revjim.net

October 30th, 2003:

Screw Verizon Wireless

It’s unfortunate that Verizon Wireless can’t seem to keep up with the Jones’. The only phone they offer that really interests me (aside from this abomination that I currently have) is their AudioVox CDM-8300. Unfortunately, it’s received horrible reviews and I have no choice but to believe them.

T-Mobile has a slightly better selection with comparably priced plans. Cingular’s phones tend to be more expensive, but their plans are well priced and the have an even better selection. Finally, there is AT&T Wireless. They have the best phones and the best phone prices. However, their service plans have always been overpriced. But not any more.

AT&T Wireless seems to have prices comparable to the other players. The offer two networks, an older TDMA network, and the newer GSM network. While the coverage on the older network is better, GSM is the future (or the present, if you live in Asia or Europe). Their phones are priced VERY well, and the selection is HUGE. The only thing left to be seen is how good their GSM network is. The offer a 30-day money-back just-pay-for-airtime guarantee so I think, next month when our contract is up, that’s where Jess and I will be going.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting the Nokia 3650. Symbian is just too cool to pass up and I have a feeling that it will be the phone of tomorrow. Jess might like the Nokia 6800 with the really cool flip out keyboard or perhaps the or perhaps the Sony Ericsson T616 with integrated camera and bluetooth. The Nokia 6600 would also be a nice choice if available by the time we purchase. It will feature the Symbian OS version 7.0s with the standard Series 60 platform.

So, needless to say, I’m happy that I looked at AT&T wireless again. Let’s just hope their service doesn’t suck. I’ll let you know.

Verizon Wireless LG VX6000 cellphone review

I recently bought an LG VX6000 (VX-6000, VX 6000) cellphone from Verizon Wireless. This is the only camera phone they offer. I paid $150. While, in this day and age, $150 isn’t a lot to pay for a phone, there are certainly other phones that are much cheaper. However, a lot of features come with that $150, so let’s consider each of them.

The Camera

First, as I’m sure you, my faithful readers, know by now, this phone has a camera in it. As much fun as having a camera that can send its images to anyone with an email address in a second (or… 60 or so seconds, depending on how fast Verizon Wireless feels like sending my data) it’s, basically, fruitless. The image quality is terrible. So, for anything real and useful, a proper digital or film camera should be used. Now, if I could get my cell phone to send THAT image, that would be a great feature. But it doesn’t.

Internal Display

It has a nice color screen which is great for viewing the pictures that people send me with their camera phones. Only, it seems that Verizon Wireless has a problem getting images from people on T-Mobile. And, aside from my wife, everyone else I know with a camera phone has T-Mobile. Okay, well, the color screen is also nice for seeing the photograph of the person who is calling me flash up on my screen as they are calling. Except the picture only displays on the internal LCD and not on the outside screen. And once I open the phone, the phone answers the call. And once the call is answered, the picture goes away. So I get to see it for all of 2 seconds, tops. But, during those two seconds, it sure is nice. I can also use the nice color screen to set a pretty picture as my background and look at it whenever my phone is open. Well, I could except the phone insists on displaying text over the top of the image that is large and unalterable therefore blocking that pretty wallpaper.

MIDI Support

It has MIDI support for ringtones. This means I can send myself any MIDI file and use it as a ringer for my phone. Being able to customize the ringer of my phone isn’t that important to me. There are only two things that I really care about. First, I’d like to be able to select a ringer that isn’t annoying, yet is still different enough from those around me that I can tell when it is my phone ringing and not someone else’s. And, being able to send a MIDI to the phone is one way to ensure that. However, in order to get the MIDI’s in to the phone, I have to pay for them (at like $1.50 each) through Verizon Wireless’ "Get It Now" service, or send them to myself via email. But sending them to myself requires that I pay for the GetPix service, which is $4.99/mo for unlimited use until January 2004 at which point it will be $4.99/mo for 30 pictures. I could use a data cable to transfer the MIDI files. However, as of right now, an "official" cable is not available, won’t be for a few more months, and will cost about $80. The "alternate" cables don’t really support this phone yet, so lots of hackery has to be done to get what you want out of it. But, once the MIDI is there, it works.

