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 Do you want to save copies of your cell phone text messages?  Perhaps for a court action, or to use as proof of cyber-bullying, or just to remember what you said for business or personal reasons?  If you have an e-mail account, use your menu button, then select “send to” and send the message to your e-mail address (or someone else’s, if you don’t have one).   Cell phone providers keep a few days of data, but won’t release it without a court order.  If the data is that important, you’ll have to get one.

 The 2010 J.D. Power customer satisfaction figures for cell phones have been released, and it’s pretty much the same as last year:  T-Mobile finished first, AT&T last, Verizon near the top.  Customers who spoke to an actual representative vs. an automated system and retail store service vs. internet scored higher in customer satisfaction as well.  It’ll be interesting to see how the merger between T-Mobile and AT&T (if approved) affects the scores.  Still, this is good information for you if you’re planning to by a cell phone.  In my experience, both the equipment and the network have to be excellent for your reception to be high.  You should check both out.  For example, my Motorola dual-band, tri-mode phones with Verizon consistently beat my friends cheapo cell phones with Sprint, although they cost less!  Sometimes you do get (only) what you pay for.

 Cell phone jailbreaking, unlocking & tethering:  20111 - Recently carriers (AT&T and Verizon in particular) have been cracking down on “tethering.”  Tethering is using a cell phone to get a laptop onto the Internet.  This is typically done one of two ways:  First, by using free tethering apps (like MyWi) on jailbroken or rooted cell phones.  Second, by using an unlocked, unbranded cell phone.   For a phone to be unlocked, you have to have a phone with a SIM card.  That limits you carriers which operate on GSM technology, currently only AT&T and T-Mobile.   Verizon, Sprint and most other carriers use CDMA technology and don’t have SIM cards.  It should be “unbranded,” meaning that it doesn’t use a particular carrier’s “firmware” (the software that operates the phone) so that the carrier can’t determine whether you tether your phone (so-called “tether tattling”).  An “unlocked” phone is a new phone that is not technologically tied to any particular carrier’s network.    A new unlocked phone is much easier to tether than an unbranded phone.  [These phones aren’t particular easy to get in the U.S., but if you work at it, you can pick one up on the Internet, either direct from a carrier or through other sources. Be careful if you purchase from eBay or Craigslist - claims of unlocking are difficult to verify.  But most are manufactured for the overseas market, so make sure you get the right radio frequency (“band”) that your proposed carrier uses and, if you travel internationally, that it has “quad” or “penta” band.]    Once you have the phone, you must replace the carrier-supplied firmware with third party firmware.  You’ve got to be sure that all the carrier software has been completely removed.  If you have an Android phone, you may have to root your phone before installing something called a “custom ROM” such as CyanogenMod.  “Rooting” your device means obtaining “superuser” rights and permissions to your Android’s software. With these elevated user privileges, you gain the ability to load custom software (ROM’s), install custom themes, increase performance, increase battery life, and the ability to install software that would otherwise cost extra money. Rooting is essentially “hacking” your Android device. In the iPhone ( and the AT&T) world, this would be the equivalent to “Jailbreaking” your phone.  Basic difference:  Jailbreaking a phone voids the warranty, but means that you can install third party applications on it that (Apple or AT&T, for example) might not want you to use.  Unlocking means that any SIM card can be used on it and it can access another carrier’s system or parts or your carrier’s system that they don’t want to let you access. Illegal?  Depends on whether you consider the phone yours to do with as you please or the firmware copyright protected property of the carrier.  Finally, get a cheap data plan from AT&T or T-Mobile, one of the prepaid or month-to-month types with a large or unlimited data allowance.  Still, beware - after all this, if you constantly download movies or stream music, a carrier can follow the packet switching and see that you’re tethering.  The penalty isn’t much these days if you’re caught, but it may increase now that the carriers are aware of the increasing abuse.

 Cell phone security tips:  Don’t jailbreak your iPhone - because that breaks all of the security.  If you have “locate and wipe” enable it.  That way, if you lose and can’t find your phone, at least you can erase your data.  Most important - set a passcode.  At least it’ll slow down a thief.  Don’t just use the default - that’s how the News Corp. hackers got into cell phones, assuming users were lzay.  And some were.

