AT&T, Samsung And The “Sleep Of Death”

Updated with AT&T’s response

I have been an AT&T wireless customer for a long time. We have three phones on a family plan, two with data. We shell out a few thousand dollars a year to AT&T.

My phone is a Samsung Galaxy S2. It is a phone I’ve written about and really enjoy having.

Not now. Now I’m pissed.

Before Christmas AT&T sent out a software update. These are normally bug fixes and upgrades. It’s a way to make the phone better.

AT&T’s implementation of Android 4.0.4 broke the phone! I now suffer from a problem dubbed the “Sleep of Death.” Here’s the conversation from other unhappy campers on AT&T’s forum. It currently has 381 messages spread across 13 pages!

Randomly, while the screen is off and the phone ‘resting’, my AT&T Galaxy S2 locks up. Something very CPU intensive is taking place while the phone is incommunicado, because when you discover the problem the case is hot, the battery greatly depleted.

For me it happens four or five times a week. Some folks claim it happens three or four times a day.

There is no way to know you’ve suffered this fate until you go to use the phone and find it dead to-the-world. There’s no notice anyone’s sent a text or called! Texts will be received after a a reboot, but incoming call details are lost.

If you’re someone who calls a number and doesn’t leave voicemail, I might never know you contacted me.

AT&T’s update caused this problem. They know about it and acknowledge it. In fact JamieH posted this in AT&T’s customer forum:

Hey guys…

Great news

We worked with Samsung to research this issue and a fix will be available in the coming weeks. I don’t have any specific dates just yet but as soon as I do, I’ll post them here.

I want to note that this is a direct result of you discussing this issue in the forums and telling us what you are seeing. Great job.

That was January 23rd, 44 days ago. Six weeks plus is too long for a problem like this to fester! A later post from an AT&T Community Manager changed “coming weeks” to “soon.”

Because of coverage where I live, AT&T is my only totally viable option.

AT&T gets deservedly bad marks on many customer related concerns. Add this to the list of unacceptable behavior.

I thought you’d want to know.


AT&T responded via Twitter

@attcustomercare: @geofffox Waiting for Samsung to release update for us to release to our cust. No exact ETA. Check link periodically:

I responded to them

@geofffox: @ATTCustomerCare AT&T could pressure Samsung on its customers behalf or roll back this upgrade. Instead, it’s my problem, not yours.

Capable Trumps Superior

This will mark a sea change in electronics. For the first time I can remember capable will drive superior from the market. Times have changed.

I’ve been reading about Samsung’s new point-and-shoot camera. Look at it from the back and it resembles a smartphone. That’s because it’s got a smartphone’s operation system, Android.

Making a single use products with a flexible, expandable and upgradeable operating systems is a pretty new concept. It’s also one that makes sense. Android has gotten very powerful and running a camera is embedded deeply in its DNA.

I don’t think it’s going to sell well.

Sorry Samsung. Point and shoot cameras occupy a space no longer in demand. Why carry a discrete camera when you’ve already got one built into your phone?

I know, there’s lots Samsung’s camera can do that cellphones can’t. That’s a distinction without a difference. Point and shoot was already too complex. Most people with digital cameras were already limiting their shots to what a smartphone can now do and are pretty satisfied with the result.

Settling for smaller and easier is the next model for digital gear. That’s part of the reason why desktop computer sales are way off. Laptops and tablets aren’t as powerful or versatile. They’re smaller. They’re simpler.

This will mark a sea change in electronics. For the first time I can remember capable will drive superior from the market. Times have changed.

The New Phone Revisited

I want a geeky toy where it’s possible to push the envelope and poke around.

Earlier this month I traded in my iPhone 3Gs for a Samsung Galaxy Sii. I know what you’re thinking. Everyone’s moving to iPhones… not away. I get it. This was the right move for me. So far I see no reason to question my decision.

First things first. For most people the iPhone is a great choice… maybe the best choice in a smartphone. It does nearly everything you’d want and since Apple vertically controls the whole “i” universe everything meshes seamlessly. It just works.

For me that strength is a weakness! I want more than a phone. I want a geeky toy where it’s possible to push the envelope and poke around.

