Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cell Phones

I have long been a cell-phone conscientious objector. There are a number of reasons for this... there is the "people got along for decades without cell phones, what makes them such a necessity now?" argument. There's the argument that they're too darn expensive, and I stand by that one, although you can pretty easily find plain talk service these days for something like $10/month... as long as you're not interested in text messaging, data access, or any of the other things people do with their phones these days. But deep down, I know my main reason for not being interested in cell phones is that I just don't really like phone calls. I mean, I like talking to friends... I really do, and if you can manage to get me on the phone, you may have trouble getting rid of me! But I don't like two things about phone calls: placing the phone call, and receiving the phone call. And clearly, one or the other is necessary in order for a phone call to take place! The idea of calling someone when I don't know whether they're busy, angry, sleeping, or they just don't want to talk to me, fills me with an irrational dread. And the sound of the phone ringing still strikes a little bit of fear in my heart... who is it? What do they want? Will they try to make me do something I don't want to do? Will I have trouble getting them to let me end the call? Will I have to hang up on someone? The proliferation of Caller ID has mitigated this quite a bit, of course, but old attitudes die hard.

We probably still wouldn't have a cell phone at my house if it weren't for one person. That person's name is Hannah, and 2 and a half years ago, my wife was pregnant with her and insisted that her water could break in some remote place (unlikely, since she rarely goes anyplace without me anyway, especially when she's pregnant) and if she didn't have a cell phone, she wouldn't be able to reach help. "I'll only use it for emergencies!" she said, and I didn't believe her for a second (and I was right). I got her the free RAZR from AT&T (since they do our phone service anyway) and she was off to the races. I got her the smallest number of minutes and text messages possible, and with the rollover minutes and the fact that texting was godawful difficult on the RAZR, she never went over either.

Our 2-year contract went by and expired, and she had beat her RAZR all to heck. The corner of the metal button plate was bent up, and one section of it was actually missing. To this day neither of us really knows how that all happened, but it was clear that the RAZR was on its last legs. She was wanting a newer styled phone anyway... the whole flip-phone thing was so 2005!... so we picked her up a green LG Neon phone, one with a slide-out keyboard. The keyboard makes it much easier to send texts and Yahoo IMs (which count as texts), which means that now she's on a $100 plan with unlimited data & texts instead of the inexpensive low-minutes, low-texts plan we had before. That's the cell phone racket... hook you with a low base service cost, and then nickel and dime you to death with "extra" services that they know you really want!

Her new phone was the first phone I've really played with that actually had anything approaching usable Internet access (we never used data on the RAZR), and I have to say, now that mobile-enabled sites are so prevalent, it's hard not to make the decision to pick up a phone I can use to look up movie times any time and anywhere I want or write a quick email on the bus on the way home. I'm not sure I'd be happy with a phone like hers that is designed for texting and lighter Web access... to get me to carry around a snake in my pocket, it's darn well going to have to be a smartphone that I can use to look at virtually any Web site I want (my wife's phone on AT&T has trouble with some sites... for example, it can't load the mobile version of meebo). I'm not interested in an iPhone; in addition to being phoneophobic, I'm allergic to products made by Apple. :) Plus, the iPhone App Store doesn't have a dialer app for Google Voice any more, which basically makes it a deal-breaker for me... I love Google Voice!

The only dialer apps for Google Voice are for Android and Blackberry. I'm not too hip to the keyboard-below-the-screen layout of most of the Blackberry phones, so that would leave me with either a Blackberry Storm or an Android phone, and since I'm a big fan of Google products in general, it's very nearly a no-brainer to pick an Android phone. I've been waiting and waiting for something Android to come to AT&T, but I keep being disappointed... and since I'm not particularly getting that good of a deal with my land line/DSL/cell phone bundle, I don't see any reason to be loyal to our carrier, so that gives me options.

Until the first of the year, I was getting very interested in the Droid. Although I've heard that it's a little heavy compared to other smart phones, I like the idea of the slide-out keyboard (that's the big thing I like about my wife's phone). But then very late last December I started hearing about the new Google Phone, the Nexus One. Just the mere idea of the phone being a real Google phone sounded pretty cool to me, and it has some features that the Droid doesn't have (speech-to-text for all data entry boxes, for example), but as I began comparing things, it sounds like between the two, the Droid may just be the phone for me. There's that keyboard, for one thing. And most of the software differences will wind up on the Droid anyway when the new version of the Android OS gets pushed out to it. I actually dig the Droid Eris as well (pictured at the top of this blog post), but it doesn't have the slide-out keyboard.

Will I buy myself a Droid? Given unlimited funds, I probably would head to the Verizon store today and pick one up. I'll need to make sure I have the money to afford the $199 cost of the phone and also support my service plan (sheesh, it's like putting a kid through college!). If I suddenly had the funds to afford a phone, would I ever actually turn the ringer on? I don't know... I suspect the answer would be "rarely." If I felt the need to have a phone for talk, I would go for something much cheaper and not do the data stuff at all, but if I get a phone, for me it will be more like buying a tiny wireless computer/MP3 Player that unfortunately has a ringer on it than buying a telephone with Web access. Of course I'll use it for calls, but you'll be more likely to find me using Rhapsody, Google Maps, twitdroid or Evernote than Google Voice. Maybe the cell phone price wars that seem to be heating up will change that (or maybe not), but for now, you'll have to send me an email and I'll get it when I get home!

FURTHER READING: Here's an interesting Nexus One vs. Droid vs. iPhone shootout you can use to compare apples with (non-)apples a little bit...

MORE FURTHER READING: Wireless plans from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint compared

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