to beat the high cost of mobile Internet access
Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business
January 15-21, 2008; issue 951
High Tech Office
One of this column’s biggest complaints is the high
cost of mobile
data service in Canada. Canadian cellphone users pay more than their
counterparts in other countries to get access to e-mail, websites, etc.
Mobile users with plans paid for by their employers make use of data
services; those of us who pay our own way use mobile data services
rarely or not at all.
Late in December, the news media told the tale of
a 22-year-old Albertan with a two-month bill of nearly $84,000 for data
access on his Bell Mobility account. Apparently he didn’t realize that
connecting his laptop to his cellphone wasn’t covered by his unlimited
web browser plan. Ironically, that story broke on the same day I saw a
full-page ad from Bell touting an offer of unlimited Internet access
for $7 a month.
This pricing plan accompanied Bell’s debut of the HTC
smartphone. The $7 rate is available to Bell customers with standard
cellphones or the Touch, but not to Bell customers with Blackberries or
other smart phones.
Inevitably, the HTC Touch (pricing ranges from $99
with a three-year
contract to $399 with no contract) begs for comparison with Apple’s
iPhone. The Touch looks a lot like an iPhone: a large, touch-sensitive
screen with no physical keypad and just a single button on the bottom.
The iPhone, still not officially available in Canada,
expensive: US$399 with a two-year AT&T contract. It runs on
AT&T’s Edge network (offered locally by Rogers and Fido), which is
slower than Bell’s HSDPA/EV-DO. However, the iPhone also offers
standard WiFi, which is not available on the Touch, allowing for free
(and fast) Internet access any place that has a WiFi signal. Both
phones promise multimedia features: built in cameras, photo display,
music and video playing. The iPhone includes eight gigabytes of
built-in storage, while the Touch uses a hard-to-access removable
Micro-SD memory card (a 512 MB card is included; higher capacity cards
are available at extra cost).
Unlike the iPhone, the Touch’s software is built on
top of Windows
Mobile 6. This is a mixed blessing. There is a lot of add-on software
for Windows Mobile, and it can connect to business friendly Windows
Exchange servers. But the Touch’s touch screen interface too often
feels like it was awkwardly layered atop Windows Mobile. Text input is
especially frustrating. In fact, HTC includes a miniature stylus for
use when fingertips aren’t accurate enough.
Web browsing on the Touch, like on most cellphones,
can be awkward.
Most web pages are displayed a column at a time, making it hard to see
what’s being displayed and slow to get to the parts you want.
Alternatively, as with most phones online, users can opt to be
spoon-fed a modest selection of websites, preformatted to fit a mobile
screen. In contrast, the iPhone (and its sibling, Apple’s iPod Touch)
offer much more full-featured web browsing, with easy zooming in on the
parts you want.
None of this should imply that I don’t like the HTC
Touch. It’s a
decent enough smartphone that is widely available and supported in
Canada. (It’s also sold by Telus and Rogers.) The $7/month data plan
Bell introduced with it is much more newsworthy.
But when I went to Bell’s website and walked through
the steps of
selecting an HTC Touch and trying to select the features of a mobile
plan, it was barely mentioned. When I looked closely, there it was – an
option under additional “fun zone” features – unlimited mobile browser:
I’d like to see Bell shouting about this offering and
to its other smartphone models. That might put some real pressure on
their competitors to match (or beat) it. •