Customers Swindled By Carriers For Too Long – T-Mobile says No More Contracts

By no means is this recent news, but it IS something consumers need to know about. When you sign up for a 2-year contract with any carrier, you are NOT getting a huge discount on that new phone. No matter what, you are eventually paying the full cost of that phone. The most common way carriers make up the difference is by bundling your monthly bill with a hidden phone pay-back fee. The problem is, because the monthly bill is bundled, you keep paying for the phone even after you’ve paid off the difference. So that money comes right out of your pocket and into theirs for no real apparent reason. Disgusted yet? Customers were getting smart about this vile scheme and T-Mobile just became the “good guy” whilst the others now look like vampires caught with their fangs in your neck.

AT&T, Verizon joint conference

AT&T, Verizon joint conference

How are T-Mobile’s UnCarrier plans saving our souls?

Primarily, T-Mobile’s new UnCarrier plans are cheaper. Let’s compare these similar plans:

AT&T

  • Unlimited talk & text, 3GB of data for $100 a month with a 2-year contract when you buy a new, discounted phone (hidden fees in monthly bill make up difference for discount). $35 activation fee with every new contract.

Verizon

  • Unlimited talk & text, 2GB of data for $100/month with a 2-year contract when you buy a new, discounted phone (hidden fees in monthly bill make up difference for discount). $36 activation fee with every new contract.

T-Mobile

  • Unlimited talk & text, 2.5GB of data for $60/month, no contract. For new phone, either pay full cost upfront or pay monthly installments ($20 minimum) till phone’s full cost is paid off. No activation fee.

So, even when you’re knowingly paying the full cost of your phone on a monthly basis, T-Mobile is still cheaper at $80/month than AT&T and Verizon’s $100/month for similar service.

Second, we are freed from the 2-year contract. However, the 2-year contract served little more than a way for carriers to ensure you pay the full cost of the phone you purchased. The “penalty fee” for breaking an AT&T or Verizon contract is actually the remaining amount you owe for your phone. It’s a similar situation with T-Mobile. If you chose to leave T-Mobile before your phone is paid off, you’ll be charged for the remaining amount you owe. Plain and simple. The major difference here is transparency and a more honest approach towards customers.

If AT&T and Verizon had simply told us they can’t make money by discounting phones in the first place, and that we would have to pay the phone’s full price regardless, we might have understood. It’s like a kid whose lie gets discovered and realizes telling the truth would’ve spared him deeper trouble.

The Verge got hold of rumors that AT&T is following suit on June 15th. But things aren’t looking hopeful for Verizon enthusiasts:

“During an interview at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam…questioned whether U.S. customers are ready for that type of shift because they have been conditioned to getting lower-cost phones for so long.”*

The BS, it burns! What Count Mr. McAdam actually means is:

“U.S customers have been misled to believe they were purchasing lower-cost phones for so long when they’ve been paying full price without even knowing, and we’re not sure people are ready for the truth, so we’d prefer to keep them in the dark.”

Don’t bother with AT&T’s and Verizon’s current prepaid plans. They are atrociously bad deals because phone selections are miserable and/or 4G isn’t available on prepaid plans. Traditional prepaid plans simply don’t make economic sense next to a 2-year contract either.

* http://www.whyprepaid.org/2013/01/09/device-subsidies-verizon-and-att-have-their-eye-on-you/

Windows 8 Update (8.1) – Features More Metro, Less Desktop

Microsoft wants to steer us away from the familiar Windows 7-style Desktop interface with the Windows 8 update, called Windows 8.1. Details from a leaked video preview, found a couple weeks ago by The Verge, suggest Microsoft plans to do so by improving the Metro interface.*

Die-hard Desktop fans, lay down your pitchforks and extinguish your torches…for now. According to Mary Jo Foley writing for ZDNet, our beloved Desktop isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but Microsoft may do away with it in the long term by making Metro more functional. However, why go through the hassle of Metro if it’s going to be as functional as Desktop? The basic answer to that is Metro is faster, more stable and more secure than Desktop.

One major functionality improvement the update will bring us is the integration of Desktop’s Control Panel ** into Metro. This could resolve usability issues in apps such as Skype, which can only be opened in Metro, yet forces users to make intricate audio adjustments in Desktop.

Keeping in mind that this is Microsoft’s first Windows 8 update, we’re still not seeing any improvements to Windows 8’s split personality. Desktop fans will find that, even with shortcuts to certain apps in Desktop, they will still open via Metro. Forcing users to switch between Metro and Desktop to use certain apps causes frustration and confusion, resulting in unfavorable reactions and controversy towards Windows 8.

