Unlimited plans are an endangered species. Most carriers have stopped offering new unlimited data plans while whoever is offering, are planning to shutter them. But all hope is not lost. There are MVNOs like Straight Talk which are now offering you a $45 unlimited all-you-can-eat plan which includes unlimited talk, text and data.
After a lot of research, I recently made up my mind to switch to Straight Talk from T-Mobile. But reading about the horror experiences of people trying to port over their existing numbers to Straight Talk made me take another route – Google Voice. Google Voice offers an option to port your existing mobile number to their service.
I went to the Google Voice website and created a porting request for my T-Mobile number to Google Voice. To port a number, you need to verify an automated call to your cellphone number and then provide your T-Mobile account number and your address for communication on file. While Google says it takes 24 hours to port a number, mine took about 26 hours on a weekend. As soon as the porting was complete, my T-Mobile account immediately became inactive, which meant that I can’t login to my account and pull out the previous call logs or bills etc., Big mistake! Any one trying to do the same, please download all your data upfront before initiating a porting request. It may also be a good idea to remove any credit card numbers which you would have registered for automatic payment.
In the mean time, I picked up a brand new iPhone 4s from eBay and activated my straight talk connection on that. Since Straight Talk uses the AT&T network, I could use my iPhone 4s without any need to jailbreak or unlock. In fact, I activated my 4S using the Straight Talk sim itself. I then forwarded my Google Voice number to my new ST number. This way, I don’t need to give out my new number to any one. The only problem is if I dial out anyone directly from my iPhone dialer instead of using the Google Voice dialer, they will get to see my new number, which might confuse them.
In order to avoid this happening accidentally, I actually moved the iPhone dialer from the dock and replaced it with the GV dialer. So whenever I want to make a call, I use the Google Voice dialer instead of the built in dialer, which will ensure that callers see only my old number.
Since I was using an AT&T phone, I needed to change the APN settings of the phone to that of Straight Talk. The easiest way to do this is to go to unlockit.co.nz website on your iPhone Safari (You need to use your WiFi for this). Select Custom APN –> United States –> Straight Talk and save the generated profile file. You should be able to connect from now on.
The experience so far has been good. At times I noticed that whenever I roam from Wi-Fi to 3G, it does not connect automatically. [Update: Haven’t seen this problem in the last few days] I had to turn on and off carrier data once and then it works correctly. Data transfer speeds are the same as a regular AT&T connection.
Do let me know if you have any questions!
So What is Straight Talk? Are they a carrier like AT&T?
Yes and No. They are a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) who do not have their own infrastructure, but use the other carrier’s network for offering services.
Can I use my AT&T locked iPhone 3GS/4/4s on Straight Talk without unlocking?
Yes you can. In fact, any AT&T locked phone would work, not to mention factory unlocked phones. You can also order micro sims for phones which use them (iPhone 4/4s/Nokia Lumia 900) from the straight talk website.
Is the Straight Talk unlimited plan truly unlimited?
Going by user experiences, it is not. They monitor excessive usage of data and voice and it appears that your connection may get suspended if you consume more than 1.5 GB of data per month. But 1.5 GB is a lot and you won’t risk overrunning unless you tether your phone to your computer. Tethering is not allowed according to the ToS on their website.
You have someone as big as Google as your partner. Your product is promoted as the best thing since sliced bread. You then launch your product for $299 with a lot of fanfare. Unfortunately no one buys your product. The early adopters who bought it also returned it promptly. You wait for sometime, but then, there is no sign of the product picking up and so you drop the price to $199. People now feel that it is a good value buy, but still hesitate to buy it. Your inventory is growing. You want to clear it and so you drop your price to $99. Result? Magic happens. Every single retail store in the country sells out the product in minutes. Your product raises to number 1 best seller in Amazon, a remarkable feat in itself. It is backordered everywhere with an estimated delivery of two weeks.
