On the iPhone and other notes

I’ve been MIA on the blog for a week or two now, and even longer if you’ve been waiting for some kind of sports analysis.  The Braves being out of contention will do that to a person, but I do plan to update the stats as the season closes.  Every year, I always regret when I don’t see the stats through to the conclusion of the season, so I plan on updating them at some point.

That said, I don’t really have any kind of analysis to provide.  Rumor has it that the Braves have promised Bobby Cox another bat for 2009, and hopefully by that they didn’t mean they would be asking him to hit.

Despite the pennant races, basketball and football are actually more interesting to me right now.  I’ve enjoyed Jay’s first few interviews at Basketball Interview Challenge, especially the last two with Memphis assistant Josh Pastner and Grinnell HC David Arseneault.  I’m holding out hope that he can get Henderson State AD Sam Goodwin to talk about the NCAA’s eligibility standards at some point.  Now that would be a must-read.

Here are some other notes I have on recent happenings:

HU Basketball Schedule

The HU basketball schedule has actually been out for a while now.  This year has the usual blend of cupcake opponents (Champion Baptist, among others) and Division-II non-conference games.  I think they’ve played a home-and-home with UAH and UNA every year since I started at Harding, and this will be the second time I can remember them doing the same with the University Formerly Known As Missouri-Rolla (now S&T).  They also play Incarnate Word, St. Mary’s, and possibly another D-II team (or possibly not) at the St. Mary’s Classic in San Antonio.  That’s as many as nine D-II games against (technically) non-conference schools, although still only four within the region.

As an aside, I have no idea how tough it is to convince other in-region D-II schools to play in non-conference games, but I’d love to see the Bisons try to take on LeMoyne-Owen or some other relatively close SIAC school every now and then to boost their regional resume (the D-II South Region includes the SIAC, the Sunshine State Conference, the GSC, and a handful of independents).  The usual Missouri-Texas opponents don’t help in that respect, although they almost certainly have better-quality teams than the SIAC schools.  Over the last few years, the Bisons have needed a strong conference record because they only play four additional in-region games (and often split those).  Some GSC West teams manage to schedule games like this every year, but not all of them do.

Buying an iPhone

Last Friday, I waited around at Best Buy for about two hours to buy an iPhone, a process that I would call “arduous” at best.  Before I get to the buying experience, though, let me describe my thought process in buying the phone.

I’ve had a phone with a data plan since December 2006, when I bought a Sony Ericsson w810i.  It is the best phone I have owned, and I would recommend it (and its successors) to anyone looking for a good music/camera phone with a little bit of extendability (for custom ringtones, Java web apps, etc.).  I loved being able to run Opera Mini and the Gmail/Maps mobile apps on it, which made the $20/month data plan worthwhile to me.  Melissa is using that phone now minus the data plan, and I think she’s already loving it.

My only gripes with the w810i were these: call quality (mainly volume) was merely average, and Sony’s Memory Stick media format isn’t as cheap as other competing formats.

So, I hadn’t had a bad experience with my current phone.  I was just looking for something a little more powerful.  From what I’d seen of the iPhone interface and available applications in the last year, I knew the iPhone was exactly what I was looking for in that respect.  Throw in an intuitive interface and Apple’s reputation for designing products that “just work,” and it seemed to be a winner.

Of course, there were reasons I didn’t get one last year, when they first hit the market.  First and foremost was the steep price tag, which has since dropped to something more reasonable for a mobile phone ($199 for the 8GB version I bought).  AT&T locks you into a new 2-year contract when you buy one, but as an existing AT&T customer, that wasn’t going to be the end of the world for me.  The other reason I hadn’t pulled the trigger was EDGE, AT&T’s network in areas that don’t have 3G (the entire area around me, for example).  In terms of breadth of coverage, AT&T is pretty good, but EDGE data speed (basically dial-up modem speed) is simply not fast enough to take advantage of the iPhone’s sleek interface and Safari browser.  Considering those things, I wasn’t ready to make the leap.

Then, three things happened at once to begin changing my mind.  The iPhone 3G came out in July to address that glaring omission from the original iPhone’s hardware capabilities.  At almost the same time, the Chattanooga area finally got 3G coverage.  Sprint and Verizon have had 3G in Chattanooga for a long time, so AT&T was really playing catch-up here.  I don’t think AT&T publishes an actual map of the coverage, but they do seem to have 3G service in Ringgold (a nearby north GA suburb for you non-Chattanoogans), which is nice.  Third, Apple and AT&T dropped the price, which was the biggest barrier to me.

I had also been following fellow techies’ experiences with the iPhone through various blogs, and it seemed that folks were less than enamored with the iPhone 2.0 firmware, which was buggy in several important aspects, and it also couldn’t seem to locate 3G coverage (again, a dealbreaker for me to upgrade).  Subsequent updates seemed to have fixed those issues, and by Friday, I was finally ready to buy.

I chose to deal with Best Buy, which started selling the iPhone very recently, because I have had very good recent experiences there, and I earn reward points for everything I buy.  Choosing between them and the AT&T store was pretty much a no-brainer.  Although it took a long time to get everything activated, I walked out relatively pleased with the process because the associate at Best Buy was very knowledgeable and helpful.

Moving forward to today, I’ve been using the phone for a few days and have had a positive overall experience.  The iPhone is actually my first Apple product, since I’ve owned Windows PCs and other music players over the years.  Even though I despise Apple’s recent philosophy with pushing their software (hiding Safari in iTunes updates, or forcing iTunes use in the first place), I can’t deny that iTunes is very easy to use, and syncing is relatively painless.