If you’re raising your pitchfork again, take a look at this to find out why Metro is, in essence, better than Windows 7/Desktop. Operating systems are written in computer code, and Desktop’s aging code has become too inefficient and unsecure to compete  in today’s world. A replacement was inevitable and Microsoft is slowly making users transition to Metro so PCs can keep up with a  more web-centric, app-based and virus-filled world.

For now, I’m sticking to my glorious Windows 7, but Microsoft is going in the right direction. I look forward to further Windows 8 updates which will undoubtedly entice me to switch over to the Metro side of things.

* Metro is the primary user-interface for WIndows 8, leaving the familiar Desktop interface for more intricate uses, such as file management and computer settings.

** That’s System Preferences for you Mac users.

Windows Phone 8 – for iPhone users who want a larger screen

I love Windows Phone 8. It reminded me of when I picked up a 1st generation iPod Touch when it was first released (before iPhone!) and how intuitively easy it was to become familiar with iOS (1.0?). WP8 seems to lean towards users who don’t really care so much about customization and love intuitive functionality.

It would be PERFECT for an iPhone user who wants a bigger screen using phones such as the Lumia 920 or HTC 8X. I want it to be a huge competitor, but the WP8 app store needs to build up its catalog. And Microsoft, for the love of digital god, please fix Skype. You know you own it, right?

The Bad

With all that cash under its mattress, Microsoft MUST encourage popular app developers to make apps for WP8. I’m sure they’ve been doing just that, but not well enough. I was most disappointed to find (or not find) that Flipboard hasn’t made it to WP8 (yet).

I know this isn’t specifically WP8, but the Skype app is inexcusably bad. Despite Microsoft buying Skype a couple years ago, WP8’s version is by far the worst out of all OS’. Skype itself claims it’s still in beta (preview) for WP8, which is an excuse so people won’t grumble too much when they encounter bugs. But this charade has gone on long enough. There are barely any features, such as switching front and back cameras, to even have bugs. For this, I cast binary shame upon thee, Microsoft.

The Good

I am a great fan of the side-scrolling navigation. You’ll quickly become accustomed to side-scrolling by visual cues and clues.

In some apps, like Shazam, it feels like the phone contains a page or tapestry that is wider than the phone itself. You scroll from left to right so the display focuses on what you want.

Notice the "r" on the right as a visual clue to swipe right to left. Also notice how "Shazam" and the background shifts as you swipe right to left

Notice the seemingly random “r” on the left, it’s a visual clue to swipe right to left. Also notice how “Shazam” and the background shifts as you swipe right to left

The live tiles and the way they occupy the home screen is pretty cool; I didn’t miss wallpapers at all. The tiles display information from the app on the home screen without having to go into it, which is similar to Android’s Widgets. You can adjust tile sizes, rearrange them and change color themes. Even the brown theme looks good on this thing.

For everyday functionality, such as phone, texts, email, calendar, etc, WP8’s native apps are intuitive and work perfectly well. However, only Nokia phones will have their brand of map features (HERE) which are on par with Google Maps. Other WP8 phones are stuck with Bing Maps which is OK, but you’ll find it lags behind Google Maps.

8/10 on a Nokia because of map features

7/10 on other WP8 phones

Should You Get a Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5?

My quick answer?

Galaxy S4.

Why?

If you’re like me and you use your phone A LOT, a larger screen just makes sense (iPhone has a 4 inch screen whilst the S4’s is 5 inches). I also think some of Android’s standard features along with the S4’s new features could enhance everyday phone use. iOS 6 is stale and after using the S3 with Android 4.1, I was hooked by how much more use and customization I could get out it.

S4 vs iPhone 5

Both phones perform basic functions extremely well. This means calls, texts, emails, maps, calendar, taking photos and some apps. In some cases, the S4 makes those functions even more useful with features such as Air View. Samsung’s objective to make the S4 a “Life Companion” lays the foundation to turn phones into true “all-in-one” devices. Want to change the TV channel? Use the S4’s “WatchON” app! Want to track your fitness efforts? Use the S4’s native “S Health” app! Check out this list to see what else the S4 has to offer; there are some photo/video features that could be really cool.

Android 4.2 vs iOS 6

If you’re an iPhone user and you haven’t tried a recent Android phone, you’re not going to know how far you can customize phones to be more useful and visually appealing.

