Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Motorola Droid

Friday I got a chance to play with the new Android phone at a local T-mobile store. For the most part, I like it. The one disappointment was the keyboard, which does not seem any better than the one on my G1. On the other hand, the D-pad on the Droid seems to work much better than the G1's tiny scroll ball.

I asked about tethering and was told that it would cost an extra $15/month. When I got home and looked for more information on the web, I got an unpleasant surprise. First, and less important, it's $30/month—less important because you can turn the service on and off, so pay for it only on days when you plan to use it, which for me would come to less than two months a year.

The serious problem is that the tethering option is to become available "early next year."

I could, of course, use third party software to tether without paying anything extra, as I currently do on my G1. When I asked T-Mobile's online technical support whether that was permitted, I was told that while they would not provide any support for tethering they didn't object to my doing it. Verizon, which seems to have a clearer idea than T-Mobile does of what tethering is, quite clearly and explicitly forbids it if you are not paying them for the privilege, something I confirmed over the phone with a (very helpful and well informed) representative.

So if I switch to Verizon now, I don't get to tether during trips over the next few months and can't be sure of being able to tether during my month long summer trip; in my experience, projected dates for high tech products and services not yet out mostly come down to "real soon now."

On the other hand, it does look like a very nice phone.


Pace said...

David, I am looking into getting a Droid. Yes it is $30/mo, but you can buy MyTether for $30 one time fee and do the same thing. Verizon is just putting a tax on idiots as my Uncle said.

Pace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Friedman said...

(Response to Pace)

I don't feel free to make promises and then deliberately break them--which is what it seems to me I would be doing if I signed the Verizon contract and then tethered in direct violation of it. It feels to me too much like stealing--taking something and then not paying for it.

If a grocery store charges for groceries, is that just putting a tax on idiots--defined as people insufficiently clever to smuggle food out without paying for it?

Matt Brubeck said...

If you're concerned with violating your contract, you should probably check your existing T-Mobile contract yourself, rather than taking the word of a tech support person. Here's what I found in my T-Mobile contract:

"Your Data Plan is intended for Web browsing, messaging, and similar activities on your device and not on any other equipment. Unless explicitly permitted by your Data Plan, other uses, including for example, tethering your device to a personal computer or other hardware, are not permitted."

Also note that at T-Mobile's request, Google restricted all tethering apps in the Android Market to be unavailable to T-Mobile customers.

Unknown said...

@Dr F

I agree with Pace.
Using your analogy of a grocery store I think the situation is more like this:

I pick up some carrots and stuff at the grocery store. I go to the checkout and pay for them. When I get to the exit there is someone from the grocery store asking me if I bought any fruit or veg and if so I have to pay $30 to have them washed.

me: "But I can wash them myself? you're just going to put them under water for a few seconds right?"

them :"Yes, but If you have a look at the sign on the wall you'll see that as a condition of entry you have to let us wash any fruit and veg you buy for $30"

Would it be stealing to pretend you didn't buy carrots that day and just walk past?

Too many companies try and control what software you use with what hardware. They do this for the sake of taxing "idiots" who don't know where to find better software than the hardware company provides -- idiots who don't know how to wash their carrots.

andrew said...

Friday I got a chance to play with the new Android phone at a local T-mobile store.

I'm curious why they had the Verizon Droid at a T-Mobile store?

David Friedman said...

Matt quotes language from the T-mobile contract which appears to ban tethering. When I got my phone, I thought was the case.

But I went online to the T-mobile support, asked, was told they did not ban it. I expressed my surprise, asked to talk to the supervisor of the person who had answered me. He gave me the same answer. They are agents of T-mobile, so entitled to interpret its contract more leniently than the words imply, and I felt that after going through two layers I had satisfied my reasonable obligation.

Andrew is curious as to why the Droid was being shown at a T-Mobile store. It wasn't. I mistyped. It was, of course, a Verizon store.

Anonymous said...

At $30/mo for tethering, I think it's a *much better deal* doing $40/mo for the Verizon Wireless MiFi™2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot (assuming equivalent data allowances & costs -- MiFi @ $40/mo comes with 250MB + $0.10/MB, but for $60/mo you get 5GB!).

You can't turn on/off the monthly service, but you might find you use it more often.

Bonus is it won't drain the phone battery.

[Of course maybe I'm just insanely jealous you have such a device (MiFi) available whereas I'm stuck in a country with no 3G service what-so-ever.]

jdgalt said...

I believe both David and Pace/Lloyd have valid points in this exchange. The contract language that bans tethering (which both T-Mobile and Verizon appear to have, even though T-M may not be enforcing it for now) is typical of the kind of apparently gratuitous inconvenience customers often have to put up with to get a service when there are only a few providers in the market.

There does not seem to be a widely agreed principle among libertarians as to whether it's OK to defeat this problem by cheating on the agreement. Ask an LP'er and they'll handwave the problem away by saying that monopolies and near-monopolies don't arise in free markets. But that is a cop-out; scarcities exist. So I find it quite understandable that many people see these situations as justifying or even necessitating government intervention to prevent businesses from engaging in these unfair practices.

There ought to be a good, general market strategy that opponents can use to break the power of these near-monopolies to behave this way. If the only way is a boycott, then it seems to me the public good problem will usually prevent it ever working.

Dave said...

I generally agree that it is stealing to voluntarily enter in to a contractual agreement and then deliberately break the terms to avoid paying fees. However, as a Verizon customer, I get the impression that some of their terms are there "just in case" and not to be taken literally. The data plan comes with a long list of things you aren't allowed to do with it that essentially would make it useless if you actually took it literally. Verizon employees will often even try to sell you the phone by pushing features that are banned by the terms. My Windows Mobile phone came from Verizon with a CD to install the PC tethering drivers and an app on the phone to use it. Verizon had no problem disabling a number of features on the phone that they didn't approve of so I have a hard time believing that they are serious about preventing tethering. For example, the GPS is disabled for use in applications other than Verizon's own navigation app (which requires a subscription).