Voice Ringers

It also has Voice ringers. This means that my phone can use any audio sample as a ringtone. It shares the same problems as MIDI in regard to getting the samples on the phone. Additionally, the samples must be in Qualcomm’s QCELP format. This is a proprietary format. There are command-line converters available for Windows, SCO, and Solaris. However, there are no GUI tools available and not even a command line tool for Linux. Supposedly mplayer is capable of playing the audio format, but I couldn’t get it to generate or playback a file appropriate for the phone. This means that I have to have a computer running windows in order to make a Voice ringer. This isn’t too difficult to acquire though, to do so in the most legal of fashions, I would be out about $300. But, if you already had Windows and were familiar with the Windows command line, and were capable of producing a 8hZ Mono sample WAV of the sound you wanted on your phone, this might be a good feature for you.

Address Book

The phone has a well designed contacts list. Multiple numbers and email addresses are allowed for names. Inputting and editing the names and numbers is very easy and intuitive.

Vibrate Feature

The phone has a vibrate feature. However, it only works in two states: 1) with the ringer at HIGH or 2) with the ringer off completely. Many other phones offer features such as "vibrate first then ring" and so on. Additionally, there are no ringer profiles. This means that I can’t simply tell my phone "I’m at work" and let it remember how I like it to be set at work. Instead, I have to change each an every setting appropriately every time I change locations. I’ve found that, more often than not, I just leave it on Vibrate instead of futzing with every setting to get it back the way I want it in each situation. So, because of this, the MIDI ringtones and Voice ringers are even more useless.

Alerts

The phone can alert you to a text message, picture message, web push message, or voice message. However, it can only do this in 2 ways "loud beeps" or "soft beeps". Additionally, you can choose to be told once, or reminded every two minutes. I guess allowing a ringtone or Voice ringer to be used as the alert was too difficult. And it wouldn’t matter anyways since my phone’s always on vibrate.

External Display

The outside of the phone features a very nice blue display that shows the time, the date (if you press a button) and information regarding who’s calling, missed calls, or new voice messages. After a set amount of time (5 secs, 1 minutes, 2 minutes) the display turns off. This means that, if I walk away from my phone and get a new voice mail while I’m away, when I come back, there will be no indication of that fact unless I press a button to activate the front display. Additionally, at any setting other than "5 seconds" after about 5 seconds of displaying the information, it begins to scroll from right to left. This would be useful if the scrolling displayed additional information… but it doesn’t. In fact, in order to make the scrolling look nicer, it inserts some padding between the left and right edges of the data. This means that, when the phone is scrolling, expect for a split second when the image happens to be lined up perfectly, even if you were willing to mentally combine the left and right halves of the picture in order to read what it was saying, there would be portions of the display missing. Above the amazing outside display are 6 lights of 3 colors. These lights blink. You can customize the pattern with which they blink. You can even set different patterns for different phone states (i.e. "call in progress", "standby", "missed call" etc). However, the lights do not provide information that is not available on the outside display and, regardless of timeout setting, only remain active for 5 seconds.

BREW

For those of you that don’t know, BREW is Qualcomm’s alternative to J2ME. Or, maybe it’s its alternative to Symbian OS. Or… something. Regardless of what it supposed to be, this phone has it. It’s an environment for running applications from Games to… Email clients to… More Games. Additionally, it’s a distribution model which allows you to download, try, and purchase various applications through Verizon Wireless’ "Get it Now" service. You can also develop your own BREW applications, if you’re inclined to do so. Unfortunately, you can get BREW applications on your phone without using "Get it Now" or a cable. Additionally, though the literature makes it difficult to be sure, I believe you have to pay to have the application certified before the phone will be willing to execute it and certainly before it is distributable. This runs about $500 per application.

