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AT&T’s 4G masquerade

Motorola Atrix 4G

ATT says it’s not capping upload speeds on the Motorola Atrix 4G.

(Credit:
Sarah Tew/CNET)

There are some angry ATT customers out there, and rightfully so.

Over the past few weeks, there have been mounting complaints and reports against the carrier about capping upload speeds on its 4G devices, specifically the HTC Inspire 4G and the Motorola Atrix 4G. ATT remained mum on the subject until late last week when a customer filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

ATT states:

ATT is focused on delivering a wide choice of solutions and the best possible smartphone experience to our customers. Be assured that ATT has not “capped” the upload speeds on the Atrix 4G. The Atrix 4G is an HSUPA-capable device, and we currently are performing the testing and preparations necessary to ensure that, when we turn this feature on, you will continue to have a world class experience. Please keep in mind, software is only one of many factors that can affect speeds experienced. Factors such as location, time of day, network capacity and facilities, can have an impact as well.

So according to the statement, the carrier isn’t putting a cap on data (we beg to differ), rather it hasn’t yet enabled the HSUPA radio inside the smartphone. HSUPA, which stands for High-Speed Uplink Packet Access, is the protocol that allows for faster upload speeds (up to 5.76Mbps) on your mobile phone.

However, the problem isn’t just that these devices aren’t living up to their 4G potential; they’re actually delivering speeds slower than some of the carrier’s 3G smartphones, which we’ve experienced firsthand. In our tests, the Inspire 4G averaged upload speeds of 150kbps and the Atrix 4G averaged 180kbps in the Manhattan area, while the 3G-enabled
iPhone 4 averaged 850kbps.

The issue has prompted multiple forum threads, calls to the ATT president’s office, and one ATT customer, Zack Nebbaki, has even started an online petition against the carrier for capping its upload speeds.

“The main reason I bought it [the Motorola Atrix 4G] was because it was advertised as being the most powerful smartphone in the market, and I was also getting tired of my iPhone 4. It also advertised 4G connectivity as soon as ATT’s backhaul was in place, and promised the fastest data connectivity on a phone on their network. This latter part has proven to be incorrect,” Nebbaki told CNET in an e-mail.

Nebbaki said after buying the Atrix and getting dismal upload speeds in multiple locations, he called ATT to make sure there wasn’t an outage in his area. There wasn’t, but ATT offered no clear explanation or resolution, so after doing some research on the Internet and seeing that others were having the same issues, he decided to start the petition, which had 870 signatures as of press time.

“There is so much misinformation being touted by ATT that they need to make a public official statement–preferably a promise of support with a date on which to expect it–and hopefully this petition will help them see that they need to speed this along a little bit,” said Nebbaki.

He added that the carrier’s response wasn’t enough. “In my opinion, ATT’s reaction is what you can call ‘PR lingo,’” said Nebbaki. “How can they say that they are not capping upload speeds but they will turn on HSUPA later on. This answer does not make sense to me because doesn’t turning off HSUPA mean that the upload speeds are crippled?”

CNET asked ATT when it would enable HSUPA and why the issue wasn’t made clear to customers from the beginning, but an ATT representative said it wasn’t commenting on the situation beyond what was stated above.

Earlier today, PC Mag posted a story saying that ATT is shamelessly lying about 4G, and they’re right. Though the devices are technically 4G capable, the fact is that they’re not capable right now and the carrier’s advertising fails to mention this minor detail.

With heavy competition among the carriers, the definition of 4G has been muddied, but at least, with T-Mobile and Sprint, we’re actually seeing faster data speeds on their 4G devices.

It would have been one thing if ATT was forthright from the get-go. I’m guessing customers would have been a little more understanding had ATT said that the feature would be enabled in the future because the Motorola Atrix 4G and HTC Inspire 4G are great devices even without 4G, but now they just look shady.

For Nebbaki’s part, he says he hopes that ATT will provide a reason for its actions and make a public commitment to turning on HSUPA on its 4G devices in a reasonable time frame. We’re hoping for the same.

Adobe to deliver Flash for mobile 10.2 next week

Android Flash(Credit:
Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Adobe Systems, working furiously to disprove Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs’ belief that the Flash Player is a bad match for mobile devices, will deliver its second version of the software for Android devices on March 18.

The software will be available in final form through the Android Market for Android 2.2 (Froyo) and 2.3 (Gingerbread) devices and in beta form for Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
tablets after Google’s 3.0.1 system update, Adobe said in a blog post.

However, it’s not for any Android device. People can check Adobe’s list of Flash-capable Android devices to see if theirs made the cut.

Flash Player runs cross-platform software, notably games, and is widely used to stream video to personal computers. Adobe hopes to extend its cross-platform promise to mobile devices, but it’s been hard given the different user interfaces and lesser hardware abilities compared to PCs.

