BUSINESS, Microsoft, RANDOM REVIEW, RANDOMIZER9.COM, TECH, Uncategorized, Writing

RANDOM REVIEW: Nokia Lumia 520 / Windows Phone 8

My God, its full of squares!

My God, its full of squares!

THERE AND BACK AGAIN

It was only a matter of time before I cracked and ended my ‘dumbphone’ experiment.  But what to get next?  I had already owned two Android phones in the past, both of which became progressively crappier as they got older, so Android was a no-go.  I have no desire to own an iPhone, despite owning an iPad mini that I am happy with.  Thus, I thought I would give the ‘other’ mobile OS a try: Windows Phone.  I went to Ye Olde Electronics Store, picked up a Nokia Lumia 520 AT&T GoPhone, signed up for a $60 a month unlimited talk/text plan with 2GB of data, and hoped for the best.

This is actually my second exposure to a Microsoft mobile operating system.  My first smartphone was a T-Mobile Dash (aka HTC Excalibur) back in the dark days of Windows Mobile 6.  While it was not a bad device, Windows Mobile 6 was an odd duck and I switched from it to Android once I had the chance.  So, I’m back to where I started, as far as smartphones go.

This review is based on my having owned the phone for three weeks, with my last phone being an Acatel 871A.

HARDWARE

In terms of hardware, the Lumia 520 is basic: a 4-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 800×480, a 5MP camera on the back with no flash, and WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS.  On the top left is a standard 3.5″ headphone jack, on the bottom center is a micro-USB charge/transfer port, and volume/power/camera buttons adorn the right side of the unit.  Back, Start and Search buttons sit below the screen.  (Side note: I really wish Search buttons on phones would go away, bring back the Menu button!)  The phone uses a micro-SIM, and comes with 8GB of built-in memory that can be expanded using a microSD card.  I like having the power button on the right center, though it took just a little bit of getting used to.  The back has a rubbery finish, which I actually prefer, and I believe the screen is glass.  The phone is solid without feeling too cheap.  The only thing missing in terms of hardware is a front-facing camera and a status LED of some sort: my last phone (Motorola Photon) had a status LED which enabled me to quickly look at it and identify what the last notification was or charge status by its color.

Call quality has been good and I was able to successfully sync the phone with my vehicle via Bluetooth for hands-free operation.  The phone’s speaker is quite loud; I don’t believe I have missed any calls yet for not being able to hear the ringtone, a problem I have had with other phones in the past.

I do have a few gripes with the hardware, the screen seems to love finger oils and gets dirty very quickly, so much so that I’m considering investing in a screen protector.  While Nokia and Microsoft like to tout the Lumias’ super-sensitive screen, it is a bit too sensitive for me, but it can be adjusted.  This is my first exposure to AT&T’s LTE service, and while its speeds have not been as awesome as I have become accustomed to on my Verizon iPad mini it is fast enough to do what I need and even video has worked well.

WINDOWS PHONE

I’m sure many of you reflexively said ‘WINDOWS, EWW,” upon reading the title of this post, but I like Windows, and thank you for continuing to read.  I have used Windows for years, it lets me do whatever I want to with it, and I know how to burrow into it and get my hands dirty if need be.  Sure, Windows 8 does leave a bit to be desired, but I’ll take even that over OS X or Linux any day.  While Windows is a great big negative for many people, (especially in the mobile world) it is a plus for me.

So, Windows Phone, then.  The biggest difference between Windows Phone and its competition is the Start Screen and its use of ‘live tiles,’ instead of icons.  Live Tiles display information in real-time, such as the number of emails you have waiting or random pictures of folks in the People tile.  The system is pretty flexible in terms of letting you arrange them.  One of the first things I did was remove of most of them, particularly the AT&T apps, most of which require monthly fees.  I guess $60 a month isn’t enough.

Unlike Android and iOS, which arrange their home screens horizontally, Windows Phone does things vertically: instead of swiping right and left, you swipe up and down to navigate the Start Screen.  Swiping from right to left pulls over a full list of apps ordered alphabetically, and tapping a letter in a list brings up a screen with the alphabet so you can quickly find things.  I like the Modern/Metro user interface; one thing that I greatly appreciate is that text is actually readable.  One beef I’ve had with previous smartphones is how darn tiny text is often displayed, so having big letters I can easily read is great.

ppl

Raccoons are people too!

