Monday, January 26, 2009

Rant on the Run: Life with a New Texting Toy

I have looked sometimes with a certain amount of envy at friends who thumb around on their Blackberries, iPhones and other high-power PDAs, but given that Shore uses Google Apps as its core technology for our distributed teamwork it never seemed to make sense to power up on something that could be done from my mobile broadband card on my PC often enough, or, in a pinch, my Motorola RAZR phone. On my recent trip to Bangalore, though, the RAZR went AWOL at a security checkpoint in Delhi (so that's what that PA announcement was about...) which made Skype a pressing necessity until I got home Saturday. On the way home in the car service I poked through my carrier's options for phones and finally settled on the Samsung Rant as the probable replacement.

I had really wanted an Andriod phone, but it's a few months away from making its debut on my carrier's network in official form. Some available hacks of Andriod's open source code to make it work on HTC models was a tempting bleeding-edge option, but I decided that this could wait a few months for the next version of Andriod to make its way into sanctioned models, at which point my son can inherit the Rant when I switch him over from another carrier. Why not an iPhone? Sorry, while I do believe that the App Store sets up a great model for content providers to exploit in mobile markets, I don't believe in forced deals with carriers and the content model for iPhone leaves publishing too much in the old world. l didn't that feel that getting an iPhone would be "walking the talk"about where the content industry needs to go. Android will be here soon enough, and not a moment too soon for publishers who need more affordable and capable mobile platforms to reach broader markets.

In the meantime, the Rant is a pretty capable little content buddy and has the one key feature for which I have been pining in a mobile device: a sizable and well-designed keyboard. Just looking at a Blackberry's miniscule keyboard is enough to send me to the eye doctor for a new prescription; it seems to take way too much focus to make it work. The Rant has a super-comfortable and wide keyboard that lights up nicely, so I can text or email in comfort and actually get out a few coherent sentences if need be without too much bother. It also has a "carousel" of pre-loaded applications which includes Google Maps, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Notebook and other apps that line up nicely with our needs and work very well on the Rant. It has good multimedia features, including the obligatory talking GPS navigator, EV-DO video playback and a 2 megapixel camera for video and snaps. The browser is weak at best, but as I tend to browse on my PC broadband mostly it's fine enough for in-a-pinch poking about. Not bad for about sixty bucks.

While being able to email and do calendaring more efficiently was certainly a key priority, being able to text efficiently has become a priority for me as well. Now I can Twitter with ease and respond to text messages more efficiently. Trying to do that on the run had been a challenge at best on the RAZR. My one regret is that my carrier continues to make it a total hassle to get contacts on and off my PC and into the calling directory of the phone: artificial scarcity strkes again as a key content ploy. But while awaiting Andriod I can use my Contacts section of Gmail to work around this easily enough - and have less worry about stuff that's not easily extracted from proprietary schemes. In the meantime I get to use a machine that fits in with this year's Outlook 2009 theme: Less is More. My philosophy is that you should never have a machine that you aren't perfectly comfortable losing. So far, mission accomplished.
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