Archive for the ‘Phones’ Category

The smartphone I chose and why

Friday, June 24th, 2011

I recently upgraded to a smartphone a couple of months ago. You’re probably asking yourself why a geek such as myself only recently got on the smartphone bandwagon. The answer was a simple one of cost. Most of the carriers have smartphones which are expensive and plans to match. Since I’d been used to paying roughly $15 per month for cell service, I was reluctant to increase my cost dramatically. For example, if you were to get yourself an iPhone from AT&T you’d see a bill around $55 per month for 450 minutes and a whopping 200MB of data and no text messages. The price goes up for more minutes, data, and $20 for unlimited texts. Then there are the taxes and fees they don’t mention on the order page.

How am I able to have a smartphone for only $25 per month? First off, I’ve practically sworn against the contract players (the big four are AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint; smaller regional companies exist as well). Secondly, I’ve taken the time to shop the market and see what’s available. As such, I’ve selected a phone and plan from Virgin Mobile, a pre-paid cell company.

One of the gripes many people have had about the prepaid phone companies is a tendency to use last decade’s phones. This gripe isn’t unfounded, either. The phone I’d been using previously from Net10 was a “generation or two” old, but it was inexpensive and so was the service. Customer service may have been lacking, but thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with them except on rare occasions.

Now, however, some of the prepaid companies are getting into the smartphone business. Boost was one of the first companies to do so with a Blackberry offering. Last year they began offering a phone running Android, but the phone was quite costly (I’d heard it was in the $300-400 range, but it was only available in store and it wasn’t important enough for me to examine it further). Roughly six months later, Virgin offered one for about $250. Wait another six months and the Virgin phone is down to $200 and they have another model to offer (which got better reviews than the first). Now I’m able to buy and Boost brings a new Android phone out for about $180.

Both Boost and Virgin offer the same Sprint 3G network for coverage. The difference then comes in the exact phone and plan offerings. Boost is nice as it has an unlimited talk, text, and data plan for $50 per month which goes down in price with regular on-time payments (currently you get down to $35 per month after 18 months of on-time payments). Very attractive. Virgin offers 300 minutes of talk with unlimited text and data for $25 ($45 increases talk to 1200 minutes, $60 for unlimited everything). Amazingly enough, I don’t use my cell phone for talking much so I went with Virgin using the $25 plan.

For some bizarre reason, people think I’m crazy and they stick with their significantly more expensive contract plan because the company is somehow better. Better coverage? In a major metropolitan area, there’s no issue. Out in the country, it’s a gamble as to which carrier works. Customer service? How often do you need to contact your wireless carrier for customer service? Seriously.

The best part about the pricing from the pre-paid carriers is it includes taxes and fees the contract companies add on later.

So, $25 for 300 minutes, unlimited data, and unlimited texting per month from Virgin. AT&T charges $105 for 450 minutes (with Rollover®!), 4GB of data, and unlimited texting per month. What would I getting from AT&T worth the additional $80? It certainly doesn’t look like it’s worth $80 per month or $960 per year (and I haven’t even added on the taxes and fees, yet).

Smartphone malware

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

With the proliferation of smartphones generated in part because they do so much and they are become less expensive to buy and own, the idea of security is becoming more important. The Android platform, for instance, has had some relatively high-profile malware distributed on it. The malware will surreptitiously send texts and calls to premium services costing the owner of the phone money (and racking up a chunk of change for the malware author).

This article at InfoWorld talks about a couple of different malware examples. One of these was even present in software available at the Android Marketplace. I tried to find recent articles on iPhone malware but I didn’t see much. This article specifically mentions “jailbreaking” as making your iPhone more vulnerable to malware. This makes sense as doing so allows you to install software from sources other than the iPhone App Store. It also allows you access to your phone that Apple didn’t intend you to have. This article from a year ago talks about a researcher who created a proof-of-concept app to gather information from your phone. He said that it would be possible to create an app that would look like something you wanted but have this secret ability running in the background. Given how Apple has to filter thousands of app submissions each week to its store, it’s conceivable that malware could get through.

The takeaway from this is to be careful. Anti-malware software is available for your phone like it is for your computer. Only download software from trusted sites and be sure to read reviews before installing (I know I’ve not installed many software titles just because the reviews said they sucked or didn’t act as advertised). Be extra careful if you choose to “jailbreak” your iPhone or gain root access to your Android phone. If you allow your children to play with your phone, be sure to approve any app they wish to install prior to its installation.

I’ve not discussed the current mobile offering from Microsoft. Regardless of its merits, the iPhone and Android represent the lion’s share of smartphones today.