Tech Update Fiesta #1A: On Nexus Phone as 'Phone'

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Last week, as part of a soon-to-be-revived Tech Update Fiesta series, I mentioned that the Google Nexus One had held up very well in all of its "smartphone" features. Navigation, entertainment, email, web browsing, photography, telekinesis, etc. But when asked how it was at the "dumbphone" basics of making and receiving calls, I said that it was only so-so. I added that I couldn't be sure whether the problem was the phone itself, the specific carrier I was using (T-Mobile), or the overall shoddiness of US mobile phone coverage, compared with most other countries'.

Two readers respond to say that it's probably not the phone: more likely either the national grid or the specific carrier. First, the argument that it's T-Mobile's fault:

I hear all the stories about how crappy iPhone service is through AT&T, and now your post about the problems with the Nexus and T-Mobile. Just wanted to say that I can't remember the last time I had a dropped call on Verizon.

Have to admit that praising a phone company makes me shudder. My usual take on them is about the same as James Coburn's in The President's Analyst. Or Lily Tomlin's.

Now, the argument that it's America's fault. Or, more precisely, that the U.S. is in a quality race with Indonesia on this score:

Further corroboration on how perception of the Nexus' call quality really depends on network quality: I've been using the phone in Indonesia for a month, where phone coverage is dismal across the board, and have gotten disconnected even in the middle of the CBD area. Data coverage often drops from 3G to E or even G (!!) and oftentimes stalls out. Sometimes the signal is strong but it looks like too many customers try accessing the Internet at the same time and the network could not route all the requests through!

As part of my move to Germany, though, I am in Singapore yesterday and today, and lo and behold, the phone works just well. Never dropped more than 1 bar even when underground in the MRT (subway). I wonder how many other cities boast the same facilities for cell phone users -- I believe you mentioned the same is true of the Beijing subway? [Yes -- in elevators and coal mines too.]

I'll soon -- couple of weeks -- be able to verify if that holds in Nuremberg, Germany too.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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