From Ewan's diary:
"And now, the core of the challenge, sorting out the connectivity and getting on a US cellphone network.
I've been spoiled in Europe and the UK. Here we have multiple networks, in a very competitive atmosphere, all jockeying for the best deals. Picking up a SIM card, with access to flat rate date (or at least a generous daily cap) is a matter of walking into any newsagent and handing over a few pounds. Not so in America.
The idea of a prepaid plan seems to be alien to the US networks – all the marketing and efforts are focussed on getting people onto an $80/month data plan, alongside your minutes and monthly charges. That's well out of reach, even if I did take the advice of one store assistant to sign up to a monthly plan and just cancel it within the thirty days. Even if I thought that was within the no outstanding liabilities rule of the challenge, it was out of reach of what budget I had left – my AAS wallet has $55 left in it.
So I'm left to source a pre-paid plan, with two conditions. 1) I just want the SIM card, nothing else; and 2) it has to have data. Although I had done some investigating on-line before leaving for the US (and of course lots of helpful comments and advice on Twitter and here – thanks to you all), I decided to give the three major networks a chance.
- Verizon: Are a CDMA network, so even if they did use SIM cards (which they don't), the 5230 hardware wouldn't be compatible.
- T-Mobile: Do have some nice plans, such as a $40 unlimited, but their pre-paid plans don't support data. They're out as well.
- AT&T: Have their Go-phone pre-paid plan, which does offer data.
So AT&T it is – for all the talk of America being capitalistic and a buyers market, there actually is no choice for me at all. Into the store I went, and that's where the fun started. Because they couldn't give me an answer to the question of if data would work on my 5230. The data on the Go-phone plan is only for "mobile phones", not “smartphones”. I can't work out the distinction either, except to put in an artificial cost barrier for Americans with more advanced phones like the iPhone or Blackberry devices.
After various Google searches and asking around, the clincher that made them think it should be okay was the Opera Mini icon on my handset. The java-based browser (with server side compression to keep down bandwidth usage) is "something that only regular phones have, and not smartphones", explained the staff. So it will work.
Anyway, one piece of photo ID and a “dummy” address provided by AT&T and I had my SIM card. The card cost $25, and that value is immediately applied as credit to the account. I topped up another $15, and chose the following options.
- $20 for 100MB of data.
- $5 for 200 texts (outside of the bundle texts are 20 cents each)
Leaving $15 for calls (at 25 cents a minute, that gives me an hour of calls). Which is all nicely within my budget! SIM card is sorted, the running balance is $235, and I'm on-line and hooked into the mobile internet. Yaay!
Of course I still have to remember that in the US I'll be paying for incoming texts and calls as well, but now the major elements of the challenge are with me. Now the fun starts.
Challenge One: Navigation
Nokia's strategic move to release Ovi Maps is going to have a huge impact on the market. The 5230, now updated to the latest version of the Ovi Maps, and side-loaded with the data for California and Texas is in the same price range as navigation devices like the Tom Tom. Thanks to the database of places that is also side-loaded, it's a simple matter to put in the name of a restaurant, or even just “hamburger” into the search field to be given your choices.
Of course "the best burger in California" can be very subjective, but I think that the In-n-Out Burger in Fisherman's Wharf is going to be high up on the list. Just over two miles away from where I picked up the challenge, I started walking. After Ovi Maps got its bearings and how fast I was walking, it provided an estimated time of arrival. Even at walking pace around the hills of San Francisco (oh I wish that walking had an “avoid steep hills” option) the ETA was within two minutes of my actual arrival time. Perfect.
While I was walking, this was a good time to remind me of the history of where I was going, so a quick search on Google via Opera Mini and around 35K of data later I had everything I needed for the final video clip... which unfortunately never made it to the final cut of the video. Whoops.
If I had some US friends with me, it would be interesting to see how much over the air data this would have used on other smartphones, but they're on unlimited tariffs so it might not have been a fair test. What I do know is that thinking about the restricted resource I have in data actually makes the experience more efficient – trading some of the beauty and pretty pictures for the raw information is something that I think I prefer, although ask me again in a week.
Ovi Maps really needs to have someone sort out its UI though. I've never felt in control of all the options that are available – it's a powerful application with a lot of complexity, and unfortunately that's reflected in the UI. Nokia should consider bringing in a dedicated UI team to make it simpler. Version 3 is an improvement on the UI in V2, but I think there is still some rationalisation that could be done.
Compared to the Google Maps java client, or the mapping in the iPhone, Ovi maps is not simple to understand. But that side-loading of map data and places of interest is worth a lot (and not just in Megabytes). Personally, I'd rather have more features and a complex interface, but that's not what the general market is looking for.
But can you pick up a connected mapping solution, with turn by turn navigation, worldwide coverage, traffic information and reference packages from Lonely Planet for under $250?
Yes you can."