Friday, March 26, 2010

Same As It Ever Was... Or not.

Trying to be a good manager of my finances, I looked at the new FIOS service to replace my existing Comcast service. This is the first time that Comcast has had a significant competitor in their market. So, that should be good for the customer, right? Well... let me tell you. I made the switch, and here are my results. Your mileage may vary. When I can, I will give comparisons to Comcast.

Verizon FIOS First Impressions

1. Sales
As you might imagine, Verizon is very eager to get your business. We had a couple of sales associates going door-to-door, pressing the flesh and talking up the services. I was one of the only people on my street to give them the time of day, and we chatted about the services. Funny thing is, I ended up telling them more about the service than they told me. However, a sucker for the direct sale, I agreed to the install. The two items here to mention are the fact that there is an early termination fee of $360 that is amortized over the first year of service and there is a 3-day option to cancel service. Three days is not nearly long enough to determine whether you like the service. I am still working out the kinks after a couple of weeks... Comcast says they have a 30-day money back guarantee and there is no early termination. So like them or not, I am stuck for a year.

2. Installation
They claim installation is a 6-8 hour process, from bringing the fiber from the pole to hooking up the box and then setting up the service. Yow! I think it took my installer about 4 hours. He didn't have everything that he needed, so he had to run out a couple of times. And the install order was never put through so he had to call it in while he was there to get it turned on. But he was informative and professional and courteous. That goes a long way for me. Of course, I made his job easier because I helped him with the internet and computer setup. Now I hadn't yet cancelled my Comcast service, because I wanted to make sure everything was working, so I had no clue that when the phone was disconnected I would lose my home alarm service connection to the main office. Someone is supposed to be out today to look at it. They had to place a battery backup unit inside the house which is a little invasive, Comcast had a battery backup built into the modem.

3. Service

  • Phone - No discernible difference in call quality. I guess this is good. Verizon has a separate number to retrieve messages (Comcast uses your own number), but you CAN delete a message in the middle (you have to wait to the end of a message for Comcast). Most of the other services appear similar. What I am having trouble with is the Caller ID on the phone. Sometimes it recognizes a number, sometimes not, CallerID Call Waiting doesn't appear to work, and the option to get this information on the computer is way screwed up.
  • Television - I was supposed to be bowled over by the improved video quality fiber makes over cable. Well, HD is HD and yeah, it looks good, but better than what I was already seeing? Not certain. I was supposed to see fewer instances of artifacting, which are little glitches in the video signal that look like black boxes in the picture, and I have seen fewer of those so far (in fact only once last night). Their Video On Demand cannot pause, fast-forward, or rewind. You can stop and resume. Comcast is ahead on this one. Having to be forced to watch commercials is criminal. Verizon has Widgets that give you some web functionality like weather, news and Facebook access. Some of this can be useful, but for any serious access, hand me my laptop.
  • Internet - Speed. Well, I have noticed some impressive speed improvements here. Even with the 25/25 versus 15/5 question, there is no doubt that there is a speed improvement. But let's be real. It almost doesn't matter what your connection speed is these days because the bottleneck is the server sending or receiving the data, not the pipe used to connect the two systems. So if you have a speed of 25/25 and the server's speed is only 1mbps then you're suck at the lower rate. Granted, it is useful for downloading large files, like movies or for streaming, but for everyday stuff you might not see as much improvement.
4. Hardware
Verizon uses a Motorola set top box and DTC (digital converter). Pretty much the same as Comcast. The modem is pretty cool though. Having trouble logging into it at times, but the interface is pretty nice. And it doubles as a wireless router and 4-port switch. Cuts out one box for me. You can also optionally use your own router. Only supports 100mbps speed, which is fine unless you are moving some major traffic on your local network. The DTC is used to connect other TVs or devices that don't require HD (or that you don't want to pay an additional $10/month for). 

5. Support
Ordered 25/25 service, but they seemed determined to give me 15/5. Still working out who thinks I have what speed. We'll see what my first bill says. Customer Service appears to have too many layers which makes it seem like they are trying to avoid you, and they also appear not to be from local offices. Once on the phone, they seem very nice and are reasonably helpful. However, one one call, they took my phone numbers, the connection was lost, and they never called back (I did get an email). Comcast had local reps taking support calls which is nice and it doesn't appear as convoluted to get through to someone.

6. Compatibility
Verizon loses big time here. Pretty much all of Comcast software services support the Mac. Their computer CallerID service uses AdobeAir which is cross platform, their SupportAgent also works on the Mac (though I never used it), and their Mobile App works on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Verizon's In-Home Agent and Call Assistant are not available on the Mac and the Mobile Remote is not yet available on the iPhone and iPod. Boo! Good thing we have applications like Boot Camp, Fusion, Parallels and VirtualBox to allow us Mac users the ability to run Windows on our Macs. Comcast and their XFinity service is also connected to Fancast which allows you access to many of its onDemand services online. Haven't seen anything like that from Verizon, unless you are subscribed to additional packages. Verizon does have it's MediaManager software which allows Mac and PC users to share their photos and music, but you have to have the DVR option to be able to use it. *sigh* Everything is extra.

