Trouble with a 3G smart phone

Several months ago Sprint contacted me with an offer to become a "Sprint Ambassador." They said they had noticed my blog, and wanted to send me a free 3G phone, with service, for six months. No obligations, no requirements, and no restrictions on what I can write about it. If I choose to, I can send them feedback on the phone via a web form. At the end of the six months the service will be terminated (unless I want to pay for it).

Being the basically greedy tech geek that I am, I took them up on the offer. Within a couple of weeks I got a shiny new Samsung A920 mobile phone, and a free-ride, all-expenses paid account on Sprint's EVDO high-speed network. That includes free downloads of any content, games, or other services I want. Sweet!

I'm not sure what Sprint was hoping to get from me -- nice word of mouth or user feedback. But for sure I've been a disappointment to them, as I haven't posted any feedback to their website, and I haven't written anything about the phone on my blog.

Until now.

I have so many things I want to say about the phone that it's hard to know where to start. I guess I should do a summary. Here goes:

The best thing about the phone: It's a great data pipe. I can cable it to my laptop and use it as a high-speed data link. It works quite well, and has coverage in every urban area I've been in. I never thought I'd say this, but I like it better than WiFi.

The worst thing about the phone: Everything else. And I mean everything. The interface is borderline unusable, many of the services are a joke, and I'd be demanding a refund if I had paid for it.

My advice to Sprint: Embrace your destiny as a big data pipe. You do that superbly, and I think people would pay you for it. Meanwhile, you should stop over-complicating your phones with data services that you're clearly not competent to create.

Here are the details:

The good stuff

I was at a dinner with Barak Berkowitz of SixApart a couple of weeks ago, and I talked about the prospects for WiFi networks spreading in urban areas. Barak challenged me on it. "EVDO rocks!" he said. Who needs WiFi?

I think he has a point, with a couple of caveats. Here in Silicon Valley, WiFi is both enticing and frustrating. I have yet to find anywhere in the entire urban area where there's not a WiFi hot spot. I go to my son's little league baseball game, out at the edge of the suburbs, and I can see eight different hotspots in the neighboring houses. But usually all of them are locked -- I can find the connections, but I can't get in. At this year's CTIA conference in Las Vegas, there was a very extensive WiFi network, but it was saturated or I wasn't accessing it correctly or something. I couldn't get in.

In both of these situations, I just popped out my EVDO phone, cabled it to the USB port of my computer, and I was on the Internet. I look like a geek, but I'm used to that, and the great feeling I get from having access anywhere is enough to compensate for any loss of social status.

I haven't done any formal benchmarks, but data transfer speeds seem about the same as my WiFi network at home. I have had occasional Outlook mail sync problems in which the program reported that it couldn't establish a secure connection, but other than that the connection has been very reliable.

There is no EVDO network outside the cities, of course. But there's rarely a WiFi connection there either.

Does EVDO kill WiFi? I'm not sure. The cool thing about the municipal WiFi networks is that many of them will apparently be free, supported by advertising. At worse, they'll probably be fairly low-cost flat rate. EVDO is more expensive, but it's easier to access once you pay the fee.

I don't know if I personally need connectivity around town badly enough that I'd pay for the service with my own money, but I'd definitely try to talk an employer into paying for it. They'd get enough added productivity from me that it would be worth the investment for them.

I'm going to miss EVDO when Sprint turns off the phone. If they fix the bugs in Outlook sync, I think they have a potential winner on their hands.

The bad stuff

I'm sorry to say that if it weren't for the EVDO-to-PC connection, I would be almost completely negative on my Sprint 3G experience. I've been struggling to decide what frustrates me more about the phone, the user interface or the services bundled on it. I've decided that it's the user interface, because some of the services are okay, whereas almost every aspect of the interface has problems.

Rather than trying to explain everything that's wrong, I'm just going to give you some representative examples:


Web access that isn't. The phone has twelve icons in its first-level launcher. One is labeled "Web." It has a little picture of a globe and an @, just to make sure you get the point. I know from doing market research on mobile users that when you say "Web" they expect to get a full-function web browser. That isn't what Sprint gives me. There's no way for me to input a web address; all I have is a list of categories: Downloads, News, Weather, Sports, Entertainment, Money, etc. There's also a search function, but it searches only within Sprint's walled garden.

Within each category there are several choices that Sprint has pre-selected for me – in news there's CNN, USA Today, Reuters, etc. I can also get the NY Times, but that's $2.99 a month. I bought the Times (hey, Sprint's paying), and the phone downloaded a Java app that runs a special NY Times player. After all this hassle and $3 a month, the content looks almost identical to what I can get for free on CNN et al. I'm disappointed.

