Want a better trip? Pack these smartphone apps

If you don’t think technology can improve your trip, meet Judy Williams. When she and her husband recently checked into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Zurich, a clerk asked them to sign the dotted line on a room rate hundreds of dollars higher than their online confirmation.
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AT&T promised me a free iPhone — or did it?

1000 Words / Shutterstock.com
1000 Words / Shutterstock.com
Tomas Stockton is offered a “free” iPhone 5 from AT&T. So why isn’t he getting it?

Question: I recently spoke with an AT&T representative via chat about a billing issue with my U-verse Internet account. After resolving the issue, she offered me wireless service.

At first I declined, stating that I was happy with my current carrier. But the representative persisted and offered me a family plan consisting of four lines of service and four “free” iPhone 4s’s for $179 per month with all taxes, surcharges and fees included.

Then I asked about the iPhone 5s and the representative stated that I could switch all of my iPhone 4s’s to the new iPhone 5s’s for free after 30 days. I was very skeptical and told her to contact me in 10 days. I printed our chat session as evidence.

A few days later, I called AT&T and spoke with a different representative and explained the offer. After I told her that I had it in writing, she agreed to honor it. She said that after 30 days, all I had to do is walk into an AT&T corporate store and pick up my free iPhone 5s’s.
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Sprint said it would unlock my phone – did it break its promise?

Sprint promises it will unlock Bill Fuller’s iPhone. Why won’t it?

Question: I have two iPhone 4S smartphones that I bought in 2011 under a two-year contract with Sprint. I made my final contracted monthly payment earlier this month. Both phones are now fully paid for and ostensibly are my property.

Sprint’s service coverage has been largely reduced in my area and I have frequent dropped calls and very low 3G speeds.

I recently received a notice from Sprint that on-network coverage in parts of Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas, (including along the I-70 Corridor), Southwest Kansas and Oklahoma Panhandle will change to roaming (off-network). Customers with Sprint-branded devices will be impacted when using services in the affected areas.
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Help, I’ve reached a dead end with my Verizon iPhone

iphoneQuestion: I’m at a dead end and feel I have been tossed aside by the corporate giant that is Verizon in hopes that I will just become mute and complacent. I will not!

I have been a Verizon customer for approximately 10 years. For the past two years, I have had an iPhone that uses their 3g network for data. My relationship with Verizon was fine up until this point.

The area in which I live is highly seasonal and the population grows by 3.5 million in the summer months. Verizon’s 3g network can not handle this and I do not get data coverage from Friday nights until Monday morning all summer long. This issue is even prevalent in the off season when there are a lot of people around (malls at the holiday, etc.). However, I test my phone next to someone with another carrier and their phones work fine, no matter where.
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5 almost free iPhone apps you absolutely must take on your next trip

iphoneThere are more than 50,000 iPhone applications out there, accounting for over a billion downloads. Hard to pick just a handful to take on your next trip, isn’t it?

No worries. As someone who stood in line to buy the first iPhone, and has pretty much bought each subsequent iPhone within 24 hours of its release — not always with positive results, but that’s a story for another day — I’m here to help.

Here are five almost free iPhone “apps” I can’t leave home without.
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What happens when a million iPhone 3Gs units hit the road?

You get this: Video uploads to YouTube from mobile phones jumped 400 percent in a week. The mobile video revolution has begun. And no one will be more affected than travelers.

133988-iphone3gAllow me an “I-told-you-so” moment. A few weeks ago, I predicted the new iPhone would mark a turning point in the way we get our information about travel and the way we share our travel experiences. But in order to do that, video use on the iPhone would first have to become ubiquitous. With a million iPhones sold in the first week, and YouTube being overloaded with iPhone-generated clips, I’d say we’re well on our way.

I bought an iPhone last week and took it through the paces, and I’m impressed by what I found. And I mean that in both ways: positively and negatively.

First, the cost. Although the new iPhone’s margins seem thin — it costs $179 to build and sells for $199, a profit of just $20 — Apple charged me far more to upgrade from my iPhone 3G. By the time I had paid all the extra fees, I was looking at close to $500. That’s ridiculous. It turns out that AT&T, the wireless network on which the iPhone runs in the United States, refuses to subsidize the new handsets.