My Samsung runs on the Android operating system. It reveals more of its inner workings and programmers take advantage.

Take GPS for example. In order to lock on and be useful a GPS system has to find orbiting satellites and track them. All that is hidden on the iPhone. All that is revealed on my Samsung.

Is it valuable? Probably not, but it’s interesting to me.

I’ve download a bunch of apps, nearly all free, that perform needed and unneeded tasks. One program monitors my location and the time then adjusts the phone’s ringtone and vibration to match my situation.

It’s quiet if I’m in the studio while our news is on. It’s quiet overnight while I’m asleep. It’s also programmed to turn the sound up if I’m in the car leaving work. It takes advantage of the phone’s ability to know where it is.

I went on EBay and bought a $16 dongle that plugs into my car. It’s an OBD2 adapter that reads all my car’s sensors in realtime and sends them to the Galaxy Sii via Bluetooth. A $5 app running on the phone analyzes the data, displays it and even records it for viewing later.

There’s a function which will record a video of my driving while overlaying my car’s gauges and a properly navigated Google map! Seriously, that’s nuts.

The versatility Android phones give outside developers is well beyond what Apple grants its devs. That’s part of the reason the iPhone has more long term stability than my phone. I’m willing to take that.

I picked up my old iPhone last night. It felt bulky compared to the Samsung. The Galaxy Sii is larger in height and width, but a lot thinner. That thinness is its most obvious physical feature when you grasp it.

Within days of my purchasing the Galaxy Sii Samsung announced a newer phone! It will run a newer version of Andriod (though I would expect that version to be customized for my phone too… after awhile).

You can’t stop and wait for technology! Sometimes you just have to pull the trigger.

Very Connected With My Blackberry

It is effortless as an email handler and its web browser is so vastly superior to the one on my earlier Samsung Blackjack with Windows 6 it’s criminal!

Helaine and I went to the JDRF Gala tonight. I was the emcee. More on that later.

Before we left we had the Phils/Mets game on. Good game and, of course, Helaine is a rabid Phillies fan. We continued listening in the car.

“Who is that guy? He’s awful.” Helaine was hearing a new Mets announcer for the first time. So much access now. There’s less reason to listen on the radio.

We got to the Gala. No TV. I pulled out my BlackBerry and hit the Phillies logo icon. My screen was updated every 15 seconds. There was a reasonably steady stream of text enumerated the action pitch-by-pitch. Text only. No video or audio.

This is nuts, right? Can’t we miss the end of an early season game? Obviously, no.

A few minutes later I got some text via BlackBerry’s messenger. It was Erik wishing the Phils luck and then predicting Shane Victorino would win the game for the Phillies.

He did!

This BlackBerry is magical. Stef told me before she got hers, but I took a long time to catch on. It is effortless as an email handler and its web browser is so vastly superior to the one on my earlier Samsung Blackjack with Windows 6 it’s criminal! I see people with iPhone’s and wonder how the experience could possibly be better than what I have?

People who purposely wander from the web often chide me for being too connected. They equate being in the digital cloud with work. No! My phone is a tool I use to my advantage. I understand why it is call “Crackberry.”

Yeah–It’s A Crackberry

I was so foolish. Stefanie was so right. I have a Blackberry now… a Crackberry… and the experience is magical

blackjack-w250.jpgFor the last year and a half I’ve been using a Samsung Blackjack. i wanted to be digitally complete. When I got it the word was it was a pretty good smartphone.

I was so foolish. Stefanie was so right. I have a Blackberry now… a Crackberry… and the experience is magical&#185. The Samsung was so clunky in comparison.

Transitioning from one phone to another isn’t easy. Here’s where Google gets involved. I set up a new email account I then sync’ed the Blackjack with Gmail. My phonebook flew through the air and into the Googleplex. Next I re-sync’ed, this time sending my contacts from Gmail to the Blackbery. Painless!

I wanted to continue to keep a calendar, but now I had a problem. The calendar and contacts had to be associated with the same email address. A little mumbo jumbo and the new Gmail account was incorporating the calendar from my main account (if there can be such a thing for someone who truly has around 2-dozen email addresses!).