  • On iOS 6, you tap an icon to open an app. Android works the same way, but you can also create  “widgets” where information FROM an app, such as Calendar, Weather Channel and even Gmail, is displayed on the home screen. Most Samsung/Android apps, third party included, have widgets.
  • To customize iOS 6, you can change the lock and home screen wallpapers, switch around app icons and create folders that hold up to 20 apps. Same on Android…but more. For example, you can customize the appearance of icons themselves, as I have done below on a Galaxy S3. (I replaced the original app icons with simpler, white icons because, hey, I could! I left the Gallery icon to have SOME color. Also notice the weather widget on the top-right). You can also have live (moving/interactive) wallpapers.

Screenshot_2013-02-21-17-37-24

If hardware matters to you…

…the S4 blows the iPhone 5 out of the water. “Why does this matter?” you politely ask. Indeed, even if the iPhone 5’s hardware isn’t as good as the S4’s, it works extremely well. One reason is Samsung needs its hardware to run Android AND their own software on top, called TouchWiz, which offers all those fancy shmansy Samsung features. Apple doesn’t need to compensate for any additions on top of their OS.

So, where are you in all this? Are you satisfied by the iPhone’s 4 inch screen? Not satisfied? Wish you could customize it? Converted from iPhone to Android or vice versa? Why? What other ways do you customize your Android phone?

Samsung Galaxy S4 – Specs, Air View, Air Gestures and Other New Features

Same width and height as the S3, but flatter on the top and bottom edge. It's also thinner, lighter than the S3. Photo from techreport.com

Same width and height as the S3, but flatter on the top and bottom edge. It’s also thinner, lighter than the S3. Photo from techreport.com

Finally, we are released from the clutches of rumors, leaks and speculation; the Galaxy S4 was officially revealed last night at NYC’s Radio City Music Hall. The unveiling event, full of glitz and glam, looked like an Oscar’s Awards ceremony with a pinch of Broadway, but this is a tech blog, not a theater review.

Some new software features set the S4 apart from the competition. Samsung’s tagline for the S4 is “Life Companion,” and they have begun the journey to integrate every day tools into a single device. WatchON, for example, uses infrared to turn your phone into a TV remote. In some cases, it enhances what we already do with our phones, like cool photo and video recording features. For a full list and explanation of all these new software trinkets, follow this link.

Some especially interesting features take a user’s finger off the screen, such as Air Gestures and Air View. Wouldn’t want to smudge that glorious 5 inch 1080p screen now, would we?

With Air Gestures, you’ll be able to use hand movements to control certain aspects of the phone. For example, you could switch between open browser tabs or websites, flick through pictures or skip to the next song by waving your hand left or right over the display.

Air View is particularly neat. It will allow you to hover your thumb (or finger) over items in a list, such as texts and emails, and a comprehensive preview will appear. Basically, this eliminates the need to open the text or email. For example, this can be used to quickly read an email and keep it marked as “unread.”

Here are the official Galaxy S4 hardware specs:

  • Polycarbonate body, available in “Black Mist” or “Frost White”
  • 5 inch, 1080p Super AMOLED touchscreen displaying at 441ppi
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16/32/64 GB of on-board storage, can be expanded a further 64GB with a microSD card
  • 13 megapixel back camera, 2 megapixel front camera, both capable of recording 1080p video at 30 fps
  • 1.9 Ghz quad-core CPU

What do you think of the new S4? What features look cool? Completely useless? Have your say.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Revealed TODAY! Will Eye-Tracking Rumors Meet Reality?

If we’ve hung out in the last few days, you know I’m pretty excited about the Galaxy S4. My internet scouring efforts have revealed some leaked hi-res images and some potential specs.

Photo: www.it168.com

IF this is it, and it’s still an IF, we’re not seeing much of a design change from the S3. But honestly, smartphone design can only go so far and basically requires a rectangular shape, at least until flexible screens become a realistic possibility. Photo: http://www.it168.com

These days, it’s software features that differentiates the weak from the strong and I’m excited to see what Samsung has done with this fact. Eye tracking seems to be one of the most prominent rumors out there. If this is true, Samsung might be encouraging us to use our eyes to control the device rather than using our filthy, oily, unworthy fingers on the purported 4.99 inch 1080p screen. Sounds cool, really cool, but it could reduce battery life from a whole day to about 7 minutes. If this rumor meets reality, however, Samsung could be revolutionizing how we use our devices in the future with eye tracking technology. Possibilities are endless for text input, scrolling, opening and using apps, I could go on and on. We’ll have to wait till tonight at 7pm EST during the Samsung event to get the real details. You’ll be able to watch the event streaming live from Samsung’s YouTube channel.