Just below the icon for Web is an icon called On Demand. I select it, and it gives me a series of options almost identical to what I had in Web – there's news, sports, weather, money, movies, maps, etc.

After a web search (on my computer, not the phone), I discover that On Demand is a Java-based content service provided by the nice people at Handmark. I should have realized this, because the app flashes the Handmark logo at me whenever it's downloading something.

Why does Sprint bundle a Handmark service that offers pretty much the same stuff as it bundles in Web? I have no earthly idea, but the clear implication is that Sprint threw things into this phone without any coordinated thinking about how it all fit together.

Slow, inaccurate, difficult to use mapping. Location-based services are hot, so I tried out the Maps function within On Demand. At its launch screen, I can either select the current location (via a check box) or enter an address. First I check the current location box. Sometimes the service fails to work at all, but on the most recent try (at a little league game) it cooked up a location that was about a mile northwest of where I actually was. I presume that's the nearest cell tower, but the app never warned me about this inaccuracy.

I tried to scroll the map over to my actual location, but every time I scrolled the map, the app had to call out to a server to retrieve the data. This took from five to 20 seconds per click, and reminded me of what it was like to browse the web on a 28.8 modem. This is one reason why I am not a fan of thin client apps on 3G networks.

I decided I would try inputting an address instead, so I scrolled down to the address entry section of the main screen and tried to type. But the phone beeped at me and would not accept any input. It didn't explain what was wrong either; it looked like the app was frozen. After fumbling around for a while, I realized that I need to manually uncheck the Current Location check box before I can input an address. Hey, Handmark, why not uncheck the box automatically when I start to input an address?

The service seems to work okay at issuing driving directions, but because the phone can't tell where it really is, I have to input both the current address and destination, which is very tedious using a keypad. I could get a lot faster results just using a printed map.

Video: Paying for commercials. This is a multimedia phone (I know because it says "MULTIMEDIA" right on the bezel), so I had to try the video services. The first challenge is to find them. I try Web, which has an Entertainment choice within it. Sure enough, about five TV shows are listed. I pay $2.99 a month to get into Lost, assuming I'll get episode videos. But instead I get content like character summaries and 50-word episode recaps. What a colossal rip-off. I could get this stuff, in a lot more detail, for free on the Web; why am I paying for it here?

So Web clearly isn't the place to get video. There's an icon labeled Media Player, and an option within it says Channel Listing. I select that, and we're in business. A sub-menu lists Sprint TV Live, Sprint TV Ultimate, Music & Radio, Sports, Cartoons, News, and so on.

Sprint TV Live appears to be streaming of some basic cable channels, such as Fox News and Weather Channel. When I try it at the Little League game, the frame rate is noticeably low – maybe ten a second. And sometimes the audio gets choppy or pauses. I think what must be happening is that I'm at the edge of the EVDO network, so I'm not getting full throughput even though the phone reports four bars. (Keep in mind, though, that I'm at a junior high school within the city limits of the tenth largest city in the US, so I'd kind of expect good coverage.)

I tried the same streaming when I was downtown. There the sound was solid, and the frame rate was much better. So it's a network coverage problem.

Fox News and the Weather Channel get old after a while, so let's try a different option: Cartoons. Several channels are listed, including Cartoon Network Adult Swim. That's a late night cable channel that features obscure Japanese anime mixed with very strange original cartoons. Just the thing to amuse me when the little league game gets slow.

I pay my monthly fee for Adult Swim, and the program dumps me back into the top-level listing of channels. I expected it to launch Adult Swim, but instead I have to scroll back down to Cartoons, open that, and then launch Adult Swim. Bad interface design.

First nasty surprise: Not all the shows in Adult Swim are listed. There are only seven shows, and some of my favorites are missing. But okay, here's "Samurai Champloo," which is a very quirky and stylish Japanese samurai / hip-hop thing. So I select that one.

Second nasty surprise: After I select Samurai Champloo, I get a list of only two items – and they aren't episodes. They are just two-minute clips from episodes, each ending with a graphic telling me to watch Cartoon Network. That's right, I am paying these bastards $3.95 a month to watch commercials.

There's another channel dedicated just to anime. It costs $5 a month, and lists only five shows. Each has a single episode posted, cut into several five minute segments. At least I'm getting full episodes, but this is far from a generous selection when I'm paying $60 a year just for this channel!

I didn't try all the other channels, but it looks like you have to pay separately for most of them other than Sprint TV, and this video clip behavior seems to be the norm. Either I get little excerpts from episodes, or a couple of episodes are posted in full, but cut up into a series of clips.

