And my new phone will be??? The Nokia N97!

Readers of my blog will remember that I had pre-ordered the Nokia N97 way back in May. However, due to a fckup by Nokia, I canceled the order and have been limping by with my N95-1.

Since then a lot of new contenders have been released and I’ve had time to compare and analyze. In the end, I still feel the N97 is the best choice for me. The two main reasons are the N97’s far superior camera and ability to use as a WiFi hotspot via Joikuspot.

The openness of the Nokia platform is also nice. I can automatically sync files over WiFi with SymSync and even browse files on the phone over WiFi using SymSMB. They’ve even got a Windows Remote Desktop client which I’m anxious to try. All of these products are from Telexy.

Another reason I stuck with Nokia is the auto-bookmarking feature of the podcast player. iPhone also has, but only with AAC files and since I have an automated way to create speeded-up MP3s, converting formats would be an extra manual step. It will also be nice to use a browser that supports Flash.

I got $200 off the $699 list price with free shipping, so it’s actually a better deal than my original pre-order. Plus, it will have the latest firmware already installed, so it will be a nicer out-of-the-box experience.

I strongly considered the new N97 mini, but since there is no NAM version out yet and it has no camera lens cover, I’m passing. I also considered the N86 especially since it has an 8MP camera, but I think I’d like to try the touchscreen movement and see if I can live without physical buttons.

I think what makes this an easier choice is that I already have an iPod Touch 2nd gen. As such, I have access to all of the cool iPhone apps. I actually like having two devices since one can be dedicated to mostly music and media. It would be a pain if I did everything all on one device.

Whew! Now I can finally stop being so envious of all those iPhone owners. Perhaps they will be a little envious of me now! =)

It is *not* a good time to buy a home

Yup. That’s right. It is not a good time to buy a home, at least in California. “But housing prices seem to have bottomed!”, you say, and “interest rates are at historic lows!” Well, allow me to explain.

Because, homes are so expensive in California, people tend to buy as much house as they can afford; the yardstick for “affordability” being the payment. The price of the home they can “afford” is, thus, driven by two main factors: the payment they can afford and the interest rate. (I’m ignoring the down payment since that will vary wildly from person to person.) All things being equal, the payment people can afford is a constant at any point in time. This is particularly true if financial institutions learn their lesson and stop the loose credit practices that got us into this mess in the first place (i.e., ARMs, interest only, no-doc, etc.). My feeling is that, at least in the short-term, a borrower’s true ability to pay will be evaluated much more stringently.

Currently, mortgage rates are artificially low because the government is trying to encourage banks to lend to help the economy. Rates without government intervention would be much higher. Think about it: credit/loans are much harder to come by these days. In other words, the supply of money is low. So what normally happens when the supply of something shrinks? Well, the cost goes up and for loans the price is interest rates.

The government cannot keep rates low forever and there are many reasons why. The primary reason is inflation. Eventually inflation will start to rear its ugly head. The Fed will be forced to increase rates because keeping them low will only fuel inflation. My guess is that this will not happen for a year or maybe a few years, but it *is* going to happen. As the economy recovers, it is inevitable. Also, the government may have to start paying higher interest rates on the trillions of dollars of debt it is now trying to sell. If the rates on T-bills/bonds goes up, guess what? Overall rates go up.

When rates go up, the amount of the loan people can afford goes down. Naturally, this will put downward pressure on home prices. Now, although it is theoretically possible that rates will rise gradually and not cause issues, I don’t believe that is likely. Rates are likely to jump quickly because of being artificially held down like a rubber band being released before it breaks. The effect will be devastating to the real estate market.

Still arent’ convinced interest rates will affect real estate that much? Consider this: the payment on a $500,000 loan at 4.5% is about $2,500. If rates climbed to just 8%–still low by historical standards–the loan would have to be about $350,000 to maintain the same payment! That’s a 30% decline! At 12%, the amount dives to $250,000, at 50% decline! And don’t even think that’s impossible. A few decades ago, rates above 20% were common.

For me, I am ignoring the fact that interest rates are at historic lows. It’s artificial. I would rather pay 8% and owe only $350,000 than pay 4.5% and own $500,000. If rates came down, I could refinance. The person with the $500,000 loan is stuck.

Previously, I had thought that rising interest rates was going to be the catalyst for the bursting of the real estate bubble. I was wrong there. The actual cause was the rapid realization that mortgage-backed instruments weren’t really secured by the underlying assets. Still, as I’ve set forth above, the impact of rising interest rates still looms.

Special thanks to the Irvine Housing blog, whose recent post, got my blogging juices going and reminded me of my thoughts.

No AT&T U-Verse for me. Staying with Time Warner Cable…for now

I nearly pulled the trigger to switch my TV and Internet to AT&T U-Verse, but after some research I found some show stoppers. Let’s start off with why I was even considering the switch. Two things really. Much faster Internet: 24 down and 2 up (was to be rolled out in a few months) and better features on DVR, including more storage. The show-sharing capabilities of the “Total House” feature seemed pretty cool too.

So why did I decide to stay? The biggest reason is that U-Verse limits the *entire* house to a maximum of only *two* HD streams, not matter how many boxes you have. Yup, you read that right. It’s a house limitation, not a box limitation. The fine print says, “Four channels can be recorded to the DVR or viewed simultaneously: up to two can be HD.” The way they word it, it almost seems like a good thing! ;-) Anyways, that is lame. I’ve got two dual-tuner HD DVRs now. I can be watching an HD football game and recording another HD football game on my TV, and Jac can be watching an HD channel on the other TV. Can’t do that with U-Verse. In fact, she could also be recording another HD show. And this can happen *every* Sunday during football season =), so it’s not a remote possibility.

The other issue may or may not be a problem. From what I read only one DVR actually records and the others can control or playback content on that DVR. So, some people have reported that you can only pause live TV on the TV with the DVR. According to the sales guy, our area will be getting only DVRs so each unit actually records. We shall see, since my neighbor is getting the service. In any event, although each may be a DVR, the entire house is still limited to 2 HD streams max. It has got to be a bandwidth issue.

In the future, they may increase the HD cap and I’ll revisit at that time. Until then, Time Warner still has my business, for better or worse. I am hoping, however, that this competition will force them to improve the DVR features, price, Internet speed, channels, etc. Competition is good!

FYI I’m still sticking with ViaTalk for my land line. You just can’t beat this service!