Preston And AT&T Give Each Other The Finger

I made the jump the last day before Verizon stopped offering unlimited data plans. The delay for switching to Verizon was not lack of motivation–AT&T service has always paled to Verizon in Arizona and is nearly nonexistent at my summer home–but in desperate procrastination of dealing with the migration process. My longest conversation (highly abbreviated) with AT&T on the matter took about an hour and was so traumatizing that I can’t see myself ever returning. As far as I’m concerned AT&T is dead and buried:

Coverage map showing AT&T's miraculous ability to provide "Best" service without operational towers.

 

Me: I’m not happy with my AT&T service and would like to cancel my service plan.

Customer Service Representative: I’m sorry to hear that, sir. May I ask why?

Me: I’m in an area with about 1-bar service about half the time, no 3G data (EDGE only), and constant dropped calls. I’m not really getting “service” per se.

Rep: I’m very sorry to hear that. We can cancel your plan for $<huge fee>.

Me: Well… I really don’t think that’s entirely fair. The issue isn’t really that I don’t WANT service, but AT&T isn’t providing what I’m already paying for. I’m paying about $100/month for unlimited 3G data, <list of other features>, and I only get a few of them some of the time. Check the coverage map.

Rep: Yes, sir! I can see you live in a “Best Coverage” area. That is very good!

Me: 1-bar signal 50% of the time, no 3G and dropped calls the other 50% is “Best Coverage”?

Rep: The map shows we have multiple towers in the area! You should be getting great service according to the map.

Me: I understand what the map says; I’ve seen it many times, trust me. The issue is not just me, though. No one else with AT&T seems to get usable service here, either.

Rep: I’m very sorry to hear that, sir. One of the towers is not operational. That may have something to do with it. Would you like us to send out an engineer to test your hardware?

Me: Wait… what? First, my hardware is fine. It works fine in <other cities with service>. No one else’s phone works well here on AT&T’s network, either. Second, if you’re dispatching an engineer wouldn’t it make sense to fix the tower instead? …You know, the NOT OPERATIONAL one that is currently providing “Best Coverage”?

Rep: Unfortunately we cannot do that, sir.

Me: It doesn’t make sense to charge me for a service you just admitted you can’t provide. I understand I’m under contract and don’t dispute that, but AT&T has obligations, too, and if AT&T can’t meet them it isn’t right to punish the customer.

Rep: Unfortunately, sir, it is your fault for choosing to live in an area without good service coverage.

Me: ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS??? I checked your goddamn map before, during and after moving here, and the fucking thing says “BEST COVERAGE” despite having a non-operational tower. I’ve been here for some time now and it’s never been any better.

Rep: Yes, sir! Coverage in that area is strong. Would you like us to send out an engineering to test your equipment?

Me: YOU JUST SAID A TOWER IS NOT OPERATIONAL. SOME GUY WAIVING MY PHONE TO THE SKY IS NOT GOING TO MAKE IT CONNECT TO A TOWER THAT DOESN’T WORK. DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THE FUCK A CELL TOWER DOES?

Rep: Like I said, sir, it is AT&T’s policy to charge cancellation fees according to your contract. We cannot even consider overriding them in such a strong service area.

Me: <Infuriated abrupt disconnect.>

So, I’m now staring at a ridiculous cancelation bill. On the bright side, though, I sold my old AT&T iPhone the next week via eBay for over $200, which not only covered the new Verizon hardware cost but activation fees as well. I’m not getting great 4G on my Mifi (which was disclosed though), but at least I’m getting ok 3G and voice service on my iPhone for about the same price. AT&T? Please.

Kindle 3G Upgrade: Mini Review, Recommendations

The "Home", "Menu" and "Back" buttons are now to the right of the keyboard.

I’ve previously expressed my love for the Kindle family of devices, and on a whim decided to upgrade from the Kindle 2 to the new Kindle 3G with 3G and wifi. For others contemplating the upgrade, here’s what you need to know:

Pros

  • The new button layout is way better. Next/Previous button are on both sides of the screen, and Home and Menu buttons have been moved to the keyboard area, along with a new direction pad (“d-pad”) design that is easier to use, albeit different.
  • Smaller device footprint. Kindle 3 feels more compact and portable than Kindle 2.
  • The screen update time is noticibly better, but only slightly so. It’s definitely noticable and a welcome improvement, but don’t expect LCD-level performance here. It’s still e-ink.
  • Wifi! Not that on the more expensive model, you have both wifi support as well as the free 3G access.

