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Posts Tagged ‘iphone

Cellular Contracts vs. Installments

I haven’t dedicated much time on this blog to my day job, as it were, so I thought I might try to explain something that seems to confuse a lot of the customers I interact with at the AT&T Authorized Retailer store where I work.  That subject is AT&T Next (or Verizon Edge, or T-Mobile Jump, or Spring 1UP — whatever), which is where you buy a smartphone at full retail via installment payments.

At first blush, many people wonder why the hell they would want to buy a phone for, say, $649.99 instead of $199.99 on a traditional 2-year contract.  Well, there’s a dirty little secret regarding contracts.  You’re usually paying as much or more anyway, and they offer no flexibility whatsoever.

2-Year Contracts: A Primer

Contracts began as a way to entice American wireless customers to buy into what was once a product with very little use.  I say that because coverage was thin across most of the U.S. for many years.  Now, let’s set the record straight: no phone, even crummy basic flip phones, have ever been so cheap to manufacture that a carrier could give it away.  Even back in the analog days (1G!), that was high technology for the time.  But the carriers understood that few people would be willing to spend hundreds of dollars on devices that only worked in some places.  So those carriers dangled free or cheap phones on contract but priced the rate plans high enough to make that subsidized money back.  Truth be told, there was always a misnomer about how carriers wanted to get you to get new equipment so they could lock you in.  The best customer was the one who didn’t need a subsidy for a new phone but kept paying a rate like he or she had one anyway.  The only time a carrier would jump at putting you into a contract with no reservations is back when it was okay to extend a contract just for making a plan change.  (Thankfully, those days are mostly gone.)

An Example of a 2-Year Contract

Rate plans across the industry have been a state of flux recently, but before shared data plans came about, plans were quite stable.  Here’s an example of a common plan for a single line I would have sold back then:

Nation 450: four-hundred and fifty anytime minutes, 5000 night and weekend minutes – $39.99

Messaging Unlimited: unlimited messaging – $19.99

DataPro 3GB: three gigabytes of data – $30.00

Total – $89.99/mo + tax

If you consented to a 2-year contract, you would pay whatever the subsidized price of the phone was plus a one-time upgrade or activation fee of $40.  We’ll use an iPhone 5s 16GB, since that was the most common phone I sold before all this upheaval happened.  That phone would cost you $199.99 out of pocket (instead of $649.99 at full retail), and that upgrade or activation fee would be applied to the next bill.  For the sake of argument, let’s call that purchase $239.99.  (My state doesn’t have sales tax, so I’m ignoring that consideration on phone price in these examples.)

After two years passed, if you decided to keep your phone because it worked perfectly well and you didn’t want to lock yourself into another contract, your plan price would stay exactly the same: $89.99/mo + tax.  Okay, right?

Yes.  But that’s a bad thing.

You didn’t see it in your bill, but you were paying back your carrier for that $450 subsidy on the iPhone.  Your wireless company hid it in the cost in the overall price of your plan.  This is why these companies loved it when you kept your phone past the two-years, since it was essentially free money.

An Example of AT&T Next

These days, the carriers have new plans that are specifically built to enumerate the cost of the phone subsidy.  Here’s an example of a common plan I would put someone on today, using AT&T Next:

Mobile Share Value 3GB: three gigabytes of data with rollover, unlimited calling and messaging – $40.00

Line access fee: per-line price for each smartphone not in contract – $25.00

Total – $65.00/mo + tax

Now what happens if you want the newest iPhone and you put it on Next installments? The 24-month installment price for a $649.99 phone (i.e.: $649.99 ÷ 24) ends up being $27.09 per month.  Add that to the $65 plan, and that equals $92.09.  The first thing you might notice is that this price is $2.10 more expensive per month than the old Nation 450 price of $89.99.  Over two years, that would add up to be $50.40.

Remember, however, that with AT&T Next, you are not paying an upfront, subsidized price of $239.99 ($199.99 plus the $40 upgrade or activation fee).  So, you would save $189.59 over the old plan with the 2-year contract ($239.99 – $50.40).

You can extrapolate these numbers with multiple lines.  The pendulum swings further in the favor of the customer who has a 10GB or greater Mobile Share Plan, since the line access fee is $15.00 (compared to $25, as exampled above).