 7/6/11: In an effort to stay ahead of the curve, Facebook announced that it will introduce video chatting through Skype.  The new feature will allow users to send instant messages and video chat with their Facebook friends by clicking a button on their Facebook chat list or on a friend’s profile page.  But it won’t allow group video chats or be available on mobile phones, as is the full Skype service.  It is free for the time being.  Similarly, while wireless companies have attempted to charge for text messaging as part of their data allotment, there are lots of new apps for smart phones which offer free text messaging services, such as GroupMe, Google Voice, Disco, Facebook, Beluga, Kik and WhatsApp.  Some apps are even hard wired into the phone itself, such as Blackberry Messenger and Apple’s iMessage soon to to come out.  This has become necessary as wireless carriers (Sprint being the last holdout) have done away with their unlimited data plans, forcing users to either pay per message or pay for unlimited texting service.

 Big Brother May Be Watching:  Verizon Wireless updated its privacy policy the week of October 3, 2011 to allow the collection of your location data and the addresses of all of the web sites you visit on your mobile device.  You’re automatically opted in to this policy.  If you disagree, you can access your privacy settings on Verizon’s web site and change them.

Skype is rolling out the beta of its Group Video Calling feature.  Available for download, it will allow users to call up to five people simultaneously, like a video party line.  It will be free for now, a charge for this service coming later this year.  At the same time, Skype is also rolling out new international calling plans to more than 170 countries, claiming substantial savings.  Presently, Skype accounts for 12% of the world’s international calls, according to TeleGeography Research.

VoiP is great for land line phones.  Skype and Vonage are attempting to expand their services to mobile phones over cellular and Wi-Fi networks as well. While Skype is blocked on many U.S. mobile networks, it is now available on the iPhone and Verizon Wireless networks over Wi-Fi, more providers probably to follow.  European cellular providers fare better, but some are imposing fees to lessen the cost difference, as well as other blocking features.  Similarly, in October, 2009, competitor Vonage launched Vonage Mobile, a calling application for the iPhone, Blackberry and the iPod touch, allowing mobile users to make low-cost international calls using a cellular or Wi-Fi network.  [These days, of course, national long distance calls are free over most carriers anyway.]  Vonage also launched the Vonage World plan, allowing subscribers to make unlimited calls to over 60 countries for a flat monthly fee.

What’s the Hub?  You may have seen the latest Verizon commercial, displaying a phone with a large touch screen to the right of the receiver which will perform a variety of new features.  The Hub ($200 after rebate plus $35 monthly for unlimited calling) is the product of Verizon Wireless (a joint venture between Verizon Communications and Britain’s Vodafone Group).  The Hub is actually a cordless phone connected to your existing broadband network, that provides VoIP services (such as Vonage and Skype do) as well as other Internet-based services, including (for an additional $10 per month charge) Chaperone, which parents can use to keep track of their kids.  It’s a good first step as far as phones go, but the calendar can’t sync to Outlook (or anything else), and some of the Internet services have limitations.  But it’s easy to use, and it does more than most cordless phones (i.e., get weather and traffic reports, V CAST video clips, Internet radio, driving instructions, and a digital picture frame) and may still appeal to many people.

In April, 2010, AT&T announced that it will be selling what it calls “MicroCells”.  These are actually mini-cellphone towers (about the size of a router), which redirect cellphone calls from congested cell towers to home and office web connections (ISPs) to solve the problem of cell phone subscribers that can’t get a consistent signal in metal buildings, basements, homes with particularly thick walls, poor geography and the like.  Cell phone minutes would be charged as usual, but the cost of the new devices would be about $150.  Verizon has something similar in this niche market (“Network Extenders,” introduced in January, 2009 for $250) as does Sprint (the “Airwave” for $99 + $4.50/mo).  It’s not certain whether users will balk at this additional cost, which may come down over time.

For a comparison of the major smart phones available, click HERE.

If you’re thinking about giving up your land line telephone and using your cell phone or VoIP instead, you’re not alone.  You should know that home phone line accounts in the second quarter of 2008 were down 4.8% to 104.6 million, vs. year-earlier figures.  After peaking at about 141 million in 2000, the number of U.S. home phones fell to 78 million by the end of 2008.  Most of this decrease was attributable to those substituting cell phones for home phones, but about 19 million of the households replaced landlines with internet phones.  Moreover, more than 13% of American homes received all or almost all calls on cell phones, despite having a land-line telephone in the home.  The trend is increasing and appears to be irreversible.  And I don’t think it’s just the technology that’s driving this change; from what clients tell me, they’re tired of trying to understand all of the apparently unrelated charges, surcharges, fees and taxes on their land lines, and are rebelling by switching to cell phones.

