chromebook and att wifi – part 2

Two years ago, I set up my mother with an AT&T 4G wifi hotspot. Overall, she is happy with it. The hardware is starting to get less than optimal. It doesn’t keep a charge as long. I think a wire needs replacing. It shut down randomly twice. Since it is two years old, I decided to buy a new one for her and keep the old one for me to play with.

The price came down. Without a contact, the ATT Velocity hotspot is now $60. (two years ago it was $150). And this time, I could buy it from BestBuy rather than AT&T. A far easier buying experience. No shipping so sent right to me.

Setting up an account

Since I bought the hotspot from BestBuy rather than AT&T, I had to set up my own account online. Hardly difficult. The steps:

  1. Go to
  2. Enter the SIM number – this is listed as the ICCID on the bottom of the box
  3. Enter IMEI number – this is on a sticker inside the phone (easy to see before putting in the battery). It’s also on the bottom of the box.
  4. The zip code of the user – I used my mother’s
  5. Enter user’s email. I used my mother’s
  6. Pick a plan. I chose the same plan I had before. $25/month for 2GB
  7. Sign up for autopay
  8. Choose a password
  9. Then I went to manage account to set up a name. I repeatedly got “We seem to be experiencing system issues. Please try again later.” on saving. It was true though. I waited 5 minutes and then it saved.

Trying out the hotspot

The battery/case comes separated so I put that together. The device tells you the charge, connection strength and whether you have any new messages. Unlike last time, I didn’t have any messages right away. I had the flashing green light and six messages once I signed up for automatic payment.

New since last time – the device appears to tell you how much bandwidth was used up. This is an illusion. Once I started using data, it directed me to the web for this.

It still shows the number of connected devices.

I connected to the wifi using the default password from a Chromebook and went to http://attwifimanager. I logged in with attadmin (the default) and changed:

  • Network name (it prompted me that I would be disconnected so I reconnected) – I made sure to use a different password
  • The wifi password (it prompted me that I would be disconnected so I reconnected – should have done this with the network name to save a reconnect)
  • Set max number of devices to 2
  • On advanced settings, changed admin login

There was an option to hide the password on the device. I chose this because my mother wanted a password that has other meaning.

Connecting from the Chromebook

Connecting to the new wifi name is easy. Note that the network name is case sensitive
  1. Click the connection from the wifi list
  2. Type password

This didn’t work on the first shot. I tried from my iPad and also no connectivity. So I rebooted the hotspot and it worked.

To remember the connection 

  1. Click the wifi icon and click “Connected to X”
  2. Click network name
  3. Click “Prefer this network”
  4. Ensure “Automatically connect to this network is checked”
  5. Click “close”


How fast is the connection?

I ran a speedtest both to see how fast the connection was and to use a chunk of bandwidth to see how reporting worked. The answer was:

  • ping 36 ms
  • download 13 Mbps
  • upload 9 Mbps


Every once in a while, I have to push the power button on the wifi device for the ChromeBook to connect. I haven’t seen a pattern on this, but it only happens on trying to connect.


Most problems can be dealt with online at prepaid, but they do have a phone number: 800-901-9878

getting started with the chromebook – part 1

When the Chromebook came out last year, I blogged about the target audience; one of which was people who literally just use the internet.  My mother does four things with her computer:

  1. Internet (email, news, research, etc)
  2. Update firewall/virus scan
  3. Deal with problems
  4. Listen to CDs

I think the Chromebook is for her!  It handles #1 well and eliminates #2/3. (rebooting solves all problems as near as I can tell.)  While it doesn’t do #4, that can be replaced with a standalone CD player.  You don’t need a computer to listen to music on CD.  Being the good daughter that I am, I bought the Chromebook earlier myself to “set it up” and get used to it so that I can provide good tech support.