The Future

Not everyone qualifies for installments, credit-wise.  As such, there are still some customers who need to either agree to 2-year contracts, buy new phones at full retail all at once, or acquire used phones instead.  But I think this will change sometime in the future: AT&T recently changed the verbiage on its installment agreements from “there is no downpayment” to “if you have a downpayment”.  Perhaps customers with less than optimal credit will be able to still enter into AT&T Next but need to put some portion of the phone cost down (which would lower the monthly payments anyway).  I can envision a scenario where 2-year contracts disappear altogether after this happens.

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Written by Michael

14 May 2015 at 11:44 pm

Camera+

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There are a number of great photography applications for iOS, which is one of the leading reasons I chose the iPhone 4 over the BlackBerrys, Androids, and Windows phones out there.

My current favorite is Camera+, which is probably the most famous of the camera-replacement apps out there. I originally downloaded it because the filters looked really great on there, and I was pleased to see that the viewfinder features a crosshatch grid to help you observe the Rule-of-Thirds.

The greatest feature in the app is one that I found completely by accident. The funny part is that it’s a headline feature of the app if you read about it on the main website (http://camerapl.us).

What I’m referring to is what the developers, Tap Tap Tap, refer to as Touch Exposure. Apple introduced tap-to-focus when the iPhone 4 was announced, which is great, but Tap Tap Tap took this a step further by allowing you to tap out a customer exposure point independent of the focus point.

Camera+ App

Example of Independent Focus and Exposure Points

Why is this significant? Because it’s rarely the case that the focus of your photograph exists right where you want the mid-tones to be. The Touch Exposure option lets you see a live representation of what each of the potential exposure points in your photograph can look like. This allows you to effectively lighten or darken your photo without losing any significant detail.

In a word, this is huge. For all the beautiful filters, for the handiness of Rule-of-Thirds lines, for the ease of the app’s Lightbox feature, the Touch Exposure is the most important important capability I have ever seen in a photography app.

In fact, it should be on all modern cameras. In the world of still cameras, the photographer would normally either use a standalone meter to get the numbers he needs to input manually into the camera, or he would point the camera’s viewfinder at what he thinks looks like a mid-tone, half push the shutter to lock it in, and then slide back over to the subject he’s photographing and push the shutter down for the shot.

The problem with the first method is that it’s time consuming and is really only the province of advanced photographers; the problem with the second is that you’re guessing at what’s an accurate representation of the mid-tone, and you’re gambling that the field of focus is the same for your mid-tone sample as the subject (after all, by pushing the shutter button down halfway, you’re usually locking that depth of field in as well).

Here are some examples of what I mean.  The first two photos were taken a couple of minutes before I happened upon the Touch Exposure feature.

Overexposed image of Gibbon Falls

Overexposed because the phone used the canyon wall to set its parameters.

Underexposed image of Gibbons Falls

Underexposed because the camera used the waterfall for its parameters.

I walked down to a different angle of the waterfall and accidentally activated the Touch Exposure.  My first attempt at using it yielded this:

This time I set the exposure point somewhere between the dark canyon wall and the bright waterfall.

A correctly exposed photo is considerably easier to deal with in post because it has much more information at each of the three major levels (high-, mid-, and lowtones).  The only thing lost was the sky, but the only thing that would have saved that was an HDR photo.  (The subject for another time.)

This photo allowed me to run it through some of Camera+’s beautiful filters and create an intentionally false-colored version that evokes memories of old 1960s photography:

Gibbon Falls

Written by Michael

17 June 2011 at 8:17 pm

Quick Thoughts on Wireless Data

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Disclaimer: I work for an authorized AT&T dealer.  My thoughts on this subject are obviously skewed by this fact.

As the industry stands right now, the big two (Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility) have smart phone data packages that look like the following:

Verizon: 1 option: $29.99 unlimited

AT&T: 2 options: $15 200MB, $25 2GB

I’ve had mixed feelings about AT&T’s decision to discontinue its $30 unlimited package because on the one hand, I like not thinking about how much I’m using the Internet on my iPhone, but on the other, most of AT&T customers I interact with really don’t need unlimited.  In fact, despite being a fairly heavy user, I only managed to go through 1.8GB last month, although I’ve already used 625MB during the first 8 days of this bill cycle.  I’m not sure how this happened exactly.

