Thinking of Buying a Smartphone for the Christmas? Read This First!

This holiday season retailers are scrambling to get your hard earned dollar.  The smartphone industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years.  The iPhone certainly ignited the fire and Android has helped stoke the flames.  RIM (they make Blackberries) has watched their market share slip, Microsoft watched Windows Mobile die, and Palm is no more.

Apple and Google certainly have shaken things up.  Who would have thought that these two companies would have been able to do so much back in 2007?  However, RIM is making a shift with QNX and Microsoft has brought Windows Phone 7 to life.

What’s someone to do who is in the market for a smartphone?  I hope to answer this question but I have a feeling many of you already know some of the answers.  Lets go over some of these questions.

What Carrier?

Don’t get sucked into a contract if you don’t have the regular income to cover the expenses.  Typically, contract-free options like Virgin Mobile are much easier to get into.  Just because you can afford a carrier doesn’t mean they are worth your hard earned dollar.  Get familiar with coverage maps and remember to look at common locations you are at on a daily and weekly basis.  Don’t forget to consider coverage along your commute either!

You’ve narrowed down your carriers, now it’s time to evaluate their cost.  As I already said, your contracted carriers are typically more expensive.  Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are the four major US carriers.  They own their cellular networks (with the exception of Sprint’s 4G network)  and their service typically comes at a premium.  Pre-paids like Virgin tend to lease network coverage from one of the big four.  Virgin leases from Sprint and Wal-Mart leases from T-Mobile.

When you compare a $25 plan on Virgin to an $80 plan on Sprint it becomes tough to go with Sprint if you are on a budget.  The premium usually comes in the form of services, high-end devices, network priority.  Sprint is going to ensure that Sprint customers get priority over Virgin Mobile customers.

Which platform?

So you’ve narrowed down your carrier after evaluating your budget and coverage needs.  It’s time to pick a platform.  The sad truth is that for many a smartphone platform is as personal as religious and political affiliations.  The truth is that it shouldn’t be.  These are simply phones with bells and whistles.  Don’t stress, set your priorities, and evaluate your choices.

The first thing I want to mention is this…know what your workplace supports if you want to use this phone for work.  There is no point in buying an Android device if your employer refuses to allow them connectivity to corporate email or data.

For the most part people know what they want.  If you are an Apple fanatic or just want something simple get an iPhone.  If you want a bit more freedom and customization options then look to Android.  Don’t let these be your only options.  Consider Windows Phone 7 too and only consider Blackberry if your work requires it.

Windows Phone 7

Windows Phone 7 is the diamond in the rough when it comes to smartphones.  The user interface is simple, elegant, fluid, and won’t suffer from the same fragmentation woes that Android does.

If you go with Windows Phone 7 you need to be patient.  It can’t yet do everything that the iPhone or Android phone can do, but it’s getting there and even does a couple of things that Android and the iPhone don’t do as well out of the box.

Android

Google really has put themselves in an interesting position. They offer Android free of cost and let manufacturers do as they please with hardware and the software.  I mentioned it earlier and will explain it a little further, fragmentation.  Fragmentation refers to all the different hardware and software modifications available on the Android platform.  Some manufacturers are making phones with 5″ screens, 4.65″ screen, all they way down to 2.5″ screens.  There are different hardware components, different resolutions, and different aspect ratios.  Google has included the NFC chips in their last two Nexus phones but nobody else has even bothered to include them.

All this variation makes it difficult for software developers and accessory makers to develop for the platform.  How many iHome players do you see at Best Buy.  They all support iPhones, iPod’s, and iPads.  I’ve only recently seen a similar product that supports an Android phone.  Guess what phone they support, the Nexus.  My Thunderbolt certainly won’t work to well with this accessory.

If you are a techie who loves to tinker with his phone, likes the idea of installing any piece of software that you can get your hands on, or like the ability to customize EVERY aspect of your phone, then Android is your clear winner.