While there is a minor learning curve with Windows Phone, the biggest adjustment I had to make is that Windows Phone does not have a ‘phonebook’ or ‘contacts’ app.  Instead, your contacts are stored in an app named ‘People’ that can be synced to include your contacts from Facebook, Google, Hotmail or even Twitter.  The integration with other services and social media websites is very impressive:  When you pull up a person’s information in the People app you can see their latest status update and in addition to the usual ‘call’ and ‘send text’ options you can send emails, post to their Facebook walls, or even mention them on Twitter.  Windows Phone does its best to sync your contacts with social media profiles, if it doesn’t catch one, you can actually specify which profile to match up to a contact. Very nice!

Another thing that has impressed me about Windows Phone is how quickly push notifications come: I will be chatting with a friend on Facebook on another device and my phone will beep within seconds of receiving a chat reply.  It becomes mildly annoying but is a small price to pay for expediency.

One of the problems I had with Android phones is the lack of system updates: unless you buy a Google-branded phone or a super-pricey one you could expect one or maybe two updates at best, then either the manufacturer calls it a day or the carrier decides to be a jerk and not push any new updates through in the hope you’ll get a new phone.  One thing I quickly noticed about Windows Phone is that I could not specify a custom ringtone for app notifications or e-mails.  I did a little research and learned that Microsoft had pushed out an update that fixed the problem.  I checked for updates, but none were to be found.  Crap.  Time will tell if that will change, but for now custom notification sounds are a no-go (you can assign specific ringtones to people, though).  This is an annoyance, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to survive without my phone telling me “You’ve Got F-ing Mail.” 😉

APPS

And now we get to the elephant in the room: Apps.  You may have heard that the Windows Store does not have as many apps as the other guys and yes, that is very true.  I myself use very few apps (which made it easier to stop using a smartphone in the first place) but even then, there are some notable ones missing, such as Dropbox.  Dropbox is a pretty significant omission, but Microsoft is more than happy to provide built-in SkyDrive support as well as a Microsoft Office app.

I like that there is an official genuine Office app included, even if it is a bit stripped down.  Microsoft Office alternatives, in my experience, have ranged from ‘pretty good’ to ‘ick.’  So while it is a bit inconvenient to have to migrate my stuff over to SkyDrive from Dropbox, I think it will be worth it in the long run.  If you are considering making the jump to Windows Phone and you are an app junkie, it would definitely behoove you to double-check and make sure your favorites are available on Windows Phone.  The included apps do their jobs well, but the included HERE Drive + navigation app did get a little squirrelly during a recent trip.

The 520 is responsive, though I will occasionally see a “Resuming…” screen for a few seconds when switching from app to app (Quick tip: holding the ‘Back’ key brings up your currently open apps) but otherwise the phone performs well.  I should note that I do not play games on my phone so I can’t vouch for its performance there.

CONCLUSION

I have been happy with my Nokia Lumia 520 and Windows Phone thus far.  There was a bit of a learning curve involved with Windows Phone but now that I know my way around, it is a pleasure to use.  While there are a few minor annoyances, my overall experience with the 520 has been positive.  The Nokia Lumia 520 is a basic, but quality device that is priced right at $100.  That it is a no-contract phone is icing on the cake; unless you are constantly streaming music and/or video, 2GB is enough data for most people.

That said, Windows Phone is not for everybody.  If you like customizing your phone, get an Android.  If you are highly invested in Apple’s ecosystem or have an iOS device that you already love, get an iPhone.  If you are new to smartphones, actually like Microsoft and their services (Hotmail, SkyDrive, etc) I say that Windows Phone is definitely worth a try.

Nokia Lumia 520 gets 4 out of 5 Live Tiles.

The author received no compensation for this review.

Standard
Broadband, BUSINESS, JUST SAYING, Odem, RANDOMIZER9.COM, TECH, TECH SUPPORT, WHATS GOING ON

Pre-Paid, or Pre-Pain?