Previously, I thought watching video on a notebook computer via WiFi and DSL was unpleasant – you had to wait a long time for downloads, and the pictures were small and grainy. But that seems like flying on the Concorde in comparison to the Sprint experience.

Disappearing music. I had my daughter try out the phone, and she naturally downloaded some songs. That was dodgy at my house (which, like the ball field, is on the edge of network coverage). She ended up standing in the living room, holding the phone up next to a window to make the download happen (coverage is better at the front of the house). Eventually we got several songs onto the system. The difficult trick was finding the songs again once we had downloaded them. I looked in the My Content icon, where downloaded games and ringtones were saved. But no songs. I tried Media Player, which has a function called "My Play List." The songs ought to be there, right? Nope, the play list is empty.

No, my songs aren't in the Play List. Maybe if I tell it to copy from the Media Listing (whatever that is)...

Dang, the songs aren't in here either.

So I went back to the Music icon, which holds the music store (powered by Groove Mobile). It has a tab labeled Player. When I open that, I finally find the songs. What's more, I discover that I can sort them into playlists. That looks good. I create a new playlist and save it, then exit the music store.

Then I go back to the Media Player icon, and look for the new playlist. Nope, still nothing there.

I decide to try something else. One nice thing about this phone is that when you close the flip cover, there's a small display and music controls on the outside so you can use the phone like an iPod. I try them. But it turns out they don't connect to the music store either. I can't see my playlist, and I can't play any of the songs I paid for

So I have to go back into the music store. While there I notice two other challenges:

--The music store disables the phone. You can't dial out while it's running, and all of your incoming calls are routed direct to voice mail.

--The music store and its cache of songs are all one thin client app. So if you don't have coverage you can't get to your music. That means no listening to your tunes while you're in an airplane.

So here's how it apparently nets out, folks: If you rip or steal MP3s and download them from your computer to the phone, they end up in the phone's built-in media player. You can receive calls while listening to these songs (the phone pauses them automatically), and you can turn off the radio and still use the phone as a music player. But if you buy the songs legitimately from Sprint's online store, the media player can't see them, you can't play them when the radio's off, and you can't receive calls when you're listening to music.

Having worked in the mobile industry, I know how this sort of thing happens – Samsung designed the phone separately from Sprint's service, and there wasn't enough time or money to integrate the phone and service properly. But what a nasty thing to do to the user.

Sirius: Streaming music (with limitations). The Media Player also gives me access to Sirius radio, which I thought was fairly interesting. The client is built into the phone, and costs $6.95 a month. Unlike the video downloads, I got full channels. Good. I'm not sure how pleased a Sirius fan would be, though – there are only 20 channels, all of them music (no sports, no comedy, no Martha Stewart, no Howard Stern). So for a little over half the price of a full Sirius subscription, you get 1/8 the channels. Not a superb value.

Still, I found a channel I liked and the sound quality was okay and I was feeling fairly good about things. I decided to leave the music on in the background while I tried other features.


I have to exit the Media Player to do anything else. The music stops. Same thing if I want to dial the phone – I have to explicitly quit the Media Player first. In fact, if I try to dial a number while Sirius is playing, the phone thinks I'm trying to pick a different radio channel.

As was the case for downloaded music, it appears that you can't receive calls when you're running the Sirius client. The main reason for owning a mobile phone is to make and receive calls; this app is equivalent to a car whose radio doesn't work unless you park.

I'm not sure how often most people would want to use this service.

(After some searching online, I think I've found out why incoming calls are blocked. Apparently the phone is set up to block incoming calls anytime there is an EVDO data session. This is supposedly a compatibility feature because Sprint's older, slower 1XRTT data network can't interrupt a data session. So the built-in media player can play MP3s and still accept calls because it doesn't talk to the network, but Sirius and the music store can't accept calls because they initiate an EVDO session. There are online reports that you can use a secret code to enable incoming calls on the phone during an EVDO session. Sprint doesn't encourage this and says it may disable some future services, such as push e-mail.)

Games do work. To be fair, I should mention that games seemed to work properly on this phone. I lent it to my 11-year-old son, and he downloaded games at a furious pace. Filled up about half of the memory card. Regular old telephony seems to work fine as well.

The interface

Inconsistent navigation. When a phone has a lot of functions embedded behind icons, it's important the user easily undo commands and get back to where they were in the interface. This encourages the user to explore and try new functions. If it's easy to get lost in the interface, the user will become very reluctant to try things – which translates to less usage of those lucrative data functions that the operators want to sell.

