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Rethinking the iPhone

The Swiss Army knife of telephony

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Virgin Mobile Mi-Fi

Not convinced that I could cope with gaps in access to the internet, I purchased a portable Mi-Fi device from Virgin Mobile. This works on Sprint’s 3G network and connects up to five devices to the internet via Wi-Fi. My wife and I have used the Mi-Fi on a journey in my car, in a hotel where the hotel Wi-Fi was slow and all around the house, and yard - I’ve been very impressed.

The internet service is unlimited and costs $40 a month, again on a monthly contract. The Mi-Fi has a battery that last between 3-5 hours when not connected to an electric outlet or car socket, which means I can put it in my shirt pocket, and use it unconnected.

Early experience suggests that I don’t need to fill the internet gaps thought I could not cope with - in fact I’m enjoying not being such a big nerd, and use the break to read my Kindle books on my iPad when I get the chance instead of manic email and Internet.

But I so like my Mi-Fi that I’m keeping it for those trips and as a home backup, maybe even to be our home Internet. Two local friends were so impressed with the Virgin Mobile Mi-Fi and the associated service, that they ditched their current Internet providers (AT&T and Verizon) and are financially and experientially delighted.

As an experiment, for more than a week I used the Virgin Mobile as the home router, and found it worked very well in this role. I speed test it at between 1038 and 1113 Kbits/s download, and 246 Kbits/s upload, which I’m told is equivalent to a DSL connection.

It certainly works well using Internet and email - clearly downloading software updates, and publishing big websites was noticeably slower that my $62 per month Verizon FIOS. Having said that, we streamed Netflix movies, and happily worked our computers, iPads and iPhones (my wife), barely noticing the difference. The O’Reilly home jury is still considering ditching Verizon FIOS!

Lessons learned

What’s not so “smart” about Apple’s iPhone is its operational cost, carrier and compromises. Like a Swiss army knife, the iPhone is good at a lot of things, but not really great at any:

  • iPhone - $82 per month/2 year contract/upgrade contract treadmill
  • Google Voice - free phone number/free US & cheap international calls
  • iPad - $499 for the more than adequate Wi-Fi only model (already owned)
  • Virgin Mi-Fi - $149 for the device; $40 pm for the service
  • Potentially displace home Internet service - $62 per month
  • Contracts entrapment - no contracts & not tied up for two years with early exit penalty
  • Being less of a Nerd and reading more - Priceless

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