Flash Player 10.2 for mobile brings several changes, though. One is hardware-accelerated video presentation on Honeycomb 3.0.1 devices, something that could help preserve battery power and increase frame rates for smoother video.

The new version also can take advantage of better hardware in some devices with graphics chips and dual-core processors–Motorola’s Atrix smartphone and Xoom browser and LG’s Optimus 2X, for example.

The new software also is better integrated with the stock Android browser and with screen keyboards, Adobe said.

To keep competitive on the desktop, Adobe also is working on improving Flash with versions 10.3 and 11 under development.

Jays headphones bring Scandinavian ‘lagom’ design to your ears


Jays C-Jays Headphones

(Credit:
Sarah Tew/CNET)

If you’re in the market for a new set of premium headphones, consider picking up one or both sets of earphones we reviewed this week from a Swedish company called Jays.

The C-Jays are a set of on-ear cans that give you three foam ear cup options, and the A-Jays Four earbuds include an in-line remote to control tracks on your smartphone music player.

Jays headphones maintain the Swedish design concept of high function, minimalist practicality, and the Swedish word lagom, which refers to the idea of “not too much, not too little.”

The company shares a similar take on pared-down product design as other Swedish brands like Ikea and HM that enjoy popularity in the United States, but the company isn’t just a pretty face–it happens to make headphones that sound as great as they look.

Neither of the headphones are cheap–the C-Jays and A-Jays Four retail at $120 and $70, respectively, but both make tremendous aural leaps over the stock earbuds you get with Apple iOS products. In light of today’s iPad 2 launch, consider adding a pair of Jays earphones on your shopping spree.

In fact, the A-Jays Four are $10 cheaper than the In-Ear headphones Apple would have you purchase separately, and they still make improvements with a more defined midrange and ample bass, not to mention a fettuccine-shaped cord that we dare you to tangle.

We recommend both the A-Jays Four earbuds and the C-Jays if you’re shopping for new headphones, but be sure to check out both reviews on CNET for comparison testing and alternative suggestions in both the higher- and lower-end price range.

Jays A-Jays earphone review
Jays C-Jays headphone review

FCC approves Kyocera Echo, BlackBerry PlayBook

LG Revolution

(Credit:
Nicole Lee/CNET)

Just like it did last week the Federal Communications Commission gave the nod to a lot of new cell phones and
tablets this week. Among the highlights were Sprint’s quirky new Kyocera Echo, the LG Revolution and the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook.

Because the FCC has to certify every phone sold in the United States, not to mention test its SAR rating, the agency’s online database offers a lot of sneak peeks to those who dig. And to save you the trouble, Crave has combed through the database for you. Here are a selection of filings from the past week on new and upcoming cell phones. Click through to read the full report.

HTC Desire

Huawei G7205

Huawei U3220

Kyocera Echo

LG Revolution

LG VS760

Motorola WX345

Nokia C7

Pantech P6010

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook

Samsung Galaxy S II

Samsung GT-5660

Samsung GT-BT7510

Samsung GT-E3213K

Samsung SGH-i7078

Samsung SGH-T839

Samsung to release Nexus S across all Canadian carriers

Nexus S

The Nexus S heads to Canada where it will be offered by all carriers.

(Credit:
Samsung)

Samsung is taking the Nexus S north of the border this spring and releasing the handset on all major Canadian carriers.

Much like it did with the Galaxy S series of smartphones, Samsung should use a blanket approach for the handset. So instead of releasing exclusive devices or handsets tailored specifically to the various wireless providers, Sammy will keep the Nexus S’s stock Android 2.3 interface.

According to Samsung executives, the phone will ship to Canada later this month with an early April sell date. Pricing has yet to be announced, but I would expect it to fall in line with the $199 currently supported by T-Mobile. What’s more, some carriers could offer it at a lower price with a three-year agreement.

For some of the newer Canadian players such as Wind Mobile and Mobilicity, this device will help expand their smartphone lineups with a reputable handset. And we may see the Samsung follow suit here in the United States. Already there are signs that the device is headed to other carriers such as Sprint, which is rumored to be announcing a Nexus S with WiMax support at
CTIA later this month.

Tested: iPhone 4 (iOS 4.2.1 vs. 4.3) and Android phones

The best way to test battery life is to get a robot to do it. In lieu of a robot, I drafted a computer for the task. It’s just an immobile robot anyway, isn’t it?

(Credit:
Eric Franklin/CNET)

Earlier this week, we posted some very interesting tablet testing results. Today, it’s smartphones.

Over the last few weeks we’ve tested a number of smartphones in a multitude of ways. If you’re looking for talk time tests, however, check the full review of each phone. The tests detailed here will focus on real-world speed as well as audio and video battery life.

