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  1-31-03 | This column originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.


The Cost of Coolness


By Bob LeVitus

Today’s column isn’t Mac-only. In fact, the story you’re about to read could happen to anyone, regardless of computing platform, gender, age, sex, or education. So even you Windows users might want to read on—the information below could save you hundreds (or thousands) of dollars.

It all began with my Sony Ericsson T68i wireless phone, a Bluetooth-enabled marvel that works beautifully with and without my Mac. Because it’s got Bluetooth, I can do all of the following without connecting a single wire or cable:

  • Synchronize its address book with Address Book on my Mac.
  • Synchronize its calendar with iCal on my Mac.
  • Use Address Book on my Mac to select and dial any phone number with a single click.
  • Use an optional wireless Bluetooth headset
  • Use it as a cellular modem.

It’s that last one that caused all my troubles. You see, I thought it sounded so very cool that I got myself software that makes the connection faster—the excellent Mobile High Speed for Mac OS X from Nova Media (—and put it to the test during my trip to Macworld Expo.

My hotel in San Francisco offered Ethernet-based Internet access for $10.95 a day or $44.95 a week. I giggled as I connected to the Internet from my room via wireless phone and downloaded a day’s worth of email—about 200 messages. But even with Mobile High Speed, that took just over 40 minutes. So I concluded that wireless Internet connections were cool, but fast Internet connections were cooler. Using the phone to connect was still too slow for anything but emergencies, so I abandoned the experiment and paid for a week of high-speed Ethernet.

It’s a darn good thing I did, because that one Internet connection—downloading a whopping 7 megabytes of mail, mostly Spam—cost me $226.80.

At first, I thought there must be some mistake, but AT&T wouldn’t budge. A 40-minute Internet connection via AT&T Wireless costs more than my phone, more than four months of high-speed cable modem (or DSL) service, and roughly as much as an entire year of AOL!

I could have AT&T said my plan included Internet usage billed at $.03 per megabyte. Three cents a meg I could live with. The actual price, though, is $.03 a kilobyte, or roughly $30 per megabyte. The AT&T customer service rep even said, “megabyte” when she meant, “kilobyte,” and not just once, but twice. Even so, the best they would offer was to split the cost with me.

And so, gentle reader, the moral of this story is that you should read the fine print or pay for it later. Put another way, I paid $113.40 for a mailbox full of spam so you won’t have to.

By the way, to add insult to injury, the AT&T customer service rep ended our conversation by offering me promotional packages with up to 4 megabytes of Internet access per month for $12.99 or up to 10 megabytes a month for $29.99. While I don’t expect to use the phone as a wireless modem much in the future, I bought the $12.99 deal anyway, just in case.

P.S. Apple just announced a new 20-inch flat-panel Cinema display; price reductions on the 23-inch Cinema HD and 17-inch Studio flat-panel displays (from $3,499 to $1,999, and $999 to $699, respectively); and an improved lineup of Power Mac G4s with faster processors, FireWire 800, and support for AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth. As usual, I’ll cover them in more detail once I’ve spent some quality hands-on time with ‘em.

Bob LeVitus is a leading authority on Mac OS and the author of 41 books, including The Little iTunes Book and Mac OS X for Dummies, 2nd Edition. E-mail comments to [email protected].

Copyright © 2004 Bob LeVitus



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