iPhone 3G’s Misleading Signal Display

I’ve had my share of problems with the iPhone 3G: dropped calls, keyboard lag while text messaging, and GPS location issues. However, firmware 2.1 promised to fix many of the problems.

iPhone 3G firmware 2.1 fixes

Keyboard lag has indeed been fixed, which was one of my biggest issues with the phone. Unfortunately, I’m now experiencing even more dropped calls than before. The improved accuracy of the 3G signal strength display is about as bold-faced of a lie as they get, and that’s what I wanted to talk about here.

I often got only a bar or two of signal at my house, but after upgrading to the new firmware, I had a solid 5 bars of signal almost everywhere I went. It seemed too good to be true. And it was. While Apple says they’ve improved the ‘accuracy’ of the signal strength display, I’d wager that they simply made the signal display show 5 bars with any signal short of nearly losing connection altogether. In the condo I’m staying at in Toronto, I get 5 bars. However, I’ve been experiencing a ton of dropped calls. Earlier today, I found a key combination that brings up the field test mode, *3001#12345#*. This, importantly, displays the signal in dBm instead of the misleading signal bars. First, here’s my full 5 bars of signal…

iPhone 3G signal

And here’s what I get in dBm.

iPhone 3G signal in dBm

Okay, -99dBm is a pretty terrible signal and to put this in perspective, on my previous BlackBerry (8310 Curve), it would have been something around 1 bar, which is far more representative. Close to -100dBm is a crap signal. But Apple, having ‘improved’ the accuracy, is misleading me. With my ‘full’ signal, I couldn’t figure out why I was having problems with dropped calls, but now I know the exact reason. It’s simple physics covered up by a pretty graphic. You know Apple, those magical bars don’t actually produce signal. Displaying more of them doesn’t make the signal stronger.

I wonder how this placebo of a fix has affected perception amongst users, many of whom claim far better signal and fewer dropped calls with the new firmware…

Canadian iPhone 3G Launch

It’s 7:30am and I’m off to a Rogers store for the 3G iPhone launch later this morning. Will I come back home with one? I’m still undecided, but leaning towards no. I want more detail on what the Bold has to offer before I make a decision. But either way, it’ll certainly be before August 31st to get in on the $30/month for 6GB of data promotion.

Rogers Does It Again – Insane iPhone Plan Pricing!

The iPhone was supposed to bring data to the masses, but leave it to Rogers/Fido to throw that idea out the window completely. There has been a significant amount of speculation surrounding the data plans for the July 11th launch of the 3G iPhone in Canada, and this morning, Rogers gave the official word. In short, if you fellow Canadians thought the iPhone would deliver you to data plan salvation, you thought completely wrong.

iPhone 3G Price Plans at Rogers Wireless

                                              Sent      Incoming
                                              Text      Text       Visual
    Price   Voice                    Data     Messages  messages   Voicemail
    $60 /   150 minutes + unlimited  400 MB   75        Unlimited  Unlimited
    month   Evening and Weekend
    $75 /   300 minutes + unlimited  750 MB   100       Unlimited  Unlimited
    month   Evening and Weekend
    $100 /  600 minutes + unlimited  1 GB     200       Unlimited  Unlimited
    month   Evening and Weekend
    $115 /  800 minutes + unlimited  2 GB     300       Unlimited  Unlimited
    month   Evening and Weekend

Even, without putting these plans in context with those in say, the United States, they still absolutely suck. I was contemplating both the iPhone and the BlackBerry Bold as my next device and I left it up to the data plans to help me decide. As of these announcements, the BlackBerry will be quite a bit cheaper. I currently pay $50/month before the SAF and taxes for 150 anytime, unlimited Rogers to Rogers, unlimited evenings and weekends at 6pm, 2500 SMS, 1000MMS, CID, voicemail, and unlimited email. I’ve been planning on stepping up to the $30/month 300MB BlackBerry data plan (from the $15 unlimited email only) so that I can use applications such as Google Maps. That would mean paying $65/month + fees.

But with the iPhone, I’d have to pay a minimum of $75/month (plus SAF/taxes); $60 for the base plan, then another $15 for the text messaging and caller ID package. Furthermore, with only 150 minutes, no unlimited Rogers to Rogers, and evenings and weekends starting at 9pm, I’m bound to go over my minutes on a regular basis. At well over $100/month for the $75/month plan + $15 for the messing/CID + SAF + taxes, it’s simply a price I’m not willing to swallow.

Thanks, but no thanks Rogers. I hope the strategy of gouging iPhone fans works out for you. In a terribly sad way, I guess you should be commended for lowering data prices from the $45/month for 8MB not that long ago…

BlackBerry 9000 Bold Launched. I Want.

Research in Motion is my equivalent of Apple for most other people. I attentively read all the news and gossip that appear about rumoured devices and although their product line isn’t quite as varied as Apple’s, it just makes those product announcements all the more sweet.