Apple iOS

Do you want a phone that just works?  Support that will allow you to walk into an Apple store and swap out your handset for another almost hassle free?  Are you ok with restrictions the help keep you secure?  If you answered yes to all of these then iOS (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) may be just for you.

Apple really restricts their devices and have sometimes been late to the game with industry standard features like copy & paste.  However, this is always done for the bettering of the platform.

Apple really has done a great job of delivering a polished and finished product.  Google tends to constantly release beta solutions and use customer feedback to bring polish.  Apple develops and perfects a solution prior to release.  Apple offers a simple and easy to use platform that you can enjoy without having to tinker.

What’s Hot!

Verizon

Android Android Android…and the iPhone 4s.  The Droid Razr and HTC Rezound are two future proof phones that have been released this month.  The Samsung Galaxy Nexus should be out before Christmas (or so we hope).

AT&T

iPhone, Windows Phone 7, and some 4g LTE Android devices.  The HTC Titan is a new Windows Phone 7 device, the HTC Vivid is AT&T’s first 4G LTE device, and of course the iPhone 4s is available.

Sprint

Sprint’s biggest push is the iPhone 4s and they are bragging about their unlimited plans (although they may not last much longer).  They have released some 4G phones recently but nothing exciting.  Honestly, don’t even worry about Sprints 4G until they go live with their LTE network.  WiMax is going to be dead soon and all these EVO phones will be good for nothing but 3g devices.

T-Mobile

No iPhone…but they do have great Windows Phone 7 and Android handsets to choose from.  Personally I think the HTC Radar and Amaze are two of the more exciting handsets offered by T-Mobile.

I hope you’ve found this an interesting and informative read.  I expect that many of you have simply skimmed through and that’s OK.  This has been a lot to type out and most people don’t need to read all of it.  For those who read it all, thank you and I hope you enjoy your new smartphone.  As for me, I’ve been given approval to get a new phone but I’m not sure what I want to do.  Part of me wants to wait for an LTE Windows Phone 7 devices on Verizon  part of me wants a Nexus, and part of me would like an iPhone again.  Either way, this is a great time to get a smartphone!

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Farewell HTC, Hello …..

I’ve been an HTC customer for as long as I’ve owned smartphones.  I’ve owned their Windows Mobile Phones, the Sprint HTC Hero, Droid Eris, Droid Incredible, and now the HTC Thunderbolt.  One area that HTC has always fallen short is with the battery.  HTC has done well with Sense, but they’ve let their custom UI / user experience hold up Android updates.

Most recently I’ve been alarmed by HTC’s flagrant disregard for my privacy.  Android Police first reported on the vulnerability caused by htcloggers.apk.  I contacted Verizon and HTC to share my dissatisfaction.  The HTC representative was very rude and disrespectful.

A Verizon rep actually stepped up to the plate and took it upon himself to schedule a repeating occurrence on his calendar to send me reminders on the issue.  Surprisingly he has kept to his word in keeping me informed.

HTC sent me a survey and I once again shared that I was dissatisfied with the attention they gave to my concerns.   HTC reached out to me to hear about my experience but basically refused to do anything about it.  They asked my opinion again so I supplied it.

Today I got the chance to speak with Joshua from HTC.  He took the time to listen to my problems and was very respectful.  He noted my experience with the tech I spoke to as well as with the CSR that blew me off.  He probably won’t be able to do much more than this, and because of this HTC has lost me as a loyal customer.  He has put in a request that I get my Thunderbolt swapped out for the next LTE phone that comes to Verizon.  Honestly, there’s little chance of that happening.

I’m looking forward to the Galaxy Nexus and Verizon has approved me for an early upgrade (on all devices other than the iPhone).  A rep will be calling me on the 10th to finalize my order and get one shipped out (assuming it’s released by then).

So that’s my recent experience with HTC and it’s time to part ways.   There are plenty of other manufacturers out there that make quality handsets.  IF HTC decides to swap out my Thunderbolt and IF it’s a worthy successor with great battery life I will be sure update my opinion about HTC.

