Summer blackout? No problem. EV-DO saves the day.

I've been swallowed so whole by the blogosphere that any time I start testing a new product, it takes me about a year to do so because of how little time I have to test each of the features.  One of the products that I'm testing is AudioVox's XV6600WOC (who comes up with these names anyway).

I've been swallowed so whole by the blogosphere that any time I start testing a new product, it takes me about a year to do so because of how little time I have to test each of the features.  One of the products that I'm testing is AudioVox's XV6600WOC (who comes up with these names anyway).  It's a PocketPC-based smartphone with a very cool retractable thumbboard and two radios.  One radio is for connecting to Verizon Wireless' newly rolled out 3G-rated EV-DO network for voice and data and the other is a Bluetooth radio.  

The 6600's inclusion of a Bluetooth radio is bidirectional in that I can use it to take advantage of another device or, other devices can take advantage of the 6600. For example, I can synch up my contacts and e-mail (using Microsoft's ActiveSync) with my Bluetooth-enabled PC.  Or, I can browse the Web using the 6600 by wirelessly connecting it to my Bluetooth-enabled PC which in turn is connected to my Wi-Fi network which in turn has access to the Internet.  So, in that situation, the PC is routing traffic between the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections.  If I wanted to, I could browse the Web over the 6600's connection to Verizon's EV-DO network too. 

In the same way that the 6600 can take advantage of the PC's connection to the Internet, the PC (a notebook in my case) can take advantage of the 6600's ability to connect to the Internet through the Verizon EV-DO connection. Not all phones with Bluetooth radios can support a PC this way.  Since they must appear as though they're Dial-Up Networking servers (DUN) to Windows-based PC's, such smartphones must explicitly make DUN available as a service through the Bluetooth radio.   DUN is one of several "Bluetooth profiles" supported by the 6600, something that I hadn't tested until now, and something that I thanked my lucky stars for this week.

While I hadn't yet gotten around to testing the 6600 as a DUN server for my PC (via Bluetooth), the record-breaking heat in Massachusetts this week moved me into action as one air conditioner too many apparently pushed our neighborhood over the local substation's limit and knocked the electricity out of several city blocks including mine.   So, everything -- the lights, cable modem, Wi-Fi access points, and Ethernet switches -- went dark on me.  Everything but my notebook which could care less because it had a full battery.  Of course, it wasn't doing me much good without a network to connect to.   Now seemed like a good time to test the 6600's DUN capabilities since the 6600 had a full battery too.  Verizon's user manual was of little use in figuring out how to do this and -- and a note to you coders who are writing Bluetooth wizards (the kind that are supposed to make this idiot proof): your wizards stink.  With no access to the Web, online help was out of reach as well.   The power actually returned before I was able to figure out how to get it working.  

But, thanks to the Web, I found others commiserating about the same experience and took advantage of their tips to get DUN going between the PC and the 6600.  Thanks to those tips, I got it working but it was a bit slow for my taste.   Since the PC sees the 6600 as little more than a  modem, you get to set the data rate much the same way you get to set the speed for any modem. Someone on the Web (I can't remember where) recommended picking the highest available speed.  So I tried it and set the DUN connection for the highest speed available that Windows had to offer: 921kbps.  I was shocked at how fast Web pages were loading on my system (cable modems? we don't need no steenking cable modems!).   All my apps worked.  Web? No problem.  E-mail? No problem.  E-mail over a virtual private network connection?  No problem. 

And then, the lights went out again.  No problem.  Wi-Fi, eat your heart out.  OK, well, one problem.  As the successor to CDMA 1xRTT (the 2.5G version of the networks run by Verizon and Sprint), one downside to the 3G-rated EV-DO is that it cannot do voice and data at the same time (well, technically it can if you're using something like Skype).  The first time I used a landline to call into the smartphone while it was providing Internet connectivity to my Bluetooth-enabled Thinkpad T42, my Internet connection was terminated and I was prompted with a dialog box on the smartphone that asked if I wanted to accept the call. "Bummer, I thought.  If someone wants to play with my head, all they have to is keep calling my cell phone while I'm trying to use the Internet.  But then, on all subsequent attempts to reproduce those results, the I was bumped to my smartphone's voice mail.  As it turns out (I think), the first test coincidentally coincided with the smartphone's loss of the Internet connection due to a weak signal.  

However, that is one trade off that those picking between EV-DO-based networks like Sprint's and Verizon's and GPRS/GSM-based networks (Cingular and T-Mobile) have to consider.  With the GPRS(data)/GSM(voice) networks, users can do both voice and data at the same time.   However, if you can't get a good enough signal in the areas you spend most of your time (or in your place of residence), theoretically being able to do both at the same time doesn't matter a hill-o-beans as long as you can do neither in reality.  Since the Verizon Wireless' coverage is better than all the others in my house, I went with its EV-DO (voice or data, but not both simultaneously) network instead.   As I routinely say when it comes to selecting smartphones (or cell phones), the three most important things are coverage, coverage, and coverage.  Pick your provider first.  Borrow your friends' phones and check the signal strength at your frequent haunts.  Then, when you've found the provider with the best coverage, check out what smartphones they have and go with one of those.  This is one of the more unfortunate aspects of the smarphone ecosystem:  you're very much beholden to you carrier.  Not just for which devices can get onto their networks, but also what you can put onto those devices.   For example, I'd like to upgrade my 6600 to Windows Mobile 5.0 when it comes out.   But, apparently, that's wishful thinking.