OK, I have a confession to make: I don't have a BlackBerry, and I barely use my Pocket PC. So sue me. Call me a Luddite, or Mr. Clumsy Thumbs, who needs a keyboard at least 18 inches wide for entering text. I stand firm in my opinion that these devices will transform the human race--and not in a good way. Reading and writing e-mail on a gadget the size of a deck of cards will cause the human race to evolve into Popeye look-alikes, with massively overdeveloped forearms from all that thumb action and one bugged eye from trying to make out text on the screen.
There. I said it. Glad I got that off my chest.
But having said that, I really do need to check my e-mail when I'm on the road--not when I'm walking around an office or home or theater or museum like some CrackBerry addicts, but when I'm actually traveling. Because I use a Windows XP-based GPS package (that big keyboard again), I always have a notebook handy that offers a comfortable screen and keyboard size.
But how to make the connection between notebook and Internet? Aye, there's the rub.
Bridging the Bluetooth gap
Reading and writing e-mail on a device the size of a deck of playing cards will cause the human race to evolve into Popeye look-alikes.
When Wi-Fi's a bust, hooking up your PC to a cell phone is a viable option. It's straightforward if you subscribe to a cellular data account such as T-Mobile's T-zones or Verizon's Quick Connect or Express Network. But you can use pretty much any dial-up network, even something like NetZero, if you're strapped. What you do need, of course, is a cell phone and a way to connect it to your notebook. Bluetooth and USB are the current bit contenders.
If you happen to have a cellphone
and a notebook
that are Bluetooth enabled, you're golden. (If you lack Bluetooth support, you can add an adapter
to a PC card or a USB slot.) Once your technoteeth are fully blue, either read the next paragraph for quick setup instructions or let CNET show you the ropes
in a short video.
When Wi-Fi's a bust, hooking up your PC to a cell phone is a viable option.
Text lovers, here are your instructions: First go into the Bluetooth settings on the phone and make sure it's on and discoverable. Then, go over to your Windows XP laptop, hie yourself over to the Control Panel's Bluetooth icon, and set it to look for discoverable Bluetooth devices. The phone could be in your pocket, glove compartment, or even in the next room, as long as it's within about 30 feet of your laptop. Once your PC knows there's a Bluetooth phone in the area, you're ready to set up a network connection. Select a dial-up connection, plug in the dial-up number, and you're set. The connection is usually faster than a typical dial-up line, but nowhere near Wi-Fi speeds.
Not all phone carriers support this kind of Bluetooth connection, however. And if you're not a Bluetooth type, you're out of luck--unless you can set up a wired connection between devices. Flying the USB flag
Most cell phones can plug into USB ports on computers, with the right cable. My Motorola V188
, for example, uses the same crimp-ended USB cable as my camera. You also need to pick the right driver for the phone, because unlike memory sticks or digital cameras, cell phones don't come across as standard PC devices. And most cell phone bundles don't include Windows drivers. Your carrier or phone manufacturer will most likely sell a USB data connection kit. Weird thing is, they often don't promote this useful option heavily; for example, T-Mobile's wireless data configuration instructions
are buried pretty deeply on its Web site. Hidden extras
In many cases, you may need to click into the advanced hardware setting for your cell phone's new role as a modem: Anyone who hasn't typed in AT configuration strings may be in for a rude awakening.
But once you're online, for heaven's sake, be cautious about your online time, because you may be charged data rates. At Verizon, for example, casual, occasional use of the lower-speed Quick Connect data service is usually free, but in practice, you may be charged additional data-rate charges over and above your regular phone contract minutes. I was stung a few years ago using this trick with Sprint PCS, where tethered calls violated the terms of service on my contract and were subject to a per-kilobyte charge on downloads. So check out your own plan
before you get online.
Of course, one way to keep the cost of connections down is to reduce the amount you download and the time you spend online. That's where the BlackBerry folks have been a great help. Many useful sites have pared down their pages to BlackBerry-friendly sizes, which makes them ideal for fast loading on a tethered or Bluetooth mobile connection.
But once you're online, for heaven's sake, be cautious about your online time, because you may be charged data rates.
The XHTML version of Google
, for example, strips down an already tiny opening page. And Google News for XHTML
is another low-bandwidth winner. It even strips down the external pages it links to. The pared-down portable Yahoo page
is another winner, and big Yahoo fans may appreciate Yahoo Go for Mobile
But if you're forced to look elsewhere around the Web while on a low-bandwidth connection, do yourself a favor and bookmark Google's Enter A URL
page reformatting tool. Any URL you enter there will come out in a tight, handheld-friendly column without pictures, if you set it up that way. There's nothing faster and cheaper to load than a pared-down page--and it won't turn you into a Popeye if you look at it on a notebook. Is Matt Lake's data feed not even up to dial-up speeds? Is he phoning it in again? Share your cellular modem stories in the feedback section below--or just let him have it for dissing the BlackBerry.