Cons

"Next" and "Previous" buttons are now on BOTH sides of the device. A welcome change!
  • $189 for a bunch of marginal upgrades is a tough sell.
  • Keyboard is still ghetto. It feels like typing on a 1990’s scientific calculator.
  • The Next/Previous buttons depress easier than before, but they’re also smaller and don’t have any nubs to identify the button by touch. This seems stupid.
  • Sharper screen. It’s a subtle improvement, but definitely feels crisper.

Recommendations

  • New users should go for it, and light readers should be perfectly fine with the Wifi-only $139 model.
  • Existing users with heavy usage patterns (at least an hour a day on average) should go for it. You’ll love the small speed improvements when highlighting and flipping pages.
  • Existing Kindle 2 owners with light usage patterns should skip this revision. Future models will certainly see further improvements and lower costs.

Amazon Kindle 2 Review

Kindle 2 with M-Edge Leather Platform Jacket and optional e-Luminator 2 book light.

The Kindle 2 is my first commitment to electronic books and e-ink screen. I silently waited until several generations of eBook readers were on the market–including the Barnes & Noble Nook–before making the decision to commit to Amazon’s Kindle 2.

Physical Interface

The 6″ e-ink display that looks just like the paper of a novel you’d buy at the grocery store. Unlike computer LCD displays, the Kindle’s screen is reflective, making it easier you to read outside in natural sunlight, just like a real book.

The built-in keyboard is extremely useful, though a tad clunky feeling. It is built with physical buttons (as opposed to “soft” or “virtual” buttons used on devices like the iPhone), and takes some getting used to, especially when searching a book and navigating a variety of different screens and dialogs. Despite a bit of awkwardness that is difficult to verbalize, it’s invaluable to have these controls, especially for searching and note taking.

Internet
One of the coolest features is the built-in 3G cellular radio that is tightly integrated with the Kindle Store and works similarly to the “One-Click Checkout” feature offered by Amazon. You can usually download a sample chapter before purchasing, and of course “upgrading” from samples to full copies is very straightforward and easy.

For individual subscription charges you may also subscribe to a gamut of periodicals and blogs. While it may seem strange to offer paid subscriptions to content you can often view for free online, the Kindle versions of the content are repackaged to support the navigational structure and user interface of the physical devices, provided a more fluid experience when bouncing between your regular reading material.

Using the built-in keyboard and 4-way joystick-like device, you can even use a built-in web browser to surf the internet in a bind. Surprisingly, there are no monthly services charges for this ability, though the device clearly is not designed for web surfing. Even with free 3G service you’ll usually use your phone, laptop etc. instead.

Formats

All purchases (including subscriptions) are automatically delivered wireless to your Kindle. I’ve generally found Amazon’s “delivered in less than 60 seconds” claim to be true: even when cruising through a barren Nevada desert.

You have the ability to read your own .PDF, .TXT, .MOBI, .DOC and other documents, and are provided a free service to convert your documents to the Kindle’s native .AZW format. Note, however, that .PDF files, while displayed, cannot be re-layed out to fit the size and orientation of the screen. Constantly having to zoom in and out is annoying, so you’ll often want to convert to .AZW before transferring content to your Kindle.

Synchronization

At time of this writing, Kindle content can be managed and accecssed in four ways, the…

  • Kindle itself.
  • Kindle website.
  • Free iPhone application.
  • Free PC application.

Content purchased using the Kindle Store–via any of these interface–can freely sync amongst them, assuming they are all tied to the same Amazon account. After a piece of content is purchased, it is automatically backed up on Amazon’s servers, allowing you to delete it from the device today and easily restore it (even to a different device) sometime in the future.

Note that documents you load onto the Kindle (via a USB connection to your Mac or PC, or wirelessly for a nominal charge) will not be backed up to Amazon’s systems, nor can they be automatically synced between interfaces. It would be fabulous to have Amazon back up my own Kindle content, though since it wasn’t purchased from Amazon it seems reasonable to not offer this service. (Note to Amazon: I would pay for this feature!)

Audio

Kindle 2 with M-Edge Leather Platform Jacket and optional e-Luminator 2 book light.

