Technophilia

1 12 2009

So I finally broke down on Saturday and bought a 3G iPhone – after first worrying a bit about whether the Telus/Bell 3G coverage would reach into my apartment (it does). I’ve always been fond of gadgets, so my new phone has sent me into a state of nerdvana.

Two features that got me interested in the phone were the Maps feature and Shazam. The Maps feature, which comes with the phone, is basically Google Maps plus a GPS locator. If I’m somewhere in Toronto, and I want to find out where I am, I can click the Maps button, and it will display part of the Google map of Toronto with a bright blue button indicating “you are here”. For somebody like me, who likes to wander around side streets and doesn’t always know whether the side streets lead anywhere, this is very useful. And, if that fails, the phone comes with a compass that also indicates the latitude and longitude. (I am typing this at 43 degrees, 40′ 38″ N, 79 degrees, 21′ 36″ W.)

Shazam is one of those applications that doesn’t have much practical use but is kind of cool. If you’re out somewhere, and you hear a song and you don’t know who it’s by, you can summon Shazam. It will capture a chunk of the song and then try to match it with its database. (While I was out to dinner on Saturday night, it matched an obscure smooth jazz artist and something by Men At Work.) As a side-effect, Shazam will expose artists who lip-sync to their recorded songs: Shazam can’t match anything performed live, but will be able to match pre-recorded songs.

Other stuff I got (either free, or relatively cheaply):

  • A decent backgammon playing program (it’s beaten me 4 times out of 5 so far)
  • Scrabble
  • Bejeweled 2 (yes!)
  • A free application that keeps track of earthquakes happening all around the world
  • A drum-machine playing program (which seems to have mysteriously stopped working for some reason)
  • An electronic TTC schedule
  • An application to synchronize with my Google calendar
  • Interfaces to Facebook, Twitter and Gmail
  • Stanza, which is an electronic book reader which comes closer to simulating the feel of a book than anything else I’ve seen (I downloaded some public domain books for it, including lots of Sherlock Holmes)
  • Electronic versions of the Globe and Mail and the New York Times
  • A couple of restaurant guides (three, actually)
  • Google Earth

My phone also has an iPod in it – I’ve got about 2000 songs on it so far. There’s room for more – my phone holds 32GB – but I want to see how many books and applications I am going to load onto it first.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot: I can make phone calls with this device. Which I won’t do much: I don’t have a lot of minutes, and I don’t really like making phone calls.

Lest this sound like an infomercial for Apple, I should mention that I have noticed some downsides. One is that I’m still not convinced that the touch screen will hold out for an extended period of time, especially given that I am large and clumsy. Secondly, I feel uncomfortable owning something that would cost a lot of money to replace if I dropped it. I bought the strongest phone case and a screen protector for it, but still. And I don’t get all that much data per month (only 500 MB), unless I want to pay more.

To solve the last problem: I didn’t realize, until after I got the phone, that the iPhone supports Wi-Fi. If you are within reach of a wireless network, you can configure your phone to use it instead of the 3G network to which it is connected by default. And it turns out that, for a little more than $40, I can buy a wireless router that allows me to use my Rogers broadband connection with both my desktop computer and my phone.

Mind you, the wireless router came with the worst set of installation instructions I have ever seen. I was told to unplug my modem, connect it to one of the LAN ports on the router, then plug in the router; nothing happened. A better set of instructions, in the manual in PDF format that was shipped with the router, instructed me to unplug my modem, connect it to the WAN port on the router, connect my computer to a LAN port, then plug my modem and the router back in. This worked better, but my problems weren’t over.

The next glitch: their installation wizard bailed out partway through the configuration process and told me to abort the process, take the installation CD out of the drive, reboot my computer, then try putting the CD back in the drive again. After doing this twice, I noticed that the web page for the router actually came up, which meant that the router was installed; this web page provided better configuration instructions. Even then, it took several attempts before I found the security setting that matched my iPhone. Eventually, the phone was connected to the wireless network, and all was well.

However, I still don’t believe that this really works – that I can use my iPhone over the Internet without burning through my phone plan’s data allowance. (Burning through my broadband data allowance is not a problem: I get 60 GB a month from my broadband connection, versus only 500 MB a month for my phone.) Until I’ve seen a couple of days worth of usage reports from Telus, I won’t be convinced that I am not simultaneously using up both broadband data and phone data. It can’t be that easy; there’s got to be a catch.

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