In any case, rumors are flying that Verizon is going to move away from that $30 unlimited data package this summer.  This got me thinking about how I’d like to see data charged in the future:

1. Don’t insult customers by charging them a lot for very little data, like AT&T does with the $15 package for 200MB.  I think a much fairer system would be to simply charge $10 per gigabyte, where most people would pay either the $10/month, or $20/month if they’re heavy users.  Even needier customers will pay $30 or more.  The carriers could throttle users speeds past 5GB if necessary.*

2. One of the problems presented by the first item on this list is that it will almost certainly mean reduced revenue for the carriers.  Since most users would be fine with 1GB or less, that would drop Verizon customers by $19.99 and AT&T customers by $5 or $10, depending on the plan.  An alternative would be to still charge a higher rate (say $20 for 2GB minimum), but allow the customer to roll data over into future months.  AT&T has done this with minutes going back to the Cingular days, but I’ve never heard of either company considering this feature for Internet packages.

3. My last thought on data is something Verizon is rumored to bring out this summer, and that is family data packages.  Both AT&T and Verizon offer voice and messaging plans that cover the entire family (up to 5 lines), but data has long been a per-line charge.  I think a $50/month for 5GB of shared data would play well with both companies’ pricing structures, especially if overages were only $10/GB.  (In fact, that is AT&T’s exact pricing structure for its MiFi Hotspot product as well as its 4G Internet Cards.)**

* I know it sounds odd that I’m okay with throttling, but I understand the capacitance issues the carriers are facing and why completely unlimited and uncapped speeds are impractical in large population centers.  Since Sprint and T-Mobile are already in the habit of doing this (if you pass 2GB even, from what I understand), we might as well not be surprised by it.

** Oddly enough, this rate is considerably better than what AT&T offers for it’s older 3G Internet Cards.  Those products (just like Verizon’s) are $60/month for 5GB, and the overages are $0.05/MB — which is obscene.  Effectively, every gigabyte of overage under this plan is just over $51.  I believe AT&T is phasing these cards out, which is perhaps why they have such an unfavorable plan.  Either way, Verizon has no comparable option to AT&T’s MiFi or 4G Internet Cards, which are priced at the aforementioned $50/month for 5GB with $10/GB overages.

Written by Michael

21 May 2011 at 2:07 am

Posted in Technology

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1st Gen iPad Verdict

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I’ve now owned the iPad since the 3G model launched April 30, 2010.  Here is a list of things the iPad does really well, and some things it doesn’t.

Positives

  1. Battery life is still amazing.  As a habit, I usually place my iPad on charge at night before I go to sleep; that said, it’s almost always north of 50% when I do, meaning I could usually get two days of life out of it.  Considering that I tend to use it a lot, this statistic is amazing.
  2. Web surfing is more natural and comfortable than a computer.  I don’t often run into any limitations with it being a “mobile” browser (i.e. no plugins, like Flash), though I’ve noticed it has a hard time rendering all of the pictures in a photo album on Facebook.  It’ll give up after about 30 and just show pictureless boxes.  I’m not sure if it’s a bug in the way that mobile Safari handles the code on this page, or if it’s actually a matter of memory (only 256MB of RAM, after all).
  3. It’s a perfect news aggregator for me.  I use NetNewsWire, which scrapes all of my RSS feeds to assemble only the news that matters to me.  I also check in with Flipboard and Pulse News, which are both lovely.
  4. Multitasking and folders really take the iPad up a couple of notches.  These features launch with iOS 4.2, which comes out in November, but I’ve been using a beta build and I couldn’t go back.
  5. The multitude of apps is a blessing (and a curse).  I’ve had to moderate myself on how many apps I purchase in a month to avoid going bankrupt.  The advantage of Apple’s curated store is that there seems to be a higher percentage of great apps for the iOS platform than others.

