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Palm Column

Putting the T in mobility

by Shawn Barnett
2004, issue 51

I had just completed a marathon in the space of one week. It wasn't an actual marathon, but it might as well have been. I finished a magazine, moved my entire house from one city to another, complete with child and pregnant wife, packed myself for a vendor-hosted trip overseas and quickly set up the computer so my wife and I could communicate via email. With the magazine cover finished late the night before, I rose, grabbed my bags, computer, handheld, and new cell phone, and jumped into the limousine the vendor had sent to my new place. I wasn't sure of the impression I was giving the new neighbors jumping into a limousine, thinking it was a bit ostentatious. But that's the way it goes, and I get few enough limousines that I wasn't going to refuse the ride.

I was informed that the limousine was not all it was cracked up to be, though it really wasn't the vehicle that was the problem. The driver was unfamiliar with the controls, and so for about five minutes I had to suffer with no air conditioning and none of the luxuries associated with a limo. The TV didn't work, and neither did the radio. I attempted to solve the problem for him by asking whether there was a main switch for the rear controls. Nope, he couldn't find one. Forever the troubleshooter, as he called headquarters I found the switch and pointed it out. Suddenly I was as cool as I should feel in a limousine. Then I urgently pointed out the large crowd of cars that were stopped just yards in front of us, hoping that the driver was faster with the brake than he was with the other controls. He was, and we went on uneventfully from there.

Setting up my new T-Mobile phone as a conduit for Internet access for my two favorite machines would be easier, and it happened on the same day, on the same ride to the airport.

The Palm side was a snap, requiring only that I follow the Phone Link wizard, where I selected the brand, model, and desired connection type, in this case Bluetooth, which is built into my palmOne Tungsten T3. Once the device is found, I just build a trusted connection with the phone by entering a passkey. Then the wizard asks if I want to use the connection for Internet and email access. I say yes, then tell it what country I live in and what carrier I'm using, and I suddenly have Internet browsing capability on my handheld through my phone. Just a few more settings in the included VersaMail application (included on the T3), and I'm also downloading my email. This is a little more complicated, because you need an SMTP server to send email through, and usually only more advanced services will allow this through an outside carrier. In my case, I use an IMAP account to send, while still receiving through my old POP account. It's less than ideal, because my return address has to be the IMAP account, so responses come to the IMAP account, which I also have to check on the handheld to get replies in a timely manner.

I should mention here that T-Mobile is my new carrier, and why. I switched because I got tired of receiving US$150 to $300 phone bills from my old carrier, AT&T. I used to be a big AT&T fan--die hard, in fact--but I'd been hit with outrageous overage charges so often in the last two years since my "migration" to GSM that I'd had quite enough. None of my attempts to switch to a more appropriate plan kept it from happening. In my area, T-Mobile offers a flat rate plan of US$40 for nationwide access to 1,000 anytime minutes, and their data plan is unlimited for US$20. Combined, this was less than my Nationwide One Rate plan alone, with no wireless at all, and that only offered 650 minutes; and data was measured and charged by usage. T-Mobile's plan gives me one thing that I've needed to truly appreciate wireless capability: peace of mind. I like knowing that I'm not liable to be hit by a huge bill if I actually use the service, especially for wireless data. When receiving on a Palm it's not as bad, because you can easily limit your usage by truncating your email and using the built-in proxy browser, which compresses incoming data; but using a personal computer browser, your likelihood of exceeding the limited plans grows quite a bit. (This is not a commercial, by the way, just my real choice given the options offered.)

The ease of my Palm setup left me somewhat unprepared for what I encountered on my Apple iBook. Yes, I know, most of you don't use Macs. As an old PC guy, I can relate to your qualms that I even brought it up. Though it's another story, I was initially forced into using a Mac, but now it's tough for me to live without them. After a lot of experience, I've chosen this iBook as my main mobile computer. They travel better and connect with greater ease, regardless of the situation. They're also excellent for photography and graphic design. I won't say superior, but it's what we use at the office, so it is the only thing that will work reliably. I still like and use PCs as well. That parenthetical aside, this particular connection was a little more complicated than Apple's OS X Jaguar wizard could handle. It is ready to set you up, but you need information from your carrier; no research was done in advance to make this easier. Palm is ahead in this area of bundling a ready-made solution to this most vexing of problems.

But this is the age of mobile communications. I dialed 611 from my Sony-Ericsson T610. This put me in touch with some of the same T-Mobile folks who a week earlier had told me their company didn't offer a Bluetooth phone at all. I had asked them at the time whether their website correctly offered a T610, and they said yes, but neither they nor their website would confirm that this wasn't some non-Bluetooth model of the T610. A call to Sony-Ericsson settled the matter. Again, this level of support was unequal to the task of helping me with Bluetooth, because even those who knew about the low-range wireless standard's existence didn't think Internet access would be possible across such long distances with Bluetooth. It was difficult not to get angry as I explained that Bluetooth provided a connection between my PDA and cell phone, and that it was the cell phone that made the connection to the Internet, but I succeeded in being nice enough to get connected to the right department inside T-Mobile.

I tell you all this that you might not lose heart, because once I spoke with the right people, I found myself entering the few necessary bits of information into the right fields and happily browsing the Internet from either my Tungsten T3 or my Apple iBook as I zipped down the freeway to the airport, all through my cell phone, and all without cumbersome wired connections.

Now, I'm not claiming that it's as fast as DSL, nor even WiFi. But it's wherever I am so long as my cell phone is working, and it's faster than the old Palm VII and i705 were. On both platforms, I truncate all email at 5-10K, getting only the first few lines, downloading more when I deem necessary. This prevents lengthy downloads of photos, and allows me to save time while downloading the 80% burden of spam we all must now endure.

Reclining in my hotel room, I considered the three devices arrayed on my bedspread as email streamed into my inbox. I realized that an important milestone had been reached: my three main communication tools were communicating with one-another, and all were able to exchange data with the world's vast computer network without a hassle no matter where I travel in the US, and it would only cost me US$20 a month. It has taken too long to get to this point. But imagine the possibilities now that we're here.

-Shawn Barnett,

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