How we test smartphones

In the CNET Labs, we currently run four different tests to evaluate the performance of smartphones.

Battery life
We evaluate battery life by continually running a movie file on the smartphone until its battery dies. We do the same with audio using a full album set on repeat all.

For audio battery, each phone runs with its default mobile network on; for video battery, the phones are run in Airplane mode.

During the movie battery-drain, we set each
tablet to Airplane mode and adjust its respective brightness to 140 candelas per square meter (cd/M2) or as close to that number as is possible.

For the
iPhone, we run the iPhone version of “Toy Story 3.” For Android phones, a 720p version of “Toy Story 3″ is run. The reason we chose 720p for Android was that most Android phones are capable of running 720p video and we wanted the best quality video represented.

On iPhone, we ran the movie through its
iPod app; for Android, we used the movie player, mVideoPlayer, as it provides a much-needed repeat video function that not all native Android movie players include.

Site-loading speed
We used GiantBomb.com as our Web site of choice; it doesn’t use Flash or have many dynamic elements. Each tablet was connected to the same closed network (not its mobile network) with no other devices on it, with the router about 5 feet away. The test began the moment we pressed Enter, with the end of the test signified by the disappearance of the browser’s progress bar. We measured speed in seconds, with a lower number indicating faster performance.

We used the latest version of each respective phone’s OS. Obviously, for the iPhone 4, we used both version 4.2.1 and 4.3 of iOS.

Boot time

Rebooting your phone can sometimes solve issues you might be having with apps not functioning correctly, so it’s good to know how long it take to get back to action. The test begins when we press the power button and ends when we see the lock screen on iPhone and after the internal storage has been set up on Android phones.

Analysis

We definitely saw some interesting results here. In our tests, the Verizon iPhone 4 had much longer audio battery life than its ATT counterpart. This likely has a lot to do with the Verizon iPhone 4 having an easier time maintaining a mobile network signal than the AtT version does. It’s likely, then, if you live in an area like San Francisco where ATT coverage isn’t the best, you may see longer battery life with a Verizon iPhone 4 than with AtT’s.

Also, apparently iOS 4.3 makes a definite difference in Web speed and it’ll be interesting to see what effect the OS’ improved Safari speed has on the iPad, since the Xoom beat it in our previous tests.

As for Android phones, the Nexus S has the longest video battery life, but the Atrix is–by a slim margin–the fastest at loading Web sites.

Overall, although iOS 4.3 speeds up the iPhone 4, it’s still not quite as fast as the Atrix or Nexus S. What that means to you will depend on what effect losing 1 to 2 seconds while surfing has on your schedule.

We’ll be updating this post with new results as we receive them, so keep an eye out.

Boost Mobile goes simple with Samsung Factor

Samsung Factor

Samsung Factor

(Credit:
Samsung)

Boost Mobile introduced today the Samsung Factor, a no-frills, wallet-friendly cell phone for those who want to stick to the basics. The clamshell handset offers Bluetooth, a camera, Web and e-mail access, instant messaging capabilities, and text and multimedia messaging, but its main job is to make calls.

The Factor is available now at exclusive Boost Mobile retail stores, as well as online and at select independent dealers, for $49.99. It’s expected be available nationwide at the end of April.

Text messages licking stamps in Scandinavia

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Hot spot on the AT&T iPhone remains easy to use, but not so fast

The hot-spot feature appears under the main Settings menu. Once activated, the bar at the top shows you how many devices are connected.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Kent German/CNET)

When the
Verizon
iPhone finally went on sale last month, it bested its ATT cousin by offering a wireless hot spot that could support up to five devices. It was a welcome addition and, as we found in our Verizon iPhone review, the feature performed well. It wasn’t necessarily better than other smartphone hot spots we’ve tested, but it offered a simple and relatively speedy way to get online.

When ATT would join the hot-spot party became the next question, of course, but Apple offered an answer Wednesday when it delivered its latest software update a couple of days early. Though as iOS upgrades go, iOS 4.3 activates the hot spot on the ATT iPhone 4 (earlier iPhones will not support the feature). It’s almost the same experience as on Verizon’s device, but there are some important and disappointing differences.

What’s the same
As with Verizon’s handset, ATT users will need to activate the optional tethering plan to use the feature (if you don’t have the plan, the option won’t appear in your Settings menu). And, like Verizon, ATT charges an additional $20 for the plan. Though ATT’s data cap is 4GB per month for tethering and the hot spot (Verizon has a 2GB cap), the carrier requires you to select at least the $25-per-month Data Pro plan for basic data.