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Verizon Is Choking Their Customers

If I didn’t get such good discounts on Verizon I would definitely be heading to Sprint right now.  Sprint may decide to put into action many of the things that Verizon is, but the difference is price.  Sprint is much more affordable than Verizon for the average consumer.

Today word is spreading that Verizon is pushing out an update the Thunderbolt that disables the use of “unauthorized” tethering applications like Easytether or PDAnet.  This update will eventually push out to other devices (nothing official, just a good assumption)  Verizon is in business to make money, but for a company that is already the most expensive it seems strange that they would further strangle their customers.

The majority of consumers won’t even notice anything, in fact this update only cripples the small handful of tech enthusiast.  Most people turn on tethering and pay for it as they need too and then there’s the small community of tech enthusiast who know the secrets and understand that there are other options to Verizon’s $30 service.

Did Verizon make the right move?  I don’t think so.  A better approach would be to tackle customers who consume large amounts of bandwidth and choke the network.  This is a two fold issue.  You have Verizon raising costs to the consumer and blocking them from legitimate applications that they paid for on the Android market and there are also people out there who decide that tethering cellular Internet is a good replacement for home Internet service.

Verizon has already stated in their Terms of Service that they reserve the right to throttle the top 5% of data users on the network.  I have yet to hear of this happening, but I think that Verizon would better serve their customers and their bottom line by pursuing this avenue.

This brings me to topic of Tiered Data, something else that really bothers me.  Verizon made the move on July 7th and failed to offer good incentive to new or existing customers (other than grandfathering existing lines).  AT&T at least reduced the monthly cost by $5.  A better solution for these providers would be to sell service quality levels.  I am not talking about speeds, but rather Quality of Service.  If you want your data to take priority when it hits the cell towers, then pay extra.

Selling Tiered Data actually hurts the consumer.

  1. Customers paying the minimum get high speed access all the time.  1 Netflix movie over LTE will cost them $10 – $20 because it will put them over the limit.
  2. Customers paying premium prices fight for network access with the rest of the customer base.

Selling Quality of Services does a few of things.

  1. Customers pay for prioritized access
  2. Customers willing to pay more will not worry about network congestion
  3. Customers who pay less can still get access to high speeds when congestion is low and will suffer with slower speeds when it’s high
  4. The service is not suitable as a replacement home Internet service unless the customer is willing to cough up big money.
Why did Verizon choose tiered data?  The answer is simple, overage charges.  They wanted another feature to serve customers that could potentially incur additional charges.  Since data is not an essential feature for phone service it should not be a big deal to implement this type of service option.  

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Tablets Tablets Tablets, We All Love Tablets…Or Do We?

Tablets in their current form have been around for a little over a year.  It all started with the iPad.  The iPad was the device we didn’t know we needed until we held it in our hands.  There’s no denying that the iPad was a huge hit and has ushered in a new era for tablets.

I tried the iPad last year shortly after release, six months later I sold it.  The platform just felt immature at the time, it was a giant iPod touch.  Since then Apple has matured their platform (somewhat), Google officially stepped into the tablet arena along with RIM and HP.  (I will not count Microsoft as being seriously in the tablet market until we see a tablet optimized OS from them.)

What has me concerned is usability, file management, content creation and manipulation.  Currently tablets are mainly a consumption device.  This is ok except for the fact that I already have a smartphone.  Tablets need to be portable consumption and content creation/manipulation devices to stay viable.

There are many apps out there making strides at improving content creation and manipulation but it’s still far from where it needs to be.  Part of the reason is file management.  According to Apple we don’t need to worry about this but I think that’s a very narrow point of view.  I want to easily transfer my files to my tablet.  Whether it’s a wireless or wired transfer, I need files on my device to work with them.  I may not need to the ability to manipulate the entire file system, but certainly my home directory.

