Other than the iPhone, is there an AT&T phone for me?
October 19, 2008 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend a "smartphone" for me, or should I just give in and get the iPhone? I'm using GrandCentral and AT&T.

I just got a Pantech Duo and have had nothing but trouble. My husband got an iPhone at the same time and likes it. I have about 25 days to use the buyer's remorse and pick a different phone, and I don't think I can keep using the Duo. I'm going to stick with AT&T.

I want to be able to surf the web, use IM (aim and yahoo) and email, (so, a full keyboard) and of course, take calls!

I use GrandCentral. I have heard of a few problems with GrandCentral and the iPhone, but the problem I have right now is when calls come in, I need to be able to press 1, 2 or 3 to accept/deny my calls. The Duo fails here, it worked once, then stopped. I exchanged it and that one worked once and stopped. (As in, I press 1 and GC can't tell, I guess the phone doesn't send the tone? AT&T doesn't know what is wrong but said the phone is just defective) I'm not concerned with listening to the voicemails from GC on the iPhone, which is what I understand the problems with the iPhone to be, but more concerned with accepting the calls when they come in!

I've played with the iPhone a bit and my only complaint is the keyboard - I really want a physical keyboard. (And yes, the keyboard on the Duo is so flat that it's practically a touchscreen, but at least they depress). I surfed the web for a bit and I did have to retype addresses several times.

On the Duo, Windows Mobile has also crashed 3 times in the past 2 days and I can't seem to get videos to play on it (youtube). The call quality is awful, I can hardly understand people. I don't talk much, but ... it's a PHONE. I need to be able hear calls when I DO talk.

I've looked into the Tilt as I like the sliders, but it also uses Windows Mobile and I worry it will have the same slowness and crashing. The Palm Centro didn't get such great reviews and I wish I'd listened to the bad reviews of the Duo. My next choice was the Palm Treo 750...but if I'm gonna spend $200...why shouldn't I get the iPhone? Are there any other phones from AT&T that would fit what I want to do, and work well?
posted by jesirose to Technology (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My criteria are different than yours -- I do a lot email but *heart* the blackperry pearl mini keyboard.

I had an iPhone for a little over a week (just prior to the 2.1 software release). Hated it, took it back. Since replaced it with the 8110 Pearl and am very happy.

If you're surfing for entertainment I'm sure the iPhone screen will be a boon. If you're searching for in-the-field research then you probably, like me, will find the Pearl's comparatively teeny tiny screen to be very workable. If uber-small isn't on your cards, then look at the new BB Curve.

I have co-workers with assorted Treos and they're nothing but trouble. Haven't used one myself in several years.

YMMV, but at least pick up the Pearl in the store and see how you like it. (fwiw, if you don't mind the hassle of not buying from the att store, I got my pearl off amazon for $0.01 with 2yr contract extension)

p.s. if you have a spare grandcentral invite code, my email's in my profile :-)
posted by devbrain at 2:53 PM on October 19, 2008

Sounds like you want a blackberry. Several variations of the curve (83xx) are $0.01 at amazon.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:53 PM on October 19, 2008

@devbrain I wish I could, they stopped doing invites a while ago with no word on when they'll allow more.

I will be using it for entertainment, not business. I will likely do a small amount of work-related email but I'll mostly be using it to entertain myself when bored in public and wishing I had the web. Or to look up restaurants, movie times, etc. Show videos to a friend.

I have to get it through AT&T as I'll be exchanging the Duo back and I got it through my husband's work discount, so if I just return it I'll have to cancel the contract or something.

What did you hate about the iPhone? That would be great to know as so far the only thing I don't like is the keyboard.

My husband uses a blackberry for work, but I've never really used it. It doesn't have web but I could play with the keyboard anyway. I'll check it out and in the store.
posted by jesirose at 3:03 PM on October 19, 2008

BlackBerries have featured factory installed web browers for years now. I browse more on my Curve than I do on the PC. The stock browser is ideal for single-column browsing and handles most sites fine. For a more "real" Safari-like experience there's Opera Mini, but I'm accustomed tqo using the stock browser for hours on end, hitting the space bar ("page down") like a coke-addled monkey in a lab experiment. No, no YouTube or 3G yet (until the Bold is released) but I tried a 3G iPhone for several days and really got sick of stroking the screen in order to scroll. I do a lot of reading and I think it was the Sarah Palin thread that convinced me I was much happier with the BB. I was gonna sign in on a PC to write this comment but decided to proceed with the BB instead. The Curve keyboard is awesome to me; I used the 7100 Pearl-predecessor with the two-letters-per-key "SureType" keyboard and was truly annoyed with it. The Curve is better as an MP3 player too, if only because you can plug standard 3.5mm headphones in without an adapter. I've used the 7100 and 8700 previously and the Curve has truly been a great little device over the past year I've had it. Battery life is incredible too; charging is an afterthought to me.
posted by aydeejones at 3:42 PM on October 19, 2008

Curve is better as an MP3 player too

There are many things the curve is good at, being an MP3 player is NOT one of them. If you pause your MP3, and then lock the curve, your music blasts out the speaker until you can unlock it and STOP the mp3.

