One Complete Portable Connectivity solution!!!

A Story/Review/How-To – Scott

This story really starts with my journey this past year on an 11-week tour of the United States with an opera company from London. Since I knew I would be “stuck” on a bus most of the day, every day, for 11 weeks, I really wanted a way to be connected to the internet. My choice, at that time, was to go with a PCMCIA “Aircard” solution from Verizon Wireless. This worked fine, and in fact exceeded all my expectations, with the 17″ Powerbook I had at the time. After the tour, however, the $80 (US) per month that I was paying for this service just didn’t make economical sense; after all, I have very fast access at home. When I traded in my Powerbook for a Macbook Pro, the old Aircard was defunct, anyway (the Macbook Pro has an incompatible Expresscard-34 slot, instead of the PCMCIA).

In the meantime, Sprint has merged with Nextel, and their network has expanded accordingly. I have used Sprint for my mobile voice communications for several years, and based on the great service I have received from them, I have never been tempted to switch carriers. With their new expanded network, Sprint can now compete head-to-head with Verizon for mobile intenet access, so now there is no reason to go with any other company for any reason, voice or data.

The “icing on the cake,” however, is the fact that Sprint seems to be embracing the whole “mobile phone-as-modem” concept. Other carriers, Verizon in particular, appear to be discouraging use of high-bandwidth mobile phones as connection devices for notebook computers. They do this by using firmware that disables connectivity features that these phones would otherwise provide. By doing this, they force would-be laptop users to purchase an additional device (a connection card), with an additional plan (unlimited access= $60/month with an accompanying voice plan, $80 without).

Sprint, on the other hand, is now offering unlimited use of any EVDO-capable device in “phone-as-modem” mode for only $40/month, with a voice plan. They are still charging the industry-standard $60/$80 for unlimited data plans using a connection card. For me, the choice was plain.

Enter Samsung’s A900Ma900duo.gif

Given Sprint’s new offer, all I had to do was decide on a phone that would meet my needs. I have been using the rather simple mobile phone that I had for over 2 years, and I was long since eligible for an “upgrade rebate” on a new phone. Both I and my wife had been using the old phones, also Samsungs, and we both loved the features they had. In particular, we liked the Samsung software running on these phone. I needed a new phone that was EVDO and Bluetooth capable, and I was looking very closely at all of Samsung’s offerings. In the end, the A900M had all of the features I wanted and needed, and it was listed on the Sprint sight as supporting phone-as-modem use.

So, off to the Sprint store I go. Even with my “rebate” eligibility, I was going to pay $179 for this phone. When I made the actual purchase, however, the invoice printed out with a mail-in eligibility for an additional $100 off the price. I was getting this phone for a net of $79!! Even sweeter, the clerk placed the phone in a bag, and then “stuffed” the bag with additional goodies: I took home a leather cover for my new phone (which I will not use), and a $99 Bluetooth headset (which I definitely will use), all free of charge! I walked out of that store loving Sprint.

That love turned to frustration, however, once I got home. Don’t get me wrong; the phone’s features are outstanding. A built-in 1.3 megapixel camera with video capability, multimedia playback (video, photo, mp3, etc.), a web browser, Bluetooth connectivity, voice command, exterior display with caller ID… the list goes on and on. In addition to all of this, the clarity of the phone is far superior to my old phone, both in receiving and transmitting. The problem started when I attempted to connect the phone to my Macbook Pro for use as a modem.

To make a long story short, this phone cannot be paired to a computer (a Macbook Pro, anyway) using the computer; attempting to do so only freezes the phone, and the battery must be removed to rectify the problem. The pairing must be initiated by the phone. I spent 3 days trying to figure this out. The very night I purchased the phone, after several attempts to get the computer to pair with the phone, I spent over an hour on the line with Sprint’s Tech Support. The person with whom I spoke was very helpful, but could not resolve my problem. In fact, he had me wait on the line while he found both an A900M and a Mac, and he was then able to duplicate my issue in the “lab.” Unfortunately, he then sent me on a wild goose chase, because he was convinced that this was caused by an incomplete firmware update of the phone (which I had peformed earlier in the evening). His suggestion was that I go to a Sprint store the next day and have the phone updated “manually.” As it turns out, there is no update for this (very new) phone. Also, as it turns out, there really is no issue.