Your Windows PC Is A Compulsive Hoarder – 2 Super Quick Tips To Cure It

Your computer is a compulsive hoarder and its house looks like this:

hoarder_320x245

All those boxes in the picture represent a bunch of files and folders (which we’ll call “crap” from now on) that you never see or use and that your computer never uses either. But for one demented reason or the other, your computer is compelled to “hang on” to this crap…just in case. The truth is, that “just in case” moment rarely comes up. And whenever you want to do anything useful on your computer, this crap will slow you down; much like the crap in the picture would slow down the “inhabitant” of that house.

As tools of intervention, I use two pieces of free software that will, basically, clean up your computer. These are CCleaner and Spybot SD.

CCleaner takes care of files that are stuck in a kind of computer “purgatory.” It will remove files that you never see or use but that also actively clog up your PC such as temporary files and a bunch of other crap that your computer decides to horde for no reason. To get rid of this stuff, follow these instructions:

1. Click this link, download, install. (It’s default settings will be just fine, but if you want a deeper scrub and know what you’re doing, you can choose what CCleaner cleans really easily by ticking the boxes on the center left. Careful though, the defaults include your recycle bin, so if there’s something in there you might actually want later, uncheck the “Empty recycle bin” box. I actually choose not to clean my internet browser (Firefox) stuff because I have stored passwords and histories I’d rather keep. I’ll do it once in a while, though.

2. Click “Analyze” on the bottom left. CCleaner will then scan your computer for all the crap it doesn’t need to hold on to; much like a concerned family member going through that house in the picture. You don’t actually need to click “analyze” first, it’s mostly so you can see what CCleaner picked up to. Makes it more satisfying when you delete it all, too.

3. Click “Run cleaner” on the bottom right and it will delete all the offending items.

CCleaner can also clean up your registry by deleting registry keys that are no longer used, such as leftover files from a program you uninstalled.

1. Just click “Registry” on the very left, then click “Scan for issues” on the bottom left and it shows you all the registry crap that your computer processes for no reason whatsoever which slows it down.

2. Click “Fix selected issues” on the bottom right to get rid of it all.

Spybot SD (Search and Destroy) will, quite literally, search and destroy any malware/adware you’ve piled up without knowing.

1. Click this link, download, install.

2. Click “Check for problems” on the main menu. It will scan your computer, taking about 10-15 minutes, and list all the extra crap that’s been slowing down your computer and internet speeds.

3. Satisfyingly click “Fix selected issues” and it will delete this malware/adware.

Once in a while, like any other software, you’ll need to update CCleaner. For Spybot SD, I suggest clicking “Search for updates” and downloading the updates every time you open it because new malware/adware emerges all the time. To do so, click “Search for updates”, don’t bother choosing a country, just click “Continue” at the bottom, then click “Download.” Then click “Check for problems.” You should do this every couple months if you want to keep your computer running almost like new.

3 New iPhones This Year? Maybe…

Apple may release three phones this year, and it makes sense. This trifecta includes a new iPhone 5S, which is about 99% certain. I’ve also been drowning in rumors about an iPhone with a larger screen than the 5 called the “iPhone Plus” along with a plastic iPhone that will come in iPod colors.

Many will associate these plastic iPhone whispers with the “cheaper” iPhone rumors. But it has been said that changing the shell materials to plastic wouldn’t make much of an economic impact on production and, therefore, sales price. If Apple’s intention is to break into the lower-end market, it might actually be planning to re-release the iPhone 4S with colorful plastic shells rather than introducing a brand new “cheaper” iPhone.

It makes sense that Apple should expand their phone offerings to occupy more display space. Take an average phone store for example. Let’s just say there are 8 Android phones and 2 iPhones on display. Now, I’m no retail guru, but I’d say it’s common sense that a product taking up 80% of the display space is more likely to sell than a product only occupying 20%. Sure, the iPhones are highly coveted, but Android phones with different shapes, sizes, specs, models, brands and prices are becoming more and more desirable…even to me. In terms of quality, Apple used to dominate completely, but the competition is catching up REALLY fast.

Also, several new premium Android phones are released per year by different manufacturers. We’ve only been getting one iPhone release per year (yes, boohoo, only 1 a year, but we’re in an age of tech frenzy here). This drives more excitement and attention towards Android phones as our hunger for new, bigger and better phones is satisfied by ANDROID, not Apple.

It wouldn’t be foreign of Apple to release at least one new line of iPhone. Just take a gander at the different iPod models they offer; there are four different lines with different shapes, sizes, colors and prices. Whilst your on the Apple website, notice the different laptop models they offer. You’ll find Macbook Airs and Macbook Pros with different screen sizes, specs and prices. So why not the iPhone?

