When tech goes bad
An awful lot of the world's best tech comes from The United States of America, but that doesn't mean you'll get a good deal on it. The land of the free? Not quite.
The United States of Americaland: A technological paradise with cheap gadgets and great customer service. Well, that’s what we thought. But in fact, next time you complain about rip-off Britain you should take a westward glance because it turns out life in Blighty for a tech-head isn’t so bad after all…
Unlimited talk and text on Verizon is $89.99 a month, unlimited data is an extra $29.99. That equates to about 75 of your British pounds per month. Basic. How they really get you though is with the extra 18.5 per cent “communications tax” on each bill which makes it just shy of 90 quid. If you want a top-drawer smartphone such as the HTC Incredible, that’ll cost you another $200 (£130) on a two-year contract with a $35 activation fee. Land of the free? Er… no.
Citizen Kane will be back after these messages
Watching a movie on US cable is like peeing, but having to stop every five seconds to hold it for three minutes. Cinematic masterpieces are crucified by ads for weight-loss drugs and Taco Bell that appear every ten minutes. Even ITV3, which will routinely interrupt Schindler’s List, The Shining or Blade Runner with the storming anthems to cretinacy that are the 118 118 bumper ads, has nothing on American telly.
Your money’s no good here
You could have Richard Branson’s credit rating and still be a fiscal persona non grata when you enter the USA. No credit history = no mobile phone contract, no internet contract, and no cable TV, leaving you on expensive pay-as-you-go deals or having to pay for everything up front in order to get a decent service. This also leads to problems such as not being able to sign up with Mog, the American equivalent of Spotify…
What’ll you miss most? they asked. Marmite? Match of the Day? Decorum? Actually, Spotify tops the list. An American voyage will still give you 14 days access to your faithful music streaming jukebox, but after that you’re on radio silence. One solution is to pay a VPN host to make the internet think your computer is based in the UK. That also unlocks BBC iPlayer, but it’s a tenner a month. Curses.
This was a real conversation with AT&T: “Your internet is going to be $19.95 a month, but on your bill it’ll show as $47.95. Don’t worry because every month you’ll have a $28 credit on your account. The modem is free, but we’ll charge $10 a month to your bill to cover it, but don’t worry because on the third bill we’ll credit your account with $100.” True, UK phone companies used to do similar things, but they never reached such heights of creative accountancy, and have now largely ceased.
Xbox 360 = Useless brick
Repatriating the Xbox to its native USA was going to solve so many potential problems. Not only would it play the UK games library, but also region 2 DVDs. It would stream music online and play digital video downloads through the USB port. Not so fast. The UK power cable didn’t even give me enough power to switch the thing on when plugged into an adaptor and those poxy two-pin sockets which always fall out. Grab a US power cable? Yet more expense at the hands of the US of A.
No UK telly
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and missing out on Dave+1 wasn’t high on the list of things to look back at with misty eyes. But those channels come in bloody handy when you come home ten minutes from the end of an Only Fools and Horses repeat. FoxSoccerChannel (aka Sky) shows some UK footie matches. If you want live UK TV there’s always a Slingbox (£108) but you need someone in the UK to host it and due to the time difference any prime time shows are broadcast live at lunchtime.
GSM/CDMA format war
AT&T and T-Mobile use the GSM standard we’re used to in Europe, whereas Verizon and Sprint use SIM-less CDMA tech. So if you buy a phone with AT&T you can only use it on GSM networks. Coming to the USA with a pocket full of top GSM smartphones hoping to cherry pick the best deals didn’t exactly work out. Phone stores here charge you $50 to network unlock your handset – it’s about a tenner in the UK – and even then it only works on GSM networks.
Motorola launched a phone called the Droid in 2009 after tossing George Lucas a huge wad of cash to use the term, which is trademarked – who knew? They followed it up with the Droid X and the Droid 2. But wait, HTC has Droids too; the Droid Ennis and the Droid Incredible. Are all Android phones Droids now or just certain ones? As a Brit used to the far more mundane Motorola name choice, “Milestone”, it’s even more baffling…
Sky provides an incredible HD service, but crucially for those not addicted to nature documentaries and big-budget “prestige” dramas, the standard-def offering also serves up decent picture quality. By contrast, plugging a HD TV into the standard-def Comcast cable box in the US was a flashback to owning a 14-inch CRT TV with an indoor aerial in the bedroom. It’s blurry, fuzzy, pixelated and mostly 4:3 native.
You can follow more of Chris Smith’s U.S. tech adventures at Twitter.com/FdintheUSA