If you want to listen to mp3s, budget for a suitable iPod as well.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:50 PM on October 19, 2008

About, oooo, a year ago now I got a Palm Treo 650. It was OK. A bit of a let down because I was expecting it to do much more. There were many things I wanted it to do that it couldn't do, but given I was on a contract there was little I could do beyond grin and bear it and see out the contract.

About four months ago, the screen on it died. I sent it off to Palm for repair. One month passed. One and a half passed and I rang Palm who told me that they were only then just getting round to fixing it. Two months, still no contact, and I rang them again. They said they couldn't fix the problem and they were just going to send me a new one. Three months passed and they sent me a new one, except it had the wrong software on it for the phone provider I was with so I couldn't use it and sent it back. Four months on, there seems to be no light at the end of this dark tunnel.

Anyway, during these four months I rang my provider and long story short, I was able to extract myself from my contract with the Treo (and got a whole lotta credit in the process!) I used this credit to subsidise my purchase of an iPhone, which I love. It's not perfect (see this previous comment of mine in another AskMe iPhone thread) but it's waaaaaaaaay better than the Palm Treo was and it's just nifty to boot.

I also dare say that Apples service will be better if my iPhone ever breaks. I say this because not too long ago (about a month ago), my 5th generation iPod broke. I expected the warranty claim to be a hassle but it totally wasn't. I took it in to the authorised service center, who told me that I'd get a new one back from Apple (apparently Apple doesn't repair, they just send a new one if they find it to be faulty) within 10 working days. The very next day they rang me to say my new iPod was here and ready to be picked up. I was so happy I actually rang Apple to tell them how impressed I was.

So in short, fuck Palm. And get an iPhone. But get a 16GB one if you can. If I could do it over again, I'd get a 16GB one instead of an 8GB one. Having only 3GB left on my iPhone makes me twitchy...
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:53 PM on October 19, 2008


Give the virtual keyboard time. You well get amazingly proficient with it.
posted by schwa at 3:53 PM on October 19, 2008

Will get amazingly proficient. That's just my normal typo on a normal keyboard. ;-)
posted by schwa at 3:54 PM on October 19, 2008

Sorry for the confusion; the Curve is a superior MP3 player to the Pearl, not the iPhone, though I have never experienced the issue bitr0t mentioned. I always "pause" with the extremely handy mute button, if that explains anything.

Beyond constantly having to stroke the screen in order to scroll, my next biggest annoyance with the iPhone was the touchscreen keyboard. I know I was supposed to try it for a week or two and get accustomed to it (along with "training" the device to anticipate my word choices) and I did notice some improvement over time, but I found it headache-inducingly tedious to use. I don't like typing for long stretches on tiny devices in the first place, but this was ridiculous to me. Couple that with the fact that you can only use it in widescreen mode when typing a URL in the browser, and I was truly perturbed. The keyboard on the Curve is perfect to me, like they took a page from the Treo and the 8700 to come up with a perfectly functional and yet relatively tiny layout...and BlackBerries are power-tools, with umpteen keyboard shortcuts (and speed-dials) that take full advantage of the keyboard.

The fact that one must "JailBreak" an iPhone in order to set a different email notification sound (at least at the time I tried this) seemed positively absurd.
posted by aydeejones at 3:59 PM on October 19, 2008

When a call comes in on the iPhone you don't have any options other than "slide to answer". Once it's answered you can send keypad tones (which I assume is how Grand Central works), but that requires an extra button press to bring up the keypad, which might grow to bug you.
posted by bonaldi at 4:08 PM on October 19, 2008

"When a call comes in on the iPhone you don't have any options other than "slide to answer"."

This is not 100% true. It's true if your phone happens to be locked when the call comes in. If, however, the phone is unlocked at the time the call comes in, you can choose to Answer or Decline.

It's a bit bizzare, I know, but this is nothing that cannot be fixed by a firmware update.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:15 PM on October 19, 2008

I got my Centro for $39 at Radio Shack last year. I resisted a smart phone for years because I didn't want to carry a brick in my pocket. The Centro is tiny, has a tiny but very useable keyboard and for about $100 in add on programs you can customize the damn thing to the point it puts any iphone to shame.
posted by any major dude at 4:28 PM on October 19, 2008

Thanks for the input. I'm not concerned with MP3 but it's good to know. The Pearl doesn't have full keyboard but the Curve looks ok.

