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Archive for April 5th, 2009

G1 Testing – Part 3

by on Apr.05, 2009, under Networking, Technology

Part my “phone decision tree” is carrier selection.  The G1 and the iPhone are both GSM phones that can be unlocked from their respective networks.  I’m somewhat familiar with AT&T’s network – I used to have their service and found it good, and Doug currently has their service, and we’ve compared Verizon/AT&T coverage on occasion with comparable results.  To evaluate T-mobile, I purchased a pre-paid SIM for their network.

At home, I get about 2 bars out of 4 on the G1 with T-mobile pre-paid.  This is comparable to my Verizon EV-3-bars and 1x-2-bars, and Doug’s about 2 bars of AT&T.  At my parent’s place I get full signal, same as Verizon.  At work, I expect full strength being a stone’s throw from their tower.

For further comparisons, I did about a 100-mile road test and managed to get Chris B. to go along and observe signal strengths.  Here were the generalized results:

  • Home to Roxbury:  T-mobile > Verizon
  • Roxbury to Fannettsburg (along turnpike):  T-mobile = Verizon
  • Fannettsburg to Ft. Loudon (route 75):  Both poor, T-mobile < Verizon
  • Ft. Loudon to Chambersburg (route 30):  Marginal Verizon, but mostly no T-mobile
  • Chambersburg to Caledonia (route 30):  Both very good, T-mobile = Verizon
  • Caledonia to Shippensburg (route 233, Ship Rd):  Both generally poor, T-mobile = Verizon
  • Shippensburg to Home: Both good, T-mobile = Verizon

These observations were generally consistent with the published T-mobile and Verizon coverage maps.

With these observations, T-mobile appears to be a viable carrier for the locations I spend most of my time.  But cell service is nice to have places where you don’t spend a lot of time as well.  Looking at the state-wide zoom level for AT&T, Verizon, and T-mobile, it appears clear the T-mobile is really, really lacking.  AT&T and Verizon appear to be about comparable.

In performing this comparison, I found it hard to believe that there were no good tools to show multiple providers coverage areas simultaneously.  Verizon’s coverage map was good, with a google-maps-like drag-scroll interface.  AT&T and T-mobile were not.  In all cases the zoom levels for the maps poorly corresponded, making comparisons that much more difficult.

What about roaming?  I had read/heard about T-mobile and AT&T having mutual roaming agreements.  Can I purchase T-mobile service and use AT&T’s network?  I tried selecting AT&T as the provider with my T-mobile pre-paid SIM, and it did not work.  That does not necessarily mean that it would not work with a “real” T-mobile plan.  However, I would really expect the provider coverage maps to show areas that they mean to cover with roaming, and T-mobile does not show anywhere near AT&T’s footprint.  Besides, I have read of peering agreements changing over time without notice, so even if it worked now, it might not forever.  I’ve decided it’s not worth getting a real T-mobile account just for testing internetwork roaming.

As a break from the analysis, I did manage to get to try T-mobile’s EDGE data service on the G1.  I’m not sure exactly how it happened.  I upgraded to R33 last night, and while around my parents house, a new “G” icon appeared with in/out data arrows.  An app that tracks data usage confirmed that it was the 2G radio interface, and that it was passing traffic.  I was able to play around with Google maps, web browsing, IM’ing, ping, and ssh using EDGE today, and the performance was fine.  This evening however, it stopped working and the browser shows a page saying that the G1 needs a real data plan.  Still, I was pleased to have the brief opportunity.

What about 3G?  If I use the G1 on AT&T can I use 3G?  The answer appears to be no, due to different frequencies/bands used for T-mobile’s and AT&T’s network and handsets.  But T-mobile does not have 3G anywhere near me anyway.  AT&T does, so if 3G is a requirement, the iPhone has to be the way to go.  Otherwise, using the G1 on AT&T locally should be no different 3G-wise than using it on T-mobile.

Conclusion: T-mobile isn’t a viable carrier for me.  The G1 can work on AT&T’s network as long as I don’t need 3G.  If I need 3G, the iPhone, AT&T (and going to Carlisle or Hagerstown, for now, at least) is the only option.  Do I need 3G?  Probably not.

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G1 Testing – Part 2

by on Apr.05, 2009, under Technology

I’ve had more time to play with the G1, so an update follows.

My intention for the G1 (or the iPhone if necessary) is to replace both my Verizon LG VX8600 as well as my Dell Axim X30.  To that end, I’ll list the functions of each, and my current impressions of the G1 and maybe some notes about the iPhone.  This is a work in progress, so I plan on updating things as I find out more.

