Monday, January 23, 2006

Can You Hear Me Now?

My wife and I are long-time Sprint cell phone customers. Well actually, we were long-time Sprint customers. My wife wanted to upgrade her phone, which she had had for 2.5 years, but after getting some not-so-friendly treatment from Sprint, we decided it was time to switch carriers. So we decided on Verzion, because we liked their phones.
The phone I bought from Verizon is the Samsung SCH-A950. This is the phone that was being touted for awhile as "The MP3 Maestro." It's supposed to combine some iPod functionality into a cell phone. That was an interesting plus to me, but I mostly bought it because it had a good camera (1.3 MP,) EV-DO enabled, and was Bluetooth capable (albeit only for headsets and handsfree operation) for just $99. The music playing was a plus, though I did like that it could take a microSD expansion card.
So far I am very pleased with the phone. Reception is good. It seems to never show more than 2-3 bars, but the sound is great and I've had no dropped calls using it all over San Jose, Campbell, and Sunnyvale. Battery life seems so-so, but I think that's because I've been using a lot of the extras, like the camera, web browser, and yes the music player. The camera is good as expected, though it is a little slow when you use its highest setting, 1280x960. The phone has two speakers for listening to music. Of course they're not that great for rocking out to your favorite songs, but they make for outstanding ringtone speakers.
As for the music player ... well you might have noticed that I said music player, not MP3 player. The phone does not play MP3s. Its capable and did so with an earlier firmware version, but not with the current. It seems that Verizon disable MP3 playing when they added the ability to buy/download songs from Verizon's music store. My phone was running the latest firmware, so it had never had the ability to play MP3s.
This is annoying. Verizon is somewhat notorious for disabling certain features on phones in order to push people to use their premium services. This seems to be another case of this. This is probably why they cripple the Bluetooth capibilities of their phones.
So I could buy songs for $2 a pop from Verizon and play them on my phone. To do this, I also need a $15/month VCAST subscription. Another alternative was to buy a USB cable for my phone, buy songs on my computer, and then sync them to my phone using Windows Media Player. Going this route, the songs are only $1 instead of $2. If you do the sync, WMP will allow MP3s to be synced to your phone. It doesn't actually transfer MP3s to your phone, but instead converts them to WMA files and copies the WMA files to your phone.
So with all this knowledge, I came up with a slightly different solution. I have not bought the USB cable. I probably will, but didn't want to just yet. I did buy a 128 MB microSD card on eBay for $5. The price was too good not to buy it. I already had a card reader for use with my digital camera. So I plugged the microSD card into the card reader (after I had used the card in my phone, so that my phone could set up its directory structure on the card.)
Now when I opened WMP and chose to sync, it gave me the option of syncing to the card. Very nice! I did not want to go the MP3-WMA conversion route, so I just took a CD ("Is This It" by The Strokes) and ripped it to WMA. I put the new tracks in my sync list and executed the sync. Voila!
One problem, though... WMP doesn't really know where to put the files and the phone looks for them in a particular location (the "MY_MUSIC" folder.) So I opened the card up in Windows Explorer, and it had put everything in the root directory. I moved the files there to the MY_MUSIC folder, and transferred the card back to my phone. My phone saw the files and I could play them with no problem. Now I just need to get some 2.5mm headphones...

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