Can you hear me n--

After almost 3 years with my current Samsung phone, I've decided it's time to upgrade. The only problem is, I really want/need a smartphone this time around. I obviously keep phones for quite awhile so it only makes sense to get something which will accommodate my needs now, as well as a year or two down the road.

I was hoping to be able to stay with Verizon again. Just about everyone in my family (immediate and extended) is on Verizon so any calls I make to them have always been 'free.' And then of course Verizon's network coverage is just so good it's hard to imagine having to settle for anything less. Once you get outside the metro areas Alabama is still very much a rural state and there's a reason most people in these areas use Verizon. However, the fact that I don't use a lot of minutes ("in network" or otherwise) coupled with their expensive data plans finally caused me to look elsewhere.

At first I was honestly having a hard time finding anything more compelling from the competition (with money being a bigger factor now that we're living on one paycheck.) While Verizon's data plan was on the top end of the spectrum, the competition wasn't exactly bargain basement cheap. T-mobile's data plans and AT&T's Iphone plans are $20/month (on top of the voice plan) and only provide access to the slower EDGE network. Even AT&T's recent price drop to $30/month for unlimited high-speed data for Blackberries and smartphones was more than I'm willing to pay right now.

Then I heard about Sprint SERO. $30/month for 500 minutes of talk-time, unlimited high-speed EVDO data and unlimited texting. I do have some major reservations about Sprint's coverage (and if I traveled regularly I wouldn't even consider anything other than Verizon and AT&T.) Sprint has slowly been merging its infrastructure with Nextel and has supposedly beefed up its coverage in the Birmingham area considerably in the last year by consolidating much of their assets/towers. I don't travel much so for $30/month for everything I could want I figured I'd give it a shot, especially since you get a trial period for evaluation.

The next question was which phone. I had originally planned on going for the amazingly cheap and well-regarded Palm Centro. A compact device that would easily fit in my pocket was my highest priority with a physical keyboard my original preference. But after using a Centro for about 15 minutes at the store I felt the screen and buttons on it were just too small for my tastes. It was only then that I started to consider the new HTC Touch.

I remembered when the original Touch first came out (right before the iPhone) it received generally tepid reviews. It was underpowered and its weak on-screen keyboards really interfered with its usability. However, after reading several glowing reviews for the newer HTC Touch for Sprint I learned it had been upgraded with twice the power/memory and a seemingly better selection of virtual keyboards. I decided to give it a shot.

For the first couple days I honestly wasn't too sure about the device. While I liked the functionality, the ability to get around without a stylus, and the customization options available with Windows Mobile, I was still very frustrated with the on-screen keyboards. I eventually downloaded several 3rd party keyboards - a couple were decent, but still barely tolerable. However, I eventually tracked down the extremely nice (if somewhat seemingly ungainly) SPB Full Screen Keyboard. Suddenly I found myself able to thumb-type at a very respectable rate. I'm never going to write out long posts like this on a phone, but relatively short emails and text messages were suddenly not a concern.

My only other gripe with the device has been its weak battery life. With a touchscreen phone, Exchange push email and EVDO almost always turned on I'm honestly not too surprised by the drain on the battery. It's a tradeoff I think I'm willing to live with though and something that can be partially remedied by eventually buying a more powerful 3rd-party battery.

I'm going to give it a few more days, but with my two main complaints addressed to my satisfaction it's looking like I might just stick with the Touch. I love everything else about the device. Its extremely compact size. The soft-touch rubber-esque coating. The speed of the device. The ability to customize it extensively. The wide array of 3rd party applications for Windows Mobile. The fact that I rarely need to use the stylus (but have one should I require it.) It's not a perfect phone by any means, but I think it will be well-suited to what I want for the foreseeable future.

Now to upgrade Holly's ancient phone (I think she's going to stay on Verizon.) It's so old that I was genuinely concerned when I heard about the recent shutdown of the old analog networks. Fortunately, it still seems to be working. So I guess it's not THAT old.


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