Negatives

  1. Video playback.  This is a tough one to criticize because there is a lot of great video content available for the iPad, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, iTunes, etc.  If, however, you get video that’s encoded in some other way besides H.264, at a resolution the iPad is comfortable with, then you’re going to have to run through the sometimes painful process of transcoding.  I can’t fully blame Apple for this: there is dedicated H.264 decoding hardware in this device, which is how you can get away with watching 10 hours of video before killing the battery.  If you were to play any other kind of video back somehow, it wouldn’t be hardware decoded, but rather software decoded.  Which would peg the processor and eat the battery alive.  This was kind of proven by the VLC app, which does just that when viewing HD files.
  2. It’s a bit heavy at times.  Not ridiculously so, and I rarely have a problem with it.  But this is one of the reasons why the iPad is only a good e-reader, not a great one.  Pick up a Kindle and you’ll see that it’s not only lighter and easy to hold in one hand, it also doesn’t get overwhelmed by sunlight.  And while it’s true that the backlighting on the iPad allows you to read in the dark, it can be eye-straining to do so.
  3. That beautiful aluminum and glass design is striking, but you need to protect it.  I do not use a screen shield, but I have placed a carbon-fiber sticker on the back to protect the anodized aluminum from scratching (because it will).
  4. The lack of a camera on the first-gen model seemed like a minor oversight to me.  Honestly, the idea of video chatting on the iPad seemed uncomfortable.  But now Apple has launched FaceTime on two marquee items (the iPhone and iPod touch, and even added the ability to Macs), so now it’s obvious the iPad will need it too.
  5. Data throughput speeds seem to be noticeable slower than a computer (by about 38%).  Oddly, this has no impact on Netflix, which continues to deliver good looking video despite this fact, but YouTube has its occasional problems.  (I’ve read that Google has a different set of servers for mobile content, and that they get overloaded.  I’m not sure how true this is.)
  6. The iPad requires iTunes to activate, and really, really wants to use iTunes to sync and backup its data.  I think this is an umbilical cord that needs to be cut someday soon, especially if Apple believes the iPad will be a kind of consumer appliance computer.

Overall, the iPad is a great device and one I highly recommend.  It won’t do heavy lifting for you, typically, but I have a hard time imaging a better Internet browsing device, especially one so portable.  And its media capabilities (namely video viewing) are unparalleled — the idea that you could view two feature length movies and still have several hours of web browsing ahead of you if truly amazing.

The one challenge I foresee if how it will compliment my future iPhone.  Since both devices do many of the same things, and indeed run the exact same software, I wonder if I’ll be compelled to not bring my iPad to work as often.  I will post my experiences in that regard in late January, once I have said iPhone.

Written by Michael

5 November 2010 at 12:48 am

Posted in Reviews, Technology

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A Cursory Glimpse of the iPhone 4

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A tourist from North Carolina stopped by my store today to find a charger for her daughter’s old Samsung phone, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the new iPhone 4 in her hand.  I’ve never held the new iPhone, so I naturally asked if I could see hers, and she was gracious enough to pass it over for a couple of minutes.

Some observations from my brief session:

  1. The Retina Display is the real deal.  It’s way better than any display on any mobile device I have ever seen, and no, I could not resolve the individual pixels at all.  It looked like full-color print on glossy paper (like a high quality magazine).  Also, Apple glues the LCD to the glass now, so icons seem to almost emerge from the display.  Others have described icons as “floating on top of the display”, and I think this is apt.
  2. The weight of the phone is excellent.  Most reviewers agree with this assessment, though some feel the phone is “heavy”.  The glass back feels a little weird because I expect it to feel like steel back on my iPod touch, and I think that’ll take some time to get used to on my future phone.  That said, I think it feels well constructed with the glass and stainless steel band.
  3. Speaking of the stainless steel band, a lot of noise has been made about antenna attenuation and how some iPhone 4 owners are dropping calls if they touch a certain part of the phone wrong.  This person’s iPhone 4 did not seem to possess this problem as it has been demonstrated on YouTube by some, so I couldn’t get any bars to dip when laying my index finger across the black-plastic divide on the bottom left side.  That said, when I wrapped my hands around the entire base like a shield, the connectivity died out — but I’m uncertain if this was coincidence or not because we do not have AT&T in our area, and her reception was incredibly poor from a roaming partner.
  4. Given that she was on a roaming partner, the iPhone 4 was only using EDGE networking, so it was painfully slow to load webpages.  That said, the text that appeared on the screen after the long download was magnificent.  I could not discern pixelation, jaggies, or anything wrong on the type at all.

