently, the GSM providers seem to be a bout a year or two behind the CDMA (Verizon/Sprint) providers in rolling out high speed data connections. Cingular has a few HSDPA zones (which could potentially rival or exceed EvDO speeds but much debate on that and they’re few and far between).

    I like the iPhone and that it’s got good support with google services. At some point I might just kick the bucket and get Opera browser. I tried the Firefox “minimo” and it was a nightmare. It didn’t work and I could never uninstall it.

    1. Oh right, beer. I meant to firm that up.

      I’m planning on coming up Thursday night if that’s still cool. I’ll bring some beer to trade. Would you send me your number and address? (avdi at avdi dot org). Thanks!

  6. I’d say it’s probably your phone. I did not have thoes [roblems with cingular at first but as my phone got older (and dropped a lot) I began to have those sort of problems. I’ve had both cingular and verizon at the same time for most of the last year and a half. I’ve found them to be pretty much the same in coverage. I used them in most of the same places since I was calling jason on one and everyone else on the other. One thing I’ve noticed though is that cingular will try to force a call if you have no bars and you may be able to connet. VErizon won’t even try. So in a low coverage area with cingular you may connect, with verizon you can’t. But again both had pretty good coverage.
    I really dislike verizon phones. In comparision with cingular they tend to have much less battery life, their menu system is very unintiutive and just outright stupid at times (for instance they hide pictures you’ve taken undert the menu to BUY pictures and things), Verizon makes it impossible to download ringtones and games from anywhere but verizon, even though their ringtones and games cost 2-3X as much as Cingular, (This doesn’t apply to PDA’s though, you can’t download verizon games and such to the PDA phones, you can just put any PDA stuff on them.) Also which I don’t care but you may or may not you can’t use bluetooth to transfer data with Verizon phones, although I don’t know if congular does or not either. I’ve found cingular customer service to always be very helpful, verizon is slightly less but never had any problems, although it’s really when you have a problem that you find out how helpful they are. Cingular has always rectified any problems speedily. Obviously I like Cingular better but really either is not terrible. I’d suggest you see if someone will let you borrow a working phone for a few days and pop your SIM card in it and see if you have the same problems. Verizon BTW doesn’t use SIM cards, I think SIM cards are cool but really doesn’t make much difference to me, just more info.

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