If you are a regular reader of this blog, the Chromebook is not for you. You need a “real computer.”  As such I will not be trying to use it as my primary computer for X days as many of the reviewers do.   I will be using it regularly for email/web surfing to make sure I encounter any problems there are and get familiar with how it works to answer basic questions.  I also bought a copy of My Google Chromebook (see review)

Think of this blog post as “how to get someone else going with a Chromebook”.

Picking a Chromebook

Google’s site shows the choices of Chromebook.  There are the original Acer and Samsung 5 models (wifi only or 3g).  In the last few months, there has also been the Samsung 5 550. I was waiting for the “second generation” to buy the Chromebook as I didn’t want my mother to be a true early adopter.  A year after initial release and early in the second generation wave seems like a good time.

I picked the 3g model because my goal is for her to not need home internet.   I’m hoping paying for 1GB data per month will be sufficient.  That’s one of the things I’ll learn in the next month or so – whether it is feasible to rely completely on 3g and not wifi.

Also, note that there is a ChromeBox now.  This is not a laptop.

Buying a Chromebook

You can buy a Chromebook from Amazon or BestBuy.  I was originally planning to buy from Amazon.  Then I read the reviews and learned a few people had problems with the 3g.  I then decided to buy from BestBuy instead so I could return/exchange in store if the 3g was dead on arrival.   About 100 BestBuys in the country actually have the Chromebook in stock where you can buy same day.  Mine does not.  However it was easy to order online and have it delivered in store.  It took just under a week to arrive and I was given a little over a week to pick it up.  My Best Buy did have a floor model of the Chromebook pictured above.  This is quite a change from a visit to BestBuy last July (when it came out and “BestBuy sold it”.)  A year ago the BestBuy floor sales hadn’t even heard of it!


The box is 14.5 x 14.5 x 2.5 inches and not heavy at all.  Good for carrying home from a physical store.  The box even references Samsung’s Chromebook website and the fact that Verizon gives 100MB 3g per month for two years, which is very store friendly.  (And yes, 100MB is hardly anything.)

The box contains:

  1. Chromebook (laptop)
  2. Google chrome sticker
  3. Warranty (call Samsung before going back to the store)
  4. Safety precautions (don’t put the chromebook in the bathtub)
  5. A welcome sheet advertising google services (docs, talk, google+ etc)
  6. Quick start guide
  7. A brown box containing the power cable and AC adapter – the way this box was setup near the hinge of the bigger box, I didn’t see it for a few minutes.  I knew it had to be in there of course so I kept looking.  It is also lighter than I expected which didn’t help.


  1. Take the plastic wrapper off the power cord
  2. Unvelcro the power cord and AC adapter to make the wire longer (the AC adapter is 1.5 x3.5 inches or so which feels tiny compared to my “real computer”
  3. Connect power cord and AC adapter
  4. Connect AC adapter to laptop and plug in power cord
  5. Press power key – a real keyboard key – not a button.

To be continued…  Part 2 is where I compare setting up a real chromebook with the chromium OS in a virutal machine

Traveling Abroad with the iPhone

Recently, I visited London and Cardiff on vacation and took my iPhone with me. I knew ahead of time I would like to get the most use out of it, without incurring ridiculous roaming fees, so I planned ahead. This article discusses a number of different solutions and the benefits and limitations of each.

My Goal: Use maps with GPS tracking while traveling abroad

Although the native Google Maps application will not function on the streets of London without an Internet connection, there are applications that you can download ahead of time that will. One application that I liked in particular was OffMaps for the iPhone. It allows you to download maps of any city or region ahead of time, as well as select city guides. The map download is extremely customizable, including selecting the map’s level of precision. The only downside was that these maps/guides have to be downloaded directly by the iPhone (WiFi or 3G) and can take hours to retrieve. I would have preferred an option that let you download the maps from iTunes, utilizing a wired Ethernet connection. Also, you must download maps for all areas you intend to visit ahead of time, as even WiFi connections can be costly and limited abroad.

While I did try other, often city-specific applications, but I wasn’t as impressed with them as OffMaps. Plus, I was able to configure the same application for multiple cities prior to my trip.