This phone has three different ways to go back – there's a Back button, an End button, and sometimes one of the soft buttons is designated as an undo button. It's never clear which one will work in a particular situation, and sometimes I had to use them in different combinations. In some sub-menus within functions, there was no way back at all – my only option was to use End to go all the way back to the start of the interface.

For example, when I tried the New York Times player, I was not impressed with the newspaper content. So I hit the Back button. Only that didn't do anything. So I tried the soft button labeled Quit, but all that did was take me back to the splash screen for the NYTimes app. This is confusing, since I thought that splash screen was part of the NY Times app. If I were a normal user I would be totally lost at this point, but eventually I realized that Quit exited the Java runtime and dumped me back on the splash screen from which Java had been launched.

This must have made sense to someone at Sprint, but it won't to most users.

Anyway, from that point the back button works. I try to back out all the way to the main menu, but the program dumps me into a Downloads screen and refuses to go back any further. I have no idea why I'm in Downloads, but I press End to get away from that before I accidentally buy something.

I think this sort of screwiness happens in part because the phone has applications produced by various third parties, each of which does its navigation differently. But that's no excuse – Sprint should provide interface guidelines, and enforce them on its developers. By failing to do that, Sprint is neglecting its job as the integrator of the device.

Graphical toejam. Each of the twelve icons in the main services menu animates when it's selected (this is called a "focus effect"). I can customize the animation – in one effect, the icon grows larger and changes shape. In another, it's backed by flames. In another it's superimposed over a blob of purple Jell-O. In another it's backed by rippling water effects. All of this is cute, but it's mostly a sign that the people working on the phone had no idea how to allocate their time. They made visual fluff while major parts of the phone didn't actually work.

The synesthesia user interface. Sometimes the people designing a multimedia device feel the need to add a lot of sounds and graphics to it just to prove that it has multimedia capabilities. This is the technology equivalent of a 15-year-old girl who wears halter tops, lowrider jeans and heavy makeup just to prove she's developing curves – and it's about as attractive.

(In other words, a 15-year-old would think it's hot, but I think it's alarming.)

In this phone, the teenage tart routine shows up in the dialer. Instead of making the standard tone noises when you press a key on the keypad, this phone generates offbeat plink and bing sounds, and every number you dial shows up on screen in a different color. It reminds me of the articles I've read about synesthesia, a sensory condition which causes some people to mix their senses – they can hear colors or see sounds. One of the phenomena they sometimes report is that letters and numbers each have their own distinct colors.

Sprint's phone helpfully lets you experience this condition for yourself:

Lookie! It doesn't know enough to insert a line break after the hyphen, but it assigns a cool color to every number.

I count myself lucky that the phone can't generate smells, or the caller ID might work by odor.

"Woah, dude, did you step in something??"

"Nah, my boss just left me a voicemail."

(By the way, it turns out there's an obscure menu command that turns off the rainbow numbers. But I had to study the user manual to find it. How many users are going to do that?)

What it all means

I have very fond memories of Sprint. They were one of the first operators to support Palm OS, and I had a great working relationship with several of the people there. I wish them well. But I think they're on the wrong path with mobile data.

Sprint's going to get a distorted view of public demand for data services. Because the games are relatively easy to find and use, they're going to get more usage. Many other data services won't be used because they're hard to find, hard to figure out, and often deeply disappointing.

If a handheld vendor produced a product this broken the company would go bankrupt. But of course that's not going to happen to Sprint because the mobile data thing is a sideline to its successful voice business. All that will happen to Sprint is that it will waste gobs of R&D money and frustrate its customers.

I think it's arrogant for a mobile phone company to try to make decisions for its customers on what they should or should not do with data. The voice equivalent would be if they tried to regulate what subjects could be discussed on a voice call. Who would tolerate that?

I strongly encourage the folks at Sprint to ask themselves if they're truly competent to create wireless data services. The strong evidence is that they're not. I think they would have a much better chance of making money if they opened up the data network to all third party developers and let customers choose which services will win. Maybe Sprint could make money by taking a cut of the billings, just as DoCoMo does with iMode. Or maybe it could just focus on being a carrier for other peoples' data, which is what it does with voice. Either choice would be better than creating more media hairballs like this phone.


PS: Is the Sprint Ambassador program a good idea?

I'm a big fan of "influencer marketing," the process of working with early adopter customers who advise others on whether or not to buy a product. It's a very affordable way for companies to work with vertical markets without making a huge investment in each, and it allows even small companies to have a big marketing impact if they make a great product. It's also an outstanding way to get feedback from your most enthusiastic customers.

