I recently learned about the cellphone service from ting.com, and decided the time was right to switch cellphone providers and get a new device. If you decide to switch to Ting, please consider using my referral code to get $25 off your phone (and $25 off a monthy bill for me!)
ting is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) that uses the sprint network for voice and data.
ting is very new, and it's hard to find opinions about it from users (or indeed much beyond websites publishing the "ting is now open to customers" press release!), so I hope this information will be useful to you even though I'm going to be adding to this blog entry in a somewhat stream-of-consciousness way.]
After three months of service, the tl;dr summary is: ting's service works great (same level of service as Sprint in my area), the pricing is just as promised, with discipline I can keep my plan costs (particularly data) quite low, and the HTC Detail is a very capable phone particularly after installing Cyanogen 7.1 on it, including WiMAX 4G in supported areas.
The case for switching
I had been dissatisfied with my Samsung Moment on Sprint almost from day one. The original firmware had very dodgy wifi support, and while custom firmwares from the sdx-developers community eventually fixed this, major problems with the GPS (which eventually stopped ever finding my location) and general unhappiness with the phone's interactive performance (15 seeconds to show the home screen after unlocking?) just made using it a drag.
I had also been unhappy about the cost of Sprint's service. Ingrid and I shared a plan with a $130/month nominal cost, which is $153 after taxes; compared to my prior service on virgin mobile that ran about $7 a month and Ingrid's sprint service that ran about $50 a month (a plan that is no longer available, nominally a $30 plan). Now, I knew going into it that the cost would be something like $150 and had agreed to pay the difference between the old and new services, but a hundred bucks a month is a lot of money.
So, having arrived at about 18 months into my 2-year contract, I started spending a lot of time thinking about what to do when the contract was up. The front-runner in my mind was virgin, where a plan with 300 minutes and unlimited data is $35/month. But then I read about ting.com and took a closer look at my own usage habits. one thing that is good about sprint's website: I was able to easily look at a year of usage.
Here's what I learned: even though I think of myself as a power user, aside from one month in the year when I managed to reach 1GB, I typically didn't even reach 300MB of data. Not even when I occasionally did an illicit tether while on vacation and the hotel wifi was busted. Unlimited data? I absolutely don't need it. In fact, I'm one of those users who is subsidizing the heavy users. I already knew that my voice usage is low (way under 100 minutes). Apparently I do send hundreds of texts, though.
Ingrid's data usage is tiny, her text usage is comparable to mine, and she talks more—up to a few hundred minutes a month, particularly when counting all types of minutes.
So I moved the ting.com sliders around, and arrived at a startling conclusion: before taxes and regulatory fees, my cellphone bill would be about $25 a month, and adding Ingrid to the service would bring it up to only about $39 a month. In other words, we should save something like $90 a month on the service if we both switched. That's too good to turn down.
(if I switch but Ingrid doesn't, I figure the sprint bill should go down by at least $60 a month, the difference between the single-line plan and the two-line plan. This makes the savings somewhere more like $25 a month, assuming my bill creeps up to $35 a month with taxes and fees; it's still something, but the real savings is realized when we both switch)
One good thing: the early termination fee with sprint is only $50 per line this close to the end of the contract term (sometime in 2011 they doubled the ETF for newly activated phones, so make sure and check for yourself). Even if I'm saving just $25 a month, I still save more by quitting sooner instead of later.
The choice of the phone
Right now at least, the range of phones on ting is small, and there's no "bring your own" option. While ting won't say it out loud, I am virtually certain that the no-BYO is imposed on ting by sprint. Anyway, I emphatically didn't want to bring my device along, so no-BYO is NBD (no big deal) to me.
I do demand a slider keyboard on my android phone, which narrowed the field to two: the Samsung Transform and the HTC Detail. The advantage of the Samsung is that it is cheaper: $245 as compared to $400. However, my original Android phone was also a Samsung, and I hated it. So do reviewers of the sprint-branded version of the Transform on sprint.com: 2/3 reviewed it as 1 or 2 out of 5 stars. So I picked the HTC Detail.
