Sprint, on the other hand, gives you unlimited 3G Internet, including streaming, on the phone for just $15/month (Power Vision Access plan). Sure, that price doesn't include Sprint TV, or the other bundled content, but I didn't want that stuff. I just wanted the pure, sweet nectar of free flowing Internet. Sprint delivered. Also, since the EVDO network was just being rolled out in the major metros, the bandwidth would be the real thing.
Since I am a music lover, I purchased the Samsung SPH-A920. $149.99 with a two year contract. Similar phones available now are much cheaper (more on that in a later post.) The cool thing is that all Sprint Power Vision EVDO phones are 3GPP enabled, complete with aacPlus audio. This means that if a content provider knows their stuff, the streaming audio won't sound like it is underwater or coming from a tin-can.
Phone in hand, the next step was connecting it to the car. Since my 2002 PT Cruiser still has a cassette deck (yeah, I know...), I could use a $10 cassette adapter. However, I still needed to connect it to the phone. This is where things get tricky. I needed an adapter to go from the 2.5mm stereo/mic jack to a common 3.5mm (1/8") stereo jack. Sprint didn't carry them at the time, but luckily I was able to pick one up from the local Cingular store.
Adapter in hand, I connected the phone to the car, typed the Groove Salad url into my media player, and blammo, I had high-quality, untethered, Internet radio right in my car! The quality was even better than most XM Radio channels and I didn't have to pay an extra subscription. Listening to streaming radio drained the phone's battery, but a $30 car charger solved that problem. Very nice!
Not bad for May 2006. However, looking at my feature list for the Ideal Internet Car Radio, a couple problems remained:
- EVDO wasn't yet deployed wide enough for reliable listening over long distances.
- The phone was over $99.
- Available free content was pretty limited.
- Tuning into a radio station was pretty painful. (send yourself an SMS from the PC, or manually type in the URL. How do I text in a 'slash' again...?)
Fast forward to Summer 2007. Thanks to Sprint, EVDO now covers all major population areas and major transportation corridors. Thanks to Samsung, Motorola, Nokia, and Sanyo, aacPlus 3GPP-enabled phones are available for much lower prices. Thanks to Tuner2, there is a single point of tuning for high-quality Internet radio on the mobile phone. The content list isn't huge, but it is growing. And in the next couple of months it will grow like crazy once stations catch on to the untapped audience. Using Tuner2 mobile on my A920, today I drive around Southern California enjoying Internet radio, free and clear.
Things are looking good, but all is not sun and roses. In the next posts I will share some specifics about my LA driving tests, a long-distance drive through farm country, share a longer list of compatible phones, and talk about some issues you may encounter connecting the phones to your car.