The Trouble with Treos

Why my expensive new communications tool is going back to the Verizon store.

If you’ve been following this blog, you may know that I’m hoping to write my next two books at our off-the-grid “camp” on top of Howard Mesa. The place has solar panels that should generate enough electricity to power my computer equipment. But to work, I need an Internet connection — the one thing our place doesn’t have.

I explored my options. Satellite was too expensive. Wireless Internet available by pointing a specialized antenna at the top of Bill Williams Mountain wasn’t going to work because I was out of range. (The Internet guy drove up with test equipment last week to check.) That left the last option: a connection via a cell phone provider.

I’m a Verizon subscriber. I’ve been one for about six years now. Verizon has the best coverage in my area, with a nice strong signal in most places I go. I’m not a phone nut; I buy a new phone every 3 or so years. I’ve been using a Motorola flip phone for 3-1/2 years. No camera, no PDA, no Internet access, no fancy ring tones. It’s a phone, plain and simple. And it works well.

I went down to the Verizon store in the mall at Happy Valley Road in North Phoenix last Friday. (It’s a 41-mile drive from Wickenburg.) I walked in, got myself a sales person, and proceeded to tell her my needs: I need to be able to get any computer on the Internet from my cell phone. Somewhere along the line, I might have mentioned that I was thinking about a PDA. But I definitely told her I’d be connecting to a Macintosh.

Palm Treo 700pShe said the only PDA phone that would work with a Mac for syncing and Internet connection would be a Palm Treo 700p. She assured me that it would sync with my Mac using the included USB “tether.” I’d also be able to connect that tether to any computer with a USB port and, using that, get on the Internet. We talked plans and pricing and although it was going to cost me about $100/month to use the darn thing, Internet was unlimited. And the Treo has all kinds of cool features that would help make me more productive while on the road, including a keyboard for messaging, e-mail, Web browsing, and a camera. (Check out my TumbleLog for some photos I posted online from my phone on Thursday.)

So I bought it. And I bought the case, the Bluetooth headset, and the car charger to go with it.

I was incredibly busy on Friday night, all day Saturday, and on Sunday morning. But I still found time to set up tether and Bluetooth syncing. I didn’t find time to set up the Internet connection stuff for my PowerBook. But I just bundled all the hardware and software and manuals into my luggage and took it with me on my trip to California, figuring I’d have time to figure it out while there.

I didn’t have time until Thursday morning. And that’s when I realized that I didn’t have everything I needed to make it work. I needed software and it wasn’t on the Verizon Welcome disc.

So I used the Palm OS version of GoogleMaps on my phone (highly recommended) to find the Verizon store closest to Torrance Airport. And since we had about an hour and a half to kill, we drove over there. I brought my phone and the cables and the computer. And after some awkward confusion and two trips to the back room to consult with a hidden expert, the service person gave me the bad news: tethering did not work with Macs.

Of course, this is exactly the opposite of what I’d been told by the person who sold me the device. So who was I to believe?

Later on, I was able to get on the Internet and view the Web page with information about tethering. And it confirmed what the Torrance Verizon person had said.

Of course, I could still set up the computer to use dial up networking (DUN) with the cell phone. I was able to get the instructions to set up that from the Palm Web site, which I was able to view with the phone itself. I set it up and it worked. Then I realized that it might be using up my minutes — I only get 450 anytime minutes on my plan because I really don’t use my phone that much for chatting. So I called Verizon and asked. I was assured that the connection time to Verizon’s DUN system was included in my plan.

But DUN is about 1/3 to 1/2 the speed of the broadband connection I thought I was buying. And it can’t seem to hold a connection for more than 5 or 10 minutes at a time. And this phone cost a small fortune. So I’m not a happy camper.

And I still haven’t confirmed that it will work at Howard Mesa.

At this point, it’s likely that I’ll be taking advantage of that 30-day trial period Verizon offers to return the phone. With luck, they’ll have something that works correctly with my Mac. Otherwise, I’ll just have them reactivate my old phone and forget about Internet access via cell phone, at least for a while.

[composed in a hotel room while on the road with ecto]

What do you think?