Sadly, I didn’t have the time to test out application speed, the new FaceTime, or even the camera.  I’ll save those reveals for when I purchase my own when AT&T finishes transitioning Alltel to its network.

What makes me sad is that even though I think my iPad is incredible and that the display is stunning, seeing the iPhone 4 blows it out of the water.  (This is to be expected, though: I suspect it’ll be a while before Apple adds a 300+ dpi display as large as the iPad’s.)

Written by Michael

1 July 2010 at 9:44 pm

An iPad is an iPod touch is an iPhone?

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Let’s talk some techno-philosophy here. The iPad is not a giant iPod touch — in the same way that the iPod touch is not the iPhone without the phone.

How so?

Because these descriptions are gross oversimplifications.  The issue is that none of these characterizations take into account the primary use for each device.

Philosophically, what is an iPhone?  A phone.  Yes, it’s a convergence device, insofar as it also does web, email, applications, music, video, and so on, but these are all extra features.  Important features, but secondary nevertheless.

What is an iPod touch?  A music player.  Again, we all know the touch has several multimedia capabilities, but these products are usually used to play audio.

And finally, what is an iPad?  Not a music player.  Oh, I know that it can play music, but this is in the same way that my laptop can play music.  But my laptop isn’t an iPod, just like the iPad is not an enlarged iPod touch.

The iPad is a web-browsing appliance.  Yes, people will avail themselves of the music and video players, of the calendar and address book capabilities, and the myriad of other applications available.  But this thing is made for you to touch the web.

Will I buy an iPad?  Probably.  I’m a sucker for cool gadgets.  And also because I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t need a fully powered supercomputer with me at all times.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my MacBook Pro.  But it’s crazy powerful, and I only make use of that power at home when I’m editing photos and video, or playing the occasional game.  When I take the laptop with me, I mostly browse the web and chat with friends on AIM.  I can envision a setup where I switch to an iMac desktop computer and use an iPad on the go.

We’ll see.  I want to see the reviews for it when it comes out, for sure.

And hopefully we’ll stop seeing these fake reviews the blogosphere is issuing out.  Some are calling the iPad a flop (the same people who said that of the iPhone before it came out), and still others think it’s going to rule the world (probably the same people who claimed the Apple TV would manage to supplant television).  Let’s hang tight for now and see what this does when it’s actually a real, shipping product in 2-3 months.

Then we can decide whether $499+ makes sense for what this thing does.

Written by Michael

29 January 2010 at 9:32 pm

BlackBerry Tour 9630

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I didn’t really need to change phones.  My BlackBerry Curve 8330 was a very good phone, with excellent battery life (especially for a smartphone) and was able to perform most of the functions I wanted — reasonably fast web access, easy-to-use messaging, instant messaging, and so on.  But I must admit, when the BlackBerry Tour 9630 came out, I was green with envy.

Many have compared the Tour to being much like a cross between the newest BlackBerry Curve 8900 to come out for AT&T, as well as the older but much heralded BlackBerry Bold 9000.  The body style of the former, the keyboard of the latter.  The best of both worlds, one might say.

For Alltel, which has neither the Curve 8900 nor the Bold, I saw the Tour as a beefier, more impressive version of the phone I already owned and loved, the Curve 8330.

The Tour has a 3.2MP camera with autofocus, compared to my old Curve’s 2.0MP camera sans autofocus, as well as the 3.1Mbps EVDO rev.A antenna vs. the 2.4Mbps EVDO rev.0 antenna that’s in the Curve.  (This translates to modestly faster browsing, but much, much faster uploading — up to ten times faster.  This is especially nice considering the proportionally larger photos achieved with a 3.2MP camera vs. the older 2.0MP camera found in the rev.0 Curve.)

