October 23, 2008

"3G" - The Ambiguous Phone Spec

Today, has been one of those tough lessons about technology. I'm a geek. I expect to get all my tech purchases right, but today I learned that the marketing folks pulled the wool over my eyes, so here's a post to help prevent another poor soul from falling into the same trap.

What is a 3G phone?

For me, the term "3G" evokes images of quick loading web pages, fast downloads and the often advertised "mobile broadband" notion. However, the marketing folks use 3G for that reason and they use it to mean better voice services.

I came to research this because I purchased a Nokia 6263 phone in May, 2008. At that time, I really wanted a Bluetooth phone and I didn't want it to become obsolete when T-Mobile finally got around to rolling out their 3G network - I wanted access to fast data when it came available. However, 3G service rolled out in my neighborhood on October 1 and I haven't noticed any speed increase.

It turns out that while the Nokia 6263 has 3G frequencies for voice - this shows up in specifications as "Dual-band WCDMA 1700, 2100". However, the phone does not have HSDPA which is required for that high speed data downloading I thought I was getting.

It took me all day today to figure this out.

This included two phone calls to T-Mobile support: The first rep told me 3G hadn't been rolled out to my area yet, the second told me it was rolled out to my area, but couldn't explain why I wasn't seeing 3G speeds and didn't offer any ways to measure my speed.

After the two confusing phone calls, I decided to visit my closest T-Mobile store where the two sales people disagreed about whether or not the 6263 was a 3G phone. Then the person who thought it was a 3G phone went on to tell me "you won't get 3G speeds through T-Zones." Still not satisfied, I drove to another T-Mobile store and found out that it just didn't work. While I was at this store, the store employee called T-Mobile support to find out more. The support person on the phone offered to sell me a new data plan that "might" improve my data speed. Instead I decided to do an experiment and used a G1's SIM card in my 6263 - the idea being that the G1 SIM should have the best data plan available and still the 6263 crawled around 90-100kbps on text.dslreports.com/mspeed.

The bottom line is that G3 phones means two things. It definitely means that voice calls and data calls can take place at the same time as specified by WCDMA. High speed data is a subset of G3 and only phones that support HSDPA will have the high speed data.

Now, for normal consumers visiting T-Mobile's web site, this is an even larger problem. On that pages, you can "Shop by Feature" and click on "3G". Doing so will display 6 phones: Nokia 6263, Nokia 3555, Samsung t639, SE TM506, Samsung t819, T-Mobile G1. T-Mobile's web pages offer no specifications. (The links above all go to PhoneScoop.com's specifications)

However, the "Features" section for each of these phones says:

T-Mobile’s high-speed 3G data network delivers the ultimate mobile Web experience in several metropolitan areas

Which is a false statement. Of the 6 phones listed above, only the SE TM506 and the T-Mobile G1 support HSDPA!!

Posted by rob at 04:26 PM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2008

Accessibility and the 4th Generation iPod Nano

I have a cousin who is legally blind and multi-handicapped. One of the things he loves is listening to his music. He still listens to music on cassette tapes.

I know, I know, it's the 21st century, so why is he still using tape? Well, a long, long time ago he learned how to insert a tape into a tape player. Also, generally tape players have nice big buttons that are easy to push. Since he can't see well and doesn't have great dexterity in his fingers, these factors make it difficult to try something else. He's tried to learn how to use CD players, but generally inserting a CD into a machine is more difficult and usually the controls are just not as friendly.

But it is the 21st century. That means tapes are on their way out. CD's may not be far behind. A digital media player would be the way to go. But, have you ever thought about using an MP3 player with your eyes closed? Although I never thought about it, most of them are designed specifically for sighted people.

I thought that perhaps all was not lost when I read a blog entry at the American Foundation for the Blind(AFB) entitled, "This News is Music to My Ears…" by Darren Burton. In that article, Mr. Burton says, "Apple announced that the new iPod Nano 4th generation will have talking menus, so people with vision loss can independently find and listen to music and other content on their iPods." while Mr. Burton says there will be an upcoming review in AccessWorld, I happened to be at Target today so I picked up a 4th Generation Nano and decided to try it out.

I guess before I go any further, I should say that I am sighted. To try out the Nano, I just tried using things with my eyes closed. My computer is not configured with any sort of screen reader so I cannot comment on the accessibility of iTunes 8.

One of the first things to know is that the talking menus are disabled by default. To turn them on, you have to check the checkbox entitled, "Enable spoken menus for accessibility" on the iTunes display. I don't know easy that will be to do for a non-sighted person.

Unfortunately, the first time I did that, it did not activate any talking menus on the iPod. I had to scratch my head and go out to the web to find out what I did wrong. It seems that I needed to choose a voice in the Speech control panel of Windows XP so that iTunes could generate the talking menus it would download onto the iPod.

I have mixed feelings about the speech synthesis system the iPod uses. On the one hand, it's great that it uses the local computer to generate the names of artists and songs. Still, I sort of wish that I could browse through a number of audio profiles on the iTunes Store to choose a voice I like and download that to the iPod? Heck, that voice could even be done by a voice over specialist rather than a computer generated voice. This voice could be used for the standard menus and messages in the iPod while the generated voice could be used for artists, album names, song names, etc...

The next big complaint I had is that there just don't seem to be enough depth to the use of voice. For example, on my iPod I didn't have any Movies or TV Shows. When I clicked on those menu choices, the screen displayed the message, "No Movies" or "No TV Shows" but did not speak anything to me. While I had my eyes closed, this made it very difficult to know what to do next.

Lastly, I don't think my cousin would be able to use the Nano. Due to his dexterity problems, I don't think he'd be able to handle running his finger around the dial to adjust the volume and I'm not even sure he would be able to learn how to find the different functions (menu, rewind, fast forward, pause/play) that are around the center button.

While I was writing this entry, I came upon the AFB's Now Playing: A Review of the Accessibility of Digital Audio Players, Part 1 which talks more about accessibility of mainstream audio devices.

I've also found the Vi-Player device which looks interesting although it's not even available until November 2008. It looks particularly interesting since it has larger, raised buttons for the functions.

I also encountered the VictorReader Stream which seems to be popular for digital books and MP3's.

Posted by rob at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)