After more than three years of (ab)using our previous cell phones, Michelle and I have finally upgraded; we each now have a BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 in red and black, respectively. The primary technology that drove our decision—both in choosing a phone and a new carrier—was the ability to make and receive calls over WiFi. Variously known as dual-mode (for its ability to access both cellular/GSM and wireless/VoIP/802.11 networks), UMA, GAN, or any of a host of other titles that, as far as I can tell, are deliberately meant to confound the non-specialist consumer as much as possible, WiFi calling means quite simply that when we are in the presence of wireless internet access (HotSpot, WLAN, etc.) that our calls will be carried over that network regardless of whether or not a cellular service is otherwise available. As anyone who has been to our place knows, this feature is extremely important given that we have patchy cellular reception in our house even when the sky is clear and there are no leaves on the trees let alone our complete lack of indoor reception during poor weather or the summer. Moreover, since my office at the parish has been relegated to the basement below the church where the cell phone signal is as nonexistent as one would expect in a crypt whose forgotten and decomposing inhabitants are rather rarely saved by their ring-tones, the need for a phone capable of making VoIP calls using WiFi has been a priority nearly as high as the prices for the cellular signal amplifier systems into which I had previously looked. While a decent number of currently available phones do offer WiFi (or UMA) calling, most carriers require a monthly subscription to a data plan (anything other than voice) over their digital cellular network such as 3G or EDGE, including, for example, AT&T‘s iPhone plan. While this is helpful if one plans to access the internet over the cellular network, I was loathe to sign a contract obligating me to pay $1 a day for the next 700 days for a service I didn’t intend to use just simply to be able to use a built-in feature on the phone that does not itself need a data plan. Anyway, we found that T-Mobile’s HotSpot Calling allows us to make WiFi calls without any additional subscription beyond the most affordable shared cellular service plan.
Our phones were activated Sunday afternoon and our numbers transferred although they did not arrive until Wednesday thus leaving us without any service for those three days. Even when they did finally have our phones in hand we had our fair share of difficulties with our new T-Mobile network not the least of which was due to our having an ancient 2Wire 1000SW gateway (combination DSL modem and wireless router) which is no longer supported by the manufacturer, SBC or BellSouth (both of whom no longer exist and who initially distributed the gateway with their DSL service), or AT&T. So, after far too many hours on the phone with the surprisingly helpful T-Mobile support as well as AT&T‘s FastAccess DSL support we have had to order a new D-Link DSL-2640B modem and router. Now that we have that installed, nearly a week after our phones arrived, our new mobile phone service seems to be living up to all that was promised.
Although neither Michelle nor I went into this upgrade process particularly looking to get a BlackBerry, we were impressed with the Pearl 8220 among available WiFi enabled phones both because of its smartphone capabilities as well as with the Flip form factor that keeps our new phones from looking like we’re lugging around a typewriter as well as protecting it in our pockets and backpacks. Typing with BlackBerry’s SureType is, however, much easier than on other phones. An added bonus of the WiFi is that we can use our phones to browse with Opera Mini (rather than the provided T-Mobile browser). Syncing my BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 with my Apple PowerBook has also been very easy using PocketMac and so I have been able to not only transfer all my contacts from our previous phones but also include data from iCal, iTunes, iPhoto, AddressBook, install applications downloaded to the computer, and more. Although currently using a USB connection, I should be able to sync using BlueTooth with the next release of the software. Having BlueTooth is handy for adding other functions, such as GPS (included on the 8230), requiring only a $75 GPS receiver that I can hang on my keychain.