Everything seems to be working fine. The email/SMS setup on the Blackberry is quite well thought out. In fact everything seems quite well thought out. I can’t get Pandora to work–a problem they admit is theirs. Shozu is also a little recalcitrant at the moment.

I pulled the micro-SD card from the Blackjack and inserted it into the Blackberry. How can a billion bytes of data get squeezed into a space so small?

The Blackjack is now, sadly, on the table top upside down, battery, SIM and mini-SD card removed. It’s like the carcass of an old subway car getting ready to be dumped in the Atlantic as an artificial reef. It’s sad really.

On Twitter Jim Heem said, “I’m really surprised this is your first blackberry.” Coolmoomama chimed, “.i REALLY want a blackberry.” Stef is just gloating.

A few days ago my friend Peter said researchers who’d asked about the iPhone and Blackberry got surprisingly different responses. iPhone users talked about the coolness while the Blackberry crowd kept mentioning utility and usefulness.

I’d like to say it’s not that big a deal, but I think it is.

&#185 – I have added Crackberry to the spell checker in my browser. It is now officially a word for me.

Sometimes Stuff Just Happens–Cellphone Edition

basically anything I’d sent using my phone since late last month had not been accepted by Gmail’s server.

I was waiting for Francine to cut my hair this afternoon when I got an email. I tried answering it on my phone only to have my message ‘rejected!’ Uh oh.

I quickly dug deeper and found about a half dozen emails–basically anything I’d sent using my phone (AT&T version of the Samsung Blackjack) since late last month had not been accepted by Gmail’s server. The error message is so brief and comes delayed after you attempt to send so it’s easy to miss.

Somehow the configuration the phone sends to Gmail changed. Not by me. Who knows how this stuff happens?

Jott’ing My Appointments

I call Jott, tell it I’m adding an appointment to my calendar and then speak the details. Through caller ID, it knows the call’s from me. A few minutes later, I get a text message confirmation and the data is in the calendar!

We’ve already established I’m hooked on the Blackjack, my Samsung smartphone. There are some things it does very well, others adequately and some… well, I wouldn’t try to do a blog entry with the Blackjack. It’s got little keys and I’ve got big fingers.

I found a program which syncs the Blackjack to my Google Calendar account. The problem is, what do I do when I’m on the road? The Blackjack isn’t much better for entering data in Google Calendar than it is for blogging. It’s a shame, because Google’s Calendar is perfect for me.

There is a solution – Jott.

I call Jott’s number, tell it I’m adding an appointment to my calendar and then speak the details. Through caller ID, it knows the call’s from me.

A few minutes later, I get a text message confirmation and the data is placed in the calendar!

It’s not perfect. My next appointment with Dr. Weiss was set for Dr. Weisz. The rest of the details like dates and times are perfect.

There are other things Jott can do, but so far, I’ve limited myself to appointments.

As with much of the Internet, I’m not sure what the business model is. They don’t seem to have any revenue stream from me, and Jott must have some cost to the provider.

In the meantime, I’ll just pass along the link and hope for the best.

The Love Hate Relationship With My Smartphone

I think this shows most of the smart phones are really ‘pocketware,’ too kludgey to use as advertised If people were really using their Blackberrys as Internet devices, what I’m doing wouldn’t stand out. In fact, that point is supported by real world experience.

Thumbnail image for blackjack_upgrade_screen.jpgI thoroughly enjoy my cellphone, a Samsung Blackjack hooked to AT&T’s network. It’s more than a phone. It’s really a little, cumbersome, computer with a too tiny screen.

I use the Internet connection nearly every day. There’s always something I want to look up when I’m away from a ‘real’ PC. That’s especially true at dinner, which I usually have with the rest of our anchor team.

Last night we were looking for the lyrics to a song (the iconic Route 66), but it’s also been used to find the cast of a movie or a direct quote from a story that was on the wires (a now quaint appellation). I even use the Internet connection to pass photos I’ve taken to Flickr, where they’re easily integrated into this blog.

Stef dates a musician. I show his Youtube video to friends on my phone.

You really have to want to use Internet functions on the Blackjack, because there is not one easy or dependable step along the way!

