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Does free wifi exist to make the iPod Touch worth it?
March 31, 2009 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Is an iPod Touch really a viable alternative to the iPhone? Details inside, of course.

My boyfriend and I are looking at getting either iPhones or basic phones and iPod Touches. But I don't want to pay over $130 a month for voice plus data service on two iPhones.

However, I'm concerned that the iPod Touch will not really be as useful as it might seem--is free wifi really so prevalent that we could use it as reliably as the 3G network for internet access while we're out and about? We live in New York City, so I feel like this should in theory be possible, but I've noticed that unsecured wifi seems to be disappearing--for example, there is no open wifi signal in my apartment building, whereas two years ago I had my choice of open signals. There are a few cafes in our neighborhood that offer it, but it seems like the point of having a wifi-enabled device is that you shouldn't need to know where to go pick up a signal, you'd just be able to do it. I can't imagine anything more frustrating than needing directions or something and seeing only a list of secured signals that I can't access. (Ok, I can imagine one thing about as frustrating and that's paying a $130 bill to AT&T each month.)

I may be a little biased; I've had a Treo for the last two years with a data plan, so I'm used to having internet access anywhere I can get a cell phone signal. Right now the iPhone monthly cost is the sticking point for me and it seems like there's such a convenient alternative...but I'm suspicious that free wifi is just not as readily available as cell towers are, so the iPod Touch would wind up being a completely useless toy in my purse AND I'd have to carry a regular cell phone. (I am not interested in the iPod Touch for its mp3 capabilities; I'm one of those weird people who doesn't really care about music and I don't have an iPod at all right now.)

We are definitely looking to upgrade phones, and going back under contract with AT&T is fine, although of course not being tied to a contract would be a bonus. So far the only choices we've really looked at are iPhones vs. basic phone/iPod Touch, although I guess we could consider upgrading my Treo to the Pre or a Blackberry. We're just all "Oooh shiny" at the iPhone and its multi-contact touchscreen. But I'd like to keep our total bill at $100 or less, if that's remotely possible. I get a discount through my job, 11% or 15% (I can't remember, although the $130 estimate above does include that discount).

Did anyone else go through this decision process? Are there AT&T plans that are cheaper than what I've been able to cobble together? Any other solutions I'm not looking at?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty to Technology (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I had an iPhone for a month last July, then had an iPod Touch for about three months, and then got an iPhone again.

I live in Boston.

There is definitely a difference. A big difference. With an iPhone you have internet access pretty much everywhere all the time except when you are underground is a subway tunnel.

With the iPod Touch, you basically have internet access when you're at home or in some place that offers free wifi, like a cafe or library. Not much.

Whether that is worth $130/month is something for you to decide.
posted by alms at 12:23 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is free wifi really so prevalent that we could use it as reliably as the 3G network for internet access while we're out and about?

No. Don't count on having access unless you're at home, work, or in a coffee shop.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:25 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sounds like access from inside a car and/or the availability of GPS may not be important to you, but that's another big difference. Obviously with the iPod Touch you get neither of those. With the iPhone you get both.

Don't get me wrong, the iPod Touch is a great device. Just don't buy it with the expectation of continuous connectivity. That's not what it is, anymore than it's what your laptop is.
posted by alms at 12:27 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having taken my iTouch to New York on a couple of occasions, I find that there is free or unsecured WiFi *EVERYWHERE* in Manhattan. It made using the iTouch for mapping our walking around extremely easy and convenient. By contrast, in Boston (I live in the Boston suburbs), it is much more of a challenge to find open WiFi in any random spot, and so one finds one's self memorizing the locations of various Starbucks, Panera Breads, Au Bon Pains, and other places with free WiFi.
posted by briank at 12:29 PM on March 31, 2009


First, the Palm Pre will be exclusive to Sprint Nextel for at least two quarters and will have a required data plan for $30, just like the iPhone. Thus, you'll have to port your numbers if you want that phone, and then you have to deal with a company with poor customer service and that is hemorrhaging customers each quarter.

As for the cost of the iPhones, it's really not that much. You have to see if you can justify the need for internet access and all that the phone can do. Free WiFi is definitely not ubiquitous, even in major metro areas. You'll find yourself constantly entering WPA keys for cafes and restaurants you frequent, and in places where there is unprotected WiFi, you run the security risks with browsing and data access that comes with those types of networks. Have multiple devices makes no sense, the only possible way to mitigate that is to leave the iPod touch at home when you don't need it but that negates the usefulness of it.

The other benefits of having the iPhone rather than the iPod touch is GPS, Bluetooth, a speaker, and the fact that it's just a great phone experience. If you're listening to music and receive a call, you're not fumbling with different devices -- the music fades out and you can accept the call or ignore it.

Then again, I'm a huge nerd that couldn't ever imagine having my phones without data plans, or living without Mobile Broadband, so it varies by user.
posted by cgomez at 12:30 PM on March 31, 2009


I work in Manhattan almost every day. I've got an iPod touch and no cell phone - I rarely am unable to find wifi. That said, its annoying when I travel to not have that instant connection that I do in the city, so I'd say if you can just go with the iPhone.
posted by blaneyphoto at 12:31 PM on March 31, 2009


It's very likely that a new iPhone will be announced in June, by the way, so you might want to wait.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:37 PM on March 31, 2009


I had an iTouch for the last 6 months and love it. LOVE IT.

