by Xin Feng [12/28/02]
[07/26/03] Warning: whenever your Treo pops up a low battery message, charge it immediately and stop using Internet until battery has been charged for a while! My Treo has lost all its data for more than three times due to this. I thought it was fine to use Internet as long as external power is plugged in regardless how low the battery is. I was wrong. Treo has no back up battery - only one main battery. If the main battery goes too low, all the data are gone. Data connection drains much more power than voice does. Don't use Internet stuff when battery is low. Even if you already started charging it, don't use Internet yet and wait for a while for the battery to go up enough. Do sync daily!
The new beta version of PDANet (download it from http://www.palmgear.com) is much faster: I now get 14-15KB speed constantly!!! This is way faster than the 6KB I used to get with PDANet 2.0. I no longer miss the highest speed that only Samsung phones could offer. Actually, this new beta version is faster than Samsung phones.
[03/14/03] I posted a review of Handspring Treo 300 to SprintUsers (in the Phone Review forum). I did not go for it because I thought it was a crappy PDA plus a crappy phone. Finally I got tired of the errors those vision phones kept giving me whenever I needed to check email or open a website. Right before I was about to join the unsatisfied-Vision-users team, I somehow decided to give this Treo a try - it is the last vision-enabled equipment I had not tried. What a day and night surprise! All the Vision chaos had nothing to do with Sprint PCS's vision service, it was all the vision phones that sucked. With this Treo, all the vision stuff now really work, work like a charm. No more endless crashes, no more endless error messages, no more endless connecting. All SPCS promised now become true. First of all, it is a decent phone with a decent speakerphone. Superb reception and crystal clear sound. It does not show many signal bars though, but even with no bars at all, voice and data are still very stable. All the vision phones I tried (A500, N400, 5350, 4900, 5300) were simply not stable enough and all should go back to their manufacturers. It is light and thin enough, very easy to use too, and I see no reason why one cannot use it as his/her primary phone. Its built-in keyboard simply works (writing with a stylus is a joke) and you can really do email on it. Web browsing is now a reality - very fast, all websites (yes, not just few WAP sites) are accessible and all pages are well readable (no left-right scrolling). Even if you don't need a PDA, please still give it a serious consideration because it is not just a PDA + phone, it is revolutionary. This thing lets you enjoy all the SPCS's $40 unlimited vision plan could offer, anywhere, anytime. I know the T-Mobile $40 plan is also "all you can eat", but its speed is no compare and you cannot use the SideKick as a modem. Yes, you can use the Treo as a hi-speed wireless modem (see tips below). I never liked Palm or PocketPC, but this Treo is really a cool thing. It is powered by Palm OS and runs all Palm programs. It does much more. Never ever think it as plain PDA + phone. It is itself, it is a communicator. For example, I can now read Chinese websites and do telnet on my palm. For the first time in human history, now you can have the entire world in your palm. Other smart phones may seem more attractive, but I wonder they ever come close to Treo's backlit keyboard, superb reception, thoughtful design and solid reliability, and SPCS's high speed and affordable voice/data service.
Some tips for Treo 300 (more to be updated constantly, so check it back):
You see, Treo 300 is far more flexible, powerful and useful than other vision phones. The designers are very thoughtful. Almost all the software mentioned above are free from www.palmgear.com. I know the Treo 300 itself and all these add-ons cost a lot more than a vision phone. But, these one-time payments worth the money because they allow you to use fully the service you pay for at least $40 every month. Like in the old days, considering the cost for film and film developing, it made sense to buy a good camera instead of a cheap one. The only thing I miss about A500 is its constant 144K downloading speed I was almost always able to achieve! With Treo, I get around 50K mostly.
The Original Article
I have been using AT&T's CDPD with my Libretto 100 for years. CDPD is slow (14.4K) but it was the only choice for unlimited nation-wide wireless data. I hate any data service that's charged by KB or minutes. I never really consumed much data, I just cannot surf the Internet and meanwhile count the minutes or KBs I consumed.
This summer, Sprint PCS upgraded their network to CDMA2000 and started to offer unlimited hi-speed wireless data connection, the Vision plan, for only $10 a month.
Don't be misled by the name, "Vision" is not about sending pictures or watching video with your cell phones (you can though), it is just a fancy name SPCS gives to its CDMA2000 network, which is capable to provide 144 kbps wireless data in addition to normal voice. Based on my test, the speed is real - 10 times that of CDPD. Even better, it is only $10 per month for all you can eat. As far as I know, no any other wireless providers offer anything that's even close to this, thanking to SPSC's advanced and efficient network. So, if you want high speed wireless, look no further and get SPCS's vision plan now. For $30 a month, you get 300 minutes anytime voice, and unlimited data for extra $10.
