This past March, I received an email from Sprint inviting me to participate in their Ambassador program. They’d give me 6 months free service and a Power Vision phone (which I get to keep) in exchange for my giving them feedback. Although I’m sure it was part of their motivation, there was no obligation to blog about my experience. So I signed up.
Power Vision Service: Sprint’s Power Vision enables users to watch TV, listen to radio, download music, play games, send pictures and, of course, surf the web. There are ancillary services as well — for instance, Sprint rolled out a service in which you could send them pictures of your meals and they’d send you personalized feedback from a nutritionist. I didn’t try this out (too many steps in the process), but I did try many of the services…
TV – I’d been skeptical of this but there is a wow factor to being able to watch ABC News on your phone. The video was at times choppy/unwatchable but it wasn’t bad for the most part. My gripes here are that there were two navigation menus for video — one for live TV, powered by MobiTV, and one for VOD in the form of clips. There has to better menus to present this information in one unified way. The content selection was a bit sparse but enough of to let me kill some time at the airport waiting for a plane — it is this sort of downtime when one is out and about that mobile TV is best for.
Radio/Music – I was able to access streaming radio stations, powered by MSpot, and download music from a store, powered by Groove Mobile. The radio had a decent selection for what it is — they are not trying to replicate the choice one has with internet radio or podcasting, but rather offer listening options that will appeal to many. I downloaded a number of tracks from the music store. The instant gratification of typing in a track and downloading it to my phone to listen to it right away certainly upped the wow factor. The store was hard to navigate however. Part of this is based on the information architecture, which I understand — the constraints imposed by the form factor and network access of a phone pose a huge challenge. But I wonder if there are techniques to minimize steps in the navigation and purchase process or at least speed them up. Like maybe there’s a way to "Ajaxify" the experience so that you’re not calling out to the server at each step but that the server is pre-fetching content that you may navigate to as a way to speed things up. Finally, each downloaded track (at $1.99 or $2.50) costs much more than what iTunes charges. I get that this is for the convenience factor but still, I think consumers will bristle at this.
Games – I’m not a huge gamer but did play around some. While I didn’t have to pay for these games, my gripe here is that a user if often asked to pay before they know they want to buy it. Some of them do have a free preview but others didn’t. Better to have a subscription service with unlimited access to a number of games.
Broadband Wireless – One of the greatest uses I got out of the service was the EVDO broadband wireless network access in which I could use my phone as a modem for my laptop. This obviated the need to pay for TMoble hotspot access at Starbucks, and I even used it for a couple of business presentations when I had trouble accessing the internet in the conference room. I got around 200 – 300 kbps, which is nice for surfing around and doing email, but not enough for applications like watching broadband video. Verizon has a similar service and was a good 100 kbps faster than Sprint’s when my colleague and I checked bandwidth speeds from LGA airport.
Samsung SPH-A920 - This was the Power Vision phone they sent me. On the plus side, it packs in a lot of features like the media player for music & TV, a 1.3 megapixel camera with Flash, the ability to use it as a modem (you’ll need to download extra software to your desktop), and long battery life. On the down side, it’s pretty ordinary looking from a design standpoint, the media player could be more intuitive, you have to wait about 4 seconds for the camera to take the picture and, most annoying of all: the hands-free headphones that come with the phone are nearly unusable. The left ear bud’s cord is longer than the right’s for when you’re talking on the phone hands-free, but the right ear cord is so short that it often fell out of my ear. The phone has come down in price and I think it’s a good value for what you get provided that you can live with its quirks.
All in all, Sprint’s Power Vision tries to pack in many services for many types of people. Unfortunately it doesn’t do any of the services particularly well. As a business user, I would pay extra for the EVDO wireless access. For consumers, it is still an early adopter proposition, i.e. pay a premium for a service that isn’t quite ready for prime time. I expect this calculus to change in 1-2 generations as they learn and improve the product. Finally, there has got to be a better name for this than Power Vision.