GPSOne

The phone also uses the latest in Mobile Phone GPS technology from Qualcomm, GPSOne. This uses actual GPS information at the phone in addition to GPS information at the cell tower to pinpoint (as precisely as a street corner) your location. There doesn’t seem to be anyway to access this information from the phone. It wont even do as much as show me my longitude and latitude so that I can use that data for my own purposes. This feature is always on for 911 calls, and can also be activated for regular calls as well. What good activating it does, I’m not sure.

Headset

This phone has your standard headset jack allowing the use of "official" and "alternative" headsets. It simply plugs into the side of the phone. The phone will allow the headset volume to be altered when it is in use. However, there are no other headset related settings in the phone. Therefore, you can’t have a special settings take effect only when the headset is in use. But that’s no matter. At least it works. If you have a headset with one of those fancy buttons on the wire that allow you to answer and disconnect a call, don’t bother pressing it — it doesn’t work. Even LGs own headset doesn’t work, though they claim they’ll have one out that does by the end of the year. That’s no big deal though. When a call comes in just press one of the three buttons on the outside of the phone to answer the call. Wait… you can’t do that? Oh. Well, since it has a training mode for the words "Yes" and "No" I’m that means that, when the phone rings, it’ll ask you if you want to answer the call, right? Oh. It doesn’t do that either? So how do you answer the phone? Oh. I see. You pick it up, and open the clam shell. If you have your phone set to answer on flip-open, you can close it now. Otherwise, press the appropriate key to answer the call and then you can close it. Easy enough. Now you’re talking. All done? Okay… just press a button on the… oh… wait. Open the phone and press the "End" key. Now close it again. Easy, right?

Voice Dialing

The phone allows you to have up to 30 numbers on voice dial. You can use this in two ways. If you don’t have a headset, open the phone. Then press the "voice dial" key on the outside of the phone. It’ll ask you to say the name of the person you’d like to call with text on the internal screen. Don’t do it yet. Just wait. After a few seconds it’ll ask you via voice prompt who you’d like to call. Now say the name and your call will be connected. When you’re done, press the "End" key and close the phone. If you do have a headset, with the phone closed, press the voice dial button. A few seconds later a voice prompt will ask you who you’d like to call. Say the name and your call will be connected. If you press the button by accident, don’t worry. Just open the phone, press "End" and close the phone again. No… you can’t just press the button again to make it stop. It’ll keep asking over and over and over and over and over and over again. When you’re finished with your call, just press the outside button to hang up. No… wait.. that doesn’t work. Open the phone, press "End" then close the phone. There. You’re done. Of course you could just wait for the other called to hang up and that’ll end your call. But, if you’re like my wife and I, and you have this phone on both ends of the conversation, you might end up waiting until your battery dies.

Text Messages, Picture Message and Email

The phone will allow you to send 160 character text messages or 1000 character picture messages. There seems to be no difference between a text message and a picture message without text or sound aside from the fact that you can send more characters, and that it costs $0.25 instead of $0.10. Email can be sent as a text message or as a picture message. Just punch in an email address instead of a phone number. Picture messages sent to a phone number appear to only work within the Verizon Wireless network. Text messages, on the other hand, appear to be capable of being sent to any phone number. Text messages are accessed via the messaging section, which also handles your voice-mail messages. Picture messages are sent via the camera section. The two things, though functionally equivalent, work entirely different and are in very different locations on the phone. With picture messaging you can attach a single image or a single sound file. The image will be sent as a JPEG, and the sound file will be sent as either a MIDI or a QCELP, depending on what type of sound file you sent. If you send a picture message to the email address that corresponds to the mobile phone of a T-Mobile subscriber, nothing happens. No warning. No error message. No message received on the other end. Nothing. The same is true if a message is sent from a T-Mobile subscribers phone to the email address of your Verizon Wireless phone. Great!!