Skype for iPhone is now available for download from Apple’s App Store.  The app is free, but there is a charge for service (2.5 cents per minute or unlimited calling starting at $2.95 a month).  There is no video support for the phone at this time, but everything else (i.e. instant message chats, presence and profile editing) perform quite well on WiFi, EDGE and 3G networks.

Are you tired of going out to dinner, the theater, movies and other public places and listening to your neighbor’s inane cellphone communications?  Well, it’s illegal in most instances, but you can obtain cell phone jammers on-line for permitted uses.  See, for example phonejammer.com.

Smart phone sales for business use last year:  17.5 million Blackberrys; 11.6 million Windows mobile devices; 9.8 million running Symbian (Nokia) and 3.9 million iPhones.

Want to keep track of where your cell photos were taken?  Newer cell phones like the iPhone and photo management software have the capability of embedding phototags onto each photo, containing detailed information about its location.  But beware of privacy implications - the geotag feature works both ways.  See Privacy page in this site.

Tired of playing phone tag?  Consider Google Voice or Ring Central, two Internet calling services which deliver lots of features.  Google Voice is free, and is directed more toward consumers with several phone numbers.  Ring Central has a $9/mo. residential version and a $99/mo. business version which can make a small business look like a very large one.  Google Voice allows you to combine all of your phone lines (up to 6), selecting which line rings first, where calls are directed, and a single web voice mail account for retrieval.  It doesn’t accept faxes (like Ring Central) but will accept text messaging (while Ring Central doesn’t).  With Google Voice, you can’t use your existing phone number for the service: you’ll have to get a new phone number (not necessary with Ring Central).  Ring Central, on the other hand, could be invaluable for small businesses, for example a consulting firm.  You get a toll-free 888 number, a local number in your area code, a toll-free fax line, an automated receptionist, and five extensions, each with it’s own voice mail account, as well as a “dial by name” directory.  The web interface is easy to use and has lots of customized settings.  Both services are limited to the U.S., but international calls are quite inexpensive.

Starting 9/1/09, you may get some relief from those constantRobocalls,” the pre-recorded telemarketing messages that are sent out in mass quantities.  This has been because the national Do Not Call List has not previously directly addressed such automated calls.  The new rule, known as the “TSR” (Telemarketing Sales Rule), should go a long way to stop such calls, which are now expressly prohibited unless the telemarketer has obtained written permission from the consumer.  Excepted, however, are so-called “informational” calls, such as airline messages informing you about flight information, delivery calls, or unregulated callers such as banks, political groups, telephone companies, charity organizations or debt collection calls.  The penalty for violation of these rules is a harsh $16,000 per call.  Still (see RANT), it’s barely working.  If you believe your rights have been violated, call the FTC at 1-877-382-4357.

J.D. Powers & Assoc. latest wireless Call Quality Performance Study (2009) shows Verizon as the big winner in four out of the six regions of the U.S. surveyed.

In an effort to make our lives easier and have a warm and fuzzy feeling toward Google, those folks have provided us with a toll-free number (“goog-411”) to and make calls to business numbers for free or at least on Google’s dime.  Dial 800-446-4411, tell it the name or type of business you’re trying to reach and it’ll dial the number for you for free.  Explanation is posted here.

On February 15, 2010, Microsoft unveiled a new version of its flagship smartphone software, which was called Windows Mobile and has now morphed into Windows Phone 7 Series.  In an uncharacteristic move, Microsoft has completely redesigned the program to give it a smarter, sleeker look.  Similarly, Intel and Nokia have opted for a fresh start, creating a new software platform called MeeGo that they hope will make its way into cars, home phones, smartphones and computers.

These new full-screen cell phones are expensive.  And breakable.  And expensive to repair, usually requiring return to the manufacturer and not a little expense.  Recently, however, a series of local startups and Internet sites have begun to offer service to repair broken cell phone screens and waterlogged and otherwise damaged phones or show you how to do the repairs yourself, as well as offering parts for the repairs.  Your local seller or the Internet can direct you to these sources.  But be aware:  The repair may be unsuccessful, rendering your phone into a “brick,” and the attempted repair will likely void your warranty. Personally, I always purchase the $6/mo warranty plan, which guarantees repair or replacement if the phone is damaged (even through stupidity (say you drive over it) or intentionally), so long as you can return it for service.  Sorry, theft or loss aren’t included, try your homeowners insurance.  But you still may be without your phone for some time if it’s sent in for service.

I’ve often wondered how many people actually use the thousands of apps that can be downloaded onto an iPhone and for how long.  I finally got my answer:  A 2008 Pinch Media study confirmed that less than 5% of those who downloaded an app were still using it a month later.  Thought so.

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