In my ongoing coverage/review of Audiovox's XV6600 Bluetooth-enabled, Verizon Wireless provisioned, Windows Mobile 2003-based smartphone, last week, I wrote what I considered to be the missing manual on getting a Bluetooth-equipped notebook computer to use a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone to wirelessly connect to the Internet. Why and when would you use this approach? Well, as I once wrote before, why bother with WiFi when CDMA will do? Finding a WiFi hotspot is hard enough, let alone what happens when you get there. For example, is the provider one that you're already paying monthly dues to? Or, must you pony up an additional $10 for a days worth of connectivity even though you'll only need it for an hour? Even though entire municipalities are getting blanketed with WiFi coverage today, WiFi connectivity (paid or unpaid, take your pick) is still not prevalent enough to deliver on the anytime, anywhere promise of connectivity.
So, while you run from establishment to establishment looking for a hotspot (the Starbucks in my hometown is full of what I call "dead air"), I can take pleasure in knowing that I'm not only watching you from the park bench across the street, but doing so while connected at a speed that leaves me wanting for very little. That's because of two things. First, whereas the 2.5-rated CDMA network was the state of the art when I wrote that one story, today, it's much faster big brother --- the 3G-rated EVDO -- is making its way onto the coverage maps of Sprint and Verizon Wireless (and where EVDO isn't on, you'll still fall back to the 2.5G speeds of CDMA). Second, my hotspot isn't specific to Starbucks or McDonalds. My hotspot -- one that essentially matches the coverage area of my wireless carrier (Verizon Wireless) -- works on the downtown park bench, at McDonalds, Starbucks and the airport, on the beach, in my house when there's a blackout that knocks the lights out of my cable modem), and on the highway when the kids want to do whatever it is they do on the Internet. Oh, and when you're at one of those conferences where the WiFi access points are so overloaded that you can't get a connection, I'm the guy sitting next to you taking gulps of HTTP without ever once bumping into you on the network.
So, while you WiFi aficionados pay $22 bucks a month for unlimited data transfer from Boingo (as long as you're in one of its hotspots) , I pay $45 for Verizon Wireless' unlimited data transfer and I can go just about anywhere. So, for $23 more per month, I get to avoid all the headaches of hunting for a WiFi hotspot, reorienting my notebook umpteen times for connecting to each one of those hotspots, and dealing with any a la carte billing. Naysayers will say that the $23 isn't worth it. Hang around with me for one day and you'll change your mind.
There are downsides. Connectivity doesn't work as well when you're deep inside a building. The CDMA/EVDO radio in the XV6600 is not fully cranked up like the radios in some other cell phones are. But this is a double-edged sword. While the downside is weaker connectivity, the upside is that, at a measly rating of .12, Audiovox's 6600-series of phones have the lowest specific absorption rate (SAR) rating of any cell phone available in the United States. While a bona fide link between cell phone usage and cancer has yet to be established, smart consumers can play it safe by seeking out cell phones that fall at the bottom end of the FCC-approved range rather than the top end. Earlier this year, in a deal on Amazon.com that not only gave me the phones for free, but that paid me cold hard cash to take them, I got suckered into taking two Motorola V265 phones only to find out later that they had SAR ratings of 1.55 (tied with Motorola's V120c for the worst rated SAR rating of any phone available in the US). As I became more familiar with the SAR issue and the fact that it may be another decade before we know anything for sure about the potential connection of cell phones and cancer, I realized that it's definitely something I'm going to think hard about before investing in a cell phone for my children. For example, one like the FireFly that's specifically designed for little kids, but that has a .945 SAR rating (a 688 percent increase over the Audiovox's .12 rating).
The other downside is that if you don't have access to a power outlet, the battery on a phone like the Audiovox XV6600 can drain pretty quickly when the smartphone's Bluetooth and EVDO radios are going full bore, passing data back and forth between them. Depending on what sort of battery life you normally get out of you notebook computer, this means that your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone (which, for all intents and purposes, is taking the place of a WiFi access point), could run out of juice before your computer does and that might leave you high and dry. Not just without Internet connectivity. But also without voice service (on your cell phone). Of course, if you have a couple of spare batteries on hand, which any self-respecting smartphone user should always have, then battery life isn't too much of a problem. (Although I wish that the XV6600 could rely on the same backup battery that manages the integrity of its volatile memory to sustain the device during a battery swap that should only take a few seconds.)
Whereas my last missing manual covered wireless, Bluetooth-based use of the XV6600, perhaps the next one should cover use of the 6600 (and other Windows Mobile 2003-based smartphones) for Internet connectivity using the USB cable (instead of Bluetooth). Shutting off the Bluetooth radio in both devices should preserve the battery life of each. But what I don't see (and will be checking into) is an option that makes sure that if the phone is plugged into the PC via USB that it's not attempting to recharge itself (to 100 percent) off the notebook's battery (since the USB cable carries power). In other words, I want the option to control how the XV6600 is connected to the PC: For both data and power; For just data; For just power (useful in situations where you have access to one plug in the wall and both the notebook and the smartphone--by way of the USB connection--can drink from it).
As time goes by, I'll have a lot more to report on the Audiovox XV6600. But, in the meantime, I've been experimenting with taking podcasts to the next level using something I'm calling a photocast. I basically took the aforementioned missing manual and turned it into a photo essay of sorts. Perhaps it could turn out to be a revolution in documentation. Check it out.