"Couple that with the fact that you can only use it in widescreen mode when typing a URL in the browser, and I was truly perturbed."
What do you mean?

That is a good point, but on the Duo in order to use the keypad you have to slide it out (sliding out the keypad doesn't answer or end calls, so you have to press the call button to answer, then I had to get to the 123 buttons), so I was going to have that extra step anyway lol. But I see the point, I will have to bring up the keypad if I want to answer.
posted by jesirose at 5:12 PM on October 19, 2008

I've got a Nokia E71 and my wife has a 3G iPhone, and I've used both a fair bit. The killer feature of the iPhone is the enormous screen, the killer feature of the E71 is the real keyboard. Have a think about what is more important to you. I swore I'd never get another device with a soft keyboard after a previous PDA, and using an iPhone hasn't changed that. I also seem to be alone in hating the iPhone's web browser.

My ideal phone would be something like the G1 or whatever the new Android phone is called. Big screen, real keyboard and not Windows Mobile.
posted by markr at 5:12 PM on October 19, 2008

aydeejones: "Couple that with the fact that you can only use it in widescreen mode when typing a URL in the browser, and I was truly perturbed."

jesirose: What do you mean?

What he means is that you can use the iPhone in either portrait mode or landscape mode... in certain circumstances. The iPhone has a built in accelerometer that can detect whether you are holding it in landscape or portrait mode and changes the screen alignment to suit. So for example, the calculator application will display a standard calculator in portrait mode, but flip the phone into landscape mode and you automatically have a scientific calculator.

The crazy thing is (and this is what aydeejones was alluding to) that while it allows you to use the larger, easier to use on-screen keyboard in landscape mode while you are surfing the web, it does not allow you to use landscape mode while, say, typing an SMS. Which is perturbing. But Apple has said they will fix this in an upcoming firmware update. Which is comforting.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:20 PM on October 19, 2008

My experience with the iPhone came after using a 8100 (original Pearl) for a year+.

What I liked about the iPhone:
* Fantastic web browser. Big screen. Decent zoom in/zoom out and flick to scroll made it a dream. It was also more functional on complex sites. Big screen is also nice for reading emails.

* Not so good for writing with the virtual keyboard I didn't really like so much. I type by touch on a real keyboard and mostly by touch on the phone keyboard. Can't do that on a virtual one :-( (That's also why I prefer the pearl to the curve -- smaller keyboard means I can touch type and not look & type)

* Great address book. Ties in with the OSX app, and - the big boon - you can name entries as you wish. You're not tied into "home" "work" "mobile" as labels. The whole iPhone as a phone is very slick, very well thought out, very smooth.

* Answering calls was a plus. It's the only phone I've used where you can pick up on your headset by answering on your headset, and pick up on the handset by answering on the handset. Nice.

What I didn't like about the iPhone:
* The usual -- sucky battery life, which paired with embedded battery and custom charging cable made it a tough sell.

* Too big. Too heavy. Size/weight are large factors for me. It *will* go in my pocket. I will not wear it in a holster on a bat-belt.

* It felt fragile. My pearl has spent that year in my pocket. The finish is a bit dinged up but it's still 100% functional - not even lint clogging the rollerwheel. It's already big, and if I'm going to now wrap that in a case it turns into huge. Touchscreen is more sensitive than non.

* Functionally, it's just cumbersome. On the BB you can "switch application" and pick what you want. On the iPhone it's always "home button", and then find the app again. Not having a menu button made it really non-intuitive as to how to do things. Hit the wrong button and now app X has launched mobile safari and there's no "back" button.

* The App Store felt like it was just ready to suck my wallet dry. I want a few apps, but it was just so cumbersome to navigate, and everybody wants that buck, or two bucks for junk. Too hard to find the good from the bad.

* Oh, of course. No copy/paste.

(The one thing my BB doesn't do which I miss -- and my old, OLD Nokia did this just fine -- is transfer images off the unit via bluetooth. You have to (1) have them on a media card, and (2) plug in via USB cable to transfer. That kinda sucks)

That's just my experience. Phones, when they become part of your daily life, are an immensely personal preference. I know plenty people who love their iPhones - it's just not for me.
posted by devbrain at 5:28 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have another look at the Tilt. Mine doesn't crash (but I'm not using Grand Central). The Tilt is about to be replaced, so you should get a great deal.
posted by Joleta at 8:13 PM on October 19, 2008

Just to add another data point, the next-generation Blackberry Bold is rumored to be released on AT&T at the end of October. That's probably why the current generation of Blackberries are being sold so cheaply. It will have more features comparable to the iPhone.

I have an iPhone, and I think it's a pretty below-average phone. For example, if you have a missed call, the phone won't beep or do anything to get your attention. If you have a voicemail, the phone will beep... once. Thankfully I use it to check my email/look up stuff so frequently that it hasn't been an issue.