After downloading an offline map application, my second goal was to enable GPS. This as it turns out, is trickier than I thought.

Solution 1: Leave the iPhone at home

I considered leaving it at home, but it’s really hard to organize a car service on your return trip if they have no way to reach you. Also, it’s useful to check the time and recent e-mail since my cell phone has replaced my watch as my mechanism for keeping time. Finally, the iPhone is nice for watching TV and movies on the plane as well as listening to music while traveling.

Solution 2: Put the iPhone in Airplane Mode for the entire trip

Most blogs I visited prior to departure recommended putting my iPhone in Airplane Mode for the length of my trip, as it allows you to use WiFi without any possibility of incurring roaming fees. The problem, though, is that it also disables the phone’s GPS, so that you cannot track your current location. Goal failed.

Solution 3: Disable Cellular Data and Roaming

One obvious solution is to go into the General > Network settings and disable cellular data and roaming. There’s a few problems with this though. First, you’re trusting your cell phone not to accidentally charge you for usage. Based on some of the stories floating around the net about being charged thousands of dollars for roaming, that’s just a leap of faith I’m not personally able to make. Second, your battery life is going to be severely limited, because the iPhone will be searching for a signal during the entire trip. Finally, there’s no guarantee some data features won’t continue to process, such as voice mail. With Apple’s Visual Voicemail, the iPhone downloads audio files automatically every time someone leaves you a message. Think of it as a charge anytime someone leaves you a message.

There are steps you can take to disable voice mail while traveling, but I do not recommend them. AT&T has to actually switch your data plan while you’re away, there’s no option to simply disable it. For those with no-longer-available unlimited data plans, switching our data plan can make us a little edgy. Also, there’s no guarantee GPS will work in this environment, although it probably should.

Solution 4: Replace the SIM card

Those absolutely needing international access can buy a SIM from a local carrier. Given that I’m using a US iPhone, and AT&T has severely restricted non-AT&T usage, I wasn’t convinced this would work without jail-breaking the iPhone. Also, there are some security risks from letting your passwords/access transfer over a network you may not be familiar with. Ultimately, I decided this option wouldn’t be worth the headache. If I had a more open, European iPhone, though, I may have felt differently, since in those markets the phone and the SIM are not extremely interconnected.

Solution 5: Lock the SIM card

One excellent recommendation was to install a 4-digit PIN code on the SIM which requires entry every time the iPhone is started and disables all cellular/data communication if not present. The advantage to this is that GPS continues to work in this environment. The only down side is that you have make sure not to forget your PIN code. Also, I had to do a bit of searching to find the ‘default’ pin code that programmed into my SIM card.

Solution 6: Remove the SIM card

Similar to Solution #5, I realized I could just pull out the SIM card. No special tools required, just a paper clip and a plastic bag to put it in (the new Micro SIMs are tiny and easy to lose). Unlike some of the other solutions which rely on software features, this completely prevents data roaming but still allows WiFi usage and GPS support, so it’s the solution I went with. I just left the SIM in a hotel safe and carried the phone around all day. I was successful with my original goal of simulating Google Maps with tracking, as the offline maps and GPS functioned as expected. The only thing I noticed is that true GPS requires much clearer line of site with a satellite. In other words, GPS only functioned when I was out in the open, and sometimes took a while to acquire an initial signal. This is to be expected with GPS technology, but having the iPhone’s data network fix a location faster than traditional GPS has spoiled me over the last few years.


Ultimately, downloading the offline maps was the single best step I took prior to my departure. Removing the SIM card was also quite easy to do and gave me peace of mind that the software wasn’t going to ‘accidentally’ allow data connections while traveling. Also, the battery was significantly better with no SIM card, and the iPhone could go for days without charging. I guess the data network usage really does chew up the battery.

Ultimately, GPS was only partially useful, as I was able to figure out where I was on the map pretty quickly based on landmarks. However, had I been traveling in a more difficult-to-navigate city or had a worse sense of direction, I would have probably used GPS more frequently.