Thursday, September 26, 2013

Finally, A Cell Carrier That Delivers

Two years is a long time. 

In 24 months, you could have two more children. You could be almost halfway to owning a new car. Or, two years could solidly place you in your "mids" (30s, 40s, 50s).

Yet, if you want preferred pricing on a new cell phone, that's what the major carriers demand -- two years. My previous two-year contract seemed like an eternity. I won't mention the carrier's name. Let's just say their network speed is pretty well the antithesis of their namesake.

In March, we jumped to Verizon. They advertise the largest 4G LTE network (or something like that). It's no joke.
We both went with the iPhone 5 when we switched to Verizon. If you have an iPhone, you should check out Magpul's awesome line of cases. I got this one for around $10 on Amazon. They have a selection of colors.

When we were debating carriers, I did a lot of research. AT&T and Verizon were the front runners. I travel quite a bit for my job. Nothing frustrates me more than being at a press event and not being able to Tweet a photo.

In St. Louis, we're spoiled. It's a fairly major market, so any major carrier should have pretty good data coverage. Once you leave this glowing metropolis by the river, you start to notice how good a network actually is.

When driving along interstates, LTE coverage is pretty well 99% with Big Red. That's great for streaming Pandora or Spotify. It will be even better when we road trip out to New York City next year and Linus is able to watch Netflix the entire way on a tethered iPad. By the way, tablet tethering is free on Verizon.

"But wait! Don't you have a data cap on Verizon? I've got unlimited data with Carrier XYZ."

Yes, I do -- 4GB. I had unlimited data with my last carrier. Unfortunately the 3G speed was so slow, it would have taken dogged determination to push past 2 GB in a month's time. Also, Verizon has a handy account manager app. You can add a couple gigs quite easily for the same price as the next-tier plan. So, no price gouging on extra data unless you run over accidentally.
Verizon's app makes it easy to manage your account and check data usage.

So, how fast is Verizon's LTE? If you've got an LTE signal, you should get a minimum of 5 MB/sec download speeds (though I've seen as fast as 31MB/s). That's in St. Louis, or anywhere else with LTE coverage. And like I said, unless you're in a fairly rural area, LTE is there. I even have a strong LTE signal in my hometown of Rolla, Mo.

Proof that I've seen LTE speeds of more than 31 MB/s. The WIFI indicator is in the upper left because I took the screen capture at home, while connected to the WIFI network.

Anyhow, the next time you're looking to lock yourself into a two-year contract, remember, that sweet new device will only perform as good as the network allows. Samsung, HTC, Apple or Blackberry (Seriously though, ditch the Blackberry. It's 2013, not 2005.) -- they all work well when your data is clicking along at WIFIesque speed.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hands-Free Compliance on a Budget

Living in Illinois comes with certain challenges.

Along with paying higher tax rates, we must frequently deal with whatever "progressive" laws Chicago politicians choose to foist upon us. Recently, our wonderful governor signed a law that, as of Jan. 1, 2014, makes it illegal to drive and talk on a cell phone. Hands-free Bluetooth devices are allowed, however.

Anyone with kids knows cell phones are pretty well a daily necessity. Should I get dinner? Are you picking up the boy? Don't forget, we have that thing on Saturday.

Lots of short conversations from moving vehicles are the grease in the wheel of life. So, the cell phoning must go on.

Problem is my car is a 2006 Nissan Sentra. Seven years is like a century in cell phone technology. Back then, Bluetooth was a slang term for the earpieces Wall Street types were wearing.

In the olden days, car stereos could be swapped with ease. The hole in the dash was pretty much standard across the board. Today, plastic has opened up a world of possibilities for designers. The right dash kit makes all the difference.

So, I needed a Bluetooth capable radio in the Sentra. I think the first violation for "cell phoning while driving" is around $75. At that rate, the payback would be snappy.

On previous cars, I've used Best Buy and Walmart for my car audio upgrades. This time I turned to Crutchfield at my uncle's recommendation.

If you’ve got an audio project in the works (and some inkling on how to wire an electronic device), you need to check out Crutchfield. At their site, tell them what kind of car you have, and they’ll tell you what will fit.

The total cost for the project was around $130. I paid for the radio and they tossed in the dash kit and the wiring harness. At Best Buy, those two add-ons were $20 apiece. A car audio specialty shop wanted $70 for the dash kit and wiring harness. (But, hey, they'd install it for $1!)

Crutchfield charged me $129 for the radio and tossed in the dash kit (black plastic piece) and the wiring harness. That's about a $50 value. 

Plus, Crutchfield tossed in install instructions and free 3-day shipping. If you’re on a budget, like most families are, you should definitely check it out. I saved at least $50 on the project.

Here's why you need a wiring harness. If you don't have the proper one, you can wire it by snipping the end off each wire and reconnecting it. Doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun, does it?
Oh, and one more thing. I ordered an extra wiring harness because I was paranoid the one they included wouldn’t work. When I went to return it, they sent an email saying they’ll refund me the $15, just keep the harness. Awesomeness on top of awesomeness!

My favorite part of the new radio: I can hit the phone button and Siri asks me what I want. No more touching my phone while driving. (And, yes, I waited for Nirvana to scroll by just so you could see how cool I am.)