Monday, July 27, 2009

iphone in montana?

As some of you who follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook know, I recently got an iPhone. After contemplating just about every smartphone option openly available in Montana, including Blackberry and Nokia, I decided that what I really wanted was an iPhone. Actually, I did own a Nokia E63 for a couple of weeks. I concluded that while it wasn't a bad phone, it was too complicated for me. I continue to believe that needing instructions to use any electronic device constitutes a serious design flaw.

I've had several people ask, how do you get an iPhone to work in Montana? I'm not going to go into the details here, if anyone's really interested I'll give him/her the lowdown offline. But for this posting, I'll just talk in general terms and address some of the pros and cons to going this way.

It is possible to get an unlocked iPhone along with service from a local wireless provider. An unlocked iPhone is going to be used and probably an earlier model. So, if what you really long for is the latest greatest iteration - at this point a 3GS, this will not be an option. And you're going to be paying full price for the older used model you get. There aren't a lot of unlocked iPhones out there. It appears to be a sellers/hackers market. Knowing all this, I have to admit being a bit taken aback that I was getting a 1st gen iPhone. But since we don't have 3G in Montana, it didn't seem a big deal upon reflection. And the 1st gen iPhone actually has better battery life than its successors. Besides it's got the 3.0 software so it can run all my apps.

Those are the first two cons, price and hardware antiquity. Add to that, the additional data surcharge I found out I needed to buy to use the data network. This is going to end up costing me about as much as an AT&T contract would. But with a painfully slow data network. Remember, we don't get 3G speeds in Montana. The final con would have to tech support difficulties. I have to find the manager at my wireless store whenever I have a question or problem. The iPhone is not an officially supported device.

Still, I'm very happy with my purchase. I now have one purse-sized device I can use to take pictures, send and read email, check my calendar, twitter, post facebook updates, listen to Mariners games, watch movies, browse the internet, listen to music and audiobooks. Oh yes, and I can also ignore phone calls coming in on it. I really do hate phones, cellular and otherwise so the phone is probably the least important part of it for me. That's probably a good thing because techies claim that it's really not a very good phone.

For me that's where the iPhone really stands out is with the apps! There's a Kindle app whereby I can read books on my iPhone and it will sync with my Kindle so I can start up on one where I left off on the other. It's a bit quirky in practice but the potential is certainly there. I've got Epicurious with which I can look up recipes and compile a grocery list in the store. AroundMe lets me find drugstores, gas stations, restaurants, etc. in my vicinity. This probably would have saved me from a recent extended tour of Idaho Falls, looking for a gas station. The big plus of the iPhone being so popular is that there are big incentives to create apps for it. And it works like a dream with my Mac. The first time I plugged it in, it automatically synced with my iPod Touch - email accounts, calendars, everything. I can't tell you how long I struggled with the Nokia trying to set up a couple of email accounts.

Weighing the pros and cons, I'd have to say that in Montana, the cons seem to definitely outweigh the pros - particularly the high cost and lack of a high-speed cellular network. So, unless you're pathologically geeky and/or have more dollars than sense (sorry, couldn't resist), you'll probably want to wait a bit on the iPhone (hmm, apparently both of those descriptions could apply to me). I continue to think that the iPod Touch is a pretty good alternative for Montana, especially if the rumors about cameras in future models comes to pass. It runs just about all the iPhone apps as well as music and video. All you need to do is get on a free wi-fi network and you can do just about everything you can with an iPhone for no monthly fee.

One complication for Montanans who've been hoping that Verizon may offer iPhones at some point in the future are the competing standards. The iPhone is set up to run on GSM networks such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Cellular One and others. Verizon uses CDMA. I don't pretend to understand the difference between the two standards, but apparently, for the iPhone to work on a CDMA network, it would need an entirely new chip set. Even if Apple decides to drop their exclusive AT&T agreement, they're probably not going to build an entirely new iPhone with a Verizon-compatible chip set.

Would I trade in my iPhone? At the moment no, but ask again after a few months of wireless bills. We'll see if the always connected promise is worth the cost.


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atimblo said...

Hi, I have a Nokia 3G phone (N82) and use it in Missoula. But since there is no 3G is automatically switched to the 2G (800 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 bands) technology. The specs on the iPhone 3GS also have these bands under GSM. So, even though you can't use the 3G capability, I believe you should be able to use an iPhone 3GS just the way you use an iPhone 1st gen. - Anuj