The order and delivery
I went through the order process online, and was a bit shocked at the final price: the $395 phone was going to cost $446.35. The difference is two items: $27.65 in sales tax for my locality (Lincoln Nebraska) and a Business and Occupation tax of $23.70. At first I was confused by the second tax, but after diligent searching I determined that Lincoln also levies a 6% "Telecommunications Occupation Tax". (Lincoln Muncipal Code Chapter 3.24, see 3.24.080).
The order was shipped on the next business day (Tuesday) via FedEx and delivered on Thursday. This put it at the low end of the 5 to 10 days that ting.com had said delivery might take. I was surprised when I received the FedEx tracking number, because some verbiage on ting.com had said the device would be "mailed" to me, which I had assumed meant postal mail.
(Since then ting has changed their phone lineup a bit, and the HTC Detail is now just $315. If you want an Android slider, this is the phone to get)
The Activation Process
I wanted to port my number from sprint, which required Sprint billing information to be supplied, including (for some reason) the social security number of the person being billed. Luckily for me, I was able to dig up Ingrid's SSN and the relevant bits of billing information while at the office. Unfortunately, after I completed the activation process, the account page on ting said that I had no devices registered or ready for activiation; needless to say the phone didn't work on the cellular network either. When the situation was unchanged after 3 hours, I gave ting a call.
Result: after about 2 rings, I spoke to a very helpful woman who, upon being furnished with my e-mail address, was able to confirm that the device was in ting's system, and that it was waiting for the other provider (i.e., sprint) for the number porting process. When I explained to her that part of the reason I called was that my device didn't even appear in the account page, she (told me she) pulled it up, saw the same thing, and sent a screenshot to the developers. About an hour later, my phone spontaneously updated its profile and prl (interrupting my very important game of Shortyz), and the porting and activation process was done. It's worth noting that at this point the device still didn't appear in my account page, though.
However, there are still some problems on the Sprint end of things: The plan, which is now a single-line plan, is still "Everything Data Family" with a cost of $110 showing; the automated "change my plan" button doesn't work, but directs me to contact Customer Support. Since Ingrid's the customer, she'll unfortunately be forced to deal with this element of the puzzle.
Wait, what about tethering?
One of Ting's selling points was that tethering is included in all plans; just like everything else, you merely pay for the bytes transferred over the network. So I was baffled when I got the message "Not subscribed to Hotspot service". I double-checked the ting documentation on tethering to see if I had to enable it, but that page didn't (at least at the time) say that it was necessary to do any setup in my account. Which I couldn't have done anyway—as noted above, my phone still didn't show in my account page. I posted a comment on the page, and went and did something else.
Then, 15 minutes or so later, I idly tried it again—and it worked! I went back to the page and posted that it had magically started working. In the meantime, it turned out that a ting employee had seen my message, fixed the relevant item in my account (there's a checkbutton to turn on), and posted a reply.
At this point, my device also magically appeared in my account page. So I can tell you that I've apparently used 1MB data, 6 minutes talk, and 6 texts in the 5 hours or so my phone's been running.
A mini-WTF on ting pricing
As you can see on their "plans" page, each aspect of the service is cut into ranges, from XS (no service) through XXL and XXL+. As you go up in size, the price of each unit is less than the price of a unit in the last tier. For instance, the "S" level of minutes is 100 minutes for $3, or 3¢/minute. Moving from S to M in minutes gives you 400 additional minutes for an additional $6, a cost of 1.5¢/minute and an average cost of 1.8¢ a minute for all 500 minutes. The trend towards cheaper units continues right up to "minutes beyond XXL", which are 2¢ per minute—making your 3001st minute more expensive than your 500th minute. The same perversion of pricing applies to your 6001st text compared to your 1000th text and your 3001st megabyte compared to your 500th.