The only choice left is the phone. Unfortunately, the CDMA2000 network is still too new and the new vision-enabled phones that can deploy its full features are all very buggy. The current vision-enabled phones are: Samsung N400, A500, LG 5350, Sanyo 4900, 5300.and Hitachi P300. There are vision enabled PDAs too, but you know I never liked any PDAs because I have my Libretto. For all above phones except the P300, you can buy a USB cable from Radio Shack for just $19.99. See my this post for more details. If you're not so sure which phone to pick up, you can't go too wrong with a A500. It is the only phone for which SPCS has never offered a rebate yet, which means it has the least problems compared to other vision phones. It is the smallest and lightest. It has the best color screen (the only phone that features a TFT screen). Its reception is very good too and it holds signal even steadier than the 4900 which is considered to have the best reception. Although it does not show as many signal bars as the 4900 does, if it gets only one bar, it holds that bar very well. Its battery life is actually decent - it continues to work for quite a while even there is only one battery bar left while other phones including 4900 (which is considered to have the best battery life) shut off soon after two bars. It is stylish and sexy, with full features such as voice recognition for voice dialing. Just say a phone number, or a phone book entry, it'll dial the number for you (save you couple dollars a month for the SPCS voice dialing service and maybe your life too). If you live in northern California, buy cell phones in the Staples at Woodland, they have incredible prices. They sell A500, for example, for $179 and 5350 for $75.
There are much more details to add if I'll have time. But for those who have been looking for such a thing, the information above is enough and they can easily figure out the rest from www.sprintusers.com. Many techies like me are not talkies, but it is nice for them to have a cell phone just in case. If the phone can do more than just voice, such as wireless Internet, then they can really get some use of the $40 per month and they go straight to SPCS without a second thought.
Now the fun part. All USB cable do not charge the phone but it is easy to let them to. All you need is a Schottcky diode and a USB cable from Radio Shack for your phone. Solder the positive end of the diode to the red wire found in the connectors. For A500 and N400, solder the other end to the empty pin at the most left. See the left picture below (replace the pink wire with the diode). For 4900 and 5300, pass the pin right to the red wire and solder the negative end of the diode to the next pin that has a heat-shrink tube. See the right picture below (replace the blue wire with the diode). Warning: do these on your own risk! Why charge the phone by USB? Computers and USB ports are everywhere. With such a thin USB cable, you no longer have to carry a bulky charger. Wireless data activities drain out phone's battery very quickly. With such a USB cable, you can power and charge the phone while you use it as a modem. The voltage of some computers' USB ports is lower than the specification (5V) and charging may stop too early. If this is the case, then try just use the wires (no diode) as showing in the pictures.
A very cool tip (thank sfhub): if you use the phone as a modem, the images will be re-compressed and they look horrible. If you use Internet Explorer, use Ctrl-F5 to bypass SPCS's proxy server which does the image re-compressing.
A side note for Libretto 100/110 users: To use the USB cable, you'll need a PCMCIA USB card. Go get the CompUSA USB 2.0 card for $50. Believe me, I have tried many of these USB cards including an Adaptec one, and this CompUSA one is the best - it is the smallest and it has never crashed yet. Yes, this card has a CompUSA brand name and you know I don't like CompUSA. Should be there a smaller or another trouble-free USB card, I would not have recommended this one.
How to connect a vision phone to a computer/laptop:
1) First you need a cable. Fortunately you can get a cable for any vision phone from Radio Shack for only $19.99, buy it online or in a local store. Note: the cable for Sanyo 4900 works the same for 5300; the cable for LG 5350 is actually a Prolific serial-to-USB converter. A true USB cable for LG 5350 can only be found in the $79 SPCS connection kit (you can still find one on eBay, but you'll have to pay $150 or more for such a simple cable).
2) You need a driver for the cable. You can download the driver from SPCS here:
Note that the downloading page is very confusing and you have to select the very correct one, or you'll be messed up. Select exactly the "Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, XP" for the "Select a platform" drop-down list and "PCS Connection Manger (SM) Software" for the "Select an item".
Then, don't install the downloaded CM - just extract the files. All the drivers are there. When you plugged in your phone and Windows asks you for the driver, point it to there.