The Internet made influencer marketing possible for most firms. Because it's a new field, the ground rules for it are still being worked out. My colleague Nilofer Merchant recently wrote about an influencer marketing program that Lego runs, and Microsoft has been running a program called MVP for years.

Most influencer marketing programs focus on building two-way relationships with a relatively small number of users. The Sprint program is different in that it appears to be recruiting a relatively large number of people, and the approach is not very personal – they just send you an e-mail (and one that isn't signed by any identifiable person). There's a whole sub-thread of discussion in the blogging community on whether the Ambassadors program is a good thing. Sprint has made almost no effort to engage in a dialog with me, other than an occasional automatic-looking e-mail asking me to send in feedback. They basically just threw a free phone at me.

One school of marketing thought says that any form of publicity is a good thing (although some former Firestone Tire executives might beg to differ). A Google search for the term "Sprint ambassador" yields about 23,000 hits, so the program is generating some buzz. But a random walk through the comments shows more discussion about the program than actual discussion of the phone and service. Some of the comments complained about the impersonality of Sprint's approach, and there were a number of complaints from Ambassadors who wanted to transfer their current phone numbers to the Ambassador phone (something Sprint says it can't do for billing reasons). This hamstrings the program for many people because it means they can't make the Ambassador phone their main phone. It's more like something to play with on the side, which is the way I use it.

There's also an amusing post from a blogger in Copenhagen, who was invited to join the program even though the nearest EVDO cell tower is about 4,000 miles to the west.

So is the Sprint Ambassador program good marketing or bad marketing? Hard to say because I don't know what Sprint's goal was. It's not a home run, that's for sure, because so much of the online discussion is about the program itself rather than the phones.

On the other hand, maybe Sprint should be grateful for that since the phone and services have so many problems.


What do you think? Am I being unfair to Sprint? Do you have this phone and like it? You're welcome to post your thoughts.


Daniel Taylor said...


You're on the money with this critique. Last night, I pulled out my A920 to try to figure out where the music files keep going.

This is something I do every few weeks. I pull the phone out to try some of the services. I usually hit a bug or a service that's disabled, get frustrated, and put the phone back in the drawer.

A few weeks on, I'll grab the phone and take it on a trip. I love using it as an EV-DO modem.

But the UI looks like it was designed by committee, and the duplication of services and content is confusing.

Love the modem, though!

Ben Combee said...

Your WiFi comment brings up an issue I've been thinking about. Lots of free WiFi is ad-supported, or at least requires visiting a "click-through" page before you get a full IP connection. I understand the economic reasons for doing this. However, this means that whole classes of devices that might want to do WiFi roaming, like cell phones, won't be able to use those networks easily -- they'll just show up as "limited connectivity" since they have no way of knowing that they need to do the HTTP redirect hack to get registered, and even then, there's no standard method of registering through those systems.

This kind of obstacle really makes EVDO and other WAN 3G networks more attractive, since you don't have to jump through hoops.

BTW, got my Treo 700p on Tuesday and have been really loving the high speed networking. That's a phone with a nice 3G experience.

Chris Dunphy said...

"This is the technology equivalent of a 15-year-old girl who wears halter tops, lowrider jeans and heavy makeup just to prove she's developing curves – and it's about as attractive."


I just love seeing you able to post publicly the way we used to talk privately, now that you no longer need to worry about upsetting an executive or a (potential or current) licensee.

Michael Mace, unchained at last. I love it!

Great review, btw.

- chris

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the great comments, folks.

This is disturbing -- unless I'm hallucinating, I posted replies to these comments yesterday. But today my replies are gone. What gives, Blogger?

Let me try again...

Daniel wrote:

>>I pull the phone out to try some of the services. I usually hit a bug or a service that's disabled, get frustrated, and put the phone back in the drawer.

Nice to know I'm not the only one going through this.

The question we both need to answer is, why has this phone gotten so many positive reviews? Before I published my post, I skimmed through some of the reviews on the major sites. They cited a few problems, but generally were pretty darned positive.

I have some theories on why this happens, but I want to think about it some more. Maybe I'll post on it later...

Ben wrote:

>>whole classes of devices that might want to do WiFi roaming, like cell phones, won't be able to use those networks easily -- they'll just show up as "limited connectivity" since they have no way of knowing that they need to do the HTTP redirect hack to get registered

You're absolutely right.

I think a reasonably functional web browser is a requirement in any WiFi device. Even if the browser doesn't make the pages look pretty, it should be complete enough to let you log in.

Beyond that, it would be great if the WiFi industry got together and set a standard small-screen interface for enabling mobile devices to log in.

And while we're on the subject, the other thing I'd like to see is a service that would enable individuals open up their WiFi routers to the public and get paid for it. The person connecting via WiFi would pay a low hourly rate, and part of that money would get paid to the owner of the router through which they connected.

In the SF Bay Area, we have so many WiFi routers at home that the entire region is basically one big hot spot. But almost all of it is locked off.

I know there are groups encouraging people to open up their routers for free, but I think the process would go a lot faster if the router owners could get paid, even a little bit.

I doubt the ISPs would like it, though.

Steve Lemke said...

Hey Michael,

Re: "I know there are groups encouraging people to open up their routers for free, but I think the process would go a lot faster if the router owners could get paid, even a little bit."

Check out (which lets you be a free-roaming "Linus" or revenue-collecting "Bill") and (for commercial locations)

The problem I see with unlocking all those residential hotspots (aside from ensuring the security of the computers on your "internal" home network) is the whole TOS issue with the likes of Pac..., uh SB..., er AT&T and TC..., uh AT&..., er, Comcast. (See "May Foneros share their broadband" at

If you happen to get your connectivity from Speakeasy ( then it sounds like you could go sign up with FON without any worries.

In any case, people are already lighting up FON hotspots all over the world. How many of them are accessible outside the building where they live is not clear, but there's an interactive Google Map here:

Michael Mace said...

Hi, Steve.

Thanks for the info. I was out of touch on this one -- serves me right for posting a comment without researching it first.

I agree with you that the terms of service issue will be problematic (to say the least). I also think the industry will need to do some work to overcome the security fears a lot of people have. No matter how well protected your router and home network might be, the idea of opening them to others feels risky. And given that most people don't understand networking, the feeling of risk alone could do a lot to slow adoption.

Michael Mace said...

I'm happy to say that I finally got a note from Sprint today, one week after I posted this essay.

On the same evening when I made the post, I had sent a note to the Ambassador feedback line telling them about the post and offering to chat with them about mobile data (I'd really like to help, and I think they need it). Since then I have been watching to see if anyone from the domain read the post, and waiting to see if I'd get a reply to my message.

I haven't noticed any Sprint visitors to the weblog yet (although I could easily have missed a couple), but the e-mail was very polite and promised to pass along my comments to people in Sprint marketing. The person who wrote the e-mail added a comment that made it clear she at least had read my post. That's a nice touch.

Sprint also replied to a question I had asked regarding some technical problems with the phone. Apparently I need to reset the phone's cookies, a procedure that involves more steps than I care to list here.

I didn't even know the phone had cookies, let alone that I might need to reset them.

The one week turnaround time to my message would be unacceptable for an influencer marketing campaign designed to create close ties with influential people. The term "ambassador" implies a two-way dialog, which requires pretty quick responses. I think Sprint's not set up for that, which tells me that the Sprint Ambassadors program is probably just a misnamed hardware seeding program.

There's nothing wrong with seeding programs, by the way. But I think that in this age of instant communication, it's best not to confuse people about your goals.

Rob said...

"And while we're on the subject, the other thing I'd like to see is a service that would enable individuals open up their WiFi routers to the public and get paid for it. The person connecting via WiFi would pay a low hourly rate, and part of that money would get paid to the owner of the router through which they connected."

Tow of us palm developers have actually created this service.
Users can download our firmware or buy a router with our firmware on it.

We're taking a different tack to FON in that we let the hotspot owner choose the connection charge, and there is no network, so if someone wants to connect to your router, they pay you, not the network. We handle the billing, etc. The hotspot owner gets 60% of the revenue.
(also, our pay to use system is actually live!)

Kelvin said...

I could not disagree with you more on your criticism of the A920. Within a week of trialing it, I decided to transfer my Sprint service from the Treo 650 to the phone permanently, relegating my "smartphone" to unconnected PDA status. I've barely touched the Treo in about 4 months.

The A920 far exceeds the Treo in it's Multimedia capability-- it can stream 3gp audio and video (at EV-DO speeds), which enables service such as Orb. The native J2ME support enables 2 apps that I consider both essential and better than anything available on Palm or WinMob: Google Maps Mobile and Opera Mini. Give them a try. IMO, the A920 is the ideal connected device for the multimedia/ internet addict. The only thing that I covet from the 700p is background mp3 playing ("multitasking"). Sprint will kill the smartphone market with devices like this, which doesn't try to be all things to all people, but are optimized for tasks that one might want to use while mobile. I'm much more likely to need location-based directions while mobile than to want to edit an Excel document; the A920 can provide the former while none of the smarphones can (unless connected to external GPS). Sprint caters to the needs of the typical mobile user, not the power user.

Specific comments:
* You do have the ability to enter a web address in the native browser-- try the right softkey.
* My experience with the OnDemand location-based mapping and directory has been much more positive-- the assisted GPS (Snaptrack based) has always pinpointed me within half a city block (here in SF). Sprint also offers a great subscription java app called Infospace Find It that works with the GPS... very nice and intuitive.
* OnDemand is a stripped down RSS reader. Yes, you can get the same information on a web page, but RSS allows the client to optimize for the local display, and it's no different here. It's very convenient for looking up the headlines, sports scores, or stock quotes when you only have 2 seconds and don't feel like firing up the browser.

Chris Dunphy said...

"The question we both need to answer is, why has this phone gotten so many positive reviews? Before I published my post, I skimmed through some of the reviews on the major sites. They cited a few problems, but generally were pretty darned positive."

Often-time "reviewers" are either amateurs trying to justify a purchase they just made, or they are semi-professional blogger-types trying to kiss-ass to keep the stream of free hardware coming. Or they are "professional" major media reviewers that are mostly focused on passing on the press release with just a few critiques thrown into the mix and very little actual use and testing done.

Real in depth critical reviewers written by somebody who knows the space and how things should and could be are rare indeed. This is not just true for the mobile space, either.

But - once one well regarded expert delivers a harsh critique, all the lesser reviewers will pile on like lemmings. Few "reviewers" admit it, but most turn to outsiders to shape their own opinions.

I used to see this pattern all the time when I was a tech journalist, and I used to play with these patterns from the other side once I was on the inside.

- chris

Michael Mace said...

Rob wrote:

>>Two of us palm developers have actually created this service.

Cool! Thanks for pointing it out.

Kelvin wrote:

>>I could not disagree with you more on your criticism of the A920.

Well, we're probably not ever going to see eye to eye on this one, but you stated your case well, I respect your view, and thanks for sharing it.

Chris wrote:

>>Often-time "reviewers" are either amateurs trying to justify a purchase they just made, or they are semi-professional blogger-types trying to kiss-ass to keep the stream of free hardware coming. Or they are "professional" major media reviewers that are mostly focused on passing on the press release

I'm sure that's all true. Another problem, I believe, is that we've all become so used to having problems with mobile phones that we're impressed when half the features work.

Strange but true story: Most DOS users thought DOS was easy to use until the Lisa, Mac and Windows came out. After all, once you had memorized all those arcane commands, it was eay to type them back in...

Anonymous said...

sorry man hate to break it to you but you're an idiot, and you obviously went into the testing with a pessimistic attitude. i have had this phone for over 5 months and have been selling them since the came out and this is one of the best phones out period. everybody knows to ditch the sprint web and get opera mini. i even download it for my customers before they even leave the store. and have you ever used tele-nav? best gps navigator out there. the stereo speakers dominate any other multimedia phone out there, and what other carriers supply all of the essential accessories right in the box? i had the a950 for verizon first and since this one came out, it has been collecting dust. quit being such a hater. sprint went out on a limb knowing they have something great on their hands and you tear it down trying to be cute. us users that own the phone know. i think it just might be a little too advanced for you man (took me five seconds to discover the ability to type a url in the sprint web). bad review.

Michael Mace said...

Anonymous wrote:

>>you obviously went into the testing with a pessimistic attitude

Nope. I started out intrigued and hopeful.

>>everybody knows to ditch the sprint web and get opera mini.


>>i even download it for my customers before they even leave the store

I wish you'd identified yourself -- I'd love to point people toward a phone store so service-oriented that the management loads third-party software on the phones before they go out the door.

If only all phone stores worked this way.

>>the stereo speakers dominate any other multimedia phone out there

Yeah, the speakers are good.

>>i think it just might be a little too advanced for you man

No doubt it is.

And if Sprint's goal is to sell one of these to every uber-technophile on the Web, they've probably configured it just right.

Anonymous said...

at first i thought i just spent money on a phone that didnt give me what i needed or expected, one week later i cant live without. its a good phone, its got evertthing someone might need..the only thing i dont like is sprint, their services are 2 expensive

Phil Thomas said...

Honestly, I am not an novice user of my phone. I will say this is not the phone for a NON-Technical person but then it is not meant to be. This is for the person that uses their phone for everything. The best part about the phone is that if you RTFM (I know no one wants to do that) but the more features you have the more complex it gets. I have said it many times, Design a product that idiots can use and only idiots will use it. This phone is for an ADVANCED user, one that is going to make use of a 1GB Transflash card, use the phone as a MP3 Player, a EV-DO Modem, and as a GPS unit, with the small price and install of Garmin Mobile you have pretty much everything you will ever need for this phone. All the bugs you seem to mention just mean you didn't read the manual. Most of the complaints you had are solved just by changing settings. What you should say is that the phone doesn't pop out of the box the way you like it.

Michael Mace said...

Phil wrote:

>>This phone is for an ADVANCED user, one that is going to make use of a 1GB Transflash card, use the phone as a MP3 Player, a EV-DO Modem, and as a GPS unit

First off, thanks for posting. It's very refreshing to see somebody post under their own name.

I agree with you completely about the target customer for this phone. What I want to know is how many people there are with those specifications, and are they numerous they enough to justify the investment that Sprint has put into its 3G offerings.

>>the bugs you seem to mention just mean you didn't read the manual

Ahh, so now it's aimed at advanced, transflash-using, MP-3 playing, EV-DO modem using, GPS-using people who read the manual. You just cut the market further.

Okay, I'm being sarcastic here. Maybe most of those people are smart enough to figure everything out without the manual.

But looking back at my post, I think only about a third of the issues I mentioned were covered in the user manual. The others were either not mentioned in the manual, or were inaccurate expectations set by Sprint.

Anonymous said...

Im sorry but I have the A920 and i have no trouble locating my music files if the trans flash card is properly set up then the files land where they should in the my music folder, the music does stop when the phone rings and resumes after the call has ended it does not go to voicemail as you said I use it all the time and it has never caused a missed call. the network is very dependable where I live I have network even in the mountains. I love the phone it is small the camera is great when sprint online is used to enlarge the photos. the camcorder takes great footage not to mention it is a nice looking handset I get many compliments on it. yes the sprint tv is boring I would rather have better options to watch the web does allow for www and http addresses to be entered i use it all the time to go to myspace yahoo courttv etc I even have my email accessable and it is a rural nowhere isp. I love my a920

Ashley Walker said...

I gotta say that I'm with ya 100%. I got my A920 with resigning another 3 year term, (been with the SAME company for 7 yrs). Not even 13 days later the peice of sh*t frooze on me and would constantly turn ON & OFF, without touching anything, and the only way to make it stay off was pulling the BATTERY OFF!! So the next day I return to the store where I had purshed the A920 in hopeing to receive a new phone or upgrade to a better phone free of charge, because I did not want this phone AT ALL. Get this, they tell me that since there was a scratch on the phone that I was not able to return it, but they would send it away to be "repaired". I was chocked. I thought that I was a valued cutomer for being with the company for so long, always paying my bill in full and on time, They would have no problem jumping on the Idea... Was I ever wrong, not only did they send to repaire, but when I finally got it back after 6 weeks, EVERYTHING WAS DELEATED FROM MY PHONE, DOWNLOADS, PICTURES & MOST IMPORTANT EVERY SINGLE PHONE # I HAD!!!! Now 1 month later from getting this stupid phone back, the same thing is happining!!!! So I go see the Maneger on Monday to TELL him that they are gonna give me a new phone or I am gonna cancel my contract (dont sign the new one till DEC)and go somewhere where they value customers.

Anonymous said...

I love my Samsung A920, and it is already 2008! The longer I keep this phone, the more apps. come out or are developed, some even from Sprint! My favorites are: Sprint Navigation from Telenav, Mobile Google Maps, Windows Live Search, and Opera Mini(My all time favorite, which makes this phone amazing).

As a plus, the phone is almost near indestructible! I have dropped this phone numerous times and no damage has been done to it. I still love this phone and i've had it for 2 years!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate all comments on this blog. I like to see negative comments as well as positive... as I'll get my "new" phone tomorrow. I've been using a candy bar phone for 5 years.

This will be a huge leap for me - but I am an advanced computer user - that's why I've been slow to adopt mobile options for technology. I know that these services come with a lot of extra charges. But I'm excited to be able to just take a picture or video whenever the desire hits me.

I'm also happy that the phone has such good speakers and an MP3 player, which I can load my ripped MP3's onto.

The author has some valid points - mostly the way that Sprint is going to charge $3-$5 for "services" that should be included (for no extra cost) with a Power Vision Plan - especially if they are limited in some way.

Anonymous said...

"It's the phone stupid."

I'm surprised you didn't take a bat to it. You also show they nickel you worse than banks.

Phone-as-modem is great, but not allowed on the iPhone, and it's expensive on the plans I've seen. At least the iPhone doesn't have to play the dumb-pipe for a good web experience.