During this entire time, I was able to connect the phone to my MBP using the supplied USB cable, and the MBP immediately recognized it as a modem. I could connect to the internet, but only when “wired” directly to the phone. I have no idea why, after spending several hours tinkering with the phone over the 3 days, I attempted to initiate a Bluetooth pairing using the phone, instead of the computer, but I did. Imagine my surprise when I was immediately connected! In addition to feeling somewhat sheepish, my I-love-this-phone quotient doubled, at the very least.

And so, the How-To portion of this post:

If it is not clear to you from the above, do not make an attempt to pair a Samsung A900M to your Mac using the Mac, itself. You will make an initial pairing using the phone. After this initial pairing, the phone will “remember” your Mac as a trusted device, and any attempt to connect to the phone from the Mac will be met with an immediate reponse.

On your Mac, turn Bluetooth on, and make sure it is “Discoverable” (there will be a check next to “Discoverable” in the Bluetooth menu).

Using the phone’s menus, navigate to “Tools,” then “Bluetooth.” From the Bluetooth screen, use the right “soft key” to select “Options,” then choose option #1, “Add New.” From the pop-up, select “Search.”

Your phone will now look for, and find, your Mac. When it does, select “Add to List” (left soft key). A pop-up will appear on the phone. Enter a 4-digit code (choose any 4 digits), then press “OK.”

Your Mac will then display a dialogue requesting the same code. Enter it, then click “Connect.” Your pairing should now be complete, and the phone will now recognize your Mac as a “trusted device.”

Now, you are ready to set up your Mac to use the phone as a modem:

Open System Preference/Network. If necessary, unlock the padlock and enter your admin password. Choose Show: Network Port Configurations, and enable (check) Bluetooth, if it is not already enabled. Drag it in the list of configurations to a location that makes sense for your setup (mine is just below “Airport”).

Next, choose Show: Bluetooth. Select the “Bluetooth Modem” pane. Make sure that “Show Bluetooth status in menu bar” is checked, check “Show modem staus in menu bar,” uncheck “Wait for dial tone,” then use the pull-down menu to select an appropriate modem script for your phone (for any Sprint EVDO phone, select “Sprint PCS Vision”).

Select the “PPP” pane. Your phone will automatically provide any authentication credentials, so leave these fields blank. For “Telephone Number:,” enter your provider’s DUN number; for Sprint, this is #777. Leave all other settings at their default.

While still viewing the “PPP” pane, click the “Apply Now” button at the bottom of the window. Finally, click “Dial Now…”

An Internet Connect window should open, showing the progress of your connection attempt. Within seconds, you should be connected to the internet. While you are connected, your phone will display: “Connected as data modem to XXX,” and you will not be able to make or receive calls. You can simply quit Intenet Connect, and the connection will remain.

When you are finished with your session, simply choose “Disconnect” from the modem status menu. When you want to make another connection, turn on Bluetooth, select “Bluetooth” in the modem status menu, then choose “Connect.” It’s really that simple!!

Back to the Review…

Now that I have had a couple days to use this phone with all of its features accessible to me, I can state that I think it is the best thing since sliced bread! I frequently find myself using it to connect simply because… I can. I am used to learning how to use new devices, and I have rather stringent standards when it comes to “useability” and intelligent design. Technology is great, but only when it doesn’t interfere with one’s ability to actually use the device that incorporates it. I unreservedly give this phone my highest recommendation. Besides the obvious advantage of allowing a broadband connection for a notebook computer, I especially like the voice recognition software running on this phone: press and hold the “Talk” button, and a voice says, “Say a Command.” I then say, “Call Fred, Home.” It then asks for confirmation, and my call is placed. Unlike other phones, this software is internal, and does not rely on any “additional service” provided by the carrier.

The one and only drawback that I see is the fact that the phone must be charged using the full-size adapter. Other phones (even other phones from Samsung) can be charged with a much smaller, power-only adapter. In some cases, this adapter is tiny, minimizing the inconvenience of using the phone while charging. The A900M, however, has only a single port for charging and data exchange. In order to charge the phone, a full-width adapter must be used, thus prohibiting any other use of that single port. Since the phone does not appear to gain any power via USB, this means that the phone cannot be charged while “wired” to a computer. This is compensated for, somewhat, by the fact that it will normally be used as a modem via Bluetooth.

I would give this phone 10 out of ten stars, if it were not for the inconvenient design of the charging port. Based on this one flaw, I must reduce the final score to 9 out of 10.

6 thoughts on “One Complete Portable Connectivity solution!!!