It’s common to press two of the small keys at once, or the wrong one. Sometimes the Internet will stop responding, though the phone says there is Internet availability.

Most web pages are formatted for PC monitors. The much more narrow Blackjack screen forces multi-column pages to become long single column streams, or just extend off the edge of the screen entirely. Navigation is a nightmare, made more difficult because a useful roller controller is on the wrong side for left handed users… like me

While ‘thumbing’ the keyboard, people will often come to me and ask if it’s a Blackberry? Score one for RIM in really working their brand name. These poor, innocent souls look at what I’m doing as if I’ve just dropped in from outer space.

Is there better evidence that this that most of the smart phones are really ‘pocketware,’ too kludgey to use as advertised? If people were really using their Blackberrys to surf the web, what I’m doing wouldn’t stand out.

In fact, that point is supported by quantified real world experience. This revelation is from AppleInsider.

Google on Wednesday said it has seen 50 times more search requests coming from Apple iPhones than any other mobile handset — a revelation so astonishing that the company originally suspected it had made an error culling its own data.

Google’s contention is every smartphone, other than the iPhone, is underused. I agree.

Let’s go back to my opening sentence: “I thoroughly enjoy my cellphone, a Samsung Blackjack hooked to AT&T’s network”. That’s no lie. If I had the purchase to do over again, I’d still make it and the Blackjack would still be my choice (even over its successor, the Blackjack II)

What I’m getting at is, the power of having all this information available everywhere is so powerful, it trumps a lackluster platform and all the hurdles one must jump.

The iPhone is certainly a step ahead (as born out by the usage data), but it’s still not the answer. It is throttled by its dependence on AT&T’s older, slower data network and it’s lack of a real keyboard with tactile feedback.

We are still at least one breakthrough away from the real breakout in portable computing. When that time comes, usage will be unleashed in a torrent.

Upgrading My Samsung Blackjack To Windows Mobile 6

For months the rumor has been floating around that my phone, the Samsung SGH-I607 (more commonly known as the Blackjack), would be getting a new operating system. It began its life with Windows Mobile 5. It would be upgraded to Windows Mobile 6.

blackjack_upgrade_screen.jpgFor months the rumor has been floating around that my phone, the Samsung SGH-I607 (more commonly known as the Blackjack), would be getting a new operating system. It began its life with Windows Mobile 5. It would be upgraded to Windows Mobile 6.

I first heard this rumor about the time I got the phone, in the fall. There were dates announced and missed. Then Samsung came out with the Blackjack II.

Now there was a new rumor. With a new model, Samsung would stop any work on its older models.

Last night, while poking around, I found an article saying Samsung had actually released the update last week. I moved my focus to bulletin boards where the geekiest were already discussing their individual results (which like your mileage, can vary).

Two tidbits stood out. The Blackjack could still be used as a modem for connecting to the Internet (valuable if you’re sitting in an airline terminal or hotel with ‘pay only’ Internet access) and it now worked with Google’s GPS-less mapping system.

As much as I wanted to wait and let the smoke clear, I was drawn by a force more powerful than apprehension. The update had to go in and it had to go in now.

Putting a new operating system in your telephone is not a simple thing.

Samsung posted instructions on their website. There were lots of steps… steps that implied the phone really wasn’t designed for the untrained masses to perform this surgery. There was software to be loaded onto my PC (XP, not Vista – thank you), then pushed to the phone. Software switches would be thrown, then switched back.

For long periods of time, the cellphone sat with a barebones screen showing changing parameters in Comic Sans (to understand my feelings about Comic Sans, read this). I was beginning to worry I’d ‘bricked’ my phone.

The whole process took around 30 minutes. By the time I was done, the phone was actually working, infused with the geeky goodness of Windows Mobile 6.

I had backed up all my data, so my phone numbers would easily go back in. My ringtones, actually the ABC World News Tonight music, is now too large to be played. I’ll have to find a replacement. I also forgot to back up my customized home screen. I’ll have to rework that too.

There are a few unexpected improvements. Youtube now works on the phone! I can also now easily read Microsoft Windows documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint files.

