Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Technophilia: Garmin Nuvi 360 + Sprint Sanyo Katana

One of the most frustrating things in this supposedly standards-based technology era is figuring out if your two high tech devices will work properly together. Bluetooth is a great example of the great failure of technology standards; assume nothing when it comes to Bluetooth interoperability.

This post, should the Google gods deem it index-worthy, shall address the question of whether my two latest gadgets play well together.

My favorite new toy, the Garmin Nuvi 360 portable GPS navigator, has Bluetooth support to function as a hands-free phone interface. In theory it can make and receive calls, download your phone's address book, and send and receive text messages (why you would want to send text messages from your portable GPS navigator is another question entirely).

It was about time for me to upgrade my old cell phone and I figured I may as well get one with Bluetooth that will work with the Nuvi 360. There are discussion threads on compatible phones for the Nuvi line at gpspassion.com but they are incomplete or confusing; the Garmin Website lists compatible phones but it is very incomplete.

Well I am happy to report that the Sanyo Katana for Sprint does work. Dialing, voice, and address book features seem to be working just fine, including the Katana's limited voice-activated dialing; text messaging is not supported.

The Nuvi's built-in speaker is not very capable (almost unusable for phone conversations) but in normal usage the audio is piped through my car speakers anyway (via aux input to car stereo). Even over the car speakers the phone audio quality is not great and is clearly worse than the otherwise good sound quality of the phone itself. Blame Bluetooth - the audio can get choppy and broken up depending on where the phone is located in relation to the Nuvi.

The built-in mic is also just okay and, according to the person I called, sounds like a bad speakerphone connection. I had to speak rather loudly to be heard clearly on the other end. There is also a faint echo effect for the person on the other end of the conversation. The Nuvi mount has a jack for an optional external microphone that I have yet to try.

The initial Bluetooth pairing was easily accomplished (I initiated it on the Nuvi and accepted the connection on the Katana). Now the two "trusted devices" automatically reconnect whenever they are within communications range of each other (i.e. when I get into the car with my phone and turn on the Nuvi). The connection is established very quickly, pretty much as soon as the Nuvi is powered up.

The Nuvi's copy of the cell phone's phone book is updated, but only when the phone is actually accessed through the Nuvi (e.g. I make a call). The Bluetooth auto-pairing does not update the phone book on its own.

The Nuvi's interface for the various phone features is quite nice and gives you all the controls you'd expect. The most important one--transfer audio back to phone--is just one click away during phone calls.

I have not compared the Nuvi's performance to the Katana's built-in speakerphone capabilities. Interestingly the Katana's speakerphone function is overridden by the Bluetooth connection while they are paired. If you hit the "Speaker" button on the Katana, it will activate the Nuvi's hands-free mode. I don't like that, but it does make sense.

All in all the hands-free functionality is really only useful for short calls, such as when calling ahead for a dinner reservation or when an unexpected call comes in and the phone is buried in your pocket or purse. If a longer call is in order, plan ahead and plug a headset directly into the phone.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sprint's hidden, optional charges. What bastards.

I decided that I wanted to get a Sprint mobile broadband card for my laptop so that I won't be tied to random little wi-fi hotspots. I've also been meaning to upgrade my old phone to one that supports bluetooth so that I can field calls through my portable GPS unit.

So I call Sprint and start going through the process of upgrading the phone. The CSR's computer was having issues so everything took forever. I was put on hold throughout this process about ten times. Half of the delays were due to her lack of knowledge; she'd put me on hold so she could go find out the answers to my rather straightforward questions.

I chose the Sanyo Katana in Sapphire Blue. The Website lists the price for new customers as follows:

$249.99 regular price
- $170.00 instant savings
- $50.00 mail-in rebate
$29.99 online price

Okay. Not bad. $30 for a new phone. But the customer service rep (CSR) tells me that my discount--for being a loyal customer for 2+ years (in fact since 1999)--is only $150.00 in instant savings with a $50 mail-in rebate. That's $20 worse than the new customer discount. As a continuing customer I am worth less to Sprint than a new customer.

This makes me upset. I point this out to the CSR and she eventually says, "Oh, I'm sorry, actually your mail-in rebate will be $70.00." Yeah right. What I strongly suspect is that the default rebate is $50 but the CSRs can, at their discretion, grant continuing customers the $70.00 rebate.

Okay, so the phone is still $30, but only after arguing with the CSR a bit.

Next she tells me that there's an $18 activation fee. Again this makes me angry. So again I point out, "so wait, if I have to pay an activation fee, then I'm still paying more than a new customer would."

"Yes, sir, that's true. I will waive the activation fee for you."

So not only is there a discretionary extra $20 rebate, there's also a discretionary $18 activation fee! The optional $38 that the CSR granted me is more than the phone itself is costing me!

Now all of this is happening at a snail's pace. Just getting this far has taken 45 minutes.

We move on to putting in the order for the mobile broadband card. At least there are no suprises on this one - until she mentions the $36 activation fee. I'm completely flabbergasted. And by this point we've been on the phone for 65 minutes!!! She wisely says, "but I'll waive that fee too since you've had to wait so long for all of this." Damn right you will. "I'll also waive the $12 shipping charge."

So now the discretionary credits are 20 + 18 + 36 + 12 = $86!

The mobile broadband card is $80. For a $30 phone and a $80 card, the CSR had (at least) $86 in discretionary credits. $30 + $80 = $110 for new equipment is one thing, but $110 + $86 = $196 would be nearly twice as much!

The phone arrives the next day. I call to activate it and... guess what?!

"There is an $18 upgrade fee."

I tell this CSR that the previous CSR didn't mention anything at all about an upgrade fee and that it's completely unacceptable. After a couple minutes of arguing with him, he says, "okay, I will waive the upgrade fee, but this is a one-time only deal; I'm making a note in your account that now you know about the upgrade fee and all future phone upgrades will charge you an upgrade fee." I agree that this is fair (since, in all likelihood and especially after this experience, I will switch carriers when it's time for a new phone).

20 + 18 + 36 + 12 + 18 = $104 saved. The amount of discretionary CSR credits is now only $6 short of being exactly twice as much as the equipment itself. In other words, by being annoyed as hell at them I got the equivalent of a 50% discount. But what gets me is that those are all discretionary discounts. Sprint is more than happy to charge two times more than the advertised price and is just hoping to get away with it. And at the same time they know some people will call them on it and so they have already authorized their CSRs to back off on the overcharging (albeit one hard-fought charge at a time).

It's like saying, "Milk costs $2.50. That'll be $5."

"But you said it's only $2.50!"

"Oh, you're right. I'll give it you for $4."

"But you said it's $2.50!!"

Shouldn't there be a sense of embarrassment here? Where's the sense of shame? I understand the brutal Wall Street profit motive, but this is just infuriating.

I have not yet received the mobile broadband card. I'm afraid to think what other hidden charges the CSR will try to stick to me when I activate it.

So obviously it's good policy to always argue and complain with the Sprint CSRs. Who knows, you might save yourself 50%.

Just ridiculous.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Wine Tasting: Greg Norman 2004 Cabernet-Merlot

Greg Norman
(Limestone Coast, Australia)
2004 Cabernet-Merlot (80%/20%)
Rating: 8.5/10

Surprisingly intense, rich fruit flavor behind a slightly strong initial harshness. After breathing a bit the flavor emerges even further, but don't wait too long; this wine doesn't need much time. Quite enjoyable, even without breathing. Should be good with or without food. Makes me want to try Norman's pure cabernet.

Approx $12 from Costco.