My love-hate relationship with wireless communications.

Oct 19, 2010

For years now I've just been using whatever the cheapest Virgin Mobile phone is. For a long time I had the Kyocera K10 (same as the K9 that I removed the antenna from). But I did a bunch of attic work in summer 2009 and used it as a flashlight. It was great because I could comfortably carry it in my mouth (look, no hands!). But I had it in my mouth for about 3 hours overall and it absorbed enough moisture that it never quite worked again. So I bought the "Kyocera Jax", which is much thinner but has no flashlight. Oh well. Anyways, the Jax is great except it has two infuriating bugs, the sort of things you expet from beginner Java programmers who are just introduced to asynchronous programming for the first time:

This was enough to really get under my skin so when it came time to decide what I was taking to King's Island (roller coasters wee!), I decided I would risk taking my cellphone with me. Firehawk, a fairly fun and novel roller coaster, features a mildly inverted hard stop at the end of it, and that yanked my phone out of my pocket and threw it onto the ground. They were not stupid enough to let me cross the fence and go fetch it while the roller coaster was running, so I abandoned my phone.

When I went shopping the next day, my fear was realized: the only cheap Virgin phone I found was another Jax! But it was only $10 so I bought it anyways.

Now that I am using it, I discover: THEY FIXED BOTH OF THE BUGS!

Holy shit!


Speaking of Virgin Mobile. I have become a little frustrated with some of their gimmicks as of late (most stores only carry their expensive phones; their website has become unusable; etc). But there is absolutely no competition on price. I pay $27/mo, and that covers all my usage. I even get (though I do not use) unlimited text and data.

Dec 16, 2005

The SPH-i300 lead an interesting but short life. It is a truly substandard phone, despite all of the features. The only feature I miss is that it had a really great speakerphone, but they managed to bungle the UI for that too. So one morning I found myself going from trying to talk on the phone to slamming it against my chair really hard. I decided that I was never going to reboot my phone again, so I realized I had to mean business. I broke it, but it wasn't broken enough and it started working again, so I started bashing it with tools. Problem solved.

So I decided to do the $20 ebay phone. The first one was an old Kyocera that had long since reached its end of life. It had a very quiet ringer and an intermittent contact somewhere. It was replaced by a Sanyo SCP-4700. This phone is clearly old, but it gets great reception, its antenna is very firmly mounted (in addition to being totally useless and therefore disposable), the UI is totally acceptable, and the battery lasts 3-5 days between charges. There are only a few points of crappiness: no vibrate before ring mode, no automatic keylock (you must engage it every time you put the phone in your pocket...unless you *like* hearing your friends shouting "hello?" into your pocket), and no way to customize the ringtones (so I cannot use my personalized and utterly unmistakable ringtone). It makes me miss my Motorola flip phones, if only they weren't so incredibly flimsy.

May 7, 2005

My new work contract features someone who likes to talk on the phone, so I had to abandon the prepaid -- too expensive. I decided to get the Sprint 'Fair and Flexible' plan because I wouldn't have to change it if I have a heavy flow month. I decided I didn't want a contract so I called Sprint and asked if I could just buy a phone and then go month to month and the girl said yes. So I went on eBay and got the first sprint phone I saw, which happened to be the Samsung SPH-i300, a PalmOS phone from 2001. Dated, but cool.

When it came time to activate it, Sprint turned out to have been lying. You can only go month to month if you pay extra, and they won't let you start most of their plans without a contract, period. Allow me to reiterate: Sprint has a corporate policy of lying and misleading. Unfortunately, the decision to use cellular technology is the decision to enter a bad faith agreement with a company you don't trust. Such is 21st century life.

So there goes another antenna

This phone has yet another of those stupid nub antennas, just like the low-end Kyocera did. This one is an extendable screw in antenna. When it is not extended, it presents about a half inch diameter cylinder extending about an inch above the phone. It is placed in such a way that it is always getting pushed on pretty hard when it's in my pockets, and I know eventually, with those moment arms, the plastic in the phone will give way.

So I pulled it out, and started bending the antenna. I discovered a couple interesting things about the antenna:

So I whipped out my dremel. I cut out some of the useless all-plastic section of the extended antenna, then cut off most of the big plastic cylinder nub. It turns out the nub had a little antenna in it as well, a coil with 20-30 winds, looked like a spring -- bye bye (I get five bars in my house with or without this coil). I couldn't cut the very base of the nub, as it has a thick piece of metal in it. Then I glued the antenna cap back on (drilled a hole in the cap that the antenna fit through, then a bit of thin superglue). The nub still pokes out a little bit, but it's not noticable in the pocket, and it's not long enough to put a substantial load on the phone's plastic case.

Enjoy pictures:

The antenna outside of the phone -- note the two pieces in the top of the picture that I removed.

On the phone, very diminuitive.

Look, it still extends.

February 14, 2005

So I've had this pre-paid for a few months now and it's the cellphone I love to hate, as you might imagine. The flashlight feature is hella cool. The shitty battery life sucks but you pretty much get used to putting the phone on the charger at least every other night and it's fine. I think I'm paying slightly more than I did with T-mobile. I'm seriously considering just signing on for Sprint's floating-rate plan, but that's a minimum of $45/mo, and I think I will come under that on a regular basis once one of my clients stops calling me.

