Digital World: Tethered after all these years

In my never-ending quest to cheap out and avoid buying an iPhone, I've been busily upgrading my Sony Ericsson.

Some people have it made in their digital lives. Their connections always work, their components always fit and the stuff they buy always lives up to its promises. Lucky stiffs - I hope they choke! You might think that I, sophisticated and worldly Newzgeek who always seems to be on top of things, would be able to count himself among the digitally privileged. But oh, how wrong you would be. Some computer folk, it is true, find their paths open and laid out before them, with no obstacles in their way. Not me; I have to work like a dog for every advance, for every innovation. Not one to rely on glamorous press releases, I try out ideas that developers and Web sites claim are cool. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't - but either way, I have an experience I can share with readers to clue them in to a great idea, or warn them away from one that doesn't work. To wit: In my never-ending quest to cheap out and avoid buying an iPhone (it's just a matter of time, I assure you), I've been busily upgrading my Sony Ericsson w710i (, still a great phone for the money. It's advantage over run-of-the-mill 3G cellphones, of course, is the built-in jogging and running software; when you run the program, the phone records the number of steps you take (walking or running), speed, distance covered, calories burnt, etc. Can the iPhone do that? Probably, but my phone is cheaper, and I have it already. I also installed an improved video player, so the phone can also play back MP4 video format files (along with a bunch of others), just like the iPhone. As a Sony legacy product, my phone is all about being a Walkman too, and has music software that can handle playlists, searches, song identification, etc. And I upgraded the storage card (memory stick, in Sony's world) to handle 2 GB of stuff. True, that's half the amount of the least of the iPhones, but all that means is I have to connect my phone to a computer twice as much as an iPhone owner. Big deal. And there's one thing my Sony phone has over an iPhone - FM radio. Maybe it's an internal response to the existential of modern life, but I much prefer recorded music played by a live person on the other side of a microphone to recorded music on a memory card. The iPhone doesn't have built-in local FM radio; you have to spend an extra $50 for an add-on to get that. What you can listen to on the iPhone, however, is Internet radio, via a number of applications and Web sites that have special streams for the Apple devices. As it happens, you can listen to Internet radio on a Sony Java phone too - at least theoretically. (This is about where the press releases and glowing statements began to diverge from the reality of things.) Unfortunately, listening to Internet radio on a Java phone isn't easy, and it's probably not free. You may be wondering why I need Internet radio if I've got regular radio to keep me busy. Why not just listen to MP3s when I'm in the mood, and Reshet whatever when I want a live voice? Because I want to be free. Untethered. Able to lift my head, run and jump as I please, without worrying about getting tangled up in something I might not be able to get out of so easily. And, because if an iPhone can do it, I can do it too. For you see, the one drawback to my local cellphone radio setup is that I have to be tethered to the phone. The radio needs an antenna, and the antenna connects physically to the phone via the recharging (data) port. The connector has a microphone, a connection for a pair of earbuds or earphones, and of course the antenna. Usually I don't mind it that much, but there are times when it's annoying to have the wires running around the front of my body. Avoiding wires is why people buy Bluetooth headpieces and microphones, but in this case, Bluetooth won't allow streaming of FM radio. But I could use a Bluetooth headset to listen to streaming Internet radio. All I had to do was find a streaming Internet radio program for Java phones that would allow me to enter the URLs for my favorite stations (and upgrade my plan to allow for unlimited data connections, of course) and I was set! So, doing my due diligence duty, I came up with no fewer than four different solutions for Java cellphone Internet radio: MFRadio (, Radiobee (, Mplayer ( and La Velle Mobile Radio ( With four to choose from, I figured at least one of them would work out and I would be listening to my favorite local radio via their Internet streams, without encumbering wires. Untethered. As you have probably figured out by now, it wasn't that simple. I started with Mplayer (Sourceforge is always good, isn't it?), but - nothing. The highly praised Radiobee also turned out to be useless; unable to stream a sound. The only program that worked at all, in fact, was the La Velle application. Why did La Velle work but not the others? Apparently my SIM is somehow "locked" for the purposes of streaming Internet radio. (I couldn't figure out exactly why, but it may be a security thing.) La Velle had a workaround for this, which allowed me to stream their stations, but the workaround didn't fix things for the other programs. But one program is all I need, right? Maybe, but La Velle is not going to allow me to stream the sites that I want, from what I could tell. The site has more than 130 stations streaming via their server (and you have to use their "rebroadcasting server" if you have a locked SIM card, unless you set one up yourself. I have the instructions, if you're really interested). Plus, it's not free; although they are running a special where you can get lifetime membership for a mere $19.97. (In this day of the puny dollar and the super-shekel, it works out to not a bad price.) I was very tempted, but my experience with the several free stations they offered as a sample was not very encouraging; stations would drop out after a few seconds and reconnect randomly. Tweaking the buffering settings and such, as suggested by the program's site, had no effect. After an hour or so of sincere trying, I gave it up. Still tethered after all these years, it seems. It's possible the La Velle program would work fine in other places; maybe we just have an anemic GPRS connection around here. (I may keep the program around for awhile to experiment with connections in different parts of the country.) The iPhone has Wi-fi, along with GPRS, so you would be assured of a strong stream if you were within range of a Wi-fi network. (You may have a problem if the connection tries to roll over to GPRS when you get out of Wi-fi range.) But it still doesn't have local radio, although Apple is said to be getting read to roll out an FM-equipped iPhone. Until then, though, the standoff continues - and I must continue to plod along, tethered. Life's tough.