Once you’re set up, the interface is exactly the same as on the Verizon iPhone. You’ll find the hot-spot option under the main Settings menu. After you set a password and choose which connectivity options you’d like to use, you can get started. Here again, we’d like to see a list of which devices are connected at a given time in addition to the status bar at the top of the display, which conveniently tracks how many gadgets are linked up.

The status bar will continue to show even if you switch back to the home screen.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Kent German/CNET)

What’s different
Though ATT also allows you to connect up to five devices to the hot spot, it limits the number you can connect through Wi-Fi to just three. You can connect an additional two gadgets through a USB cable or Bluetooth, but Verizon still holds the advantage there for the time being. When we tested the Verizon hot-spot feature, we were able to connect five devices via Wi-Fi. What’s more, other smartphones, like Sprint’s HTC Evo 4G, can connect up to eight devices.

The reason for the restriction is unclear at this point. Though some sources have blamed ATT, others suggest it’s coming from Apple. And if that’s the case, the Verizon iPhone could get the same limitation when it gets iOS 4.3 or the equivalent (currently, the update is for GSM iPhones only).

Performance
We tested the ATT hot-spot feature with an iPad, a Motorola Atrix 4G, an LG Optimus U, a Samsung Galaxy S 4G, a Samsung Craft, a T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, a RIM BlackBerry Curve 3G 9300, and a laptop PC. We were able to connect all devices via Wi-Fi, including the MyTouch 3G, which we never were able to pair with the Verizon iPhone hot spot.

All devices connected immediately after we entered the password, and they reconnected quickly and automatically the next time around. The connection mostly stayed solid as well, though the Optimus U dropped off a couple of times and we had to reconnect manually. If we tried using a fourth device via Wi-Fi, we were able to get as far as inputting the password before the connection would drop. Yet, if we then removed one of the original three devices, the fourth device would connect automatically. That’s a nice touch.

We also had no problems connecting to a laptop. As long as the hot spot was on, the computer was online just seconds after we plugged in the USB cable. As we found with the Verizon iPhone, however, the Bluetooth connection gave us more trouble. Though we could pair the iPhone with the Galaxy S 4G and the Atrix, for example, we couldn’t establish the final connection even though we had the correct PIN. After spinning for a couple of minutes, the iPhone finally gave an error message that the format was “not supported.” We’re checking this out and will report back.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t connect to the Atrix via Bluetooth.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Kent German/CNET)

Unfortunately, we also found that data speeds over ATT’s network weren’t as reliable. Unlike on the Verizon iPhone, we could barely get a signal in an interior room in CNET’s offices. We showed a full five bars on the iPhone’s display, but our connection usually timed out when we tried loading a Web page on the phones and on the laptop. The
iPad did better, but it still took over a minute to load CNET’s main site. We had the same experience when we tried loading Google Maps and the iTunes App Store on the iPad–the features took more than minute to load if they did at all.

We had better luck when we moved next to a window, but even there the speeds were much slower than they were with the Verizon hot spot. CNET’s mobile site took 40 seconds to load on the Atrix, for example, and the full site took almost 2 minutes. A graphics-heavy site like Airliners.net loaded in 1 minute, 45 seconds on the Optimus U, while GiantBomb.com loaded in 1 minute, 50 seconds on the Craft. The iPad and laptop also performed better when we moved to the window, but we still waited a few minutes to browse the Web and it took about 30 seconds to upload a photo to Facebook. On the upside, the connection remained active up to about 25 feet away.

In contrast, we could load Web pages in under 30 seconds when we tested the Verizon hot spot and we uploaded a Facebook photo in 10 seconds. The Verizon iPhone had more trouble connecting to a couple of devices (like the MyTouch 3G), but its hot spot did offer better performance in our tests. Yes, we realize that ATT’s network is technically faster, and that ATT has more data-hungry users in play, but the hot-spot experience simply wasn’t quite as we’d hoped.

Google rolls out Instant Previews on Android, iOS devices

See your Google results before clicking on them with Instant Previews.

(Credit:
Google)

Google announced earlier this week that it has enabled Instant Previews for Android handsets running Froyo (version 2.2) or later. Like its desktop counterpart, it allows you to see search results in a handy image format before clicking blindly on a link.

The feature is perfect for a number of scenarios, such as step-by-step instructions and how-to guides. What’s more, providing a cached screenshot preview of the results is very convenient for smaller screens. I know I’ve grown frustrated by having to navigate the
mobile browser back and forth, looking for the right page.

Instant Previews does not require additional downloads or changes to the browser. All you have to do to is look for a magnifying glass to the right of search results. Tapping on the icon will bring up a sliding carousel of images that can then be clicked through to the link’s destination.

It’s worth pointing out that Instant Previews is not exclusive to Android, as it also works on iPhones with iOS 4.0 and above.

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