(This is assuming that when you're not in the XXL+ bracket you carefully use each minute/text/megabyte that you've paid for. If instead you are at 250 minutes, you'll pay the M rate of $9 for an effective rate of 3.6¢ per minute; you don't dip down to the 2¢/minute cost in the M bracket unless you use between 450 and 500 minutes)
I won't be anywhere near these levels of usage, so it doesn't really affect me. However, it is something to keep in mind.
How do I like the phone?
It blows the Samsung Moment out of the water for responsiveness. The bump in screen resolution is nice too.
The bill for activation and the first month of service has popped up on my account page on ting. The bill is $72.19: $35 activation + $25 plan + $12.19 taxes and regulatory fees. I anticipate that my second-month bill will be somewhere between $31 and $37 if my plan total is $25.
Unlike the Samsung Moment, the HTC Detail doesn't have a clickable dpad. This meant that to get ctrl or esc in connectbot, it was necessary to tap the screen twice. What a pain! My friend Chris had already modified connectbot for his Droid 2, so I expected to be able to do something similar for my phone.
The first patch changes the physical "menu" and "search" keys into "ctrl" and "esc" respectively. Note that with this patch the behavior of the soft "menu" and "search" keys is unchanged, so you can still access all connectbot functionality too.
The second patch makes more symbols available by modified ",", ".", "@" and "?" keys. The new keys are as follows:
I haven't yet memorized these keys, but there is a logic to their arrangement: comma and period get the left and right grouping characters, at-sign gets 'accent-like' characters (though these do not function as combining characters), and question-mark gets the ones I wasn't sure how to group. (\ and | belong together anyway).
(An earlier version of the second patch broke shift and fn modifiers and had | and ! transposed)
The third patch adds shortcuts that are specific to my GNU screen setup, which uses ctrl-x as the prefix character. shift-space and fn-space cycle and toggle screens.
The fourth patch makes ctrl-del send ctrl-\ (which usually delivers a SIGQUIT signal).
These patches are relative to connectbot v1.7.1-70-g4100802. I am not able to supply an apk of the modified connectbot, so please do not ask for one.
Files currently attached to this page:
I do sorely miss having a row of digit keys, though overall I feel like I'm quickly adapting to the new keyboard layout.
I have noticed that even in my modified version, pressing e.g., <search>E in quick succession will open the e-mail app. I wonder if it is possible to override this behavior just in connectbot. (any specific shortcut can be disabled in Applications > Quick Launch by long-touching the shortcut; I may do this as I don't frequently use these shortcuts)
There are still some more modified keys I can take for my own purposes: modified space, del, enter, and maybe even directional pad. I could also grab the soft search key for my own use, as connectbot doesn't seem to use it for anything.
Ingrid's phone situation
Ingrid's decided to take the plunge and switch from her LG Remarq feature phone to the LG Optimus S (LG-LS670). She'll be giving up a physical keyboard but gaining Android—and hopefully, saving forty or fifty bucks a month compared to her plan on Sprint. Look for more updates after she activates her new phone, probably next week.
Google Voice integration
So far I've failed at setting up Google Voice as the voicemail on my ting phone. I'm probably overlooking something.
CyanogenMod 7.1 for HTC Detail on ting
I followed the CyanogenMod Wiki's instructions for the HTC Evo Shift 4G and installed CyanogenMod 7.1 on my ting HTC Detail.
Before doing this, I noted these bits of information that strongly implied the suitability of the Shift 4G edition of CyanogenMod for my phone:
- The phone's bootloader matches (md5sum) the hboot_orig.bin md5sum: 386c19451e8dd18f9b98fad6b11be4c0 shown on xda-developers, but is different from the one shown by CyanogenMod Wiki.