Already, people on the bulletin boards are complaining the upgrade doesn’t include Microsoft’s voice command software with the ability to do most functions handsfree. I expect someone will figure a way before long.

This upgrade is not for the faint of heart. There are many confusing steps spread between the PC and cellphone. Wild horses couldn’t have kept me from doing it.

Google Does It Again… Though Not For Me

What a tease! Google has brought out some cool, new technology and it doesn’t work for me!

Here’s what I’m talking about.

Google has replicated many of its full sized web applications for the tiny screens on ‘smart’ cellphones. One of the coolest ported applications is Google Maps. I’ve actually used this more than once.

It’s just as full featured as the Google maps you see on line – just smaller. As you scroll the map, new panels are downloaded off the Internet. It’s ingenious. And, just like Google Maps online, you can have it route a trip.

It’s possible to ‘mate’ this app with a Bluetooth GPS receiver (and wouldn’t I be King Nerd to do that) and have it position the maps and move them across your screen, keeping pace as you drive. I’ve seen some of these pocket sized GPS receivers advertised for under $30.

Of course that’s not enough for Google! They’ve taken it one step further. They’ve figured out a way to have this map program find its way without a GPS receiver. Neat trick.

Since the maps are running in a cell phone, Google looks at which cell towers are being received, figures out where they are and triangulates!

It’s not as accurate as satellite based GPS, but it’s not too bad. You can be located within a few blocks. With the maps on your screen, a few blocks is close enough… or it should be.

As I said, there’s an unfortunate problem. It doesn’t work with my phone!

I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s because my Samsung Blackjack uses a strange version of Java which is problematic in many cases. It’s a ‘me’ problem, not a Google problem.

Is there a workaround? Probably. I’ll be looking for it.

Meanwhile, I’m impressed by Google… and more than a little bit envious.

In Search Of The Use

I just opened a free account with ComVu’s PocketCaster:

With your individual account, you get PocketCaster software for your phone, a Personal Webcast Page to host videos for your viewers, live video broadcasting capability, online video storage, and many options for automatically sharing your video.

In other words, I can broadcast video live (with a delay) directly from my cell phone to any Internet equipped computer worldwide.

I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise. I already upload every piece of video I shout with my cellphone directly to YouTube (in a private, not public, directory) using simple and free software from Shozu.

Where this is different is, if you’re looking at the right web page and I start ‘broadcasting’, you’re going to see it right then and there. It doesn’t make any difference where I am or what’s going on. At the ballgame, at a concert, overloooking the nuclear sub base- it makes no difference. You see it (reasonably close to) live.

The quality isn’t all that great. What I see, coming through at&t’s G3 data network, is pixelated and choppy. However, if it’s a situation where content trumps technical quality, this is perfect.

With this software up and running, I realize more than ever my Samsung Blackjack wasn’t designed to be a video camera! It’s a cellphone with a camera added on as an afterthought. Why else would the screen go blank (as all cell screens do after a while) while I’m shooting video?

For TV stations, this definitely unlocks the ability to have cheap and dirty live coverage for minimal cost. Luckily, the poor quality will keep this from being overused, except where the story itself is compelling.

Anyway, I’ll keep playing with it and let you know if I figure anything out… like how this company plans on making money.

The Excitement Of Android

I read a lot last week about Google’s new mobile phone initiative – Android. It’s not an actual phone, that much is perfectly clear. Instead, phones will be built on Android.

Android is a software stack for mobile devices that includes an operating system, middleware and key applications.

My current Samsung Blackjack runs on Windows Mobile 5. Android would perform that same function. There are many similar, though different, phones using WM5. I expect the same thing with Android.

Does the world need another mobile platform? Maybe not. But what makes Android so exciting and different is, it’s open source. That puts it in the same category as Linux, MySQL and Apache&#185.

In a video (see below), Google co-founder Sergey Brin makes it perfectly clear he wants Android to be supported by the same type of free software tools he used to get Google going! This time, in his role as super rich guy, he gets to be the one who pays to have them developed, then set free.

To that end, the Android SDK (Software Developers Kit) is open and free. The SDK is the tool with which Android applications will be developed. SDKs for platforms are pretty commonplace. Having them be open and free is not.