Android actually does a good job in this area.  I’m able to manage files easily transferring them over USB, WiFi, Bluetooth, and even through the cloud thanks to Dropbox and email.  The sad truth, the Android UI isn’t as smooth as I’d like it to be.  It’s a great tablet platform, but considering it’s newly out of the gate there is still a great deal of maturing that needs to take place(UI wise).

I’ve briefly used the Blackberry Playbook and haven’t even touched a TouchPad.   I’m seriously impressed with what RIM has done.  The only thing holding me back from a Playbook?  I’m not a BB phone user and right now it’s needed to get the full experience out of the tablet.  I’m all for tablet/smartphone integration.  The only issue with this is that solid products need to be offered on both ends.  RIM get the Bold 9900 Touch out on Verizon with LTE and you may win me over.  Remember, I said MAY win me over.  That whole BES crap and paying an extra $15 a month makes me hesitant.

The current ecosystem is looking good.  There are 4 solid competitors and Microsoft will be making their presence known in time.  This is great for the consumer because it will push innovation and help to rapidly mature the platform.  The best advice I can give is this, invest in a tablet but don’t get in too deep.  The only way this platform will continue to flourish is if companies believe they can make money.  Truth be told, just because an iPad works for you today doesn’t mean that offering’s from RIM, HP, or Google won’t suit your needs better down the road.  Don’t become a fanboy and learn to choose your device based on it’s merits and ability to meet your needs.

 

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Samsung Droid Charge

The phone has been leaked and rumored for a little while now, but today I found good evidence of it’s existence and hopefully quick arrival to market.  I was browsing some of my usual tech blogs when an interesting ad popped up.  This will be the first Droid line to sport LTE 4G and if you didn’t know, that’s a good thing.

I clicked on the ad and was taken to: Droid Does.  I received a Page Not Found error.  The ad appears to be premature, but things look good.  Hopefully the Droid charge will be out to market and in consumer hands by the rumored April 28th release date!

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SharePoint for Multiple Departments

Our department has gone through many changes in the past 3 years.  Something that didn’t change was our aging KBPublisher knowledge base.  The KB is an internal KB for departmental use only.  We don’t publish articles for our students or internal customers.  Many article are out-dated and the tech who set everything up left without providing good documentation on this server.

I took some time to asses the situation and decided that migration to a new solution would be in our best interest.  We decided to give SharePoint a shot.  It was easy to setup and is built for collaborative efforts.  I recently had another department request a SharePoint site, easy enough…until I realized that I had potential permissions issues.

I’m glad that I discovered this now.  A single server can contain multiple sites for multiple departments.  The key is using group permissions, stopping inheritance, and micro-managing permissions for each departmental site.  If there’s a better solution, I haven’t found it yet.

SharePoint comes out of the box with several groups.

  1. Approvers
  2. Designers
  3. Hierarchy Managers
  4. Home Members
  5. Home Owners – no tax credit provided to first timers
  6. Home Visitors
  7. Restricted Readers
  8. Style Resource Readers
  9. System Account
  10. Viewers

I won’t go over the details about each group, the names are self explanatory.  The site Administrator is able to create new groups and to add users to groups.  SharePoint will integrate with your AD automatically if you have one.  As I began to add members to groups and create new groups I realized something, the permissions being set are at the root level of the server and trickle down to all sites.  Even if I think I’m simply giving Home Owner level permissions to UserA on SiteA I also supplied them with the same permissions to SiteB, C, E, etc.  My solution?

When I create a group I give it one of two permission sets, read or view.  Read allows the user to browse sites and to download documents.  Viewers only have the ability to view sites and can’t access documents stored on SharePoint sites.  Viewer level permissions are most commonly used.

I currently have two groups created, we’ll call them A and B.  Group A is setup to manage site A while group B is setup to manage site B.  I visit site A and go to Site Actions, Edit Permissions, Stop Inheriting Permissions, set permissions for groups A and B appropriately.  I then move onto site B and go to Site Actions, Edit Permissions, Stop Inheriting Permissions, set permissions for groups A and B appropriately.

