CNET to the Rescue: Flip that phone

This week, Josh tells us how to weasel out of a mobile phone contract, what to do with an old phone, and how to connect an XBox to a PC with a crossover cable. Plus, we road test keyboard goo!

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
7 min read

Josh is going to tell us how to get out of a mobile phone contract, what to do with an old phone, and how to connect an XBox to a PC with a crossover cable. Plus, road tests (iOS, a new iPad case, and yellow, sticky, gross keyboard cleaning goo) and your questions answered!

Watch this: CNET to the Rescue 4: Flip that phone


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Episode 4: Flip that phone

Road tests:

ZooGue iPad case

CyberClean goo - live test!

Main topic: Get out of a cell phone contract
So it's that time of year--the one where Apple puts out a new phone and people are either clamoring to drop their current carrier, or trade up from an older model. There are three areas we need to break down to talk about this:

1. Early termination fees (ETFs)

These are the fees a carrier will charge you if you want to cancel your contract.

AT&T, which in the U.S. is the carrier of the iPhone, recently increased its ETF from $175 to $325, though that's only for smartphone users. People with non-smart, or "feature phones" actually had theirs lowered from $175 down to $150. AT&T reduces that fee by either $4 or $10 a month you're on that contract.

Verizon too has two tiers of ETFs, $350 for smartphones, and $175 for feature phones.

Sprint's ETF starts at $200 and goes down by $10 every month beginning after the first four months. That means if you're a year or more into a two-year contract, you can make a break for a little more than $100.

T-mobile is $200.

2. How you can you keep number if you break contract, or leave your current provider?

So number porting, or moving your number from one phone to another is a federal law in the United States. The FCC has a great FAQ. The key takeaway is that if you're moving to another carrier, even before your contract is up, you sign up for your new service with the new one, and they take care of if. If you cancel with the old one, then sign up at the new carrier, you won't be able to keep your number.

Also, an interesting fact, according to Wikipedia: "Iceland, Canada, and the United States are the only three countries in the world that offer full number portability transfers between both fixed lines and mobile phone lines."

3. How to sell old crap?

So what to do with your old phone? If you're a good person you can donate it to charity, or one of the many programs that delivers old or unwanted handsets to members of the military, or people in developing countries. You can also make some cash and sell it on places like Craigslist and eBay. I sold my last phone on eBay and made a reasonable amount of cash, just keep in mind things like fees in mind, which is something you don't have to worry about with Craigslist.

Good eHow how-to guide.

Hero to Evo? Please Help!

I've been a Sprint customer for years and I'm a premier customer, which allows me to get $150 off my phone upgrades once a year. I bought a HTC Hero on the release date, October 11, 2009. Now I want to get the HTC Evo...Can you give me some advise on how to get my hand on the new Evo without having to pay the full retail price or do u think I just have to want til Oct.

Thanks, Larry L.

Josh: Be patient. October 11 is four months away. Either that, or pay the $150 you would have otherwise saved and enjoy a $300 discount on your phone next year (if the discount stacks).


OK, just got through the keynote from the leader. As there was no iPod Touch refresh I am trying to get a way around it. Is it feasible to get an older iPhone 3G or 3GS and flip it to an iPod Touch? It'll give me a camera, a higher capacity device, and with the new OS--a fairly decent device. As Wal-Mart is blowing out some of them at a decent rate and probably a few people will be looking to get rid of them soon what do you think? And if it sounds like a good idea, how would you do that. I'll check with Wal-Mart to see if they will sell one without activation. And if not, then the previously owned market seems the trick.

Jake in Fullerton.

Josh: So, yes you can use an iPhone without an active SIM card as a souped up iPod Touch, but you're not going to get it for $97 from Wal-Mart without activating a 2-year contract, and otherwise it's still going to cost more than $500. If you have any patience whatsoever, you should wait three months for Apple's annual September music event, where iPod Touches with FaceTime-ready cameras are pretty much a given.


Phone questions:

Luke in Ohio is stumped by his iPod (got it for Christmas). Tt keeps freezing no matter what app he is using. He deletes apps, but it still keeps freezing.

Try resetting to factory settings: http://www.apple.com/support/ipodtouch/assistant/ipodtouch/

Michael, Carolina; About to join military and concerned about ETFs if he's deployed out of U.S.


Charles, North Carolina. Wants to hook Xbox to his PC.

Check out instructables! http://www.instructables.com/id/Use-your-laptop-as-an-XboxXbox-360-wireless-adap/


Noor: I just want to know what is the difference between a business laptop and a consumer laptop? Is it just about the looks? because frankly I find business laptops more appealing (ThinkPad). Plus business laptops are a bit cheaper as well.

Rafe: Generally, a few things: 1) more stable builds so parts are interchangable. 2) different service plans 3) biz vs. consumer features. For example, you get disk encryption but lose HDMI out. Depends on vendor, though. I like biz laptops more too, because I don't like the artifice in consumer designs.


Jerry, San Diego: I'm looking for a way to sync my bookmarks across all my OS X browsers. I primarily use Chrome but also use Safari and Firefox. Safari is especially important since my iPad bookmarks get synced with my Mac Safari bookmarks. But, I need a good way to sync the bookmarks across all of my OS X browers. Any suggestions? I've heard of Xmarks, but is there any other solution you know of? A web interface would also be good for work access.

Use Xmarks! Works great. Also use Safari for iPad.

Josh: If you want to go the Web route, you can always try Delicious (owned by Yahoo), which has add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, and IE as well as bookmarklets that you can use in Safari. It won't do the bookmark sync thing with Safari just yet though--expect that in a few months when Apple rolls out the extension marketplace for Safari 5.


Obligatory Evernote item:

Justin: I loved the interview with Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote. I'm almost convinced that I should move all of my text files into Evernote. However, I have concerns about the future. When the Evernote product reaches the end of its life, what will we do with all of our notes? I know each note can be exported individually on a Mac, but is there some other solution I'm missing?

Phil Writes:

Data portability is a founding principle at Evernote. The memories that you store with us are yours, not ours, and are meant to survive independently of the existence of any particular company. To that end, we make it very easy to get any or all of your data in and out of Evernote.

1. You can select any or all of your notes and export them via HTML or a fully documented XML format, which preserves all tags and note structure. Easiest way to do it on the Mac is to select "All Notebooks," click on any note in the middle panel, hit Cmd-A to select all the notes, then File->Export.

2. Your notes are stored on your local Mac file system in human-readable form and you can do whatever you want with them. Look in the "Application Support" folder. If you sync from more than one computer, each has all your notes.

3. If you use TimeMachine, or any other backup system, your notes are backed up locally. Obviously, they're also backed up on the servers, but you always have access to your local copies if you're concerned about Evernote going away.

4. We have open APIs on both the server and clients that you can use to get your notes into our out of your account and convert them to whatever format you want.

We want people to stay with Evernote for the rest of their lives and we think the best way to do that is to make them comfortable that they can leave whenever they want and take all of their memories with them.

- p