End of the Year Blog Bits: Wi-Fi on a Plane to TV on an iPhone

It’s that time of year. With 2009 drawing to a close, I’m dumping all the old notes and clippings from my virtual desk drawer, discarding items that never quite managed to make it to a blog entry. But wait. As I browsed through the notes, I discovered a few topics that seemed to merit at least a brief last-minute mention. Here they are:

• Southwest Wi-Fi: A few weeks ago, I had my first experience with in-flight Wi-Fi. I was on a Southwest airlines flight from Raleigh-Durham to Chicago. I logged in from my MacBook Pro. It went as smoothly as from any other commercial hotspots. The connection itself was slower than most ones I use on the ground, including at the airport terminal — but it was still fast enough to get work done without getting irritated by the lack of speed.  

The cost for the connection was $8.00. This was a flat rate charge for the entire flight. On longer flights, the charge will be greater. The login screen from Southwest further explained that they are still experimenting with the pricing. In the future, the Wi-Fi charge for this same flight may be higher or lower.

There are a few limitations that you should know: (1) You still have the same general restriction to turn off all electronic devices during take-off and landing. The Wi-Fi is thus not available at these times. (2) There are no power outlets at your seat. Thus, your Wi-Fi time is limited to the battery power you have available for your computer. In my case, I only had about 45 minutes of battery power left when I boarded the plane. I wound up using the computer for about a half-hour. For this, I paid $8.00. Normally, at that price, I would not have bothered, but I wanted to test it out while I had the chance. (3) I assume that the login is device-specific. That is, I could not shift to using Wi-Fi on my iPhone without paying an additional $8.00. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to test this out until after I deplaned; so there is a slim chance that I may be wrong.

Overall, I see in-flight Wi-Fi as a step in the right direction — assuming your hoped-for destination is to have Wi-Fi available all-the-time where ever you are.

• TiVo and EyeTV via iPhone. While on our trip, my wife remembered that there was a show she had wanted to set to record before we left (it was the Oprah Christmas Special, if you must know). We began brainstorming how she might still get to watch it: Perhaps it would be available online, via the ABC Web site or Hulu? Or maybe we would just arrange to be in our motel to watch it live?

Then it hit me. We have a TiVo at home — and our home Wi-Fi network was running (I had wisely decided to leave it on despite turning off almost all of our other electronic devices before departing on our trip). This meant that I should be able to schedule a TiVo recording over the Internet (a feature I had never previously tried). From my iPhone, I went to the TiVo Mobile site in Safari (I could have alternatively used my MacBook Pro). After logging into my TiVo account, I set to record the show. It worked perfectly. When we returned home, the show was waiting in the queue. My wife, who doesn’t usually get excited about what all our gizmos can do, was blown away: “I can’t believe we can do this! This is so great.”

Speaking of cool intersections between the iPhone and television, if you have EyeTV, you should definitely try out the EyeTV iPhone apps. With these, I can watch any show on my iPhone that is available from my EyeTV application on my Mac at home (assuming that I left EyeTV running). I can select to view either live TV or an EyeTV recording. At least in my testing, the streaming quality was surprisingly good, especially over Wi-Fi as opposed to 3G. True, I don’t often care to watch television from my iPhone, but it’s nice to know it’s there if and when I need it.

• MoGo Talk Bluetooth for iPhone. For the past week, I have been testing out a MoGo Talk Bluetooth Headset for iPhone 3GS. Overall, I’ve been quite impressed.

The unit is a combination of a hard-shell iPhone case with a Bluetooth headset. When not in use, the headset slips into a slot on the case. The benefit here is that you don’t have to worry where to put the headset when you’re not using it. No more will you leave your house with your iPhone in your pocket but your headset forgotten. Nor will you have to fumble around as you try to recall where you last left your headset.

Another neat feature of this product is that you charge the headset from a micro-USB port built into the case itself. This further reduces the baggage you might otherwise have to carry around. No separate adapter unit is required for charging. Still, don’t be misled here: The headset does not charge via power from the dock connector-to-iPhone cable you use to charge the iPhone itself. You need the additional micro-USB cable that comes with the headset.

Despite the accommodations needed to hold the headset in the case, the unit is quite thin. In fact, when looking directly at the iPhone screen, you can barely tell there is a case at all. On the downside, the headset does not securely snap into its slot — making it too easy for the headset to fall out unexpectedly. While I worry that this might result in losing the headset, such as if I place the iPhone on a table and the headset falls out when I pick up the phone, so far this has not happened.

As for the headset itself, I am more than satisfied with its quality. The button functions were easy to learn, unlike some other models I have used. The sound quality has been great; I have had no trouble hearing or being heard during a conversation, even when outdoors. The unit even supports voice-dialing on an iPhone 3GS (although I had to speak the name louder than when using the iPhone directly, or it would more than occasionally call the wrong person). Although you have a choice of 3 different ear-tips sizes, none of them fit especially comfortably for me. Still, I could walk around without feeling that the unit might fall out.

Especially for those who miss the convenience of Apple’s now-extinct Bluetooth headset (with its combo iPhone-headset charger), the MoGo headset/case is definitely worth checking out.