Verizon versus T-Mobile

For several years I was a loyal T-Mobile customer. I loved their service. I paid one simple price per month, which included unlimited data, unlimited texting, built-in tethering, and a generous amount of voice calling. In addition to that, their service allowed for travelling overseas with your cell phone at no extra cost; carrying your cell phone out of the country was simply covered by your plan.

There was only one fatal problem which I ran into that made me have to change carriers: I had no cell phone coverage in my home office. This was a deal-breaker for me. I have two-factor authentication (2FA) turned on for work and most of the websites where 2FA is available, so having no coverage in my office meant that I had to login initially for work or a website on my computer, then walk outside and stand in my backyard until I received the call or text message to complete the authentication process. This was obviously unacceptable, so I begrudgingly realized that I would have to change carriers; which was really too bad, since T-Mobile worked great for me when I lived in Seattle.

So my wife and I started shopping around between the different carriers; e.g. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, etc. Eventually we decided to go with Verizon since their coverage seemed to be the best. However, once the honeymoon period of having cell phone coverage in my office had passed, I realized the shocking revelation of just how expensive Verizon could be.

As I mentioned earlier, T-Mobile was a flat fee which was reasonably-priced and provided lots of great features at a low cost which easily beat the competition.

Verizon, on the other hand, wants to charge you for everything. They have found dozens of ways to exceed the airline industry by nickle-and-diming its customers for everything on their phones. You want Caller ID? You'll have to pay for that. You want to use your phone overseas for a few weeks? Prepare to pay hundreds of dollars. You want to use data services on your phone? Prepare to pay through the nose. You want to use tethering with your laptop/tablet? That'll be another $50 or so for two phones. Pretty much any feature on your phone comes at an additional cost.

In addition to the exorbitant fees, for some reason which I have never been able to ascertain, using Verizon for the same data services which I used on T-Mobile required around four times the amount of data. Before I switched carriers, I saw that I was using about 1GB of data per month for the apps that I use; e.g. email, FB, streaming, etc. So when I switched to Verizon, I went with a 2GB plan just to be safe. But I used that up almost immediately, and I quickly upgraded to a 4GB plan. But that was also used up pretty quickly, and I changed to an 8GB plan. Of course, each data service upgrade increased my costs yet again, so cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching... The next thing I know I'm paying Verizon two or three times what I paid for T-Mobile services, with less features.

Oh, and one more thing: on our first-month bill, my wife and I had a huge data usage the first day. This might seem normal because of downloading apps to a new phone and such, but when I looked at the per-hour breakdown on my bill of data usage, the largest part of the data usage happened before I was actually given the phone. After my wife and I had picked out our phones, the sales guy at the Verizon store said that it was going to take a little while to get things set up, so my wife and I agreed to head out to lunch and run some other errands and return to pick up our phones later that afternoon. What I am presuming happened was the sales rep upgraded our phones with new versions of the operating systems after my wife and I left the store, which seems like a good idea in principle, but I didn't think that I should have to pay for hundreds of megabytes of data usage before I actually owned the phone; Verizon should have covered the cost of upgrading the phones with the latest bits just because that's good customer service. And with that in mind, I tried fighting those charges with Verizon, but - of course - I lost that battle.

I have only had Verizon for one year now, but that has been more than enough time for me to come to the following inescapable conclusion: I HATE VERIZON.

Steaming mad

Omnicharge is Your Devices' Best Friend when Travelling

When I travel, I tend to bring a lot of interesting gear along with me, and much of that gear is designed to support my other gear. I never know what I might need, so I plan for the worst and try to bring a little bit of everything. For example, I have various chargers for phones/tablets/notebooks, etc., plus a variety of USB/Network cables and adapters, and when I'm travelling overseas I bring adapters for international electrical outlets.

However, I have often found myself at a loss for power outlets in various airports, so last year I invested in an Indiegogo campaign to support a device which I thought needed to be brought to the market: Omnicharge. While it wasn't cheap, it promised 2 fast-charging USB ports and an actual AC/DC power outlet. And I must admit, the prospect of having a way to recharge my laptop and other devices was rather appealing.

