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Call for Video

While handhelds let you easily watch video anywhere, in most cases you must load the player before you leave home, or use a separate service. New cell phones and networks let you receive video anywhere--well, anywhere there's a fast 3G network such as EvDO or UMTS. Check with your provider to find out if you have service in your area; if so, for $15 to $25 per month added to your cell phone bill, Cingular, Sprint, and Verizon will give you unlimited access to a rather small selection of games, music, and video (see the chart below).

The services have a lot of content overlap. All offer short clips from the usual suspects such as CNN, The Discovery Channel, ESPN, Fox, The Weather Channel, and others. Typically you can view a few music videos, recent sports and news highlights, or movie trailers. Most channels aren't live but are updated regularly.

Currently Sprint offers the most options and has a feature the others don't: live video feeds. Your device can get live news feeds from ABC, C-SPAN, Fox, and other sources. You can also see over a dozen channels that show the same video feed going to television sets.

But just because you can see video on your cell, doesn't mean you'd want to.

Navigating the menus, plus waiting for the media players to load and the content to buffer, can take 10 to 30 seconds. The clips are often highly compressed files at 176-by-144-pixel resolution and 15 frames per second, playing on just part of the phone's screen. Even good images are so tiny that it's not fun to look at them for long. Not that you can--most phone content is less than 3 minutes long; anything longer may rebuffer every minute or so.

My rule for mobile video is simple: The smaller the screen, the more basic and personal the content. Lawrence of Arabia? No. Sports highlights? Perhaps. Talking heads and short, focused clips? Okay. Hilarious video podcasts from Strong Bad Emails? Now you're talking!

Sprint Has Mobile Video Advantage

For now, Sprint offers more video choices than its rivals do, at a reasonable price.

Phone video service1Pricing2Claimed download speedsTechnologyComments
Cingular Video$20/month400-700 kbpsUMTS3Smooth playback. Slow menus, basic-cable-like channels, disappointing $5-per-month HBO clips. Service in only 16 metro markets.4
Sprint TV$15-$25/month400-700 kbps1xEvDONumerous channels, including oddball and live content others lack. Somewhat complex setup and pricing. Videos buffered slowly.
Verizon V Cast Video$15/month400-700 kbps1xEvDOOne of the least expensive plans. Channels buffered less slowly than others. Content by usual suspects, such as CNN, ESPN, and Fox.
CHART NOTE: Features listed are as of June 2006. FOOTNOTES: 1 T-Mobile has no current offering. It plans to roll out a North American mobile-phone video service in 2007. 2 In each case, the cost is in addition to your regular phone plan. 3 Some areas already have the faster HSDPA network available. 4 As of June 2006.
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