Last week I wrote about ATT's new prepaid data offer, $19.99/month for unlimited 3G. Naturally, I had to try this out so here are my experiences.
It generally works very well. There is one issue, though and it's so stupid I have a hard time believing it. After every data use a Network Service Message pops up on the phone telling you how much you spent and what your balance is. None of the other US prepaid carriers do this, they just play an audio message at the start of each call telling you how many minutes you have left. And on most other carriers even those messages can be turned off with a call to customer support. Not ATT, the messages are relentless and customer support claims no one at ATT can turn disable them! Annoying, but I'm sure some executive thinks this is a great customer friendly feature. Well it's not, especially with the unlimited data package, where the message tells you that the last transaction cost 0.00 USD. What conceivable use is that? It's just really, really stupid. The system knows the session cost nothing but it sends a message anyway. Talk about annoying customers AND wasting network resources. I mean, how hard would it be to add an
If Cost <> 0 to the mesaging logic?
It's mainly the stupidity of this that bothers me. The service messages aren't really that disruptive most of the time. When browsing the connection generally stays open until about 5 minutes after a page loads. If you are inactive that long you have to clear a message by pressing the right softkey before you can do anything else. At least that's on an N95. It's worse on some phones, like when running Opera Mini on an old Nokia 6200 where the popups appear immediately after every page load. I guess I'm lucky though, according to comments on Howard Forums, on some phones the messages come in as SMS or stack up and require multiple clicks to clear. But on the N95 it's a pretty minor annoyance and one I can live with to get unlimited data for 20 bucks.
I've mainly been using the GoPhone SIM with a Nokia N95-3, the US model that supports ATT's 850/1900 3G. I also tried it with a Motorola Z8 and the Nokia 6200. All three phones worked perfectly with minimal setup. The N95 has this great feature that I first noticed when I used WIND Italy. It automatically sets up an Access Point when you put a new SIM in; so its truly plug and play. I'm not sure how this works but it seems to depend on both the phone and the SIM supporting some kind of API as it only happens with certain SIMS and phones. The N95 doesn't create an access point when I put a T-Mobile SIM in it and the Z8 and 6200 don't set one up with an ATT SIM. But even if you have to setup data manually, ATT makes it easy. With the Z8 I only had to enter the Access Point Name of wap.cingular, no proxy, port, User ID or password required. The 6200 has to go through a WAP gateway to get to the 'net so I also had to specify the Gateway IP address, 066.209.011.061. But with just those settings everything works even Java apps like Opera Mini.
ATT's coverage in the San Francisco Bay Area seems pretty good too. I gotten usable signals everywhere I've gone including some indoor locations where I can't get a T-Mobile, Sprint or Nextel signal. I also get 3G everywhere except for a one mile stretch in an open-space area where it drops to GPRS. I don't see much evidence of ATT's alleged HSDPA rollout though. The N95 has a distinctive 3.5G icon that appears for an HSDPA signal but I've only seen it twice and it went back to the 3G UTMS icon almost immediately. Speed on UTMS is pretty consistently between 200 and 300 kpbs measured by DSLReports Mobile speed tester at dslreports.com/mspeed. Not as fast as EVDO but still quite snappy for web surfing.
If you can live with those popups, this is a pretty good deal. You can even cut the cost a little by buying refill PINS online. It's pretty easy to find 10% discounts. GoPhone has a rewards program too, after you spend $100 you get a $5 credit. With each successive $100 spent the reward gets bigger, topping out at $20 per $100.
But please ATT, can we have an end to those status messages especially the ones that say you've spent nothing?