The iPhone interface is an absolute pleasure to use, and the touch screen is completely intuitive.  iTunes converted most of my old WMA files, so I could add all the music I wanted to the phone (8GB capacity notwithstanding).  That would be an unnecessary step if Apple would just add WMA-playing capability to their devices, but it was simple enough not to be a big headache.

I’ve already downloaded a handful of applications, and I’m amazed at how much I can do with just the free stuff that’s available.  The Facebook app is outstanding.  There are a couple of decent apps for sports scores.  There’s a good Wikipedia app called Wikipanion.  The iPhone interfaces for Google’s Gmail, Reader, and Calendar are all fantastic.  The Pandora app is so good that I actually can’t believe Apple allows you to have it (given the endless music-streaming capability).  Yelp has already been helpful to have, since I do a little bit of business travel and need to find places to eat while I’m on the go.  Stanza, a mobile book reader, is very promising in case I get stuck somewhere with absolutely nothing to do.

Call quality has been good so far, and the visual voicemail and conversation-style SMS features are pretty nice additions to standard phone features.  I easily paired my existing Plantronics 510 Bluetooth headset, and it works relatively seamlessly.  I’m also loving having podcasts on hand as I drive to and from work, Radio reception isn’t always great, and I’m basically limited to ESPN Radio as a decent radio choice.  We don’t even have one decent rock station in Chattanooga anymore, so this is pretty important.

These are my gripes so far:

  1. Battery life is not outstanding, but on a normal day I should be able to get through the entire day without having to plug in.  You can’t go 2-3 days like you can with most other phones, so I have to remember my charger if I’m going anywhere.
  2. Downloading a third-party application directly to the phone simply doesn’t work.  It should work, and it does for a while, but over time, my apps started crashing.  The only fix I’ve found is to download them in iTunes and then upload them to the phone.  It’s not as easy as it should be, but it’s also not a huge headache.
  3. Syncing with my Google contacts was painful.  It brings in all your “suggested contacts,” and I ended up with a bunch of contacts on my phone that I will never use.  Eventually, I decided to get my contacts right on the iPhone and delete all my Google contacts so I could start again from scratch.  I then imported all the iPhone contacts back into Google, and things have worked well ever since.
  4. I can’t use all the custom ringtones I made for my old phone.  You can only use songs bought through the Apple Store to create music ringtones, which stinks because I liked hearing Sister Hazel’s “One Love” every time Melissa called.  (That thing you see off in the distance is my brownie point meter rising sky high.)  I don’t really want to buy songs again in order to get them as ringtones, and I don’t like buying them from Apple because of the FairPlay DRM.
  5. Accessories are super-expensive.  My phone sleeve/case was $20, and I’ll still have to replace the protective screens every now and then.  A two-inch-wide dock is $50, and a lot of iPod stuff (even iPod Touch stuff) isn’t compatible with the iPhone.  If you’ve been thinking about buying an iPhone, just keep in mind that you’re looking at $300+ (for the 8GB model) if you want to get all the stuff you really need.
  6. Storage is not infinite.  With my old phone, I could use multiple memory cards, and even though it’s not practical to carry memory cards around all the time, I liked having that option.  With the iPhone, I’m stuck at 8GB (which is really 7 when formatted), and I have to store all the apps and photos and stuff, too.
  7. Speaking of photos, the camera is below-average for a 2MP phone camera.  That’s not a huge deal to me, but the camera I had on the w810i was actually better.  For a high-end item like the iPhone, you would think Apple would go the extra mile and put a decent camera on it.  It’s a step above what many low-end phones have, but if it were my primary camera (which the w810i was for me for a while), I’d be in trouble.
That sounds like a lot of gripes, so let me reiterate that my overall experience has been excellent, and I knew I would be having most of those problems before I made my purchase.
The Lord’s Supper
Completely changing gears now, I had an opportunity on Sunday to preside during the Lord’s Supper at church, which was the first time I had done that.  I always get nervous when I stand up in front of such a big group (I guess it’s about 500-600 on a Sunday morning now), no matter how many times I’ve gotten up there.  I thought it went pretty well, though, and if you want to read what I had to say, you’re more than welcome to.  Those weren’t my exact words (I tried not to read from my notes), but you get the idea.
[If you’re unfamiliar with how the churches of Christ observe the Lord’s Supper, there are some references available out there if your Google skills are strong, but most churches of Christ do some variant of the following.  A portion of the weekly Sunday morning assembly is usually reserved for partaking of bread and wine (more commonly, grape juice) in remembrance of Jesus’ body and blood.  In most churches, someone “presides,” sharing some brief thoughts and then leading prayers to precede passing around plates for the bread and cup.  At our church, we also take up a contribution following the Lord’s Supper, and the person who presides also leads a prayer before that.  So, when I say I was presiding, that’s what I did.]
Other Notes
I think that’s about all.  Hopefully no one out there cares that my fantasy teams went 1-2 this week, or that I’m undefeated so far in the 2011 season of my NCAA Football 09 dynasty.  I’m also almost finished re-watching season 4 of The Office, which is fun.  There were some pretty good episodes, even though the season as a whole seemed merely average.
Hope everyone out there’s having a good week.  Sorry to spill out so much all at once, but I had a stream-of-consciousness thing going.
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