Other Thoughts
Verizon is Verizon, no? No. and are two separate entities, the first dealing with phone and the other dealing with internet. Imagine the confusion people are having over this. You need two different sets of userIDs and passwords in order to login. And supposedly, you can't use the same userID on both accounts (one would think they were connected somehow...). In order to use Call Assistant and other phone related services, you need to be registered on the website. And after speaking to customer service (again), they said it takes between 4-6 weeks in order for the new accounts to be processed. Umm, hello? And again, they make no mention of this during the install or in the literature. You just assume you are hooked up and on your way to internet Nirvana.

Verizon's online design is old. The site is too busy and hard to navigate between .com and .net. You having to login and relogin each time. Should be a universal login or a universal website. Yes, Comcast has a .com and a .net as well, but you can use the same account on both and they are not segmented by service type.

The Verizon sales reps said there was a notification system for moving your previous address from my previous service to Verizon, but I couldn't find the service online or in print for the life of me. Had to find out from a customer service rep. 2 weeks later. It's called TrueSwitch. Unfortunately, it requires you to retain your previous account for it to function. I want to pay Comcast while I am using Verizon? Umm, no. Also not sure if it supports secondary accounts like the ones I have for my wife and 2 kids. And surprise! It doesn't work on the Mac. D'oh!

Lemme Sum Up
Phone - About Equal
Internet - Verizon on speed only, all other things being equal, Comcast is better
Television - Verizon on features and a somewhat better picture
Usability - For Mac users, Comcast is more compatible, and generally easier to get around

It seems like Verizon is the new kids on the block and acting like it. From a strictly speed perspective, it wins, but I think the service has a lot of maturing to do to bring it up to Comcast levels. Make the switch? For cost savings and raw internet speed, yes. Otherwise, you might want to stick with Comcast and see what happens over the next year or so. I am sure Comcast will be pulling out all the stops not to lose its customer base and to recapture some of the switchers... like me. And I want them to! Don't you love competition?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cats in the Hat

I feel like I'm writing a Dr. Seuss book, but there is more than meets the eye here with a plethora of Mac software bundles and special deals out there. You only have to know where to look. And I am here to tell you what they are and how to find them. Sort of letting the Cats out of the Hat. Sure you may own some of these apps, but for the price of one upgrade, you can grab a bunch more to try, use if you like or pass on to a friend. Nice!

Thing 1 – Daily Single Deals
MacUpdate Promo – I have been following this one for a while. They typically provide productivity apps during the week and entertainment apps on the weekends. Have seen some apps reappear on occasion, but since the sale lasts only 24 hours per app, that is not a bad thing, per se. Email signup. At times the current sale lingers but at a slightly lower (i.e. more expensive) discount, but often still a good deal.

MacZot – I just signed up for this one so I haven't got too much data. One app a day, generally 40-50% off. Email signup.

Thing 2 – Occasional Bundle Deals
MacBundleBox – I just came across these guys, have no clue what the deal is, but it's coming soon (here is a rumor). Always worth checking out. They seem to have a little competition going with MacHeist, but hey, competition is good... for us!

MacHeist – These guys just finished their latest promotion, sorry, but sign up for the next one and I guarantee you won't be disappointed. Everything is done right, from the promotion design to the bundle receipts to the fact that you can even split your order so you can gift some of the apps you already own to others. Sweet! A bonus to the bonus, 25% of the sales of their last bundle went to humanitarian relief ($440,000). Very cool.

MacUpdate Promo – On occasion, MacUpdate has a bundle sale. And whaddya know, they have one going on now! The two apps I favor in this bundle are WebSnapper for web page captures, Parallels 5 for PC and other operating system virtual machines and Bee Docs Timeline 3D. Like I said, for the price of one upgrade, it's like getting all the other apps free...

Thing 3 – Go to the Bodega
Don't want to wait? Like browsing? Then Bodega is the place to do it. It is a virtual store that has news, reviews, and apps galore from freeware and shareware authors download and purchase right in the app. It also tracks your installed apps and lets you know if there are updates, just like Versiontracker, but free. Lovely interface, fun to use. Better than the mall, with no parking problems!

Always, always review the software. Go to the developers sites and read the descriptions. Download the trials and play with them, see if they would be something worth while having. Just because they might be a good deal does not always make them a good deal for you. Did I miss any? Let me know and I will add it to the list.