The text-to-voice software turns out to be surprisingly useful. Some words, as you would expect, are consistently mispronounced and a tad distracting, but not so much as to detract from its use. Using both the built-in headphone and built-in speakers, you’ll find yourself being read to in the car, walking around campus, the grocery store.. pretty much anyway you’d normally listen to music. Mispronounced words that are a tad annoying:

  • “idea”. It is being pronounced EYE-DEE-AYE.
  • “live” as in “alive“. It is always being pronounced as in “olive“.
  • Some abbreviations that look like Roman numerals. I’m sure this is a hard one to fix, but it’s nevertheless distracting to have the sentence, “I was at the IV [pronounced EYE-VEE] office yesterday.”, but hear “I was at the ONE-FIVE office yesterday.”

There is also an “experimental” MP3 player built in. It is in no way even comparable to the interface or features provided by iPods, but nevertheless a “nice to have” feature. I use it rarely since I already carry around an iPhone and use iTunes for media management.

Additional Software Features

Online access to bookmarks, highlights and notes of purchased books.

Things you won’t be able to live without once you get used to them:

  • Search. One of my biggest issues with traditional, printed texts is the lack of a trivial way to search them. On the Kindle, you just start typing and hit the enter key. What’s even better is that you can easily switch the search index from the current book to sites like Wikipedia.
  • Built-in dictionary. Just position the cursor before a term, and a small footnote will appear on the bottom of the screen. (Anecdote: I just found myself physically poking a word in 10-pound textbook, as if some dialog were to materialize in the air above. As I chuckled to myself I realized that I was now addicted to eBooks, and was unlikely to ever go back.)
  • Bookmarking. The concept of a “bookmark” is only slightly different than in the physical world. Since content in the electronic world is usually defined separately from it’s presentation, layout is based on personal preference (bigger vs. smaller text), screen size (Kindle 2 vs. the larger Kindle DX), font (Helvetica vs. Arial), orientation (portrait vs. landscape), and numerous other factors. This make the concept of a “page” obsolete, because chapter 3 of a new book may appear on page 47 for one person and 32 for another. Instead, we now have “locations”, which assign a sentence or paragraph a number that can be looked up regardless of how the content gets layout out.
  • Notes.  If you like to “write in the margins” of traditional books, you can do effectively the same thing on the Kindle. Just move the cursor to wherever you want your note, click the directional-pad button, type your note, and then click the button again. You’ll now see a handy interactive superscript symbol at the insertion point. These notes also get written to a plain text file that can be read when the Kindle is plugged in via USB, at “documents/My Clippings.txt”
  • Highlighting. I love taking a bright yellow highlighter to a good non-fiction book. You can not only do effectively the same thing on the Kindle, but this metadata also becomes saved in a new file that is synced back to Amazon’s servers, allowing you to easily browse your highlights, notes and bookmarks via the web, even without your Kindle handy.

Cons

Home screen of the Kindle 2. Displayed: several purchased books and a variety of "samples" from the Kindle Store.
  • Purchased are DRM’d, and cannot (yet) be shared. I waited until the release of the Nook to make a purchasing decision because of B&N’s claim that you would be able to “loan” purchased content to friends, but the feature is, in my opinion, way too restrictive to be a prime selling point.
  • Software feels clunky, especially for someone accustomed to lots of intuitive Apple-designed GUIs. 🙂
  • Screen is slow to update, though none of the other readers on the market seem to be noticeably better.
  • Does not come with a case.
  • Keyboard could be much better.

Conclusion

While not without its flaws–most notably slowness of the screen to update–I love the Kindle and keep it with me whenever possible. For me, the Kindle is more than just a gadget. It represents a fundamental change in the way I interact with written knowledge, and resets my expectation accordingly. I fully expect large-scale consumer transition to e-ink-style display to be rocky due to nasty web of vendors, publishers and authors all vying to dominate the market early, but for the avid readers out there, it’s worth it.

How To Make Original iPhone Sim Work In iPhone 3G

I live in the U.S. and upgraded from the original iPhone to an iPhone 3G. If you simply put your old SIM into the 3G, however, you will only be able to use EDGE, and the phone will not use the 3G network. When purchasing a 3G model, multiple Apple sales representatives advised me that I would need to either keep each SIM in the phone with which it shipped and call AT&T to swap the phone numbers, or order a new SIM card for my existing number.

Problem: AT&T won’t switch the phone numbers since each phone is still obligated to its own, separate 2-year contract, and ordering a new SIM will cost you $25.

Solution: I physically went to an AT&T store and explained the issue. The sales rep just had to perform some voodoo in his computer system to enable 3G for the original iPhone SIM so it could be used in the new model and access 3G services. This allows AT&T to avoid having to modify any contracts while allowing you to upgrade to an iPhone 3G and use 3G services.

Done!