Welcome to the 411, my column answering all your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories. I receive plenty of questions about these subjects via e-mail, so I figured many of you might have similar queries, too. At times, I might solicit answers from readers if I'm stumped. Send your questions and comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know in the e-mail.
Question: I'm using an HTC Touch Pro, which syncs with my computer. Will any of the Droids do that so I can do ALL entries via computer? I put everything in Outlook and then sync to my phone. -- Sylvia, via e-mail
A: The important thing to know about all Android phones is that they really do want you to use Google products like Gmail and Google Calendar to handle your e-mail, contacts, and calendar information. This way all of your information is handled via the cloud, and you can change your calendar information from any computer as long as it has an Internet-connected browser. If you'd rather use your own personal e-mail address rather than Gmail, you can enter in your POP3 or IMAP settings in the general E-mail app found in most Android phones. Though it won't transfer e-mails from your computer to your phone, it'll just get the e-mails over the server instead.
As for the calendar syncing, here's where we strongly recommend getting a Google account. This way, you can simply download Google's own Calendar Sync program that will sync your Outlook Calendar to your Google Calendar, which you can get on your Android phone. If your version of Outlook is older than 2003, however, you'll need to export your calendar to a .CSV file, which you can then import manually to your Google Calendar. This isn't really "syncing" though, as it's a one-way transfer. The same goes for transferring your contacts; you'll have to export your contacts into a .CSV file, and then import them to Gmail. The process is even hairier with Notes and Tasks, as there doesn't seem to be a way to transfer those over to Google at all. You might have to use a third-party program like Evernote or Remember The Milk instead.
Alternately, you can use paid programs like Missing Sync for Android that will help sync all that data for you. It's not cheap at $39.95, mind you, and it's not guaranteed to solve all your issues. In the end, we have to say that the easiest way to truly adopt Android is to leave Outlook behind and adopt Google as your all-in-one PIM solution. If not, you'll have to go through the steps mentioned above. If any of our readers have alternate ways of syncing your Android phone with Outlook, please let us know.
Q: I'm with Verizon and there's talk they're going to change their data plans. Since I can now upgrade as part of their every-two-year program, I want to go with a smartphone like maybe the LG Ally or the Motorola Droid 2. But since they're being coy about it I don't want to be sucked into a contract that I'm not getting value for, in my opinion. There is talk it's going to be similar to AT&T's data plans. What have you heard? -- James, via e-mail
A: Verizon has indeed indicated that it plans to move away from unlimited data plans towards usage-based billing in the near future. This is similar to AT&T's recent move that eliminated its unlimited data plans in favor of a cheaper, albeit capped, monthly rate for data. However, Verizon has yet to come up with a pricing structure for the new usage-based system, and is still offering unlimited data plans for now. This means that if you were to sign up for a new two-year contract with unlimited data now, you should have unlimited data for at least the next two years. If Verizon were to follow in AT&T's footsteps, you might be able to grandfather your unlimited data privileges to future plans as well. However, we're just as much in the dark as you are about the whens and hows of such a tiered plan. If I were you, I would go ahead and lock in to that unlimited data plan now before it goes away.
Q: I am NOT a cell phone junkie. I am, on the other hand, an Internet junkie. I access the Net all day, but I never use the prepaid cell phone I have. My old iPod is getting to the point of not functioning and I need a new player, but I'd like to be able to get a device that can get on the Net while away from work/home. I've thought of getting an iPhone or an Android, but I do not want to have to pay $80 for phone service I will never use just to get the $30 Internet. While the iPad has a 2GB data only plan, its too big to fit in my pocket. Do you know of ANY provider (in the USA) that offers a 2G-plus data plan for only $30 or less without phone service? -- Antonio, via e-mail
A: If you really don't want a phone service plan at all, I would actually recommend you buy two pieces of equipment: an iPod Touch (since you seem to like your old iPod) and a MiFi mobile hot spot. A MiFi essentially gives you wireless data no matter where you are; simply connect to the Wi-Fi network created by the MiFi, and you're set. Both Verizon and Sprint offer MiFis, but they come with $60 data plans each. Since you want a data plan that is less than $30, we would recommend you take a look at the Virgin Mobile MiFi hot spot. You can get 1GB for $40 a month, and 300MB for $20 a month. There's also a $10 plan for 100MB that expires after 10 days. The 300MB plan might not seem like a lot, but it's really quite doable--especially if you swap out your MiFi with another Wi-Fi network every once in a while. Again, if our readers have alternate suggestions, feel free to leave a comment.