Finally, Google has offered a $10,000,000 bounty for Android software developers. That might not be enough to excite Microsoft or Motorola, but it will spark many propeller head geeks into action. That’s big money if you can write a killer app all by yourself, or in a small partnership.

This open source phone talk can’t be pleasing my cell carrier, at&t, or any of the other incumbent carriers. Their business model is predicated on control of both the network and the hardware you buy. Right now, they decide what you phone can do, not you.

Understand, this isn’t a perfect solution. Free and open software can lead to ‘crashed’ cellphones, with no one to take responsibility. Still, it’s a very exciting concept.

My limited time with the Blackjack has shown me the potential in the mobile platform. We’re barely out of the stone age. My hope is, Android takes it to the next step.

For someone like me, who still fancies himself a bit of a hacker, it’s pretty exciting. There’s a lot of upside potential here. This is actually better than if Google had just gone ahead and announced a phone!

&#185 – Even if Linux, MySQL and Apache mean nothing to you, understand that much of the Internet would stop running immediately without them! That includes Google, EBay, and a gaziilion other sites… including

Of Plugged In Phones And Area Codes

I spent most of last night moving phone numbers between my old Motorola RAZR and the my new Samsung Blackjack and between Helaine’s old phone and her new Motorola RAZR.

You’ve probably heard that your contacts can be electronically moved from phone-to-phone. Sure, but only in theory. In the real world it was pencil and paper and hundreds of characters on tiny keys. I have around 120 entries in my ‘book,’ many with multiple numbers.

About halfway through, all I could think of was, “You’ll never be able to move that thumb again.” I’m assuming emergency rooms are filled with new smartphone owners who get carried away. It’s easy to overdo it.

I learned a few things while entering all those numbers and letters. I have three entries for people named Harold, but only two Johns (plus a Jon). I have more cell numbers entered than home or business numbers. I also have lots of entries where someone’s area code no longer matches their actual physical location.

We’ve reached the end of the line for plugged in phones – what is referred to in the telco biz as POTS, for plain old telephone service. I can’t imagine why Stef, for instance, will ever have one.

The concept of area code is dissolving as well. Why change your number when you move? That meant something back when long distance was costly. Now, in this cellphone world, long distance calling is often included at no additional charge. Even when you’re paying, it’s only pennies.

It also means 212 isn’t necessarily going to New York City.

It used to be, a phone number couldn’t have a 0 or 1 as the second digit. No more. The same goes for 0 or 1 as the middle digit in area codes, which were once required. 561 should not be an area code!

How long has it been? It still looks wrong to me every time. Even my cellphone number, beginning with 710, just looks wrong.

I am lost without the phone book in my cell phone. My mom still has a worn address book she’s used for years. Extra pieces of paper have been shoved in where the allocated space for individual letters has been filled. Mine’s electronic with less finite restrictions!

If you die, you live on forever in my mom’s book. Not so when you’re digital bits being carried in my pocket.

For years, the most powerful and organized people were known by the Rolodex they kept. Past tense on that too.

All of this effort with the new phone was to prepare it for the trip we take early tomorrow morning. It’s ready. I am too.

Our plane leaves at 7:00 AM. Most likely, my next post will be from somewhere in the Desert Southwest. They’d damn well better have cell service!

How Times Have Changed

Last night, in the middle of the night, I plugged a cable from my new cellphone into my laptop. An experiment was underway.

Since the phone is on the Internet, it’s possible to tether it to my laptop and use the cell connection as an Internet connection. In essence, the Samsung Blackjack would be my modem.

It was very simple and it worked, but it was ploddingly slow. Though the phone works with AT&T’s high speed 3G network, there’s no 3G service here. I ran a speed test and found 76 kbps. My cable modem speed a moment ago was 7,275 kbps, nearly one hundred times as fast.

At least I know it works in case of an outage.

There’s something else I thought of at the same time. Back in the dial-up days, when modems were 28.8 kbps, I used to connect at 24.4 kbps.

As slow as last night’s experiment was, it was still three times faster than the Internet service I used to be happy with. Times have really changed.