During the Indiegogo campaign, I pledged the extra cash for the Omnicharge Pro (Omni 20), which boasts 20400mAh with a maximum output of 100W. The campaign was successfully funded at 4,257% of its original goal, (with a grand total of $3,185,869 pledged), so I guess that I wasn't the only traveller who thought this was an amazing device to add to their "go bag."

Omnicharge_Side_View

I received my Omnicharge a couple months ago, and I have had a chance to travel with it a few times. So far, it has exceeded my expectations. I have been stranded with a dying laptop and no AC power outlet on more than one occasion, and the Omnicharge has rescued my laptop each time. The Omnicharge's screen and menus are easy-to-navigate, and it completely charges my Microsoft Surface Book's drained batteries in an hour (while I am still using it).

Omnicharge_Front_Panel

Now that the Indiegogo campaign has long-since ended and backers have received their "early bird" releases, you can now purchase one of these devices through Amazon at http://amzn.to/2nnZgrw.

For more in-depth information about the Omnicharge, see the following video-based overview on YouTube:

Using the Ceton Echo with Windows Media Center

I don't usually post reviews, but I thought that this subject was worth mentioning in case anyone else is having problems with Windows Media Center (WMC) and Linksys Media Center Extenders (MCEs).

Here’s the situation, I used to have a pair of Linksys MCEs that I used with my WMC computer; a DMA2100 and a DMA2200. (Although when I bought an Xbox 360 a few years ago, I configured it as an extender, and I gave the DMA2100 to my dad to use with his WMC computer.)

DMA2100 DMA2200
Linksys DMA2100 Linksys DMA2200

That being said, the Linksys MCEs never worked perfectly for me. They worked fine with DVR-MS, WTV, and WMV files, but for some reason they never worked well with MP4 files – which included my entire library of personal DVDs that I painstakingly ripped and stored in a Media Library on a NAS unit. However, I should mention that MP4 files played just fine on the WMC computer itself, just not on the Linksys MCEs.

I realize that all of the file types which I listed are just wrappers around the underlying media, so I was always perplexed as to why an MP4 file would never work with the fast-forward, skip, rewind, or pause buttons on my Linksys MCEs even though a WMV file would. What’s more, most MP4 files would play for about a minute, then the playback would freeze/skip/etc. for a little bit, and then it would usually stabilize for the rest of the video. (Although sometimes the video would never come back and I had to stop the video or reset the MCE.)

I should point out that all of my devices are hard-wired to gigabit networking hardware, so throughput should never have been a problem. (In fact, running the networking tests from the Linksys MCEs always showed bandwidth off the scale.) I eventually decided that the DMA2200 would have to be limited to just playing back recorded TV, which made it a rather bad return on investment.

For the past few years I had thought that the problem was simply some sort of compatibility issue with Windows Media Center and MP4 files when using an MCE, but I never had any problems with my Xbox 360 when using it as an MCE. In fact, the Xbox works so well that I have disconnected my WMC computer from my TV and now I exclusively use the Xbox to control my WMC.

Xbox-360
Xbox 360

Seeing as how the Xbox was working so well, it finally dawned on me that the problem had to be something internal to the Linksys MCEs. With that in mind, I started shopping around for a second Xbox 360 to replace my remaining Linksys MCE, but first I decided to read some of the Ceton Echo reviews on Amazon.

Several of the reviewers specifically mentioned my exact scenario; they were using Linksys MCEs and they were having problems with the video freezing/skipping, and the Echo resolved the problem. With that in mind, I decided to give the Echo a try.

Ceton-Echo
Ceton Echo

My Ceton Echo arrived a few days ago, and it was a breeze to set up. The footprint is much smaller than either the Linksys DMA2100 or DMA2200, and it's obviously a lot smaller than an Xbox 360. Another nice feature was that the Echo accepted commands from my existing Linksys remote; this was great for me because I had already configured my Linksys remote to control my TV, so I didn't have to change anything else in my setup if I didn't want to.

All of that being said, the most-important benefit after replacing my Linksys MCEs with the Ceton Echo is – no more skipping or freezing when playing MP4 files, and I can use the skip-forward, skip-backward, and pause buttons on the remote when I am viewing MP4 files. One small downside is that the fast-forward and reverse buttons do not seem to work with MP4 files, but I can live with that.

So in closing, if you're using a Linksys Media Center Extender and you're having issues with it, you might want to seriously consider replacing it with a Ceton Echo.