Archive for October 11th, 2010

The pathetic state of things on cell data

I don’t do much calling via a cellphone. Maybe about 20-25 phone calls per year. The bulk of my calls is done via Skype for free, and occasionally Google Voice/WiFi, or a landline. Therefore, I don’t need more than a Pay As You Go, a’la carte plan, which is indeed what I use.

However, while I’m not big on calls and SMS, I’m big on data. I want to check my email, twitter, the news, check for comments on my blog. I need data more than I need phone calls. The phone call functionality on my smartphone is there only in case of emergency.

So far I haven’t had any data plan on my phones. I want to have one, but I find them ridiculously expensive. AT&T and T-Mobile, the two main GSM providers in the US, recently restructured their no-contract data plans. Unfortunately, the prices are as high as ever: T-Mobile’s, and AT&T’s.

I ran a little utility called Smart Monitor Lite on my Android phone for a few months now. It calculates your Wifi or 3G usage of data per month. What I found out using this utility over a long period of time is two things:

1. To use data on a smartphone in a pretty conservative manner (just email, RSS app for news, twitter app, very lite usage of few web sites), I need 500 MB per month.

2. To use data on a smartphone in a modern way (e.g. Google Maps, media streaming, full web browsing etc), I need 2-2.5 GB per month.

The real question is, how much do these options WORTH for me. And the answer is this: I would never pay more than $10 per month for option #1, and I would never pay for more than $30 per month for option #2.

Basically, what I would ultimately prefer is this:
– $120 per year, for 500 MB of data per month.
– $100 per year, for voice/SMS at standard prices (as it is now).
– Both voice/data have roll-over to the next month/year.
– I can roam when out of the country, at least for voice (currently I can’t).
– Ability to tether. Since I’m paying for the actual data, the carrier should stop putting limits on how I’m using that data. If I just want to add mayo on the data and eat them in one go, I should be able to.

So basically, I want to pay $220 per year, and to be done with it (or go month by month, or 3/6 month intervals, with adjusted prices). I want to use my own phone (I don’t need stinking subsidized phones), and I want to have this basic voice/data plan. Why can’t I have something so simple?

Some people tell me that cell data is a very expensive affair for the carriers, and that I need to respect that fact. But when I see AT&T charging $35 for 200 MB, and “just” $60 for 5 GB, I somehow have a very difficult time believing that. I think they’re just toying with us at best, and defrauding us at worst. These words might sound harsh to you, but I’ve had enough waiting for the 21st Century to really arrive.

I just pre-ordered a Roku XDS

UPDATE: My review of the Roku XD|S.

For those who follow me on Twitter they know how angry I’m at Netflix and their PS3 performance: all their Netflix software streaming discs they send to be used with PS3 are dying after about 20 days of usage. The Blu-Ray on the PS3 is literally burning the discs! There is a brown circle of death around the disc after a few days of usage (and it seems to die easier if you pause a streaming movie for a few minutes, and then you come back to it). The problem is well known on the web, I’m not the only victim of this.

Instead of asking Netflix to send me a 4th disc (plus, JBQ is very protective of his rare model PS3 and doesn’t want me using it anymore), I started using our Wii. Unfortunately, I have to use the Wii via WiFi instead of the more robust ethernet, and the streaming experience is just not good (it stops streaming, and goes to the “retrieving…” screen for a whopping 5 minutes before it restarts playback). We live in a very congested WiFi area, and the router is two rooms away, which just makes WiFi flaky.

We have an XBoX360 too, but it requires an XBoX Gold yearly subscription to get access to the Netflix app — which I personally find disgusting having Microsoft milking us like this for an app Netlfix wrote for free.

So, I decided that it was time for another device, plus, I wouldn’t mind getting something out that’s more than just Netflix. Practically and realistically speaking, there are five Netflix devices to choose from: WD TV Live Plus, Roku XDS, new AppleTV, Logitech Revue GoogleTV, and Boxee Box.

I weighed in my options with each and every of these devices, also taking into account that I have a first generation AppleTV, so some functionality I don’t need duplicated:

– WD TV Live Plus
Pros: The device with the best format support for local files. Youtube.
Cons: No Hulu Plus, no uPnP, expensive since you also need to buy an HDD with it. Mostly geared towards local files rather than services.

– AppleTV
Pros: iTunes streaming, possible app support in the future.
Cons: Everything else. Their Youtube channel is filtered to not include videos that are music videos or have commercial audio — so they can sell them via iTunes. Boooo! I don’t want to rent/pay for individual episodes/movies, I want a monthly fee, like Hulu Plus.

– Logitech Revue Google TV
Pros: Youtube channel. Hmm…
Cons: No Hulu. Expensive. Just not what I want.

– Boxee Box
Pros: Some legitimate video.
Cons: Mostly illegitimate or unlicensed video. No, thanks. Expensive.

– Roku XDS
Pros: Hulu Plus, AmazonOnDemand, Vimeo, new channels are added all the time. Cheap.
Cons: No RDIO (it has MOG instead, but I prefer RDIO), no Youtube Channel (there’s an unofficial one, but I would prefer an official one), no uPnP (although they said they will add a client for it), no good local format support (although its chipset supports a variety of formats, so it might happen in the future).

So from all these devices, the Roku XDS does it best for me so far, and it has potential for growth since things that I want, like Youtube/uPnP/formats are within their reach. The only device that could potentially do it better is a future GoogleTV device. So far, I don’t like what I see from Logitech Revue, but if Android apps and Hulu gets added in the mix, then maybe we will have something to challenge Roku. But I think we’re at least 1 year away from a good Google TV device. Until then, there’s Roku.