As my cell phone contract nears its end, I find myself metaphorically drooling over the thought of getting a new phone.  Well, okay, so maybe I’m doing a little bit of real-life drooling, too.  While the Samsung Moment I got from Sprint has been fairly reliable these past two years, it would be nice to get something new, and yes, there is some gadget-lust feeding that desire to upgrade as well.

While my desire to keep up with the virtual Joneses is strong, it is tempered by my desire to be more responsible with my finances.  I recently consolidated all my debts and am working on boosting my savings, which, of course, means cutting back on expenses.  I currently pay just under eighty bucks a month for my cell phone plan.  That isn’t bad, but it would be nice if I could get that number to drop.  I recently learned that I can an employee discount through my job.  Even then, I think I can shave even more off my cell phone bill by going with a pre-paid provider.  Doing so will come with a few caveats, but before I go over them, I should mention that I had pre-paid cell service from T-Mobile way back when because money was tight.  It was pretty good, but it was quite some time before I had a smartphone.  Now on to the issues:

The biggest one has to do with the carriers themselves.  While some of them piggyback off of the big boys (for example, Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network) and some are run by the big boys (Verizon and AT&T each have their own pre-paid services) others have their own networks that are not as robust as the ones the “big boys” have.  This probably won’t be a big deal when I’m at home in San Antonio, but once I go to other cities for conferences or events things just might not work!

Related to this issue are the phones that are offered by pre-paid providers.  They aren’t nearly quite as nice as the new ones the major providers carry.  From what I have seen in my research, some of them are just downright awful, as they are often made by second- and third-tier manufacturers.  Adding to this is the fact that you have to pay the full cost of a pre-paid phone up front.  That is one of the reasons that pre-paid service is less expensive, those carriers don’t subsidize the cost of their phones.  This isn’t quite as big a deal as it sounds, because the phones that I can get for free from the big boys are about as lousy as the one I have now.  If I want something better, I’m going to have to fork out some cash up front either way.

Another reason the ‘lousy phone’ thing may not be an issue is the fact that I just don’t do a whole lot with my smartphone.  For all the “OMG THOUSANDS OF APPS” available on Android, I barely have any apps installed and use less than ten on a regular basis.  Non-smartphones have gotten smarter these days, so I might be able to ditch a smartphone completely and go with a much cheaper non-smartphone plan.  If I can find a messaging phone that does Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail, that would be just about perfect.  The obvious downside is that I would probably be very limited to what I could install on that not-so-smartphone.

One final consideration is the porting of my current phone number.  I’ve had the same phone number for a few years now and have gotten pretty attached to it, so I’m a little jittery about moving to a new provider.  I get even jitterier (yes it’s a word, BTW) when I consider that a lower-cost operation may not have all of those nice people answering phones for them in customer service.  I’ve actually received good customer service the few times I’ve had to call Sprint, and shudder at the thought of talking to who knows who from who-knows-where.  That isn’t an “I hate Indian call center” thing, either.  In my AT&T debacle from earlier this year, I was actually glad to get a polite person with an accent instead of all the home-grown jerkasses I had been dealing with up to that point.  Yeah, the ‘USA-based support’ they were so proudly trumpeting was that bad.

While the thought of getting a shiny new phone with a nice big screen, new operating system and fast CPU is a pleasant one, the thought of being caught without enough money in the event of an emergency is enough to make me think over the amount of cash I’m currently shelling out for my phone service.  On the other hand, the service I have been getting has been pretty good, even in the boonies of my hometown and I’m not sure that going with someone different for the sake of saving a few bucks is the best plan in the world.  My bill should be dropping thanks to the employee discount, so I’m wondering if perhaps going pre-paid isn’t worth the trouble when things are working well as it is.

And yeah, those shiny new phones in the Sprint Store are looking pretty nice!

Standard
Broadband, BUSINESS, JUST SAYING, RANDOMIZER9.COM, TECH, Uncategorized, WHISKEY-TANGO-FOXTROT

Five Things I Learned From My DSL Debacle

So after the smoke cleared, I got my DSL turned on and AT&T got another customer…well for now, anyway.  It only took a trip to AT&T’s website, 2 customer service reps, one angry tweet, 3 techs, two social media team people, three executive escalation people, about a dozen voice mails, about twice that many phone calls, and seven days.