  1. Scott Radloff

    BTW, the entire article, and this comment, were composed and posted while connected using the A900M 😉

  2. Gary S

    Scott, nice review! I especially appreciate the how-to, as the solution isn’t intuitive. No doubt you’ve saved many folks much time & effort.

    Would you please provide a bit of performance data, now that you’ve been using the phone-as-modem for awhile? First, how fast is the connection speed? Second, any idea yet as to how long the charge in the phone’s battery will last while using the phone as a modem? Third, have you experienced any signal drop-outs? (I get a weak signal on my cell phone in some spots within my house, but have not experienced much trouble while out and about, which is when I’d primarily use this sort of connection.)

    Again, thanks for the review. I’ve been very pleased with Sprint myself over the years. Their data plan seems fairly priced. Given the increasing difficulty I’ve had finding free, open WiFi connections, this solution is looking more & more attractive. Also, I’m still using a 12″ Powerbook with no card slot, so Bluetooth or USB are my only options.

    Thanks,
    Gary

  3. Scott Radloff

    Gary,

    I was asked the same thing concerning real-world speeds on the Apple Discussions site. In response, I performed this test (at random):

    dslreports.com speed test 2006-11-25 18:33:29 EST:
    288 / 49 (Kbps)
    (35.1 / 6 KB/sec)

    As you can see, my speeds are not blisteringly fast, but decent enough for most purposes. The A900M provides the same EVDO speeds that any connection card would.

    Based on their coverage maps, it appears that Sprint focuses on city centers and “corridors,” where other providers focus on population centers. For me, given the way I usually travel, Sprint’s paradigm works very well. It does, however, mean that areas that would by classified as “residential suburbs” aren’t covered with as strong a signal as would otherwise be true.

    In spite of this, I have not (yet) found myself without the ability to connect. Even in locations where normal phone calls are subject to drop-outs (yes, I do get those), I can still establish a good EVDO connection, and I have never (again, yet) been in any location without EVDO service.

    On the subject of EVDO… All devices that support EVDO also support the older, and slower, 3G standard. This is the standard (and infrastructure) that is used for Sprint’s “Vision” services. When EVDO is not available, a data connection is automatically made via 3G. I am not certain of the ramifications of this on my plan, since I do not subscribe to Sprint’s Vision service. For now, I am assuming that 3G (Vision) access in “modem mode” is included in the plan. If and when I find myself without EVDO coverage, I will find out. Incidently, Sprint calls the EVDO service “Power Vision.”

    Also, I have found that the phone wants to disconnect any Bluetooth connection that has remained dormant for about 1 minute. This makes sense, based on the fact that maintaining a Bluetooth connection consumes battery power unecessarily. This is the only annoyance with using the phone via BLuetooth, but since it only takes about 8 seconds to re-connect, it is a small annoyance.

    I don’t have any hard data on battery life while connected as a modem, but I can say that it is not too bad (maybe 2/3 the normal “talk time”). The advantage to using the phone via Bluetooth is that the phone can be powered while connected as a modem; if in the car, with the car auto adapter; if indoors, plugged into the wall outlet. If I connect the phone via USB, I must rely on the phone’s battery.

    After using this phone for several weeks now, I can honestly say that this is the slickest bit of technology I have ever purchased (other than my Macbook Pro, of course). Even considered only as a phone, THIS THING ROCKS! Add to that the fact that it allows me to be “connected” wherever I go, and it is truly amazing. In addition to all of its well-designed features, it is physically a solid piece of equipment. I have no reservations in recommending this phone.

    Scott

  4. Gary S

    Scott, thanks for the very detailed response! This phone and service sound great. I’m definitely going to check it out, though probably not until after Jan. 1… too much going on right now wrapping up the year at work, and preparing for the holidays. If I got a new toy now, I’d be too busy playing with it to get done all I need to get done!

    Again, thanks for the excellent review and follow-up! Much appreciated!
    Gary

  5. Colin

    Hey,
    When i try connecting to the internet, my phone tells me i have the wrong user name and psw even when you said it fills in by itself,
    any ideas?
    colin

  6. Scott Radloff

    Colin,

    Are you receiving an error message on the phone, itself, or on your Mac? Please provide exact information, as this will help us diagnose the problem. ALso, it is assumed that you are using the same phone (an A900M) and Sprint’s phone-as-modem plan. Is this correct, and have you enabled this service on your voice plan?

    Scott

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