A New Cell Phone
I was never a typical cell phone user. Most of my peers had cell phones long before hitting their twenties—I waited until social pressure was more than I cared to resist. My first phone was as slim and small as I could find and definitely not a flip phone (I always felt they were prone to breaking and often bulkier than other options). A few years later I purchased the iPhone 3G, then software updates rendered it slow and unresponsive, then I sold it and moved onto a phone similar to my first. I found myself still able to check emails and text friends (though, not easily), but overall satisfied. Up until about a year ago I was quite happy with my cheap phone, but I started working on projects that would be best to preview on a real phone (responsive websites and Apps for the iPhone). Somehow my cheap phone broke the night before the iPhone 4S was released, so I made the plunge. A year later I was tired of paying for data and talk time I didn't use so I sold the phone and paid out of my contract. Now my only phone is an iPod Touch. No monthly fees, no cell phone use at will, no contract, and no limits to texts and calls—just adventure. Google Voice and a clever little App called Talkatone make it all possible.
Back when I had my iPhone 4S I found myself not texting or calling much, but still enjoying the ease of use and convenience of such a miniature device. To cut down on monthly costs I searched for ways to text for free, arriving at the Google Voice service and it's accompanying App. I had friends and family text me on the Google Voice number and make calls on the other, making all texts free and cutting out a small chunk of my monthly AT&T bill. Next up was the minutes, which I seldom used and certainly did not accrue if left unused. About this time I also stumbled upon Talkatone, a free iPhone App that connects to ones Google Voice service. Talkatone allows one to exchange free calls and texts—surely the cell phone companies want this App to stay under the radar. I began using Talkatone and realized I was almost always somewhere where there was free wifi, which meant free texts and general service to my phone. The one downside to Talkatone is that calls require a strong internet connection; most free wifi from, say, a Starbucks, has enough power to send and receive emails and texts, but use it for a Talkatone call and you will be frustrated and in a world of "Hello?" and "Can you hear me?" with the confused soul on the other end of the line. Fortunately for my Talkatone experience, I don't call people often and am rarely in a hurry to speak with someone—having to wait until I reach a better internet connection is not a problem.
After several months of using Talkatone, I found myself thinking more and more about getting out of my cell phone contract with AT&T. There are loopholes to try and get through to avoid cancellation costs, which I tried, but hit a point where filing a formal complaint and dragging things out was not worth the minutes or hours of my life. So I cancelled my cell phone account, beginning to rely only on wifi for calling and texting friends. People wondered what would happen when not on wifi and there is some kind of emergency—well, many a people lived many a years without the latest technology and so shall I. Payphones, call boxes, and a walk to the local gas station can resolve any emergency that comes up—not to mention passerby's that have their own cell phone.
After about six months of using my carrier unlocked iPhone 4S, which operated just as it did while on AT&T, minus the calls and texts from my now-cancelled number, I was pleased. When first canceling I was concerned that a might regret the entire decision and revert back to a cell phone plan, but not the case. About this time the newest and shiniest iPhone 5 was coming out along with the latest iteration of the iPod Touch. I felt adventurous and purchased the iPod Touch, coming out even after selling the iPhone 4S. The devices work nearly the same for my needs, but the iPod is slimmer and does not include any cellular antenna.
For those wondering, the iPod Touch does have some quirks to it, especially noticed when switching from an iPhone. First, the Touch was not designed to be a phone, so little things like the mic being on the back of the device make calls a matter of turning the device upside-down and rotated, with the screen no longer facing the user. Another interesting bit is the lack of an ambient light sensor—something I now appreciate, because I miss it. With an ambient light sensor, the screen can automatically dim and brighten, but not so on the iPod Touch. Also, there is not a mute switch, like there is on an iPhone. Instead, I have found that keeping the device at medium brightness is the best option. I can say the slimness of the devices beats out the quirks, but maybe not for others.
After four months of using the iPod Touch as a phone, I can say it makes for an interesting user experience. Using a device for something it was certainly not intended for is always an adventure and only for those with patience. The average person might be instantly infuriated with poor call quality while away from good internet, but with a little planning and some give and take, it can really work. Also, it's all free once acquiring an iPod Touch.
Lastly, I can't deny the convenience of being able to call or text a special someone. Whether it be coordinating a time to meet or quickly checking in with someone, having a cell phone for communicating nearly anywhere is truly amazing. With that said, there is the option for an iPod Touch user to get a hotspot device. I found the need to send short messages here and there, but wanted a solution that wouldn't cost $50 a month, or even $30. I especially wanted to avoid any type of contract. I kept looking and eventually heard about Internet on the Go. Using a hotspot device, which costs $60 online, one can create a wifi signal for any device to connect with and access the internet. The best part of Internet to Go is their billing, which is a data billing system in chunks of 1.5GB that almost never expire. One pays $25 for 1.5GB of data and refills as needed. 1.5GB of data is more than plenty for a few months of texts and emails. The hotspot's wifi can be connected to an iPod Touch or Notebook computer to access the internet, allowing one to send quick texts and emails nearly anywhere.
I hope others consider dropping their cell plans and try something new and free and part of the future. All that's required is a smile and some patience, the rest will work itself out.
Posted April 12th, 2013.