The product in question is Logitech Revue with Google TV. Nothing but a internet media streamer. If you look at it, it seems like pricing was the only thing that kept people away from the product – despite all the complaints of a half-baked Google TV software. By dropping the price to $99, Logitech has matched the price of the Revue with its primary competitors – Roku and Apple TV. Roku offers much more than what Google TV offers at a fraction of Revue’s original price. Apple TV offers less, but it is polished and works nicely within the iTunes ecosystem. The market automatically reacted when the pricing matched what they were ready to pay. Sometimes, the correct understanding of your product’s worth can make a huge impact on the initial succes of the product. Had Logitech priced the Revue at $99 during its initial launch, not only it would have sold well, it would have also given the much needed initial push for the Google TV. Eventhough it may sell well now, the market will still see the Revue as a failed product which could be sold only after a massive price cut. It is also a big negative press for Google TV. Many publications have already written an obituary for GTV after this price drop.
When I tried my hands on the first batches of Sony’s Google TVs, I had a mild shock. The software wasn’t intuitive, the remote was a mess and many things simply didn’t work. This is the classic mistake Google keeps making with other products – like Chrome OS. Rushing an alpha product into the market can have the adverse impact of killing the product early. Consumers are OK with seeing a beta tag on a website or software, but they will never accept a beta tag on a hardware (cars being a classic example). Sure you can have plenty of firmware updates to follow – but the initial impression is what matters for most hardware products.
Many friends think I am a Windows Phone fanboy. I would rather describe myself as a happy and enthusiastic user than a fanboy. This post is an attempt to capture some of my annoyances with the platform. I haven’t included any of the features which we know are being addressed in Mango. So no whining on lack of multitasking and stuff.
Over to the list.
1. No navigation application. Its the mid of 2011 and the dust has already settled down on smartphone wars. But no signs of a usable navigation application on WP7 yet. No TomTom, No Garmin. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Need I say more? (There is a T-Mobile navigator or something in the Marketplace, but it is subscription based. Who wants to pay $10 every month for using a navigation app, considering it is available for free on a competing platform?)
Update 13-July-2011: Garmin Street Pilot now available in Marketplace.
2. Application categorization. Sure, Ballmer hates the app-in app-out paradigm of other platforms, but that doesn’t mean the OS should not have app categories. Vertically growing app list becomes tiring to navigate after a while. And the only way they are sorted is alphabetic – which, needless to say, makes things even more difficult. Now even if you don’t want to have categories, why not sort apps automatically based on their usage? I mean, atleast sort the top 10 and the rest can go in alphabetical order.
Or bring in the same groups concept of People app which we see in the Mango builds into the app list. Will work beautifully.
Update 13-July-2011: People-like alphabetical categorization as well as search now available in the latest Mango builds!
3. Cost of third party applications. Now, what is MS thinking? Games which cost only $0.99 are $2.99 or more on Windows Phone Marketplace. If you think it is the developers who are pricing it high, you are wrong. Seems like MS has a low price sealing of $2.99 when it applies the “XBOX Live” stamp on these games. Now, who needs these superfluous tags? Just give me these apps at the same god damn same price as other platforms and I will be happy.
4. Can’t take a screenshot. I really wish I could post plenty of screenshots of what I am talking about through out this post. Unfortunately, there is no way I can take a screenshot of an application on the WP7 phone unless I resort to some low tech, like using a camera. It is too easy to do on the iPhone and not so difficult with Android. Developers badly miss this feature. Taking a screenshot of the emulator and then cropping it is what most developers do today.
5. Default social applications are of low quality. When compared to the FB app on iOS, the one on WP7 is a shame. True, the OS has some deep facebook integration in itself, but for a true FB experience, you need notifications, chat and status updates. This one looks and behaves like a glorified web page and nothing more. Needs a serious revamp or redesign. Same goes true for the Twitter app. Both need working Live Tiles too.
Incidentally, it must be noted that both the apps are developed by MS and not the respective services. So the update cycle do not follow that of the other platforms for these apps.
Update 13-July-2011: The Facebook integration in Mango makes the default application almost redundant.
6. No VPN Client. One another missing feature in WP7, which was available in WM OS since the beginning. A smartphone cannot be marketed to businesses unless it has a VPN client on it. Hope Mango brings it back.
7.Zune Player. A large music library is almost unusable if it does not have search. Bring in search, star based rating system and on-device playlist creation to complete the most gorgeous music player on the planet.
Update 13-July-2011: On device playlist creation/updation now available in latest Mango builds.