  • Phone / VX8600 Comparisons

    • Placing and receiving calls. The G1 seems to be able to do that.  I really like the phone-like feel of the VX8600, but having used a Nokia in the past, I’ll get used to talking into a non-handset yet again.
    • SMS reminders. I don’t always feel or hear an SMS when it’s first delivered, or maybe I ignore it as I can’t de-pocket the phone at the time.  The VX8600 has the ability to periodically re-alert unviewed SMS messages which I use.  The G1 does not have this feature out of the box, as far as I can tell.  There is an application “Missed Call” that provides this service.  I’ve seen this app crash once though, and when that happens there are no SMS alerts.  That could be a serious issue.
    • Battery life. I don’t use my phone heavily at this point (no e-mail or Internet after all).  I typically charge it whenever it shows 3 of 4 bars of battery, probably about every three days.  It is charged overnight.  In situations where I’m somewhere with no cell service, the phone will chew through most of its battery in just a few hours.
    • Pocketability. The VX8600 is very pocketable.
  • Pocket PC / Dell Axim X30 Comparisons

    • Password Management. Not sure if it’s the best policy, but I’ve been keeping passwords in the Axim, and before that a Palm, for about as long as I’ve cared about passwords.  On the X30, I’m using “KeePass for Pocket PC 2002” which has some quirks, but works well.  I’ve found “KeePassDroid” for the G1, but have not yet tried it.  It apparently does not have the ability to edit passwords which is a big drawback.  It may not be a showstopper, but it is a disappointment.  UPDATE: I’ve copied my keepass database onto the G1.  The interface feels clunkier compared to the X30, but it works fine.
    • Notepad. When I don’t have something to write on, I often go for the “Notes” application that comes with the Windows mobile OS.  I mostly just scribble something with the stylus and never clean up notes afterwards.  At first glance the G1 doesn’t have such an app, but I downloaded “Note pad” which lets me type out notes, which should be just fine (and more ledgible than my scribble).
    • Wifi Scanning. I manage an rather large wireless network, and often enough need to scan for signal strength and what WAPs are out there.  On the X30, I use MiniStumbler.  So far the best app I’ve found for the G1 is “Tricorder” which lists APs by ESSID and a relative signal measurement.  That’s a lot less information than MiniStumbler provides.  This is another setback, but one that I might have to live work.
    • Playing Music. I sometimes will use the X30 for playing music.  I use “BetaPlayer” for this.  The built-in “Music” app on the G1 plays MP3s just fine, but I need to do more testing/research on what formats are supported.
    • Playing Video. I also used “BetaPlayer” on the X30 to play movies, mostly Divx AVIs.  So far I haven’t been able to make the G1 do that.
    • Battery Life. I think the X30 burns through battery at about 50% per hour while in heavy use, such as playing a movie, or staring at MiniStumbler.  I often go days between charges for mine under typical use.
    • Pocketability. The X30 is slightly thinner, about as long, and about an inch wider than the G1.  I use a belt holster for the X30 and typically only carry it at work.  It’s a bit too wide to be comfortably pocketable.
  • Smartphone Features. These are items that I’ll be expecting to have available from a “smartphone” device.
    • E-mail. I setup two IMAP accounts quickly with the built-in client and it seemed to work fine.  Under further testing though, things were less good.  When you delete a message from the G1, it does not delete it from the IMAP server.  Apparently this is a known issue and might be fixed in “cupcake” but not yet.  That’s terrible.  The workaround is to use the “K-9 Mail” application which is a fork of Android’s mail client that will ideally have its changes merged in eventually.  This client is more featureful and fixes the delete issue.  Neither client yet supports the IMAP idle feature (that is essentially the “push” feature in IMAP).  Apparently the iPhone has IMAP idle support, but doesn’t make very good use of it.  For e-mail being such a basic and expected feature of a smartphone, it is disappointing that this doesn’t work as well as it could.  I’m sure the Gmail support is much better than IMAP however, but that does me no good.
    • Web Browsing. The web browser is pretty good.  It would be nice to have the iPhone’s “pinching” but it is emmintely usable.
    • SSH. Remote systems administration is one of my goals for a smartphone. Google’s own “ConnectBot” application is stellar.  After figuring out the G1’s keyboard (and ConnectBot’s additional quirks) even vim is usable.  This is a big win over whatever SSH client I at one time used on the Axim.
    • Tethering. I hope to be able to use the G1 for tethering in certain situations.  It sounds like with a rooted G1 this will be possible without difficulty.  I have installed this, but no testing yet.  UPDATE: Some preliminary testing indicates this works great.
  • HTC / T-Mobile G1 Notes

    • Pocketability. Not bad.  I had both the VX8600 and G1 in the same pocket today without much difficulty.
    • Battery Life. Under heavy use, I’m seeing the phone drain about 20% per hour, and light use about 10% per hour.  I don’t have good stats on idle usage yet.  This might be an issue.  There are longer life batteries available.  Also, the batteries seem to charge very quickly.  UPDATE: After normal-ish day of use for me with 16.5 hours off-charger, the G1 has about 20% left.  Not too bad.
    • Application Updates. It seems that applications downloaded through the marketplace will automatically notify you when updates are available.  Much better than the X30!  Does the iPhone do that?
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April 2009


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