GSM / WiFi handoff is a brilliant idea in theory -- but to be usable, it's gotta be seamless, unnoticeable, and virtually effortless for the user. So far, the national carriers have failed to deliver any solution -- let alone a usable one -- so how does T-Mobile stack up? The Phone Fairy recently dropped off a Nokia 6086 and Linksys WRT56G-TM router to have a go with T-Mobile's just-announced HotSpot @Home service, and our initial impressions are fairly positive. In brief: setup was a snap, the phone's basic but well-designed, GSM / WiFi handoffs were hit or miss, and for ten bones a month, it seems like a square deal. Read on for more, and don't forget to peep the gallery!
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Hands-on with T-Mobile HotSpot @Home
Though we suspect T-Mobile intends to take HotSpot @Home to every market segment, the launch phones are relatively basic devices. The Nokia 6086 offers up a VGA camera, a fairly low-res 160 x 128 primary display, and monochrome external display, for example -- but on the plus side, we get goodies like a microSD slot, music player, FM radio, Bluetooth, and of course WiFi. The phone seems extraordinarily well-built -- one of the most solid flips we've handled recently -- and features perhaps the best keypad in a small flip we've ever used. Seriously, it simply isn't possible to press the wrong number.
Like we alluded to, setup was a breeze. T-Mobile provides a carrier-branded version of the ubiquitous Linksys WRT54G; besides offering one-touch pairing with the phone (pictured), it's apparently configured in such a way to maximize the phone's battery life when on WiFi. That being said, the 6086 is perfectly happy to roll with your own router, too -- just select your SSID, enter your security key and you're done.
We weren't in love with the incoming voice quality on the 6086, but we discovered that it didn't have anything to do with using WiFi. Indoors and out, voices seemed tinny and flat, though callers reported that we sounded pretty darned good. Not a showstopper by any means, but we'd probably want to try the Samsung t409 in store before deciding which @Home handset to take... well, home.
Otherwise, we were impressed -- particularly for a first-generation effort on T-Mobile's part. GSM / WiFi handoffs didn't always go down the way we'd like; there's a noticeable pause of a second or longer when transitioning, and pulling the power on our access point dropped the call ten times out of ten. We were also a bit surprised to find that data (t-zones) still seems to use GPRS even when connected to a WiFi hotspot; why not take advantage of the fast connection? Ah well, with a 160 x 128 screen in there, data's not the focus. For saving voice minutes and bypassing a sometimes-flaky cell network in the home and around your friendly local Starbuck's, though, HotSpot @Home's just the ticket.