It seemed like such a good idea. I thought it would be cool to get some sort of mobile broadband device, so I could check my e-mail anywhere, and maybe even do more advanced tasks, staying "connected" no matter where I go. And with such a wide selection of mobile data products and services available, you'd think it would be easy to find one that fits my needs. Well, it may be time to think again.
You might call it the most obvious option for mobile data, and the iPhone does indeed set the gold standard. The user interface is slick, Safari Mobile is an awesome web browser, e-mail works great, and there are 100,000 apps available. In terms of a downside, the iPhone almost seems like it doesn't have any - at least until the bill comes.
After fees and taxes, the iPhone can easily cost $80 or more per month. For people like me, who mostly only want the data service (and not the phone), that is a lot of money! Even for other iPhone owners out there, pause for a moment and think about what else you could buy for $80. That's how much you're paying every month. It would be nice if we could all afford to pay a bill like that, but nowadays many of us simply can't.
Advantages: Best web browser around, App Store, e-mail, slick interface, and just tremendously awesome in general! Disadvantages: So expensive!!
Since the iPhone is so great, Apple's data-only tablet device could be the perfect solution, providing Apple's trademark elegance while hopefully not costing as much per month as the iPhone!
Advantages: Slick OS; less expensive than an iPhone Disadvantages: DOESN'T ACTUALLY EXIST (yet)
Okay, so what other options are out there for someone looking for a data-oriented plan that costs less? Luckily I live in a city thaalready has WiMax available, and WiMax has been touted for quite some time as the wave of the future. It may well be the wave of the future, but if it is - the future isn't here yet.
I signed up for a WiMax plan and was impressed at the high data rates and inexpensive plans. But even in most areas located squarely within the coverage area, it was often difficult or impossible to get a signal. Then even when I did get a signal, sometimes the service still didn't work. And even when the service did work, I had multiple issues with equipment failure just within the first two months. I became overwhelmed by the reliability issues at every step of the process and eventually gave up and canceled the plan. After all, even the best data rates and lowest prices in the world are still pretty worthless if you can't make the service function properly.
Advantages: Very high data rates, low prices, and hardware is available to let you use it with any WiFi device. Disadvantages: It s*cks!
So 4G isn't quite there yet... how about 3G? Verizon and Sprint offer MyFi plans, which work pretty similarly to a WiMax plan except it has a lower theoretical maximum speed since it is older technology. It's still about as fast as DSL, though, and that could easily be good enough.
So is this the solution? Not so fast. Besides having to pay for the MyFi itself, you'll have to pay $60/month with a two-year contract, and your usage is capped (usually 5 GB/month) with huge fees for overages. Sixty bucks? If you can afford services in this price range, you may as well get an iPhone.
Advantages: Hmm... I'm sure it must have some advantages... somewhere... Disadvantages: Not only is it too expensive for many people's budgets, but even for people who can afford it, its price is not competitive within its own industry.
You might already have been screaming at your computer, "There is a device specifically designed for people who want lightweight, inexpensive data services - that Peek Pronto thing!" It lets you check your e-mail anywhere, and it also has SMS, for only $20 per month!
Alas, this wasn't the answer either. My initial problem was that Peek has a design flaw that prevents it from working with certain types of (standard) IMAP accounts, which means that Peek wasn't compatible with one of my most important accounts. That was pretty much a dealbreaker already, but when I tried to work through the issue with their customer service, the agent I spoke with went on and on, speaking rudely to me and repeatedly refused to allow me to speak. Peek has other issues too; for example, although it does support SMS, it doesn't support shortcodes, so you won't be able to use Peek's SMS with Twitter, PayPal, pizza ordering, or pretty much anything other than writing messages to your friends.
Advantages: Inexpensive; very portable. Disadvantages: Functionality is too limited even for people who want limited functionality; customer service is not good.
Cricket's offer seems quite tantalizing at first: unlimited mobile broadband for $40/month with no commitment contract required. It may well be a great option for many people, but the problem for me is that the only form of data card they currently offer is a USB wireless modem. That's fine for using the Internet from your netbook or other computer, and I commend them for even supporting Mac OS X, but let's face it: When you're on the go and want to check your e-mail in a hurry, do you really have time to pull out and use a netbook (or notebook)? As it stands, there's no way to use Cricket with other devices like an iPod touch or Sony PSP.
Advantages: Lowest price; no contract. Disadvantages: Coverage limited in some areas; only works with computers (not iPods or other devices).
So here we are, at the end of the blog. This is the part where I finally reveal the service that surpasses all the others and meets all (or most) of my requirements, right? Well, unfortunately I've already run out of options. None of the previous services really meets my needs, and there are no more to write about. So come on, wireless companies: why can't I get a reasonably priced mobile data plan that at least lets me check my e-mail without a huge hassle?