When it comes to cellular service, I'm a "pay as you go" kind of guy.
That was why I was a bit bummed when I accepted a job in rural northern Arkansas – a place where my Virgin Mobile service and my beloved Audiovox Snapper refused to go.
This was a blessing in disguise.
I immediately began shopping for a new cell phone deal. Turns out, Cingular is about all you can get in this land of beautiful rivers and mountains.
Cingular's pay-as-you-go service, Go Phone, seemed very appealing. Something that really sweetened the deal was the fact that for a dollar a day everytime I used the phone for a voice call I could recieve unlimited mobile-to-mobile on the Cingular network. Since everyone around here has Cingular, how could I resist?
This turned out to be a much better deal than Virgin's dollar-a-day plan. With those folks, you paid a dollar a day every day and got minutes for $0.10. With Cingular, my dollar a day gets me unlimited calls to anyone on Cingular, plus $0.10 a minute for non-Cingular network calls.
So I began the search for a phone. I resisted the urge to pick up a pre-paid pink RAZR (it really wasn't all the hard) and sided with the Sony Ericsson T290a, a sleek, lightweight black phone. When I got it out of the package I was immediately amazed at how small it was. For a $50 (including $10 airtime) phone, it looks very cool and feels suprisingly sturdy.
I immediately had two major disappointments. First, it uses a freaky proprietary power connector. It is very easy to plug in, but pulling it out takes some getting used to (you lift up on the cord and it pops out).
My second disappointment was the fact that it uses a freaky proprietary USB connector… and it doesn't include one. Maybe I'm expecting too much for a prepaid phone.
Once it was charged up, I activated it and got my new number. I had no problems with the activation process and was using the phone in less than 5 minutes!
One thing that almost scared me away from this phone was the very small buttons. I have big fingers. But for some reason, I have little problem using these buttons. Also, the backlight could be better, but it is sufficient.
The interface is very well thought-out. Pressing the center key on the directonal pad brings up the "desktop" – a 3×3 grid of icons that can get you to all the features of the phone. The 3×3 grid corresponds to keys one through nine, making it easy to navigate through the phone.
One quirk that freaked me out at first was the fact that the left side volume controls don't turn up the ring volume while on the home screen. They instead bring up a status message that tells you the model of your phone and the current date. The volume buttons only adhere to their stated purpose when you are making a call.
A Cingular icon sitting below he "Yes" key brings up a nice menu that includes functions to lock the keypad, turn the phone on or off silent, open the WAP browser, a note-taking application, and more. It is nice to have these features just a few clicks away.
The phone doesn't have a screensaver option – when left alone for a few minutes, it goes to a black screen with the time displayed on it. It does include the ability to change the background of the home screen and the overall look of the phone.
The color screen can look a little "washed out" at times, but with some modifications to the default background and theme, it looks perfectly fine.
All of the applications on the phone are pretty standard with the exception of the messaging program. It is very robust and includes support for POP and IMAP email as well as AOL Instant Messenger – things which are pretty unheard of on the pay-as-you-go scene.
The battery life is exceptional – during my three day period of heavy-testing of the phone (making lots of calls, playing games, testing settings) I never had to recharge it. I haven't been using it nearly as much now and it has nearly been a week since I last plugged this bad boy into the wall. The battery display meter still shows well over half a charge, however.
Overall, I highly reccomend this phone.