8. Internet Explorer. While everyone loves to hate IE on the desktop, the mobile version on WP is not bad when it comes to rendering web pages. Where it seriously lags is the lack of web fonts (iOS is the one to beat in this aspect) and wasted screen real estate when in portrait mode. All they need to do is to shamelessly copy iOS in these two shortcomings and you have a winner here.
And Flash and Silverlight(!) please.
Update 13 July-2011: Webfonts now available. Screen real-estate is very optimal. Better than iOS now!
9. Volume Control. There is no separate volume setting for the ringer and Music player! Go figure.
If you reduce the volume of music player, the ringer volume too reduces. If you bring it down to zero, the phone itself goes into vibrate mode. Crazy.
10. No call duration info in Call History. While this may sound like a minor annoyance, this is a very important feature for many of us. Present in almost all smartphone platforms, it isn’t rocket science to implement, so WP team should be upto it in the next release.
Keeping fingers crossed to see the goodness Mango is going to bring.
If you own an Apple TV or a Roku box, you would have noticed that the VEVO music videos do not appear on YouTube search results. Since most official music videos are available only through the artist’s respective VEVO channels, it is almost impossible to view them on your large screen. The solution, which I pretty much discovered by accident, seems to nicely work on Roku. Here’s what you need to do:
Go to the Roku Channel Store and add the RateRix channel. You will find it under “Photos and Videos” category. This is actually a wrapper channel for YouTube (Shhhhhhhhh…).
Now go to RateRix.com on your browser on PC and create an account. Then link your Roku Box and Youtube account to this one. All this is pretty much easy to figure once you create an account. Launch RateRix on Roku and login to your RateRix account.
Login to your Youtube account on your browser on your PC and add all your favorite VEVO videos to a new or an existing playlist.
Exit the RateRix application and launch it again on Roku. Go to My Videos. Navigate to your playlist and voila – all your music videos waiting there!
Since the VEVO videos are of high quality, they look decent on your large screen. Enjoy.
(I am now trying to figure out how to pull in the HD versions of the same to the playlist by default.) Edit: By default, it pulls the HD version of the video. So enjoy!
It seems like ages since I made Chrome as the default browser in all my PCs and Mac. The factors that drew me to Chrome from Firefox are its ability to sync almost every setting and preference -including the extensions- across all my machines, tight Google service integration, Speed, Simplicity and a good looking icon.
(OK, I made up the last one).
Over a period of time, I have discovered and installed several extensions which simplify the daily browsing chores. Here is a quick run down. You may find some of them interesting, if you aren’t yet using them.
Readability Redux: A click on the Readability icon transforms a cluttered web page into a highly readable thesis-like document. Helps you focus only on the content and finish your reading without any distractions. Wish the whole web is presented in the Readability format (I am ready to pay for a browser which presents all the web content in this format). Readability even has themes to choose how you want your pages to be displayed! One negative is that it does not display all the images if your article has too many of them. You may end up switching between garbage view and Readability view. (If your primary use of the browser is to navigate to sites with plenty of “X” in them, this plugin may not be of much use).
Tweet This:Though I am not a heavy Twitter user any more, I use this extension to send those occassional Tweets with shortened URLs embedded. Wish there is an option which allows me to tweet without the URL of the current page since not all my Tweets have links in them.
Facebook: No comments on this one.
Google Translate: Instantly transforms web pages in any language (OK, most) to English, or your favorite language. Must have plugin. Wish I had this when I was working for all those Japanese customers.
Adblock: The world’s favorite extension. Except may be Google’s. (It nukes the ubiquitous Google AdSense ads too). You must be joking if you say you don’t have this.
Chrome To Windows Phone: I am one among the 8 people in the world who uses a WP7 phone. This one allows me to send short clippings and URLs to my phone in an instant. Very very useful. If you are an Android or iPhone user, you will find equivalent apps in whatever respective store you find your apps from. Not as powerful as Evernote, but quick and simple. (In case you are wondering, the other 7 are working for Microsoft. Steve Ballmer uses a Kin, so he is not counted).
ESPN Cricinfo: Nothing more to say here. I was born in India.
Mail Checker Plus for Google Mail:Apart from winning the award for the “extension with the longest name”, this is a great plugin to get notified, read and quickly compose a mail from your Gmail account. Beats the crap out of the official Gmail plugin with its loaded feature set.