Calculator

It works like a calculator… kind of. Instead of typing in numbers, hitting an operation, and then typing in more numbers… you type out the entire equation and then press "=". Okay. At least it works.

EZ Tip Calculator

This computes the amount of tip you should leave. For people who can’t figure out how to move a decimal point or divide numbers by 2. It also allows you to split the check amongst multiple people.

Voice Memo

Record up to 4 minutes of your voice to remind you of things.

Notepad

Type notes to yourself.

Alarm Clock

Set up to three alarms at different times during the day. You can also set an instant alarm to occur in 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour or 3 hours. I’m sure it would be more useful if I could set arbitrary quick alarm times but, that’s okay. I’ll cook bake my cookies for 30 minutes instead of 17. It’s close enough.

Scheduler

It works. Nothing special. Nothing horrible.

Analog Network Support

It doesn’t have it. Verizon Wireless is known for its ability to function in even the most remote areas of these United States. You can throw that feature away, too, with this phone.

Conclusion

The camera sucks. The screen looks nice, but you can’t use it for anything. The MIDI ringers work well, though they are difficult and/or expensive to customize. The Voice ringers work will, though they are MORE difficult and still expensive to customize. The external display is flashy yet doesn’t have the same features as your cheapo LCD on your cheapo phone. GPS feature isn’t really a feature. The headset works, but not well. The address book is great. The text messaging is easy to use, although there’s no real reason to distinguish between a text message and a picture message, as best as I can tell. The calculator is weird, but it works. The alarm clock and scheduler work, the rest of the tools are useless.

Final conclusion

If you are forced to use Verizon Wireless, really want a camera phone (regardless of quality or ease of use), don’t live in a rural area, and are unwilling to wait a few months for the others to come out, this phone is for you. Otherwise, you can find cheaper and better alternatives.

A sunrise

Here is this morning’s sunrise. I’m just curious as to how well the camera phone will capture it.

Update: Not very well, it seems.

An attempt at studio photography

Saturday night, after a nice round of homemade pizzas at Tony‘s place, he offered to show me the ropes of studio photography. With Sean as our model (since he needed portraits anyway) we went to work in Tony’s dining room converted studio.

I haven’t done much photography work with people in general. And I’ve never done any studio work. Tony was a very big help. It was amazing to watch him direct Sean into position after position. It reminded me of how I write code. I’ve done it so many times that, in most cases, I don’t really have to think about what I’m writing… it just comes out.

The "studio" aspect of things I grasped pretty quickly, I think. I know how to arrange the lights. I know what the basic goal is. I know how to solve problems in the image. I know how to determine proper exposure. I also learned a little about working with people. In the end, grasping that portion of photography seems as though it will be my most difficult task.

This image is one that was taken Saturday night. I think it turned out okay for my first attempt. I know have a huge desire to get all sorts of studio equipment so that I can play around and learn. For my purposes it doesn’t have to be state-of-the-art, or even in good condition. In fact, I’d almost prefer that it wasn’t as it would make learning that much more difficult and that much more rewarding in the end. If you have any leads on where to get used strobes, soft boxes, umbrellas, refectors, backdrops, power sources, and light stands… let me know.

Thanks, Tony, for being a generous host and a good teacher.

How DRM really works

The following testimony comes from someone who actually used iTunes and DRM the way it was intended. He purchased music through the system, obeyed all the laws, and did everything the way he was supposed to.

The record companies can be proud that they’ve so thoroughly screwed things up now that there really isn’t even any point in paying for music now. –Inspirational Technology: DRM sucks [via Simon Wilson]

This is what they expect us to do instead of "stealing music"? Why? So we can pay for our music over and over again and lose the flexibility and ease of use that we get when we by plain old CDs? Ha. Right. That’s like putting a giant cage around my library of books with a nice thick lock… and then giving "them" the key.