For my trouble, I’m getting my first month of service free, which I think is fair enough.  I’m just happy that the switch got flipped, and hopefully things will be hunky dory from here on out.  I also learned a few things:

  1. Just use the phone already! I should have just called back the next morning, despite the terrible experience I’d had with the first CSR.  Its just quicker, especially considering..
  2. “The Power of Social Media” is worthless if the people answering the tweets don’t have the power to DO anything. Awhile back, a friend of mine had a problem with Netflix that he tweeted about.  Someone from the company got in touch with him fairly quickly and got the issue resolved.  Thus, when I got a response from AT&T’s social media people, I got excited that someone was going to get something DONE about my problem.  Sadly, the only thing the social media mavens that answered my angry AT&T tweets did was tell me to wait for a phone call that would come at some indeterminate time.  Of course, once I got past the social media d00dz, I found out:
  3. Just because they’re “executive escalation” doesn’t mean they want to talk to you. I don’t think I’ve ever played as much phone tag as I did with the executive escalation gal. Part of it was because of my job, which entails answering phones, and part of it was because of the phone system at AT&T, which did not put me through to the person directly.  Whenever I had time to speak, I had to leave a message and hope that she called me back before I got busy again.  This is hardly efficient, especially considering that…
  4. Competence is not “expected behavior” This was not the first time I had ordered DSL service from AT&T.  I had expected the positive experience I’d had before to be repeated.  Sadly, this was not the case; the smart people I’d spoken to years ago have probably either been laid off or hopefully, moved on to bigger or better things.  As for me:
  5. I may just be too patient.  I probably should have thrown in the towel after the social media dweebs told me to wait 48 “business hours” for a phone call but I was desperate to get back on the intertubes and I wanted to see this whole thing through.

So I now have sweet, sweet, internet and life is good.

Aww, crap…

Standard
Broadband, BUSINESS, JUST SAYING, RANDOMIZER9.COM, TECH, WHISKEY-TANGO-FOXTROT

GAME OVER. Press Start To Begin!

Evening of Monday March 8, 2011.

I left a message with the Executive service person in the morning letting her know that I’d had enough and was going to cancel my order.  We still had plenty of folks out sick, so work soon began in earnest.  Oddly enough, I got a call from a AT&T tech during my morning break.  After asking me if I had my own modem plugged into the phone jack (being repeatedly asked that question was another annoyance) he was going to get everything set up outside.  I reluctantly agreed.  After all, I had nothing to lose, and I wasn’t exactly clamoring to deal with Time Warner Cable.

I had to make a trip to the bank during lunch, but before I took off, I left another message with the Executive gal letting her know that I was going to give it one last shot before packing it in.  The morning had been busy and I was feeling a little frazzled, so I drove the few miles to the bank with the windows open and the radio on.  Arriving at the bank, I discovered that Executive gal had called while I was on the road.  I didn’t feel like leaving another message so I left the phone in the car while I went to take care of my business and have some lunch.  Of course, during that time, she had called again.

We played phone tag for the remainder of the afternoon.  I don’t know if it was the long day I was having or the constant stream of apologies that got thrown my way, but I did not want to talk with her.  I had planned on leaving early to see if my connection was working, I had just enough time to get home, check the modem and leave a final message with Executive gal.  That plan got shot to heck as I ended up getting stuck on two consecutive long calls with two irritating customers. It was past my usual time to go home and I was pretty beat.  The trip home was longer than usual, thanks to an accident that had occurred less than a block away from my apartment which totally hosed things up.

Being stuck in traffic is one thing, but being stuck in traffic just a few blocks away from home is maddening.

I was all but ready to collapse into bed for a quick nap.  Before doing so, I half-heartedly checked the modem again.  This time, I was greeted with four solid green lights and a fifth one that was blinking green.  They finally freaking did it.

HALLELUJAH!

I hastily plugged in my laptop, opened up Firefox and saw an AT&T error page.  Aww.

