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Reader Questions on Our 2004 Wireless Service Guide

This is one of the less pleasant facts of wireless-phone life: Although GSM phones (sold by Cingular and T-Mobile) can in theory let you switch from one carrier to another just by changing the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card on the inside, most are locked by their carriers, preventing that easy switch.

Carriers do this because they sell phones below cost and plan on making up that subsidy in service charges. Some will unlock the phone on request after a certain period; in other cases, customers will have to pay somebody to unlock it for them, as we wrote early this year.

_____Recent E-letters_____
2004 Holiday Gadget Guide (washingtonpost.com, Nov 22, 2004)
Mozilla -- Exception to the Rule (washingtonpost.com, Nov 15, 2004)
2004 Guide to Wireless Phone Plans (washingtonpost.com, Nov 1, 2004)
E-letter Archive

* My phone doesn't work in my home. How do I know if it's my phone or the service that's at fault?

You can't -- at least not by yourself. What you can do is borrow a friend's phone, if that friend is on the same service but doesn't own the same phone. If his/her phone works, it's the hardware at fault. If this second phone doesn't pick up a signal either, it's more likely to be the carrier at fault, and you'd be better off looking for a new one.

BTW, if you missed the Web chat I held on the wireless guide, or you signed off when we had a temporary server meltdown halfway through, here's the transcript.

Further Thoughts on the Apple's iPod Photo

After I had filed my review of Apple's iPod Photo Friday night (the second column in a month or so to doubt the utility of digital-music players that can also show photos), I started talking with my editor about what might make such a device more appealing and worth the extra dollars it would cost above a music-only device.

(If Apple can cut the price of the iPod Photo such that picture viewing becomes an essentially free feature -- or one that merely costs $20 or so extra -- this would be a different equation, but that seems a little while off.)

We threw a few ideas around: What if the gadget included its own digital camera? My thought: You'd probably have a terrible digital camera, and a lot of people already own one, built into their cell phones.

What if the MP3 player had memory-card slots for a quick transfer of photos from camera to player? That'd work, except that accommodating all the incompatible storage-card formats on the market would make for a rather bulky device.

What if the screen will was a lot bigger? Not bad, but in that case you might as well turn it into a full-fledged handheld organizer ... in fact, that's exactly what I expect to see somebody do. Hard drives are now small enough to fit inside devices the size of a Palm or Windows Mobile handheld.

After this little debate, I headed out of the office and into Metro. As I waited for my train home to roll into the station, I did what any iPod user would: popped in the headphones, picked an artist to listen to, pressed play and shoved the iPod in a pocket, hiding its color screen from my sight.

-- Rob Pegoraro (rob@twp.com)

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