For LG 5350, the drivers for the cable are not included in the downloaded CM. For the true USB cable, you can find the driver in the "(Vision) PCS Connection Manager (SM) Software for USB Cables and Airprime PC 3200 Ver. 01.01.022", downloadable from above link. For the Radio Shack $19.99 cable, you can download the Prolific driver from www.futuredial.com. If it is not a true USB cable, you also must change the phone setting from default USB to serial and set the speed to 115200. BTW, how to know if it is a true USB cable? Simple, a true USB cable does not have any box, which holds a serial-to-USB converter, in the middle of the cable.
3) You need a modem driver. For Samsung phones (N400 and A500), the modem driver is in the downloaded CM and Windows will ask you for it after the cable driver is installed. For all other phones, you have to manually add the "SPCS Software Modem". If you don't know how to do this, please do not ask me. Any computer geek can help you with that. If I spend my time to help everyone with very basic stuff, then you won't see things that only I can tell you here.
OK, that's all you need. Now simply add a new dialup connection. Nothing special except using "#777" as the number to dial and selecting the modem you installed in step 3). Enjoy, but please don't abuse it with MP3 downloading etc.
From above, you should have been able to conclude that LG 5350 is to be avoided. This is sad, because LG 5350 is indeed the best vision phone so far among others including the new Sanyo 5300. LG is screwed up by SPCS who pulled out the cable and, especially, the software for this great phone. SPCS also pulled out the cable for other phones, but you can still find them elsewhere (nowhere for LG true USB cable). If you use Internet stuff only on the phone (not using it as a modem), I still highly recommend LG 5350. If high speed laptop connection is the most important, then go A500 or N400. As you see above, Samsung phones have their own modem driver which allows 240K speed under both Windows XP and 2000. LG and Sanyo phones use Windows' built-in serial-port modem driver which limits the speed to 115200, at least under Windows 2000.
There is one more reason to avoid Sanyo phones (they have great reception though): although you don't have to disconnect for a call to come in (as long as no network activity at that moment), you have to disconnect the dialup connection before you can make a phone call out. With LG and Samsung, you can make phone calls anytime as long as there is no network activity - no that disconnect/re-connect hassle you have with a Sanyo or your landline modems. You can simply leave your LG or Samsung phones connected all the time. The phone is not always blocked (it turns into idle after few seconds) and you can still receive and make calls while you surf the Internet or check your email periodically. Meanwhile, when you do need a continuous connection, for example, while transfer an important document from your office desktop to your laptop, a come-in call won't break the connection. I love the way these LG and Samsung vision phones work!
Actually, there is even one more reason to avoid Sanyo phones. Unlike other phones that you can access a menu with number short cuts (e.g. press menu-9-4 on a A500, you can quickly access your memo pad), you have to scroll down all the menus to get a function. This really sucks! A500's PDA functions are so easy to access, even much more convenient than a PDA crap. Because it was so hard to enter or look up an entry on a normal PDA, I had never used a PDA longer than a week. Even if I somehow stored successfully an task into the task list, I never wanted to check that list later. If I could spend that much time and effort to store a task into the task list and spend even more to check the list, I would have used that time and effort to finish that task already! Now with an A500, I found that I've been really using PDA functions such as memo, task list and calendar. No need to mention the phonebook of course. A vision phone does them all plus it is a phone and an always-connected Internet, and it is easier, cheaper and smaller. Yes, inputting an entry into a phone with T9, is way quicker and easier than writing it into a PDA with a stylus pen. Furthermore, while you can do all the things with just one hand with a phone, you have to use two hands with a PDA. Add to it a small laptop like Libretto, you are all set. Repeat after me (in the tone of a cheer leader): throw away your PDA, and get you a vision phone!!!
A quick tip for T9: if you need to input a number in T9 mode, simply hold that number key until the number shows up.
If you need to check your POP email accounts, get the EmailViewer from reqwireless.com for only $10 (you can try it first). Decent. Don't use SPCS' mail client other than checking SPCS mail, or your POP accounts will be messed up. Reqwireless also offers a web browser, the WebViewer, for $15. I hoped that WV could open some sites that the built-in browser couldn't, but it can not neither and even worse, it is very slow and unreliable and it crashes my phone almost every time I use it.
Acknowledgement: many thanks to sfhub (find him in www.sprintusers.com) for his many talented helps; to Jordan for the Schottcky diode tip; to http://www.sprintusers.com - the best place for SPCS users; and to SPCS for its great wireless network and service.
Copyright © 2005
Xin Feng Company