However, once I find out whether new iPhones will be released in this summer or not, I'm ditching it for an iPhone for exactly the reasons you cite. The Touch is awesome, but being at the mercy of others for Internet is getting old. What's the point of having an App that checks movie times if you can't use it while you're in the car? That is not civilization.

You should like the sort of person who will be pissed if you have a Touch and can't get signal. So how much is that constant comfort worth it to you, what price are you willing to pay to ignore that pissed off feeling?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:49 PM on March 31, 2009


I started with an iPod Touch and about 8 months later got an iPhone 3G. I can't say that I would go back to the iPod Touch now - the ubiquitous Internet connectivity is just too convenient and useful, and many of the applications available on the platform really work best with an always-on connection. I don't think you would be totally satisfied with the iPod Touch and WiFi.

That being said, it obviously comes down to a cost/benefit decision for you and what you're willing (and able) to pay. The AT&T bills are no picnic, that's for sure, but if having that connectivity is important, then I'd say it's worth it. It was for me!

Good luck!
posted by karizma at 12:52 PM on March 31, 2009


Have you considered the G1? Not as flashy as the iPhone, but it's a solid device. I love mine.

T-Mobile's data plans, btw, are significantly cheaper than AT&T's: I switched from AT&T to T-Mobile specifically to get the G1, and my voice+data bill is now just ~$5/mo more than my voice only plan was with AT&T.
posted by aparrish at 1:06 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've had an iPhone for ~6 months and I have begun to expect internet everywhere, all the time, and I'm very disappointed when my reception is bad or weak. If I had an iPod Touch, I would just leave the thing at home. It's not worth it to turn it on and say "Maybe there'll be wifi here...".

I mitigated some of the cost by slashing my home internet to the cheapest tier. I think it's even slower than 3G reception. It's easier to browse the internet while lying in bed on the iPhone than to sit in an uncomfortable chair and turn on the desktop.
posted by meowzilla at 1:23 PM on March 31, 2009


Having taken my iTouch to New York on a couple of occasions, I find that there is free or unsecured WiFi *EVERYWHERE* in Manhattan. It made using the iTouch for mapping our walking around extremely easy and convenient. By contrast, in Boston (I live in the Boston suburbs), it is much more of a challenge to find open WiFi in any random spot, and so one finds one's self memorizing the locations of various Starbucks, Panera Breads, Au Bon Pains, and other places with free WiFi.

I live and work in NYC and I do not find wifi everywhere I go.........I work in the financial district so I know that if I go to a few parks I'll find some access but then I would have to walks a couple of blocks which I would rather not do if possible.

I dont know which starbucks you go to but NONE of the ones I have seen have free wifi they have some kind of T.Mobile spot type of thing that you have to pay as you go.....
posted by The1andonly at 1:41 PM on March 31, 2009


Can the folks who are finding wireless in NYC elaborate? I use a Touch in NYC and I don't find there to be omnipresent wireless. Once in a while there is some available, and most of the time I could probably find a library or cafe if I really needed it, but it's not just there.

I made the same cost calculation and couldn't justify the iPhone. (I pay very little for a pay as you go cell phone, so it would have been a huge jump in price for me.) I really really like the Touch and use it a ton when I'm out and about - I load it up with reading via Stanza or Instapaper or the NYTimes app and then always have something to read on me. Some apps cache enough - maps, Yelp - that they can be sort of useful off wireless. Evernote lets you make notes offline, and the calendar can sync so you can add events while you're offline.

But I never had the taste of true constant internet access, and I'm sure it pales in comparison if you have.
posted by yarrow at 1:45 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Whenever I try to find wifi in NYC, I get 15 secured signals and zero that are open I can connect to.
posted by yeti at 2:08 PM on March 31, 2009


If you're not getting it primarily for the music/video uses, the iPod Touch is emphatically not what you want. I say this as someone who loves his iPod Touch.
posted by owtytrof at 2:14 PM on March 31, 2009


No, you need the iPhone. Otherwise you're always looking for, hoping for, finding Wifi. With the iPhone, you forget about it and just assume you have internet always... and that is a big change in the way you use the thing.

Note that there are commitment-free iPhones available now with no long-term plan required, so you can go month-to-month and adjust to your actual use.

And, as you seem to know: new models in June.
posted by rokusan at 2:42 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love my iPod Touch, but its major flaw is battery life. It's fine if you use it for listening to music, but browsing over WiFi sucks the juice out of it at an almost audible rate. My friends' iPhones have bigger batteries and last a lot longer.
posted by AndrewStephens at 3:20 PM on March 31, 2009


Can the folks who are finding wireless in NYC elaborate? I use a Touch in NYC and I don't find there to be omnipresent wireless.

On our last trip, which was just a little over 12 months ago, I found I could stand on just about any street corner in Soho/Chinatown/Little Italy/LES and find an open router. Also did not have problems wandering around the Upper West Side. Compared to my experiences in Boston, it seemed like it was not hard at all to find an unsecured router.


I dont know which starbucks you go to but NONE of the ones I have seen have free wifi

Get a Starbucks card, use it at least once every 30 days, and you can have 2 free hours of WiFi a day. Maybe the *$ you frequent aren't participating in this program, but it is ubiquitous around here.
posted by briank at 6:43 PM on March 31, 2009


If you decide to go with the iPhone, and you or your boyfriend are in school, check to see if the university is an AT&T partner. That will get you 15% off the voice+data. Some companies are also AT&T partners, and get 10-15% off, so you can check for that, too.
posted by ttyn at 3:17 AM on April 1, 2009


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