What we have now for connection speed is only a stop, not the destination.

The New Phone

I’ve got a new phone. Helaine’s got a new phone. Stef’s got a phone, but it’s currently on a UPS truck somewhere between here and college.

I’m not sure this was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made, but it was pretty close. That’s ridiculous, because a cell phone decision should be easy… or at the very least, easier. I think the cell phone companies make sure it’s as difficult as possible to compare plans.

They’re willing to compete. They just don’t want to compete on price.

Yes, my new phone is a toy, but I wanted a PDA type phone. You know the type. It’s got a full QWERTY keyboard and 320×240 pixel screen. I have no business reason for getting one. I still wanted it.

Originally, I had my heart set on a Motorola Q9, a sharp new phone. It was supposed to be out in August, then September, then…. well, it’s not out yet. In the meantime, my Motorola RAZR died (though it has since mysteriously come back to life), rushing the process along.

I finally decided on a Samsung Blackjack. It’s bigger than today’s standard cellphones, but it still fits in my shirt pocket. It is a phone, camera, camcorder, audio recorder, computer. It’s probably got more going for it that I haven’t figure out yet.

More on the phone in a minute. First, the process of getting it.

As it stands now, there’s no way to buy a cell phone and know you’ve gotten the best deal. Seriously. I wanted to stick with AT&T, but they have different prices on the Internet, in their retail stores and from their independent online dealers. And, of course, few of those prices are obtainable.

One online retailer showed my Blackjack earning me $60, on a new contract. Yup, buy a phone and get $60 back.

Hey, that’s for me. My old AT&T contract expired in August. But when I called to get the price, I was told it wasn’t for me.

As a good AT&T customer, I wasn’t eligible for their best price. That was only for switchers. The price for me would be $250 more per phone! I will maintain a bad taste from that for a while and though it was the independent telling me… I’ll blame AT&T, the enabler.

On top of that, AT&T sells the exact same Internet access for a variety of prices. If you’ve got an iPhone, you really get jobbed. There’s also a different price for Blackberries, phones like my Blackjack and standard phones, like my old RAZR.

It’s all the same access. It’s all unlimited access. They’re just differently priced.

A blog reading friend, Pat (who once worked selling cell phones), was incredibly helpful, setting me up with Rob at the AT&T store in Meriden. Rob did what he could, but it still cost me $160 more per phone than that online teaser ad led me to believe.

Rob was the calming influence in all of this. Of all the people I dealt with, he’s the only one who could say the sky was blue without me being tempted to look up and make sure.

This is one very cool phone – though being a phone is only a small part of what it does. I’ve already been online, downloading programs to better web surf, deal with email and upload photos and video.

The video and still image quality is surprisingly good, considering the tiny lens. It’s not going to unseat “Clicky,” but I will be using this functionality. In fact, on our upcoming vacation, I’m planning on doing a little vlogging from the Blackjack.

The phone connects to the Internet on AT&T’s high speed 3G network (available here at work, but not at home). It’s still not like real broadband, but it’s not too bad. Of course the relatively small screen is not well suited for web browsing.

If you’ve never used one of these, you’ve probably looked and said, “those keys are awfully small.” They are. Still, I haven’t had any trouble with the keys. Where my big fingers do cause trouble is with the center navigation switch. For me, it’s very difficult to press it, without pressing what’s next to it.

Some of my trouble is caused by being left handed. There’s a navigation wheel located perfectly for right handed people, but not me. I will learn to use it with time, as lefties learn to use right handed computer mice.

It didn’t take more than a few minutes to start to realize the power this phone possesses. I understand even more why the phone companies are fighting network neutrality. This phone allows you to bypass the cell carriers on many things they want to sell.

For instance, there’s a service sold by some carriers for around $10 a month. It turns your phone into a pretty cool GPS receiver with live traffic reports. Google gives that functionality away for free! It’s tough to sell against free. As far as I can tell, I’m about $40 away from using Google and my phone as a GPS receiver.

I’m curious to hear Stef’s impressions when after she unpacks her phone. I hope she’s as pleased as I am… and I’ve only scratched the surface.