That’s all there is too it.  I have to admit it’s a pain and I’m hoping there’s a better solution out there.  I want an easy interface for managing permissions and right now that either isn’t available or isn’t easy to find.  If you have questions or suggestions please drop me a comment below.

PS:  One last thing…

To quickly view site permissions for any given group simply do the following rather than chasing down all your sites.  From the root of your SharePoints website go to Site Settings -> People and groups -> Open the group you want to check on, from the Settings dropbox select View Group Permissions.  You are given an overview of sites and the permissions given to that group.

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Brocade FWS-648G-POE RMA Process

Recently a Brocade switch crashed on me and I thought, “seems fitting”.  My overall experience with Brocade hasn’t been a good one.  Maybe this is because I was trained on Cisco equipment or because I have managed an HP/Cisco environment for 2 1/2 years prior?

One of my interns emailed me a list of ports that needed configuration for voice and data.  I attempted to connect via SSH and immediately my session was disconnected.  I started checking the obvious; was I trying to connect over wireless, did I have the correct IP address on my wired connection, could I connect to other devices?  Once I realized it was an issue at the switch I headed over to console in.

When I connected my screen immediately filled up with POE memory allocation errors.  I checked affected users and everyone was still able to access the network.  That’s a good sign, but not being able to manage the switch is a bad sign.

So begins the RMA process.  I contact our sales vendor and Brocade rep and let them know our findings.  Brocade came back and said it’s a defective switch and they will replace it.  Great!  I get an email with instructions on filing the RMA request.  I need to register an account, the switch, then submit a request.  Sounds easy enough…

I register my account on my.brocade.com and am directed to an old Foundry Knowledge Portal (Foundry was bought out by Brocade) and can’t access the site with my recently registered account.  I reach out to my contacts and they say it takes 24 hours for the new account to propagate.  Ok, no worries I’m just glad this wasn’t a gotta have it now situation.

24 hours pass and still no access.  Ok this is annoying.  I reach out to my POC’s and let them know about my trouble.  They come back with some very interesting news, the Foundry KP I was told to use is no longer active.

Back to my.brocade.com I go to finally register the switch…but my password won’t work.  Maybe I forgot it?  I reset it, nothing.  I can’t login?!?!?!?!?  After many password reset attempts I finally get into the site.  I register the switch, so now it’s time to file the RMA!

One hitch…it takes 4-6 hours for the system to propagate the newly registered switch.  😦  So by the time the switch propagates down I’m at home with my family.  I’m not filing the RMA from home(under different circumstances I would have…ie the switch isn’t functional, remember it still passed data at this point), so first thing in the morning I file the RMA.  A while later I get an email confirming that my RMA had been accepted…wait for it….and would take 24 hours to process.

Does it take 24 hours to process prior to shipping or does the 24 hour process involve my overnight shipping time?  I assumed and feared that it would still be 24 hours before my switch would ship and I was right.  24 hours later, of course I did not receive shipping notifications, the switch went out.  I filed the RMA on Wednesday and received the switch late Friday afternoon.

I got the switch, replaced it, now I just need to send the borked switch back.  I package everything, slap on the return shipping label, and fill out the sender information.  There’s one problem, I don’t have an RA#, return authorization, and the label has a blank field for it.  Honestly I’ve never returned an item that didn’t have an RMA or RA number clearly labeled on the package.

I dig through the paperwork that shipped with the new switch, all two papers worth, and find nothing.  Ok, it must be on my.brocade.com.  I don’t get off that easy, not only is the sites styling all jacked up in IE 8 and FF3.6, but there’s no record of my RMA to be found.

I reach out to my contacts, again, and I’m still waiting.  How is it this difficult to get either the RA# or clarification on return directions?  Maybe this is why I’ve never heard one good testimonial about Brocade.

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