During the month of July, spent traveling around USA all the way from Miami to Hawaii passing by California, Idaho and New York, whenever I could, I took time to test wireless gadgets. Here are some random observations:
-The new iPhone software update makes it impossible to use pre-paid ATT data packages on iPhones. This is silly because on unlocked iPhones you can use the data packages of, say, T Mobile. So why would ATT want to drive its customers to their competitors?
-I loved the Peek. It is like the poor man´s Blackberry. Of course a Blackberry is much better. But Blackberry service is at least three times as expensive. The Peek costs $20 and the unlimited email monthly charge is $15 and no contracts. The negative though is no Facebook, no Twitter, no web browsing, no attachments. But the Peek is the perfect alternative to foreigners who don´t want to be ripped off with roaming charges when they come to the States or for Americans who just want email for work. And while you can´t Tweet or Facebook, you do get the email notifications.
-T-Mobile has an amazing Blackberry offer that gives you free global roaming for $70 per month. This offer is not available from European operators, so getting a US T Mobile Blackberry is great for global travelers. But they’ll kill you with the voice calls both in USA and abroad, so forget about using it as a phone. But considering that Vodafone charges me $14 for every day I use my European Blackberry in the USA and T Mobile charges me nothing when I use their Blackberry in Europe, Asia and Latam, it is clear which one is the better deal.
-I tried a new phone from Kyocera that Virgin Mobile sells for only $90 but was not impressed with either with the phone or the service. The service has something absolutely annoying; their data package does not include email and they charge you 10c to send or receive an email as if it was SMS (the rip off champion of the wireless industry). The service itself, which goes over the Sprint network failed most of my tests and the coverage was awful. And the phone has the most primitive interface. If you buy it you will experience a serious case of iPhone nostalgia.
-I was fascinated by the MIFI. Saw it with Verizon and Sprint but did not buy one cause it is super expensive. The Fonera can do what the MIFI does but the MIFI beats the Fonera because of its simplicity and size. Of course there are tons of things that the Fonera does including creating a global shared WiFi network and uploading and downloading pictures, videos, films, games on its own from the Internet that the MIFI does not do but if converting 3G to WiFi is all you want it pains me to say as CEO of Fon that it is better to get a MIFI.
-ATT has the best pre-paid service in America. It is great because it combines pre-paid data, with free calls to any ATT number with a $1 a day 10c plan that is perfect for visitors and occasional phone users. T Mobile has the same but the coverage is worst and there are less T Mobile users. Did not test Verizon.
– It is amazing how many subsidized, no contract prepaid phones you can buy for nothing in USA. Obviously the carriers believe what Fon wrongly believed at one point, that if you give hardware for free, or close to free, you will make money with the service. Maybe. But in the meantime as a visitor you can try tons of gagdets and buy them at prices which are clearly lower than their manufacturing costs. Nina, now my wife, kept laughing at the amount of $15 to $100 wireless gadgets that I accumulated during the month of July. The Samsung A177 is a good example.
-I bought a MacBook Pro 15 inches and while it´s much more expensive than a PC with similar characteristics it is by far the best Mac I have ever had. 500GB hard drive, 2.8Ghz processor, 4GB of Ram and a few compromises with the non Apple world such as an SD RAM card reader. I still believe that Jobs should make a deal with HP, Dell and others and license OS X in order to avoid becoming too boring. I can imagine Putin entering an Apple shop and thinking, “one phone, one laptop, one desktop, this is how the Soviet Union should have worked out”.
-I had the perfect plan to avoid roaming charges. I gave Nina our Blackberry and tried to survive for a month using the iPhone and the Nokia E71 with a $20 prepaid data plan from ATT. I suffered a SERIOUS case of Blackberry envy and frequently ended up asking her for the Berry. Why? Well first I made the mistake to upgrade the iPhone to the latest software and that killed my ability to use it with prepaid ATT data. Secondly I tried and just HATED the Nokia E71. And interestingly I did have a chance to meet with Nokia´s CEO during this month and tell him this in the nicest language I could find. The Nokia E71 is a PAINFUL product that tries to do everything and does everything BADLY. As you see I am getting excited here using capitals, and all but it hurts me to see the number one European tech company producing a product like a Nokia E71 that won´t do IMAP email well (the email client doesn´t download emails till you go one by one), their push email stopped working and I could not fix it, writing in the crammed keyboard is worse than the iPhone – now improved with landscape mode, the music app is non intuitive, my conclusion with Nokia is that either they completely revamp Symbian or they die. In the meantime, during July, I saw my Nokia shares go down in an up market which made me realize that traders who buy Nokias agree.
-I love my Sanyo Xacti Full HD camera. At $349, it´s the best of its kind. The quality is superb and it is so easy to use. I don´t understand why America is in love with the Flip Camera. Yes, it´s simple, but you can´t compare a video done with the Xacti with a video done with the Flip Camera whose quality resembles that of the high end mobile phones.
-As I get more and more into photography I decided not to take sides, clearly an expensive proposition and double up going BOTH for Nikon and Canon. So now I have a Nikon D90 with a Sigma 18 200 and a fixed 85mm 1.4 and a Canon 5D with a Canon 12 200 zoom and a fixed 85mm 1.2. The verdict is not out yet but I have a strong sense that other than in convenience and weight, (Canon equipment is bigger and heavier), Canon will win. Here is my first Canon test.
-Gmail finally made it possible to to send email from Gmail with YOUR email address. This helps the Android phone. Yes, I have been testing that one as well. The HTC Magic. The integration with Google is phenomenal. But it is lacking in iTunes. That´s where the iPhone beats all. In entertainment. Google has to learn how to make people smile, to appeal to their hearts, not just their brains.
-A trend that keeps growing in America is people who watch TV with their laptops connected over wifi or with their smartphones, or with their game consoles and both watch TV and play games, Facebook, IM, etc. The USA already had the lead on how many hours people spent in front of a screen, a time that in Asia, Europe and other places people spend with other people. But now, the USA will have the lead on time spent watching more than one screen at a time. Not sure it´s a great record to have.
Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars