Saturday, June 07, 2008

My new teh shiny!

A month ago I bought my first smartphone, an AT&T Tilt. I've been enjoying it so far, despite having a bit of a rough start with it.

The activation was a bit confusing. The box contains generic instructions for activating any AT&T phone, but not specifically the Tilt, and it does not contain separate instructions for activating an upgrade phone for those who already have AT&T wireless service and are keeping their old phone number. So I tried to activate it online, and got a message that it's already activated. But I couldn't make phone calls. So I had to call AT&T customer service, to have them activate it, which they promptly did.

Once activated, it worked like a charm

And it worked -- not just the ability to make phone calls, but also internet access and multimedia messaging. This is a big improvement over my earlier phone, a Nokia. The Nokia phone was theoretically able to send multimedia messages, but very few of them ever arrived. :-) With this one, no messages have got lost so far. Also internet access was very slow with my Nokia phone. Most pages never loaded. With this phone it's fast. It connects to 3G networks where they are available (and as far as I can tell, in Austin that's almost everywhere) and to AT&T's Edge network where 3G is not available.

The phone functionality works like a regular phone, so I won't talk much about it.

The interface is intuitive and user-friendly

The interface is intuitive and user-friendly. Any action I've wanted to do so far has been completely obvious. Partly it's because this phone uses Windows Mobile operating system; I should probably be ashamed of myself for using Windows, but I could not find any other phone that had all the functionality Tilt has, and didn't cost an arm and a leg. (Since I got a refurbished Tilt, it cost me less than $200.) As much as it is fashionable to hate Windows, this phone Just Works. :-)

The only learning curve that this phone has imposed on me is finding out is how to perform most operations with the keyboard instead of a stylus. I don't like using a stylus much: alternate between tapping the stylus and pressing keys is not very ergonomic and slows me down. (The same way it is inefficient to alternate between keyboard and mouse of a regular computer, which is why I'm big on keyboard shortcuts). Plus, styluses get lost so easily. You can't hold one in your hand when you type: you have to find a place to put it down. And that's how they get easily lost.

WiFi and camera

In addition to 3G connectivity, AT&T Tilt also has WiFi. So far I have only tried to connect to wireless access points that don't require encryption. If I were to connect to a password-protected access point, it shouldn't be a problem, since a new connection screen gives you an option to enter a password. However, my wireless router at home requires a MAC address of a device in order to allow it to connect. If I needed a MAC address of my Tilt, I would have to do some research to find it (perhaps only as far as the user manual -- I don't know. I haven't had much need to connect to an encrypted access point. At home, after all, I can use my regular laptop.)

The camera is adequate, for a cell phone. It's slow; as a result, pictures are blurry. The shutter lag is huge; it also seems to take an eternity to focus on the subject. At least it is like that with default settings. I twiddled with settings a bit, but it did not improve. And I don't think I'll twiddle more, because I've just bought a new digital camera and won't be using my phone camera much. I noticed, though, that the Tilt camera has a burst mode, among other things; that's nice, but the pictures in the burst mode come out nearly postage stamp-sized (320x240) and even more blurry than in the "regular" mode. I was a bit more satisfied with the Sports mode. It lets you take pictures in quick succession, like the Burst mode, but the pictures are 640 x 480 and about the same quality as regular.

Miscellaneous quibbles

I haven't tried some of the features of this phone that may be very important for people who use it for work. It's supposed to be able to access your mail, calendar, contacts, etc. from your corporate Exchange server, but I only use it for personal use, so I'll never know.

Synchronization between Tilt and a Windows computer works well, although initial instructions on how to set it up are a bit confusing.

One little quibble I have with this phone is that when its screen goes black (to conserve power), it does not respond to any key presses. You have to press the power button to "wake up" the phone, any other key will be just ignored. This was a problem for me when I was setting up my voice mailbox. Setting up a voice mailbox is a tedious task as you listen to pre-recorded instructions and press various keys in response to voice prompts. This process takes long enough that the screen goes black between one step and the next one. At some point the instructions ask you to enter your password. You start entering it and the screen goes black. You think that maybe pressing another key will light it up -- this would be only intuitive, no? I'm too used to "press any key" behavior of regular computers. :-) But no, it does not light up, and the keys you pressed have no effect; the phone does not recognize key presses when the screen is black. But the phone is not "asleep" (whatever that would mean), because your call does not get disconnected. The instruction robot keeps jabbering at you to enter your password. So there is this cognitive disconnect: you are still on a call, but your phone keys have stopped working. It did not immediately become clear to me that they stop working when the screen goes black, much less that the only way to get them working again is to press the power key. I was so confused by this at first that I called AT&T customer service to help me with this. Then I realized what I was doing wrong and unconfused myself. :-)

Speaking of AT&T customer service, I've had only good experiences with them (not just regarding Tilt, but throughout the 4 years of me being AT&T customer). They answer the call quickly, are polite, and make sure they resolved your problem to your satisfaction.

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