Pros & Cons: Making Your Own Verizon iPhone
The iPod touch does nearly everything the iPhone can. Surf the Web? Check. E-mail? Check. Play the latest App Store games? Check. You can even make cheap (or free) calls using Skype, and send text messages for nothing. There’s just one thing missing: ubiquitous connectivity. No one wants to hunt for hotspots to get online. Enter Verizon Wireless’ MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot, which converts a 3G connection into a Wi-Fi signal so your iPod touch (and up to four other devices) can hop online anywhere, anytime. Despite high up-front costs ($299 for 16GB iPod touch, $99 for the MiFi 2200), you can save big over two years by using your iPod touch as your iPhone. But is it worth the trouble? Read on. The Gear We paired the MiFi 2200 with our second-generation iPod touch (upgraded to OS 3.0 and with a $29 stereo headset from Apple). We used AOL’s AIM app for text messaging, and Skype ($2.95 per month; www.skype.com) for making unlimited U.S. and Canadian calls. Cost Breakdown On paper, the iPod touch and MiFi 2200 are a better deal. Although you pay more per month for data access, compared to the iPhone, you pay next to nothing for voice calls, and literally nothing for text messaging. Test Drive We used our iPod touch and MiFi 2200 as a phone during a long weekend. Our biggest concern? The battery life of the MiFi. In a battery drain test, it lasted four hours, versus six hours for the iPhone 3GS. On the other hand, the MiFi 2200 lasted an entire weekend when we used both it and the iPod touch occasionally. Verizon Wireless offers 3G coverage in parts of New Jersey where our AT&T iPhone dropped back to slower EDGE data, and had better data speeds overall. Using Speedtest.net, the iPhone 3GS got a peak download rate of 455 Kbps and an average upload rate of 92 Kbps after three tests in New York City. By comparison, our iPod touch connected to the MiFi offered a much faster and more consistent download average of 947 Kbps, and an upload rate of 253 Kbps. Call quality was very good over Skype on our iPod touch and MiFi combo, although one caller said they heard a slight echo. Unfortunately, a voicemail left on our landline sounded muffled, and audio was very quiet when we let the microphone hang away from our mouth. The iPhone 3GS offered much clearer call quality, even if we could easily make out background noise. We didn’t like that we always had to use a headset with the iPod touch, although the next version of the device is rumored to include a mic. Sadly, Skype 1.1 doesn’t support push notifications, so to make or accept calls the application needs to be open. Also, like most Skype-out calls, your phone number shows up as random digits on other phones. However, you can avoid this issue if you buy a personal SkypeIn number for an additional $60 per year. Texting, on the other hand, was a breeze. Plus, because AIM supports push notifications, we were alerted when new messages arrived. Just make sure that you add everyone’s phone number to your buddy list. Verdict It’s a combination that works, but we’re not sure we’d recommend it. On the plus side, the MiFi 2200 offers a faster and more reliable data connection when paired with the iPod touch than the iPhone 3GS does by itself (at least in New York City). Plus, you save a pretty good chunk of change over two years. However, while the iPod touch is thinner than the iPhone 3G and 3GS, the MiFi 2200 is another gadget you have to carry, and it doesn’t last as long on a charge as the iPhone. We also don’t like that you can’t be alerted of incoming calls. Assuming the next-generation iPod touch sports a microphone and video recording capability, and the next version of Skype supports push notifications, going the MiFi route could be more tempting. But for now the cost savings doesn’t make up for the awkwardness of this combo.