- The bootloader displays the following: "SPEEDY XF SHIP S-ON" "HBOOT 0.93.0001" "RADIO-1.08.00.0429" "e-MMC-boot" "Nov 5 2010, 13:19:54". The radio version number is again different from what is reported for Shifts on the CyanogenMod wiki. (they know about radio versions 1.07.00.1129 or 1.08.00.0506)
I ran into some minor problems. First, I noticed that the status bar shows the carrier as Sprint. Oops! I guess it's set at compile-time or otherwise hard-coded. Second, I experienced that the built-in web browser app would resize text to the wrong width. I fixed this by using a "daily" build of CM7, cm_speedy_full-255.zip (apparently dated 2011-11-15 23:27:35 PST). However, this introduced a problem that the "torch" app wouldn't come on unless the high brightness option was enabled. I fixed this by copying Torch.apk from the 7.1.0 zip while in recovery with /system mounted rw.
I finally traveled to an area with Sprint 4G WiMAX coverage (Kansas City metro), where I verified that 4G works on my phone with CM7. However, I didn't spend enough time transferring data to find out whether 4G provided a practical speed boost.
The next problem I encountered is that MMS messages don't send. (they do with the sense ROM, which I restored and used briefly just to make sure it still works) I've tried a few types of advice from the internet, such as saving the apns configuration from sense to android, but so far I have not solved this problem.
I've also built a CM7 for speedy from the tip of the gingerbread branch. It was necessary to use some binary blobs from this git repository. "repo sync" took ages to download all the source. Once I got everything going, it took a chunk of the afternoon to 'brunch speedy' (build cm7 for speedy), though I didn't actually time it. Unfortunately, the build crashes whenever I enable cellular data. doh.
I had a similar problem with 7.2.0 RC1, so it's more than just my personal build. Perhaps this forum thread will accumulate some answers.
In any case cm_speedy_full-255 + torch from 7.1.0 is good enough for me for day-to-day use.
Mail to SMS
With sprint, it was possible to send an e-mail that would be converted to a text (SMS). Ting doesn't document such a service, but +Josh Larios alerted me to the way to do it: send your mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A last "fuck you" from Sprint
When you cancel a line, Sprint keeps the payment for the current billing cycle. When you change a plan, Sprint pro-rates each plan according to the fraction of the billing cycle it was in effect.
So what did they do when I moved one line of the family plan and then Ingrid changed the plan for her remaining line? The answer is something along the lines of "they fucked us coming and going".
So it turns out that, as Sprint sees it, under the old plan my line was $110/month and Ingrid's line was $20/month. Ingrid's new plan, which she changed to about 6 days into the billing cycle, is $70/month. So Sprint pocketed the $110, charged Ingrid $10 for 6 days of "$20/month" service, and then charged her another $56 for 22 days of "$60/month" service. And, of course, there was the anticipated $50 cancellation fee.
As near as I can tell, if the service change had been closer to the end of the month than to the start, it wouldn't have cost nearly so much. But perhaps you should call Sprint and spend a good long while on the phone to find out just what you're in for when you end your service.
Ingrid spoke at length to a Sprint rep on the phone, but couldn't get them to budge on the charge.
This treatment makes me wish more than ever that I could get Ingrid off of her Sprint phone and into ting.
…but the second bill from ting is a present
My second bill from ting is miniscule: $13.54. My new plan charges are $17, taxes and regulatory fees are $4.54, and I was refunded $8 from my first month bill (the refund is because I used fewer megabytes but more texts than the plan I'd originally selected, saving $10 for the megabytes but paying $2 for the text messages)
This month I didn't leave town, so I spent the vast majority of time with cellular data disabled, didn't tether or do much driving with navigation turned on. It was super easy to remain under 100MB of data. In fact, if I hadn't downloaded Angry Birds while on cellular data I think I'd have been at a measly 35 megabytes or so for the month.
It'll take at least one more bill before I really know what my typical charges will be—and they'll always be varying a little, since I pay for what I use—but if the answer is "typically under $25 a month", and it looks like it will be, that's excellent.
Entry first conceived on 10 February 2012, 2:55 UTC, last modified on 14 May 2012, 14:47 UTC
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