But the phone has been bothering me. It is always poking me. It is the uncomfortable part of the phone. I finally removed it just to see how it's done. Once removed, it can't really be put back on again, a little piece of plastic is bent to not latch right. So from then on it sucks, so that accelerated my schedule. Zack had ripped the antenna off of his phone and replaced it with a length of copper wire taped to the back of the phone. I found this to be inspirational.

Now this is pretty much the cool part of the story. I took out my new Dremel tool and commanded it: Here be plastic. Triumph! And man, it triumphed. So I got rid of everything that even looked like there was ever an antenna mount there and started trying on little copper wire antennas.

It turns out copper wire antennas suck with this phone. Probably something about PCS instead of the TDMA or GSM that Zack's phone uses. *shrug* So I took apart the old antenna. Normally this would have been nearly impossible, but the dremel rules at removing excess plastic from a metal object. Tee hee! So now I know, the antenna is a solid metal rod that appears to meet, at the end of the antenna, a foil tube that the whole antenna rests in.

So I made one. First, I took the bottom inch off of a candy rose I gave my honey (it is a metal core with plastic coating):

Then, I wrapped small copper wire around it:

Not much smaller than the original antenna, but hopefully it will have more mounting options.

I hooked up the antenna and still got 4 bars as with the old antenna. Success. But now to position the antenna. I dremeled out a lot of the nearby plastic, so I could set the antenna "inside" the phone. Bzzt! Wrong answer. No reception if the antenna is too close to the little metal shield in the phone. So I had to hot melt glue the thing a couple milimeters above the shield. No problemo:

And from the front:

Of course, without a 'before' you have no idea how much cooler the phone looks without its old bulky antenna. But I do. It would be that much cooler if I'd used epoxy, then used the Dremel to grind/polish it into a sleak shape. Oh well. Something for later.

December 14, 2004

The first phone

When I moved to NYC almost two years ago I got a cellphone instead of a land line, figuring this freed me from the tyranny of Verizon land service. It was a crappy Motorola V60. I once found a piece of plastic on the ground, and I picked it up and discovered it was the antenna to a Motorola V60. Not my antenna, but nonetheless not a good sign. Months later, my antenna fell off. Internet research revealed they all fall off. Motorola says that since it cracked before falling off, it's not warranty. My cellphone insurance said that since it's a known defect, I had to talk to Motorola. All the certified Motorola service centers in Manhattan were owned by Verizon, my phone was AT&T, failure.

So I wandered around stylish Manhattan with a cellphone covered in hot melt glue to hold the antenna on. Until I found out that I couldn't make data calls from my phone, which was explicitly promised to me when I bought the phone. I chewed out AT&T, they tried to switch me to GPRS, I told them to fuck off, and I pawned the phone off to a friend and got a T-mobile phone.

My second phone

I went into a T-mobile shop and they showed me the Mot V66 and I was in love, it was exactly the V60, but with a better antenna mount, slightly faster processor (yeah, you can actually hold them side by side and the V66 draws its address book faster), and most importantly a very small phone. I got hella ripped off by the dealer I bought the phone from, but overall this was a very satisfying cellphone. I wandered around stylish Manhattan with a very small phone, it was good:

About a month after I got it, I received a text message from T-mobile advertising some bullshit. The only other text message spam I got was from a Spanish company trying to sell me some vacation deal -- I called their 800 number twenty times trying to tell them that I can eat glass and it does not hurt me in broken Spanish. So I was not a happy camper, I called T-mobile support and said if it happened again I would cancel, so they said that they blocked me from receiving text message spam from t-mobile. I was happy.

So today, a year later, I get another T-mobile text message spam. I called them and offered a compromise, one month free or I cancel. They declined, so now I'm porting my number to a phone I got as more of a novelty.

I'll miss having the small flip phone though. Something about the way the Mot V66 likes to be makes me want to hang up. During longer conversations I'm always just fighting the urge to *click* and be rid of them. The phone just likes to be closed. This love of the phone for hangups once helped me establish my policy of not working on Sundays. It's really a wonderful thing.

The third phone

Now this is the real gem of the group. This is a VirginMobile phone. I walked into a store and for the price of one month of T-mobile I received a cellphone with absolutely no hassle, it was like buying a candybar. It is pay-as-you-go, and as someone who has always used less than half of his contract minutes, this may be substantial savings. Also, it is based on Sprint's network, which is worse in NYC and Europe, but better than T-mobile everywhere else I might go.

The downside of course is that it's a shitty phone with shitty battery life and shitty ringers and the instruction manual looks like CD liner notes and the tech support talks in some MTV-derived jive and everywhere I look on their webpage I'm tempted by some teenaged slut and the security question is "what is your natural hair color?"

But my phone has a flash light, and it's cheap, and they haven't spammed me yet. In fact I've never received a single piece of paper mail from them.

Is this the future of cellphones?