RSS Subscription Extension:Surprisingly, RSS indicator is not yet part of Google Chrome. I think that is probably going to be the major feature of Chrome 18. Till then, you can use this plugin which lights up that tiny orange icon wherever it finds an RSS or Atom feed.
Google Dictionary:Helps me improve my bad English. Select a word with your mouse and the defintion pops up like magic.
goo.gl URL shortener: I use this whenever I need to share a URL via email. Quick and easy.
There you have it. My favorite plugins for Chrome. If you have any interesting one to share, please do so in the comments.
(If you haven’t noticed, I cheated on the title. There are actually 11 plugins listed here).
If you are like me, you won’t like the 1024×600 resolution found in most netbooks. While the 10″ netbooks are a great compromise when compared to last year’s 9 inch counterparts, they still are a little unfriendly while using applications designed for a slightly higher vertical resolution. Here are some choices if you are looking for an alternative.
Dell Mini 10
You may not be aware that the Dell Mini 1o is available in 1366×768 resolution! Visit the DELL site and you can customize the screen size to 1366×768 which only costs an additional $35. As the screen size is only 10 inch, this may not be a very good choice if your eye sight is not that great.
HP Mini 110
Similar to the Dell Mini, the HP Mini can also be ordered with a 10″ panel of 1366×768 resolution for an additional $30. While you are at it, you can also order the netbook to include the Broadcom HD Video accelerator, which will offload HD video decoding from the CPU, turning your netbook into a multimedia powerhouse. Beware of the awkward touchpad.
Acer Aspire One 751
Acer Aspire One 751 is a netbook based on the Intel GMA 500 (Poulsbo) chipset, same as the one found on many Sony Vaio P models. The 751 comes with a 11.6 inch screen which is ideal for the enhanced 1366×768 resolution. Interestingly, the Atom processor found on 751 runs only at 1.2 GHz, so you may not like the performance. The poulsbo chipset is also not supported well in Linux. Many users report that this 11.6″ netbook works very well with Windows 7 and the latest set of GMA 500 drivers. Note that the GMA 500 has built in HD decoding, so you will get smoother 720p playback on this device with the right set of drivers. This netbook also looks great with the chiclet keyboard and a thin bezel.
The Samsung NC20 is a 12″ netbook sporting 1280×800 resolution. It is one of the few other netbooks that does not use the Intel Atom processor. Running at 1.3GHz speed, the VIA Nano processor is known to give similar processing power as the 1.6 GHz Atom. The NC20 is not small and looks more like a traditional laptop. As of today, it is not yet widely available in the US of A. Comes with a full size keyboard.
This is my favorite ultra portable model. While not as cheap as others, the HP DV2z sports a 12″ screen with 1280×800 resolution, an AMD Neo 64 processor running at 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, 320 GB hard disk and a discrete ATI graphics processor. Other bells and whistles include a HDMI port and a full size keyboard. When compared to the Atom, the AMD Neo is known to be a better performer in terms of every day chores. The proof is that this tiny beast runs Windows Vista 64 bit!
Sony Viao W series
Sony’s second fray into the netbook market with the W series makes a lot more sense than the amazingly useless P series. With a chiclet keyboard (Was not as comfortable as the Toshiba NB205 when I tried) and a 10″ 1366×768 display, the Sony Vaio looks like a winner. Available also in pink, if you are interested. Being a Sony, it is expensive at $500 for an Atom based netbook. Wish it included a HD accelerator for this price.
Gateway’s new netbook sports an AMD Athlon 64 bit processor running at 1.2GHz. While sharing some components like the screen and the excellent keyboard from Acer Aspire One 751, this netbook is the best compromise in terms of price, screen size and processing power. The AMD processor performs as well as an 1.6 Atom. The netbook also comes with a discrete ATI X1200 discrete graphics card. There is no HD acceleration though. You cannot go wrong at $379 – available at a best buy near you.
Those are some of the options you have if you are looking at a netbook or a cheap ultra portable with a better resolution than the default 1024×600. My current recommendation is the Gateway LT3103u, as it is much cheaper and arguably more powerful than some of the other netbooks. Also, it comes with Vista Basic, which runs very well on this computer.