Saturday, December 31, 2005

Boost Mobile Experience or How I Joined the iDEN Occult or Happy New Year!

So I got $70 in BestBuy gift certificates. What better to spend them on than a Boost Mobile i415, then take the ad money from this blog that would have gone to getting the i415 and putting it toward an OCZ 1GB Rally USB drive (I had money in the bank so I went ahead and got the drive since I knew the ad money would be here in January, which was about half an hour from when I wrote this part of the post but almost there when I finished it about five minutes ago). I'm also getting, as a trade, a Boost i285, see my earlier posts.

The main things I got the phone for were. besides having a phone on the Nextel network, the Walkie Talkie and GPS features. In a minute I'll talk about both but just in case anybody was wondering why I got the phone. And yes, bunches of my relateives are on Nextel, though the ranks are thinning slightly in favor of such carriers as MetroPCS.

Anyway, the first thing different about iDEN phones in general is that they are larger than comparable non-iDEN phones, with the flips being more noticeably larger than the difference between bar phones. So my i415 is actually only a little smaller than a Nokia 5165. THe other thing differet in a bad way is battery life: take a phone on analog and put an extended battery on it and you get the 75 hours of standby and 165 minutes of talk time that is pretty common to iDEN phones. Also, netowrk outages seem more frequent than on other carriers; the Saturday, Sunday and Monday following the day I got and activated my phone were days of a cellular (though not data or walkie talkie) outage for I think all of Texas.

OK. Now for the good part, but the good part is mixed in with some bad. The first thing is walkie-talkie, which normally connects in less than a second and after the inital connect is near-instant as far as connection speed goes, though it takes about half a second for the conversation to reach the other end. But this speed is consistent whether you're calling close or from Texas to Florida or even New England. It's a neat technology, and it's what iDEN phones are actually built around. Small problem though: the normal connection times have gone for a vacation lately in Florida; due to wierd network issues it's been taking up to 3 seconds (!) to make the connection if you're not already in the walkie-talkie session (3 seconds of holding down the button before you hear the near-famous triple beep).

Now for the other thing where iDEN rules: GPS. As far as I know no other phone technology has capitalized so much on GPS as iDEN handsets. Like walkie-talkie, this service is exclusive enough to make its way into prepaid offerings. Every new or even relatively new iDEN phone is GPS capable, and your coordinates can be found fairly easily, if not always quickly and accurately, though I have gotten six-foot accuracy. There are several programs that use GPS for some purpose or other with Boost Mobile. Blister's location-based game Swordfish (at which I was for awhile last week first, then I dropped to econd, then I reinstalled the game and lost my ability to keep racking up points) and the driving directions king TeleNav come to mind. The latter, be forewarned, does not necessarily have up-to-date gas prices, though if you get one $1.50 "trip" you can access all of its features as long as you don't navigate to the completion of a GPS-guided trip.

That's about all that's unique to Boost Mobile. Unlimited internet is 20 cents a day, but there are workarounds for this, and the free section of the internet is relatively expansive, a little better than T-Mobile To Go's free T-Zones. If you want web access, STi Mobile is a better choice, with its faster network. If you have a cable, however, the Opera Mini web browser is one of those workarounds that gets you free web browsing, and the program itself is free so if you insist on internet and wamt something HTML capable Boost can do that.

RIngtones are played through the speakerphone of course, and as such are only telephone-quality. So if you were looking to play beautiful and subtle MP3s as your ringtone, you can do the MP3 part but don't expect anything coming out of that speaker to be beautiful and subtle, though you can expect it to be able to be deafeningly loud. A neat little button on the i415 and other new phones lets you easily switch between the speakerphone and the handset speaker, which is also OK quality and can be fairly loud, for such things as playing voice recordings (finally a phone that will do it!) and using java programs.

Speaking of java programs, the i415's java support is good to excellent, with the ability to suspend one app or two and run others or use the phone in another way with the app quicly reopenable. Also, where the LG 225 on STi only includes the demo version of Jamdat's Bowling 2, the i415 includes the full version. Yay Boost!

All other features on the phone are relatively the same as those on similarly-priced phones elsewhere, though they may be more customizeable, better, or maybe even worse in my opinion a term that could describe the Recent Calls function, which is a numbers-only (or contact info if the number is in your address book) affair without date stamps or the ability to see whether a call ws missed, called, or received.

Overall, the i415 and Boost Mobile\Nextel\iDEN in general has its good and bad spots. GPS is readily available but finicky (may or may not get a signal) and fairly inaccurate, walkie talkie is slow right now, and call quality on regular calls is bad in some areas due to a high-compression "6:1" codec in use. Reception is solid though since Nextel employs a stronger 800-to-900-MHz frequency (MIRS, iDEN's technical frequency name like cellular and PCS bands on "normal" phones, slips in all over the place due to its having to dodge cellular frequencies and public safety equipment), although tower buildout isn't any more than that of carriers like Sprint on their home network. My verdict is that unless you use walkie talkie almost exclusively you'll want to carry some other cell phone around in addition to any Boost phone, one reason being that the rates are farly expensive for calling non=Sprint, non-Nextel home (Partners doesn't count as Mobile To Mobile), non-Boost numbers during weekdays, though night and weekend rates, as well as Mobile to Mobile are a reasonable ten cents a minute. Oh, and walkie talkie is expensive. Anyway, I'd say have a second phone if this is your primary...

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