I think the final barrier to the video revolution won’t be technology, but corporate greed. When the iPhone can run on any network — indeed, when a device with the same functionality of the iPhone is available without any of the restrictions Apple currently imposes on this gadget — then there’s no stopping this migration to video.

I’m disappointed that the 3Gs can only shoot standard definition video. But wait! It can shoot HD, according to those who have peeked under the hood. But HD has been disabled, presumably to spare the iPhone’s battery. Please!

But that’s where my disappointment ends. Shooting video on iPhone is as easy as taking picture. You have to remember to hold the phone correctly — horizontally, not vertically — otherwise the image is clipped when you try to edit it. Another caveat: Watch your fingers. On several occasions, I obscured the tiny lens, rendering the video unusable.

Image stabilization is as good as any I’ve experienced on a conventional video camera. The sound quality is decent enough for a video postcard and works well with the VGA-resolution video.

Here’s a little clip I shot this weekend of our trip to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Fla.

The rudimentary built-in editing features allow you to shorten a clip and then post it to YouTube. If you want more, you’ll have to switch to iMovie, Final Cut, or another video editor.

And that brings me to importing. For now, iPhoto is the best way to pull the clips on to your computer. My iTunes player all but ignores the video I take, which is really annoying. I’m sure a fix is imminent.

What’s really needed is better program for importing, editing and compressing video and then exporting it to YouTube or one of the other video sites I discussed in my last post. Apple also needs to figure out how to make the iPhone zoom, and it needs to make it easier to attach this new camera to a tripod.

Patience, my friends. I’m sure all of those features are on the way.

What we did this weekend: go kart races in Maitland and an Aquatica adventure in Orlando

We spent Father’s Day weekend doing “guy” things and testing the new iPhone 3Gs. Both of these videos were shot on the new phone.

The kids can’t get enough of speed. After racing golf carts last weekend, they graduated to the next level: go carts!

Will they take to the chutes at Aquatica? No way! Iden tried out the junior slide but for the most part the kids stayed safely in the splash zone.

Open your eyes: everything is about to change for travelers

One of the most popular cameras on the number one photo-sharing site isn’t a camera at all. It’s the Apple iPhone.

133988-iphone3gI mention this for two reasons. First, because a new iPhone is being released June 19. And second, because it now includes a feature that promises to change the way we travel: a video camera.

The specs are nothing to rave about — 640 by 480 pixels, which is not exactly HD — but the implications are far-reaching for each and every one of us. At the touch of a button, travelers can now publish an edited video to YouTube. Not coincidentally, YouTube just last week added a feature that allows you to directly share clips to Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader.

Why does any of this matter to travelers?

Because it marks a fundamental shift that could alter the way we get our information about travel and the way we share our travel experiences.

It’s a move from “tell me” to “show me.”

You can already see the beginning of this migration on social networking sites that specialize in travel, where users are gravitating toward photos, as opposed to written reviews. Just last week, in a post about TripAdvisor, several users claimed they disregarded the written reviews and just looked at the pictures. When everyone is carrying a video camera, and when posting to the Internet is as easy as pushing a button, imagine how people will make travel purchasing decisions?

Let’s just take a moment to consider this.

Say you’re buying a plane ticket, but it’s a toss-up between United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. At the moment, you can look up reviews of both airlines and find lots of information on blogs. You can also go to a seat review site like SeatGuru or to an old-school forum like FlyerTalk, and get a reasonably good idea of what to expect. But what if you have actual user-generated video content of the seats and can compare seat pitch, in-flight entertainment, and overall comfort by seeing it instead of reading about it.

How would that change things?

What if you’re trying to decide where to make restaurant reservations? You could check out Zagat or Yelp and read all about it, but what if you could see the entrees as they’re served?

Now imagine these video clips are delivered in real-time, or as close as possible to it. Sites like 12seconds and Seesmic already let you do that. (Think Twitter for video.)

Now imagine everyone has access to it in real time. That’s what Google Wave is all about, and when it’s released later this year, it could potentially revolutionize the way in which we consume information. Here are a few highlights of Google Wave’s features, courtesy of our friends over at Lifehacker.

We’re on the verge of nothing less than a revolution in media. The travel industry will be at the frontline, but it won’t take long to turn everything upside-down.

Are you ready?