The error page provided me with a number to call.  I hesitated for a pretty good while before picking up my cell phone, steeling myself for another craptacular experience like the one I’d had just a week earlier.  The prize was finally within reach, I hoped that I didn’t get the same idiots that I had spoken with the week prior.  I didn’t.  Instead, I got a gentleman from India, who called himself “Ed.”  Go figure that one out.

As an aside, I’ve always wondered:  do those folks pick names out of a hat before signing in to their phones?  I just picture a bunch of people in India sitting at their desks practicing their new names before work begins.  “Ed” got lucky, I remember speaking with a less-than-convincing “Gladys” some time ago.

Moving on, I let “other Ed” walk me through the process, and except for one  hiccup that was my fault he got me on the tubes and I was now a happy geek:

Not bad at all!

I plan on calling Executive Girl in the morning to let her know that everything got done and that I would be hanging around with AT&T for awhile.  For all the aggrivation, I will be getting a free month out of the deal and look forward to being “always on” again.  I’ll probably do one last wrap-up post after this, but for now I will bask in the glow of the sweet sweet internets.  Thanks for pulling it off in the end, AT&T!!

Standard
Broadband, BUSINESS, JUST SAYING, RANDOMIZER9.COM, TECH

Freaky Friday

Afternoon of Friday, March 4, 2011

The last thing on my mind today was AT&T.  The “other important call” I had scheduled to take during lunch was a phone interview.  My current job is a temporary one; so technically, I could get the old heave-ho at any time.  I’d been burned in the past by being overly optimistic, so I decided to be overly pessimistic and assume that each day at work might be the one where I turn in my badge.

The day started out well enough: I got up, got ready for work, checked out the nice new H-E-B near my apartment, and stopped for a bite of breakfast and a blog update before the workday started.  I was feeling pretty good: this was going to be the first payday I’d had in awhile, and I was looking forward to seeing that direct deposit drop into my virtual wallet.

I logged onto my work computer and decided to take a quick peek at my bank balance before getting started.  I was disappointed to see it was about the same as it had been a few days before.  That meant I was going to have to wait for the check to arrive in the mail.  I shrugged it off, but at the same time I hoped that it wouldn’t take too long.

As I started work, I noticed the guy next to me was sounding pretty rough.  I could hear him constantly coughing, and he soon went home sick.  I also noticed that we were quite busy and sure enough, I soon learned that there had been a few people that had called in sick.  This did not bode well for my lunchtime plans.  Sure enough, about twenty-five minutes before lunchtime, I got a call from some idiot who kept me on the phone for an hour.  My heart sank as I felt the cell phone on my hip ring once, and then twice.  Needless to say, I was in a bit of a mood when I finally left for lunch.

I ordered and then sat down to check my voicemails and return calls.  Sure enough, the interviewer had called at 12 on the dot.  I left a message on her voicemail then listened to the AT&T gal’s message.  She wanted to try to reschedule a time for a tech to come out.  I was confused and asked her why the tech had to be there.  As it turns out, because my phone line was currently unused they could not automatically assume that it worked.  The last time I had ordered DSL, I actually had a landline so they knew that it worked to a certain degree.

oh.

It would have been nice if someone had TOLD me this sometime over the past three days: the tech didn’t write it on the note on the door, the idiot CSR didn’t say it even though I kept bringing up the self-install thing, the 2 social media reps were as useless as a knife in a soup-eating contest and the first executive whatchamacallit only served to bounce me to the second executive whatchamacallit.

I had to go to Mount Doom and back and talk to all those people just to find out something that should have been posted on the order webpage or put in some phone guy’s script or computer screen.  That is just plain nuts.

The Executive phone person asked when she could schedule someone to come out.  I told her about the whole ‘can’t miss work’ thing and she told me that their installers don’t work on weekends.  Glorious.  She said she was going to try to get someone out on Saturday.  Feeling cooperative, I told her that I would call the apartment to see if they could let their tech in while I was out of work.  She asked me to leave a message when I got a decision.  The apartment people said yes, but I was really unsure about doing that so I left a message with her saying that I needed a weekend appointment.

I went back to work after that.  Things were still busy, and with about an hour and a half to go in the day I took a break to check my voicemail.  I got two messages, the first was from the Executive girl asking me to call a “DSL Specialist” to verify the appointment and answer some questions he would have for me.  The second message was from that guy.  He had already attempted to call me but I had been too busy at work to pick up. I called the guy’s number and got a message saying he had already left for the day a half-hour ago.  Seriously??

