Saved from hacking my VX6800

Picking a device based on wishful thinking never works out in the end. When I was using my Motorola v710, there were a lot of pissed off folks who bought it under the idea that one day somebody would enable the rest of the Bluetooth functionality. I wasn’t nearly as annoyed simply because I accepted that I was getting a set of features on my phone and I wasn’t getting others. It would have been nice, but I didn’t need them.

So the vx6800 device didn’t ship with CDMA EV-DO Rev A support (just Rev 0… Rev A means more bandwidth) nor did it come with GPS support. Now, GPS support was not critical, more just a “Nice to have” thing. Mostly it’s the sort of thing where I know the chipset is capable of it and thusly annoyed that they’d not bother to enable it.

But I also knew that folks were hacking the VX6800 and that they were able to get a nice upgrade with Windows Mobile 6.1 and GPS and EV-DO Rev A. So I’ll kinda drop by the forums on a regular basis to see what was happening, but I don’t necessarily closely follow them. The other day, I decided that it was bugging me that I couldn’t use the GPS (I blame seeing the Purple Yahoo Bike) and that Verizon was never going to bother releasing the update… But then I found out that Verizon had just released the upgrade themselves and spared me the trouble of hacking my VX6800.

Now, Verizon is a phone company, which means that, as far as they are concerned, you should be glad that you have any amount of phone service at all and that every added service you use should mean a corresponding increase in the money you pay to them. Really, they’d be happiest if they can figure out how to get you to forward your paycheck straight to them. The whole paycheck, mind you.

The thing is, I’m not necessarily mad that they want to maximize the money they can get from you. That’s called business. I’m more annoyed that they chose to have pissed off customers and a stunted market because they are afraid that the final marketplace won’t have room for them. That’s called having no foresight.

Anyway, the upgrade is actually rather nice. Microsoft tweaked some stuff and it feels a little speedier and a little more stable.

But Verizon won’t give up on their usual stupid tricks. So the Verizon upgrade enables GPS but scrambles it so that, of all of the software out there, only their VZW Navigator charged-per-month software will actually work. Thankfully, the hackers figured out how to de-scramble this data in short order and have a nice installable application of their own that de-scrambles things and lets other GPS applications take advantage of the innate capabilities of the device.

VZW Navigator seems to be fairly car-centric… but that’s not so useful because we’ve already got a nice GPS for the car and there’s no way I’m going to spend a per-month fee to duplicate that functionality for those fairly marginal additional features.

However, there’s plenty of other stuff that we’re just scratching the surface of. I can look at what the downloadible Google Maps supports and see the huge potential.

First, the resolution is down to the city-street level. So I can fire up Google Maps and search for things near where I am at the moment and find stuff within walking distance. Couple it with the transit information in Google Maps and it makes navigating unfamiliar portions of the transit system easy.

Or if I’ve got some time while I’m waiting around for stuff, I can search at my current location for things. So I can type “Caffe” or “Coffee” and find somewhere to go. This is the sort of stuff that they were talking about when they were trying to figure out location-aware services, except that it makes me feel pretty certain that my initial thought that the correct model was to have it be user-triggered and largely free was the correct thought.

I can also do datalogging. The thing is, even though the rest of the software and hardware isn’t quite ready, if I’m taking video or pictures or just doing stuff, as long as there’s a timestamp, I can compare it against the GPS log and figure out where I was.

I think there’s more to be done with it. We’re really just scratching the surface, with the phone companies being their usual annoying barriers to progress. I may hack some code around it eventually.

The early noises when people were hacking the phone weren’t very good. People were finding that their phone would take forever to try and grab a GPS lock. But generally my phone can grab a lock fairly quickly, which I think is because they’ve improved the software and enabled some level of aGPS functionality.

There’s pretty much only one big flaw, which is that the GPS device is turned off when the device is in the “Standby” mode — Basically, when you hit the button on the side of the phone, it puts the phone in standby mode, which means that it’s on, but the buttons aren’t active and the screen is off. Also, when the GPS is on, it sucks up a lot of battery power. So I may have to either rig up external power (say, 4 D cell NiMH batteries with a USB plug on one end and a voltage regulator in between) or get a real datalogger. Except now I can get something that’s just a datalogger, instead of pondering getting a datalogger that can also interact with the phone.

As far as the rest of the Windows Mobile 6.1 improvements, it seems like stability is way down, speed is up a little bit, and the few features they added are nice.