It has been two years since I bought--and set aside--my first cell phone. The horrid device in question was a bottom-of-the-line Ericsson that looked as if it had been designed in Stalinist Russia. I got it free with a one-year service contract. Sadly, phone, service (AT&T Wireless) and contract conspired against me. Either the Ericsson, which carried a battery charge for a good half-hour or so, was out of juice or I was in one of the many dead spots that appeared to plague my mobile life. After three months of this, I stopped paying my bill and used the phone as a paperweight. The consumer-hateful contract ensured that I'd pay for a year's service no matter what, so a black mark soon appeared on my credit rating, like a bruise. I refused to capitulate, dedicating my life instead to abolishing cell phones and giving mean stares to people who talked too loudly on them in crowded places.
But I had a change of heart after my wife bought a Nokia and signed up for AT&T's service (which has definitely improved in my home region). I decided to let bygones be gone and went hunting for a phone of my own. Naturally, it would have to be far cooler than my wife's. Also, it would need to be one of the new generation of phones that would let me browse the Web virtually anywhere. After a few minutes of research, I settled on the Motorola StarTac 7860 ($240). I decided to buy it partly because it's the latest in Motorola's venerable line of lightweight (4.4 oz.), pocket-size flip phones. But what really sold me was the fact that this phone could double as a 14.4-bps modem--I could string a cable between it and my laptop and surf the Net or send and receive e-mail on its bigger screen using my normal firstname.lastname@example.org account.
Now that I know how to use it--more on that travesty below--I would unequivocally recommend the 7860 to anyone in the market for a pocket-size Web-browsing phone. The battery lasts three days and recharges in a few hours. The navigation, while not as elegant as on my wife's bulkier Nokia, is fine. And the Web, even when viewed on the phone's postage-stamp-size screen, is surprisingly readable. I can go to any site, read the text and bookmark it for later. For instance, on the train, I visit the site formerly known as Media Gossip at the touch of a button.
On the downside, the e-mail service that comes from Bell Atlantic Mobile, my cellular provider, is yucky. As with most cell phone-based e-mail services, you have to initiate a call before slowly pecking out your message--which, since the meter's running, feels like thievery. Why can't I compose messages off-line?
And another dumb thing: my phone's e-mail address is a user-contemptuous mishmash of 48 alphanumeric characters. I figured I'd cure this by spending $129 more to buy the Data Connectivity Kit and do e-mail off-line, through my laptop. But when I tried to set the thing up, there was nothing in the documents explaining how. Worse, when I called Motorola's toll-free help line, I was assured by two separate reps that the phone could be used only for faxing; e-mail and Web browsing could not be done via a laptop-phone connection! I would have sent the thing back in disgust. Instead, I pulled my reporter's credentials, went through the p.r. department and got to some Motorola engineers, who explained that it could be done-- and simply too. E-mail me if you want to know how. That goes for you Motorola support people too.