I left a message anyway and also left a message with Executive girl letting her know I had just missed the boat because DSL guy had decided to pack it in early for the weekend.  Yeah, that’s the kind of day I was having.

Game Over.  Bueno, bye.  Sayonara.  Thanks for playing.

I had all I could stand and I could stand no more.  I figured the next time I got called back I would be telling Executive girl I give up.  Un-frakking believable.  Executive girl called back and she was very apologetic, even more so than before.  That’s saying something, because every time I spoke with her she started by apologizing for the delay and their lousy phone system.  It says something about the phone company when they have to apologize for their own phone system.

After kissing my feet for way longer than necessary, she told me to call DSL guy back.  She assured me that yes, this time he would be answering.  I called him, and to my surprise, he answered, asked me if I had a modem plugged into the phone (I did) and told me a guy would be coming on Saturday morning to get everything fixed up.  Yeah-yeah, sure-sure.

Well, here we go again!

Standard
BUSINESS, JUST SAYING, RANDOMIZER9.COM, TECH, WHISKEY-TANGO-FOXTROT

Save Me, Telephone Superman!

Evening of Thursday, March 3, 2011

I think I’m over being “mad as hell” with AT&T.  Instead, I’ve decided to ride the crazy train and see where it takes me.   Besides, I’m no worse off now I was before.  Should all else fail, I can always go to the competition.  On a certain level, it’s even fun watching AT&T stumble around like a drunken brontosaurus.

At this point, I’m supposed to be waiting for Telephone Superman to get in touch with me so that he can get my apartment hooked up to the tubes.  Realistically, though, I think what’s going to happen is that he’s going to ask me a few questions and then either schedule someone to go out to my place (which brings us back to square one) or apologize profusely and THEN schedule someone to go out to my place.  Either way, I’m boned.

I have an hourly job right now.  I don’t have any vacation days at that job right now, so taking days off means not getting paid for that day.  I literally cannot afford to take time off during the week, and on Saturdays, I am busy attending or helping out with various nerd gatherings and events, and on Sundays I have band practice.  My busy schedule is why I wanted to do the self-install.  Besides, the installer has no reason to enter my apartment unless things are really borked up.

Now if the tech came by, flipped the switch, saw that something was borked up and had to do something inside, somebody should have TOLD me that by now: the installer could have written something on the note he left, the nimrod CSR I spoke to should have seen it on his screen, and I’ll even go as far as to say that the guys responding on Twitter should have seen that SOMETHING was screwy after seeing me unleash some “nerd rage” on the tubes.  That’s water under the bridge, though.  I figured I’d give them a few days to call and once my patience runs out, I’ll just nuke it all and give Time Warner a ring.  Luckily (or unluckily, perhaps) I am a very patient person.

Now if Phone Dude didn’t flip the switch at all because I wasn’t at home, he screwed up.

At about 930 in the morning yesterday, I got a phone call.  It was a person from AT&T’s Executive Service something-or-other.  She apologized for the inconvenience and told me that someone would be calling me back to get things taken care of…within 48 hours.  Grr.

Luckily it didn’t take that long, I got a call in the afternoon (that I missed) from another person somewhere within AT&T’s secret underground lair.  It was another gal who should be THE person to get things squared away, but I couldn’t just call her, I had to leave a message and once I did so she would call me back within a hour.  Yeah, that’s convenient!  The problem here is that my job is answering a tech support line:  if my cell rings while I’m helping a customer I can’t pick up.  I left a message at five hoping that she would ring me before a customer did.

“Eduardo’s Dumb Luck” kicked in, so of course, my cell rang when I was on the line with a customer.  Luckily, the customer was on hold, so I quickly answered.  The Executive Customer person asked me if I had some time to discuss the problem (gee, its a shame it isn’t written down somewhere, like say, a blog!) which I obviously didn’t, so I asked her to call me back during my lunch break today.

Of course it wasn’t until after I ended the call  that I realized I was expecting another important call at that same time.

Crap.

Standard