Visual voicemail is once of the greatest things to happen to voicemail. No more clunky "press 7 to delete this voicemail" stuff, you see all your voicemails at the same time along with who sent them, and you can play them back in any order you want.

Charging the thing every day is a drag. If I go on a trip, I have to bring the charger, or turn everything off. Otherwise the phone will be dead in two days.
posted by meowzilla at 8:31 PM on October 19, 2008

I do love the iPhone, and I'm sure you already know there is a GrandCentral app available. It doesn't help for receiving calls, but you can use it to dial out from your iPhone using your GrandCentral number. Pretty nifty.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:32 PM on October 19, 2008

Thanks for a great post devbrain.

I'm a regular, professional user of smartphones; by that, I mean I use them every day for my work. Historically, I've moved from a Treo 650 (ok-ish), to a Blackjack (didn't like it), to a Nokia E61, to a Nokia E61i.

The Nokia is, by far, the best phone, but I don't really like Symbian (the OS). Also, the E61i is kinda slow, especially when running Good Mail (the application we use for Exchange Mail integration). I should be picking up an E71 for testing soon.

Last week I got an iPhone 3G to play with (my work pays for all this), and despite myself, I kinda like it. I like the integrated iPod. The location software, maps and GPS is cool. The apps you can buy are nice.

But, big big BUT... the virtual keyboard is amazingly annoying. There is no way I will be able to use this to "keep in touch" with my co-workers, sending & receiving lots of emails everyday. I guess it could be used to certainly read my incoming mail, but typing is a pain. Plus, landscape mode for email doesn't work without 3rd party apps (check out an app for this here).

So overall, I would rate this 9/10 for personal use, but only 5.5 to 6/10 for enterprise use.
posted by Mephisto at 8:45 PM on October 19, 2008

Thought I'd mention a couple iPhone-related things in here:

*Battery life is greatly improved since the 2.1 update, at least for me. It was bad before the update; now I can go two or three days without a charge, which is what I did with other phones I've had.
*The touchscreen keyboard isn't so bad, and you'll get better at it the more you use it. The spell correction will fix almost all of your mistakes. Also, the keyboard in portrait mode is more than adequate, and I find myself using it more often than the landscape mode when I'm in Safari.
posted by phaded at 10:35 PM on October 19, 2008

iPhones are amazing for browsing web, photos, music, etc., but not great for "doing", meaning : iPhone's lack cut & paste making them almost unusable for writing text like serious emails (and makes many other tasks very awkward). So never buy one for professional use. iPhone's are not often useful for photos since they have no flash, nor do they have MMS. iPhone's are also very bad for tinkers & technically inclined youngsters because other platforms are more open and offer more free software.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:31 AM on October 20, 2008

The Nokia is, by far, the best phone, but I don't really like Symbian (the OS). Also, the E61i is kinda slow, especially when running Good Mail (the application we use for Exchange Mail integration). I should be picking up an E71 for testing soon.

I had an E61 prior to my 71, and the 71 is much faster while being way smaller. It also has Feature Pack 1 (plus a few things backported from FP2) I don't know what all those packs exactly include, but it has quite a few little niceties added over the 61, although if you really hate S60 it might not be enough. Certainly worth a look anyway.
posted by markr at 1:24 AM on October 20, 2008

I am currently using an E62 on AT&T, and aside from the lack of WiFi I love it. I purchased it just before AT&T took over Cingular. Thanks to their shitty corporate decisions the ONLY smartphones they now offer are non-Nokia. I like Nokia too much to settle on something else.

While I had considered an iPhone, for the price I think I'd rather keep my keyboard. Were I to upgrade, I'd buy an (unlocked, natch) Nokia and keep my existing AT&T service, not bothering to tell them that I had upgraded. That way I'm not locked in to their service contract. The E61i would be my phone of choice now; all the features I currently have (with the loss of the USB port - no biggie as I sync it via Bluetooth), plus camera and WiFi.

I see no reason to go with an "upgrade" from AT&T if that means eliminating features I already have on the phone. Eliminating stuff != upgrade, in my book. User-replaceable battery, full, tactile keyboard, and hot-swappable expansion slot for microSD card trumps the features available for the iPhone. Yes, it has a larger screen, but I don't want to have to jailbreak the damn thing just to add third-party apps if I feel like it.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:39 AM on October 20, 2008

The crashes are hardware and firmware dependent. A firmware upgrade (try http://www.xda-developers.com/) might fix it.

I have a TMobile Dash also WM based, but it's awesome, first phone that's exceeded my expectations.

The BlackJack II seems pretty good except for it's proprietary connector.
posted by naveed at 6:57 PM on October 26, 2008

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