June 14, 2007

Hip Pocket E-mail – Blessing or Curse?

I’ve resisted getting a PDA capable of receiving e-mail and doing all the other whiz bang things we associate with being ‘connected’ at all hours of the day and night. I’ve been on countless airplanes watching people and embracing their PDAs with a mix of disdain and envy. My philosophy has been – if it’s really that important, you call me on the phone like a person. For the most part this has worked out well. Of course, it was not career enhancing in a passive aggressive e-mail uber alles environment as prevailed at my former employer where conflict was avoided at all costs and that anyone who had a different opinion should be treated like the psycho of the week on Criminal Minds.

Nevertheless, my wife and I decided to buy ourselves an ultra romantic anniversary present – his and hers new super phones on Saturday, 9 June. Over time I’ve found that my personal level of aggravation goes down if the Queen Mother (QM) has the same hardware and software that I do. We had been on Cingular, moved to AT&T – got converted to Cingular and back to AT&T. We thought we would start at the local AT&T Store. The sales person was competent and personable. We decided that the new 8525 would be best for us because it had larger keys and a bigger screen than the Palm devices and others.

We went up to the block to the Sprint store. The experience was quite different, the sales person who worked with us did not seem to be nearly as knowledgeable or as personable and the product line, although cheaper, was quite limited.

We trudged back to AT&T and were delighted when the sales person was able to move our phone numbers from the old phones to the new ones. We purchased extra phone chargers for each car, state of the art Jawbone wireless headsets and $1,300 later we were out the door tethered to a 2 year contract. Alas they had run out of cases (this will be important a bit later on) and were advised that the cases would be in with a ‘big shipment’ next week. As it turned out the cases are really Palm cases.

Needless to say we felt very 21st century. Over Sunday I learned about the new device (the manual was sparse to say the least) and with a bit of effort was able to program AOL e-mail to reach the device. Strangely enough when I programmed my wife’s device, there was a different set of instructions on the AT&T website. All was ultimately working fine. I decided to wait until later in the week to deal with transferring appointments and contacts and installing the ‘trial version’ of Outlook 2007. You would think for the kind of money we paid, the appointment calendar software would have been included – but even Microsoft has to make a buck a guess.

Next major event was the QM having a bit of a trip and cracking her LCD. We found out, a bit to our chagrin that AT&T doesn’t take responsibility for what it sells. Rather it routes you to a local repair shop. That shop ordered the parts which would take about a week to arrive. The bad news was the cost to repair was almost the same amount we paid for the device with the 2 year contract, the good news is they gave her a loaner phone.

Wednesday I was at an all day off site conference. I thought this would be a great test of being able to get my e-mail and staying in touch. For reasons that remain unclear, not only was I not able to get my e-mail, but all my settings for my AOL account (which I keep because the wife has one and I’m customer support – remember) were gone. I was not a happy camper. Also I now started to get gibberish text messages – they looked like the inside of a PGP key at the rate of a couple an hour.

Today was a bit more sane. I delivered a presentation at a local Bar Association and was able to check my e-mail without incident. Surprise avoidance is a good thing. However, there is no way I can use that device and drive at the same time. I need reading glasses to see the device and I have not progressed to the point where I’ve voice coded my more common phone numbers.

A minor annoyance is the fact that the device has valuable screen real estate devoted to a MSN connection. I don’t have one and don’t want one, nor do I want to waste valuable screen space on it, but I have no idea how to remove it or if it can be removed at all.

So what’s my overall take: it was time to make the move and no new technology is acquired without pain. It is somewhat frustrating when a large company like AT&T is not a single point of contact. It would be like your local auto dealer saying thanks for buying that new car, now take it somewhere else to get it fixed. Interestingly enough the repair shop told me that AT&T doesn’t even offer insurance on the device because they are so expensive to repair. I wonder if I had bought the same thing at BestBuy if that would have been the case.

Time will tell if our new hip pocket e-mail will be a blessing and a curse. So far, it’s been a bit of both.

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