Getting 3G and higher data speeds with your unlocked GSM phone (in the US)

30 Nov

In the US, when I tell people about I have an unlocked (carrier-independent) phone, they’re often surprised. Where do you get one of those? Is that legal?

I bought mine on Amazon, which is, unless I’m very misinformed, perfectly legal. And once you have one, it’s relatively simple to activate a carrier-independent GSM phone with a SIM card. Unfortunately, there are only two big carriers that use SIM cards in America: AT&T and T-Mobile. (Here’s a handy list of all US wireless carriers if you’re interested.) You can buy a new SIM card directly from AT&T or T-Mobile for around $5 or just get one at Amazon or another store.

The part where things get complicated is ensuring that your phone can communicate on the right bands or frequencies. It used to be OK to just buy a global “quad-band” phone, but now you need to worry about high-speed data too (assuming you’re getting a phone capable of transferring data at 3G or 4G, and seriously, who isn’t?).

Here are the frequencies you need to work with AT&T and T-Mobile in the US:

Carrier GSM bands for 2G/EDGE connection HSPA (HSUPA/HSDPA) bands for 3G/4G connection
AT&T GSM 850 and 1900 MHz HSPA 850 and 1900 MHz
T-Mobile GSM 1700 or 2100 MHz HSPA 1700 and 2100 MHz

I’ve heard people say they’ll settle for the slower EDGE network and use wi-fi for broadband, which is reasonable, but you should know what you’re getting into. Your phone needs to support both 850 MHz and 1900 MHz to get 3G+ speeds on AT&T in the US. I’ve heard their are exceptions depending on the part of the country you’re in, but if you want your phone to connect to 3G reliably, you should make sure to get a phone that works across these bands. Likewise you need both 1700 and 2100 MHz support for faster data speeds on T-Mobile US.

If you really want to try out a phone that only supports one of the bands your carrier uses, check out this AT&T US coverage map by frequency to check your area. I can’t find a map for T-Mobile by frequency, but the map on their site is nice. I don’t suggest roughing it with shabby coverage, but it’s your party.

GSMArena.com has detailed specs on just about every mobile phone, so if you’re not sure which bands your phone supports, find the model here and check the network info.

Disclaimer: I have experience with this, but I’m not an engineer, so if I have my facts wrong, please let me know :) 

Tags: , , , , , ,

$99 Android Netbook

5 Nov

Craig Android Netbook Computer

Drug stores sometimes have the craziest little gadgets. I was at Rite Aid today and spotted this 7 inch netbook running Android 2.2 by Craig. They’re just $99.99 today (it’s not clear if the price goes up after Nov 5) and I almost bought one out of curiosity.

Craig Android Netbook Computer

I don’t know where else they’re selling this, but I only found it on the Rite Aid website. More detailed specs are on the Craig website.

UPDATE: Based the comments I’m getting, including on the very helpful, lengthy review left here (below) by RK, I really don’t suggest you buy one of these things. Also, RK suggests the specs on the Craig website refer to a different computer, so watch out. (Nov 29, 2011)

UPDATE #2: Dan B. thought this netbook was a good deal for $50, see below for his review. (June 24, 2012)

Tags: , , , , , ,

Five Unique Android Phones

30 Aug

After spending years with an iPhone, I decided I’d step away from iProducts and try something different. Unfortunately, most of the smartphones I found had the iPhone’s same basic form factor: a big, shiny slab. Big screens are great, but surely there are other cool smartphone designs, right? What’s a nonconformist to do? After days of shopping around for distinctive Android phones, I found five that really stand out.

One: Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro SK17i

The Xperia Mini Pro SK17i is the smaller scale version of the high end Xperia  and Xperia Arc phones. For a tiny phone though, the SK17i has better specs than almost any other miniature Android phone on the market. The phone has a 1 GHz processor, 500 MB of RAM, and a 480 x 320 pixel resolution in a tiny little 3 inch touchscreen. The biggest difference between the “mini” and the “mini pro” is the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. This phone ships with Android 2.3.

Two: Kyocera Echo

The Kyocera Echo has something inside you may have never known you were missing: another big touchscreen. With dual 3.5 inch touchscreens, you can look at items on one big display, open an on-screen keyboard on the lower display while reading the upper display, and other fun stuff. This phone is pretty new (released April 2011), has a 1 GHz processor, a 5 magapixel camera, wi-fi, GPS, and ships with Android 2.2. Even for all that, the Echo won’t get 4G data speeds, but runs at 3G speed on the Sprint network.

Three: T-Mobile Sidekick 4G

Like many long-term gadget fans, I’m happy to see the T-Mobile Sidekick come back to the market, which was always a very distinctive and innovative smartphone. Its Android OS reboot has been well received. The new Sidekick 4G is large, relatively slim, and has the same unusual form factor as its predecessors, with a big screen the swivels out to reveal a particularly roomy QWERTY keyboard. The 3.5 inch touchscreen has a rather high resolution of 480 x 800 pixels. The Sidekick 4G has includes all the rest of the best performance features as well, such as wi-fi, GPS, and a fast with a 1 GHz processor with 512 MB RAM.

Four: Umeox Apollo

While the Umeox Apollo is not yet released, this very rugged, distinctive solar powered Android phone should be hitting the market in Q3 of 2011. Whether it will officially be on the US market is not clear, but it will be GSM compatible for some US carriers. Still, this phone can last on 2.5 hours of sunlight per day using its built-in solar panel (cool, but don’t lose the power cable if you live somewhere like Seattle or England.) It also has a bulit-in 3 megapixel camera, wi-fi, a 3.2 inch touchscreen, an FM radio, and color scheme that doesn’t resemble an iPhone a bit.

Five: Motorola Flipout

Although it was released last June 2010, the Motorola Flipout is a really unique, square Android phone with a rotating touchscreen and QWERTY keyboard. With a 600 MHz processor and 512 MB RAM, this phone shouldn’t be terrible slow either. Reviewers complain that the phone’s 2.8 inch touchscreen is just too small, but those of us with smaller hands can probably make it work, although small screen’s 320 x 240 pixels resolution may also feel a bit tight. The Flipout ships with Android 2.1.

Tags: , , , , ,