Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Saturday, July 04, 2009

New phone: Tracfone LG 600G

EDIT: Before writing this, I created ringtones and wallpapers, and even compiled software and transferred it to the phone, but I didn't actually try talking on it. Har. Guess what? It doens't work. It makes and receives calls, but a few seconds into it, it drops the call, then the phone reboots. Sigh...

UPDATE: Tracfone sent me a replacement phone and everything works now. They were pretty quick about it, and they compensated the minutes (and more than compensated the airtime) that I lost after activating a phone that didn't actually work as a phone.

I had been using Virgin Mobile for two and a half years, and I recently decided it's time to switch to Tracfone. My main complaint with Virgin Mobile was lousy coverage. The VM phone didn't get service in the building I work in, or in any of the quasi-rural spots where I go to see stars (when I got stuck in the snow late at night in Provo Canyon last year, I had to rely on a camper whose phone actually worked there).

My wife switched from a Sprint monthly plan to Tracfone six months ago, and its coverage is much better. With my Virgin Mobile service about to expire, and finding that I could get better coverage for less money, I decided to take the opportunity to switch to Tracfone myself.

I'll diverge for a moment to discuss pricing. On Virgin Mobile, I had to pay $20 per 90 days to keep the service active. Minutes were 18 cents per, and text messages 15 cents (this tripled from 5 cents when I started with VM). Coincidentally, $20 per 90 days is about what I had to spend anyway - meaning I averaged 8 or 9 minutes per week - I don't talk recreationally, but it's invaluable for logistical-type things. FWIW, this was a grandfathered rate at the time I quit VM; they've upped it to 20 cents per minute these days.

With Tracfone, there are a dizzying array of pricing options, and on the surface they look more expensive than Virgin Mobile - however, the key is their "Double Minutes for Life" feature. Buy a more expensive phone than the generic $10 models, and effectively minutes cost half as much, for the life of the phone. I paid $40 for the LG 600G at Target, and it includes double minutes. This means a 60-minute card (which adds 90 days of airtime to your service), priced at $20, would yield 33 cents/min otherwise - but just 16.7 cents/min on this phone - a better deal than Virgin Mobile. Higher value cards have a correspondingly lower cost per minute; the one-year-of-service card, which at $100 gives you 800 (doubled) minutes, yielding 12.5 cents per minute. Also, there are often promo codes* you can enter to get even more bonus minutes with a purchase; I used a 200-minute code, meaning I got a total of 1000 minutes (400 * 2 + 200) for $100 - 10 cents per minute. Not too shabby.

I also got an additional 100 bonus minutes for porting my number from Virgin Mobile and activating a one-year card. The porting process, which their web site said could take 7-10 days, actually took less than one. I sorta hoped it would take longer, because I didn't get the chance to burn off my remaining Virgin Mobile balance - oh well. :) My only complaint here is that they called me at 7:15 AM to complete the process by entering a few thousand numbers into the "code entry" fields.

So, on to the phone. My curiosity was piqued when I saw my wife's w376g and saw what looked like a standard USB mini-B socket on it - it'd be nice to transfer files to and from the phone without paying for airtime, I mused. But not with that phone - the USB port has been crippled on that phone, and is only good for charging. Bleh. The 376 also has Bluetooth, but it's crippled too, and is only good for a headset.

The LG 600G, on the other hand, doesn't pretend to have a USB port, but what it does have is non-crippled Bluetooth. It's possible to create ringtones (.mid or .amr) and graphics (.jpg) and send them to the phone without paying a dime. It's also possible to download pictures from the camera over Bluetooth. What's more, you can actually develop and distribute software that runs on the phone, using Java Micro Edition. Not common features in a $40 no-contract phone.

Trying to actually use the Bluetooth features has been a bit of an adventure. I'm using my work laptop, a MacBook Pro, to transfer stuff to the phone since none of my personal machines has Bluetooth. I prepared a bunch of my astrophotos for the phone, cropping and downsampling them to 128x160 for the screen, and then I sent 'em all over to the phone in one batch ... except that it didn't quite work. One, the phone prompts you to confirm each individual transfer, and two, when I sent multiple files over in one batch, the MacBook seemed to send File 2 before it finished sending File 1, leaving File 1 truncated (easily visible in JPEG files). I don't know whether this bug is Apple's or LG's, but for the time being, files must be sent one at a time. (I'll try other Bluetooth software and see if this changes.)

When typing text messages, the 600G has what's called "T9" mode, which lets you press each key once instead of multiple times to pick the correct letter. It uses a dictionary to figure out which word you meant. So to type "hello", you just type "43556", not "443555(wait)555666". It's quite nice, until you come up with a word that's not in the dictionary, but that doesn't happen often in my experience.

I downloaded the Java ME SDK, compiled a "Hello World" sample, and sent it to the phone and ran it. It worked. I haven't thought of a killer app to write for it yet, but it's nice that I have the ability to program this thing. It's somewhat limited, however, since the thing only has 4MB of storage (an iPhone it is not). There are a whole bunch of downloadable games for the 600G here.

Just for grins, I'll include the backgrounds I created for this phone...

*I didn't actually get the 200 promo minutes at first, but I sent Tracfone an email and they were credited to my phone the next day. I got the code I used from Tracfone's own web site, but I suspect it was out of date, because a different code was shown elsewhere on their site.


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