The screen is also immeasurably nicer.  The Tour has a beautiful, bright screen at 480×360 compared to the Curve’s 320×240.  The result is a much more refined, sharper looking image with greater contrast and better backlighting, making the Tour considerably easier to use in sunlight.  (Further, the Curve has a sort of double screen, with the LCD below a higher-positioned piece of plastic, which gives it the unfortunate appearance of a concave display found in older televisions.  The Tour’s screen is perfectly flat and without another piece of plastic to obfuscate the image, which makes it look a heck of a lot better.  The only caveat is that I think the Curve’s internal screen was well protected by that extra shell, whereas the Tour’s screen is right there, ready to take the brunt of any impact we all hope never happens.)

Another interesting note is that the Tour contains a SIM card slot for global roaming.  This is a nice addition, though I’m unlikely to use it.  What’s more important to me, however, is the fact that the SD card slot is directly accessible beneath the battery door, whereas the Curve’s SD card slot was positioned beneath the battery.  As any BlackBerry owner knows, a battery pull is fairly painful, given how long the device takes starting up cold like that.  That’s not a problem on the Tour.

Lastly, the Curve 8330 runs OS 4.5, compared to the Tour’s 4.7.  While a couple of “dot” releases seems inconsequential, the UI tweaks and facelift are pretty significant.  The newer interface is a lot sleeker, making great use of the Tour’s ability to display blacks so well, making it very elegant and professional-looking.  The 4.5 OS looks cartoonish when placed head-to-head with 4.7.  Also, there have been many sensible changes, including renaming a few items in the OS to make them easier to find, as well as adding the super-useful app switching ability to the BlackBerry menu key.  (Simply hold the key down for a moment, and a row of all your open applications will appear, superimposed over whatever you have opened.  Much, much easier than the old method.)*

Is this critical?  Probably not.  But the same could be said of all the refinements I’ve outlined so far.  So while the Curve was still a perfectly great phone, doing almost everything I needed, I still upgraded to the Tour — because I’m a bit of a gadget hound, and I can’t help myself.  What can I say?

In any case, I’m of the personal opinion that the BlackBerry Tour is the best CDMA phone that RIM has produced, above the Storm even.  I haven’t used the new Storm2, which I’m sure is beautiful.  But truth be told, if I were going to buy a touchscreen phone, it would be Apple’s iPhone (which will probably come true at some point down the line.  I’m not currently in a position to do so because AT&T is not present in Montana, and I’m a bit nervous about GSM carrier’s 3G coverage).  There are handsets on the horizon that look exciting (including models that abandon the trackball in favor of a trackpad to eliminate the moving part), but those look targeted towards GSM carriers for the time being.  RIM can hardly be bothered to produce more than a couple CDMA phones per year, so we’ve reached our quota for now.

Now, I’ve quoted a lot of improved features and stats, but how do I feel about it in the context of simply being my everyday phone?  Well, I like it a lot.  I feel the same way I did about this new phone as I did when I first bought the Curve — it’s a fun toy, and I find myself tinkering with it all the time.  Battery life seems comparable, audio quality maybe slightly better, but overall, it’s a super phone.  Anyone looking at buying a BlackBerry should consider this one if that person is with a CDMA provider (Verizon, Sprint, or Alltel) — otherwise, I would look at the upcoming BlackBerry Bold 9700, which seems to have many of the same great features as the Tour, except with WiFi added.  (CDMA smartphones with added WiFi seem to be rare, with HTC and Palm contributing a couple of exceptions.)

The Tour is obviously more expensive than the older Curve ($150 compared to $50, after rebate with Alltel), but my strong feeling is that if you’re going to go big, go as big as you can.  Let’s face it, the BlackBerry is a bit of a status item anyway, so dazzle away with the extra beauty and added functionality.

*I heard word that new 5.0 OS will actually work on both the Tour and older Curve, which will eventually render my point about the UI moot.  I’m curious to see whether the Curve’s older processor will play well with the added visual effects.

UPDATE (November 4, 2009):

I purchased the BlackBerry Tour Charging Pod to go with this new phone.  Aside from being slightly more convenient than fiddling around with the micro-USB cable for charging, it does indeed appear that the pod charges much faster than going in through the normal charging port.  (The pod makes use of the contacts on the back of the phone for more power transfer.)  For $10, it’s not a bad investment.

Written by Michael

1 November 2009 at 12:47 am