Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Phone features I thought I'd never use

Data plan
When I was in Orlando last week, I had occasion to use a few phone features that I had never used on my w300i, and as it turned out, I used almost all of them. I went out of my way to use the few remaining features that I had not tried yet, and now I can give a full accounting of most of the features of this phone. I was pulled away from my own work on a software release to attend a family function, and as such I was afforded the opportunity to be as obnoxious as necessary in order to stay in contact with work during the trip. I had recently added a text/data bundle from Cingular, and as a result they gave me a free trial of unlimited text/data for one month.

The phone comes with an instant-messenger application which can be logged in to AIM, MSN, Yahoo, or ICQ. My co-workers use MSN, so I entered my information and was able to see that they were online, and to send and recieve instant messages, just by knowing my e-mail address and password. The phone let me save the password on it, so that I wouldn't have to keep entering it through the awkward phonepad password interface. The instant messages were not quite as instant as they are through the computer, but it would altert me that I had a message even if the phone was closed, as long as I was signed in.

There is a simple e-mail client included under messaging, which requires only knowing the pop3 server name and the user name/password. Again this information was saved on the phone for my convenience. If I lose this phone I will have to change passwords. The client would only receive 20 messages at a time, but on that small screen that was about all I could handle anyway. There is a simple interface for marking e-mails for deletion, and I downloaded headers only to make sure I could quickly eliminate spam and find the pertinent e-mails particularly from FogBugz. I didn't set up the client for sending e-mails, because I figured it would be easier just to call someone if I had to respond rather than to use the phonepad to type.

Google Maps
Because I have semi-debranded my phone, I was able to use Google Maps quite efficiently without the headaches of java security overkill. This is a cool applet that runs on your phone to give you map information and directions on the fly. Since we would be in a strange town, it came in handy to know where we were and how to get to other places, but also what was nearby, such as restaurants and attractions. There are tons of things to do in Orlando, so this was very useful. On the way to the airport, it was a simple matter of bringing up the menu and pressing # to see what the traffic was like. This is very cool; it was up to the minute accurate.

Music ID
An interesting feature that I noticed on the phone came in handy while driving in the rental car. It did not have a digital readout on the radio to identify the songs, and an old song came on that I liked. So I opened up the phone and chose Music ID, and held the phone up to the speakers. It recorded a snippet, then sent it off for analysis. In a few seconds, I got back the information that it was a song by 4 Non Blondes called "What's Up". It saved this information in a list of ID's. I'm not sure how much this service actually costs, but it was really cool that it worked.
There is a mobile site for mini-browsers on WAP phones at This has quick access to flight information and schedules, without the overhead of pictures and flash on the regular American Airlines site. I found this quite easy to navigate and use on the go. You can even get flight notifications sent to your voicemail or text messaging if you set it up on their site.

I have previously talked about the great FM radio and Walkman features of this phone, but it is also equipped with a feature called MobiRadio. Since I have unlimited data usage, I figured I would give this a try. The idea is that it streams continuously from some genre of music that you select, similar to XM or Sirius radio. It gives you a free trial, but in the end it is a paid subscription service on top of whatever data charges you incur. However, in my limited trial of this service, I found it to be utterly worthless. The music crapped out after just a few minutes, and continued to lose signal without me even moving. They seem to bring data across the regular built-in internet service, and without 3g or something, which this phone does not support, it is entirely worthlesss.

Our flight was overbooked on the way there, but we were given the opportunity to surrender our seats for a flight voucher of $300 apiece. We were told that we would be booked onto the flight at 2:20 rather than our scheduled 10:30 flight. Given this long a wait, I naturally wanted to get on the Internet. I pulled out my laptop and connected the USB cable made for this phone, and ran through the Mobile Networking Wizard that is attached to the Sony Ericsson PC Suite software available from SE. This set up a connection through the phone's internet connection so that the laptop could browse the Internet. I noticed on the AA site that there was another flight available at 12:00, and asked if we could get on this one. They agreed, and in fact said that it, too, might be oversold and give us another opportunity to get a voucher. This didn't happen, but at least we got in to Orlando sooner. While I was on the internet, I booked our trip to Discovery Cove for the next day.

Yesterday, I ducked in to my local watering hole to avoid the rain. I wasn't sure how long the rain would last, but the local yokel next to me pulled out his Blackberry, and showed me a display of live weather radar of the storm we were in. I think this is only available on Blackberry for now, but I can't wait until we get that kind of feature too. On the other hand, if it is through WeatherBug, and WeatherBug is the same spam-magnet spyware it ever was, no thanks. Still, I think there is a brave new world of mobile information that we are just beginning to tap in to. This market is beginning to penetrate into the joe-sixpack arena as we speak, and I think that speaks volumes for the near future.

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