We’ve all heard the cliche that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If Apple continues to release only one line of iPhone, it would be insane.

Cheaper iPhone? Why?

Cheaper iPhone?…Isn’t that what an iPhone 4 is?

It’s for the “low end market” you say? $0 for a 4 and $99 for a 4S.

Some reports I’ve seen claim it will be built from cheaper materials, such as polycarbonate plastic. Many also believe that it will use leftover components from previous iPhones in a similar way that the iPad Mini frankensteins the iPad 2. I’m not sure why anyone would buy what sounds like a plastic iPhone 4(S) when the real ones are so cheap already. Even if they used 3GS components for cheapness, who would want an iPhone that runs iOS 6 really, really slowly?

The more I think about it, the less I see Apple  making an intentionally “low-end” product like the competition does (eg: Lumia 920 vs 820). All their iPhones have been “premium” as standard; none were actively designed to be lesser/suck which some phone makers do for the low-end market.  It can be argued that there are “premium” iPhone models; Apple does so by adding and S at the end of it. But I still don’t think the intention was to market an “S” phone as the premium model; it is announced and released separately as newer and better. So, in essence, each release is entirely different even if it is an “S” and looks exactly the same as the previous release. I wouldn’t say the older iPhones are  “low-end” now; they were all built with the intention of being the best. And my iPhone 4 is still working like a champ. But they do have a low-end price tag, so why build and release a whole new “low-end iPhone?” Maybe so it can be sold independently from contract for pay-as-you-go users? Not entirely convinced.

I call BS. If these rumors are true, then I call a WTF??

iPad Mini And Other Stories

Aaaand I’m back to Apple products after a couple months of self-convincing that anything else, namely the Surface RT, could compete. I made the EXACT same mistake a couple years ago when I decided to put my iPhone 3G down to pick up the HTC Thunderbolt. I wanted to see what else was out there and the prospect of 4G was very exciting. My mother and I wanted to switch from AT&T to Verizon and I convinced her to try out the Thunderbolt as an introductory phone. The HTC Thunderbolt was such a dismal failure in my opinion (and in Mom’s opinion, too!). I had to recharge it twice a day and Android was just so awful compared to iOS. I felt so bad for putting mummy dearest through the constant cursing at the ThunderDOLT (as she called it) that I sold mine on eBay and bought a couple second-hand iPhone 4’s (not 4S) to make her (and me) happy again.

Obviously, the iPad Mini is just a smaller version of the regular iPad with exactly the same apps and functions. I don’t know what it was, but I never really liked the way the regular iPad felt; it’s kinda heavy and the rounder edges just don’t sit right with me. The Mini’s edges are more square which feel nicer to hold and looks better, too. It’s also super light and can easily be held and used with one hand. I am also a huge fan of more screen and less bezel. The bezels on the Mini’s side are much narrower which gives it a really smart and cool look.

I have no problem with transitioning to the Lightning connector. Actually, I have one problem. I heard rumors that Apple have made it impossible for third parties to produce their own Lightning connectors, thus restricting us to buying solely from Apple and its partners (such as Best Buy and Walmart). This is somewhat understandable, but quite “evil-monopoly-corporation” if you ask me. But otherwise, I have both the old and new now. Those who complain that they won’t be able to charge their iDevices at their friend’s place because they don’t have a Lightning connector *yet*, fear not. Pretty soon, all households will have a Lightning connector merely due to the fact that Apple has such a huge customer base and many, many Apple fans will own an iDevice that use a Lightning connector soon enough.

BUT, many have devices that work with Apple’s old 30-pin connector, such as speaker docks etc. This indeed puts those who own such devices between a rock and a hard place. Apple have priced the Lightning-to-30-pin adapter at a criminal $30. What is this, a dollar a pin?? Not cool, Apple, not cool. But then again, Apple is Apple and iFans are iFans, and despite that price tag for an adapter, we will (somewhat grudgingly) shell out to make our iCompatible Devices work with what we have until we upgrade.

Back to the Mini. Some are wary of its non-retina, lower resolution screen. But I don’t think that should be an issue; it still looks great. I’m not sure why people make a fuss about how letters aren’t as sharp on non-retina screens. Does it really make a difference in the reading quality? I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, I am a quality freak and I want the highest possible resolution and quality when I watch videos etc. But by no means will my Mini be my primary video watching tool. That would be my TV or laptop. And if you’re a video quality freak, you wouldn’t likely use your iPad, retina or not, to watch Planet Earth in HD.