So after reading several indepth reviews of the BlackBerry 9000 over at CrackBerry.com, I was getting mighty excited for the launch of the BlackBerry Bold today at WES2008.

Overall feeling? I want. Now, how can I justify one after only a couple months with the Curve…?

Update: Okay, a couple people (real life as opposed to web) have asked me why I’d want to upgrade from a Curve. Well, for me, it’s a combination of the much higher resolution display (hands-on opinions of the display have been phenomenal), new OS4.6, which includes a significantly improved web browser and probably HTML email support, improved performance, and Wi-Fi.

Aboard the BlackBerry Train – Curve 8310

While I was sick in bed, with no word from Sony Ericsson regarding the status of a repair for my K790a, I dug around on eBay for BlackBerries. After following a few items to completion, I realized that purchasing BlackBerries on eBay was not much cheaper than buying it in-store locally and ran the risk of being dinged by duties and customs fees, as the majority were from the United States. Most recently, I had the opportunity to pay over $35 in duties and fees for a $25 copy of Pzziz. That’s left a sour taste in my mouth for international purchases.

So after some research, I ended up with a new unlocked BlackBerry 8310, purchased from SN Traders. My questions about the device were answered promptly and service was very satisfactory.

BlackBerry 8310 Curve Trackball

In a sentence, I am extremely pleased with my purchase. The side effect, paying Rogers more for BlackBerry service, I’m less pleased with, but that’s a bit unavoidable. I didn’t know what I was missing when I bought the non-QWERTY keypad Sony Ericsson K790a. The BlackBerry’s an absolute joy to use and I’m able to jot down notes of thoughts I’ve had for further musing, at a later time. Did I mention it’s one sweet looking device too?

BlackBerry 8310 Curve

Predictive text tools, like T9, are nice ways of making it less painful to type alphabetic messages on a number keypad, but it’s no where close to replacing the ease and flexibility of a full QWERTY keypad. The keypad on the Curve is very easy to use, and I’ve had no trouble adapting to the small keys.

BlackBerry 8310 Curve Keypad

For a long time, I remember reading that holding a BlackBerry up to your ear was akin to holding a piece of toast, due to its width. That may have been true in the days of the 7200 series and older models, but with the Curve, it’s nowhere near as uncomfortable. For certain, it’ll feel wider than just about any feature phone, but given the no-compromise QWERTY keypad, it’s about as narrow as its going to get. At 60mm wide, it’s 13mm wider than my K790a, but with its decrease in thickness (15.5mm versus 22mm), it fits into a pants pocket a bit more readily.

BlackBerry 8310 Curve versus Sony Ericsson K790a
BlackBerry 8310 Curve

I’m glad for the Curve’s use of standard ports. For charging and data transfer, a standard mini USB port is used and for wired connectivity, a 3.5mm headphone jack is provided. Couple that with a microSD card slot (which is unfortunately wedged behind the battery) and the BlackBerry Curve can serve your multimedia needs as well. I have a microSDHC 4GB card installed and working without a problem.

The inclusion of the multimedia console, which allows access to music, videos, ringtones and pictures all in one place is a nice touch, but the lack of dedicated media keys means navigation in that application is a bit clumsy. If you want to skip a track, you have to bring up the menu using the menu key and then select previous or next track. Although you can start a slideshow of pictures, navigating them manually also requires bringing up the menu. UPDATE: I should’ve read the manual before I wrote – there are a wide range of shortcut keys that can be used to navigate in the media player – for example, N for next track or P for previous.

BlackBerry 8310 Curve Media Center
BlackBerry 8310 Curve music player

One of the things I’ve been using the BlackBerry for is text messaging and I really like the threaded messaging feature of the built-in messaging application.  It’s very nice to be able to see what you were responding to at a glance.

One knock against the BlackBerry – the OS is not pretty. Coming from my Sony Ericsson, which had a very graphical system, the BlackBerry focuses on function over form, with page after page of text menus at times. If RIM really wants to break into the consumer market in a big way (and not just target the prosumer group) they’ll really have to do some revamping of the software stack. Most business users probably prefer the functional nature of the OS, but with Joe or Jill Smith gazing at the device sitting next to a Sony Ericsson, I think they’d be swayed to the SE based on the looks alone.

With that said, I’m more than willing to deal with text menus in return for all the advantages the device brings. I’ve found battery life to be very good. With the push BIS enabled, a few calls here and there, and some texting, I can use the device for 4 days without fear of running out of battery power. Add a couple hours of music each day and you’ll probably want to charge the Curve every second or third day to ensure you don’t run out of power midday.

It’s now been two weeks with the BlackBerry and it’s holding up very nicely. The organizational features have come in handy over the last couple of busy weeks. I’ll soon be coming into a proper case for the Curve – the holster I have now was designed for the BlackBerry 7100 series, so doesn’t fit quite right. CrackBerry addict? Not quite, but progressing nicely I’d say. 😉