Smartphone minus the phone (most of the time)
December 5, 2009 5:51 PM   Subscribe

Help me wade through the options and figure out what phone to get!

I'm at a loss. There are so many options and so many opinions out there, but I have a list of fairly specific wishes and I can't figure out what the best option is for what phone (and possible peripherals) I should purchase.

Relevant details:

-I currently live in Seattle, WA, and have a T-mobile Fave-5 cellphone plan, with a crappy little motorola dumphone that I got for free with the plan years ago.

-I now have a landline phone as well, and use that to talk to my family for long phone sessions.

-A few months ago, before I got the landline, my cellphone was dead and turned off for three weeks. When I found it, charged it and turned it on, I had no messages, and nobody had tried to contact me by phone, yet I was still paying my monthly phone plan bill. The last week of that month, I used the phone for one two-minute call that could have been an email.

-I dislike phones and use them as little as possible. The plan that I never got around to doing was ditching my cellphone entirely and buying the cheapest pay-as-you-go cellphone from Best Buy or something, for emergencies.

However, since moving across the country a few things have happened:

1. I now have friends who like to text me. They currently text to my email but I've begun to think texting isn't so much the Devil anymore, and would like to be able to send convenience-texts like "I'm just around the corner" and so-on.
2. The iPhone has competition in the Droid and other things I'm not gadget-savvy enough to know about.
3. My digital camera broke.
4. Everybody in my family is very on-board with only using my landline number for long phonecalls, which was a surprise.
5. I'm in a new city and really want access to a map and bus info and so-on to help me learn my way around. (My sense of direction is poor, to say the least.)

So basically, I would like a smartphone that does everything... except be a phone, except in emergencies!

I've been told that what I should do is get a netbook and a cellular modem (plus an emergency phone)? But I'd really like something smaller than that, that I can keep in my purse at all times and not worry about banging it up. Also I *would* like to use a phone for meeting up with people in unfamiliar places, like airport coordination and soforth.

I really dislike AT&T, as they have burned me in the past, so I was very trepidatious about the iPhone, but my best friend has one and I do, in fact, love its interface. More specifically, I love the iPhone camera, and think it's the Polaroid of today. It would serve all of my crappy snapshot needs, since I'm a very experienced amateur photographer and am often frustrated with mid-range equipment, I'm saving up for a really fantastic DSLR, but in the meantime I need something to take terrible pictures of stuff on my cat.

Texting is something I hate to pay for, and I'd hate to pay for a phone plan that I flat out won't use. I might speak on my cellphone a total of ten minutes a month, maximum, on a very busy month. Then again, there are the times when I'm on a trip or there's a problem or I need to talk to my Mom when I'm not at home, and it's a 45 minute phone conversation long-distance. What do I do about these times, that happen maybe twice a year?

My distaste for phones in general has left me useless to make my own decisions about all of this! I'm technically capable, and don't mind doing a little fiddling around if it means a good price and exactly what I want. I also don't mind getting more than one device, but carrying a portable gps, cheap digital camera, cheap cellphone, and magical texting-only widget, plus netbook for emergency wikipedia research isn't viable.

Oh my goodness, I'm so grateful to you if you've bothered to read all of this. Can you help me find my phone and phone-plan?
posted by Mizu to Technology (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
iPhone is perfect = lots of cool features and awful phone service.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:11 PM on December 5, 2009

The iPhone seems like a good fit, except you'd be paying for crappy AT&T service that you would only use twice a year. You may have to bite that bullet to get everything else you want.

However, if you normally have access to free WiFi, you might consider the combination of an iPod Touch, Google Voice, and a crappy pay as you go phone. The iPod for all the wikipedia research (if you have WiFi), Google Voice for sending and receiving texts (which can be forwarded to an email account), and the pay as you go phone for when you need to make calls.
posted by SAC at 6:26 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just tested a Droid at work for a week, and loved the thing. LOVED it!!! I'm not big on using the phone either - the entire week, I made just one call. But the 3g web access, email, and messaging options were great, and the GPS/navigation was reason enough for me to want it. Unfortunately I can't have it since I'm on Tmobile with no plans to switch - Verizon did me wrong once years ago, and they've permanently lost my business as a result. However, Tmobile has something called the Cliq that seems pretty similar - I'll be looking at that next.

You mentioned a camera. As far as I know, all cell phone cameras suck - I wouldn't base my decision on that alone. I've seen sort-of-OK pictures taken with all sorts of cell phone cameras, but I've seen way more crappy ones.

You can always go the jailbroken iPhone route - I know several people with Tmobile who have done so. if I didn't hate the touchscreen so much, I'd probably do that.
posted by chez shoes at 6:40 PM on December 5, 2009

Check out the MyTouch/G3 on T-Mobile. I have one and it's great. Internet, email, texting, camera, maps, music, and so on. AND it's not on AT&T, huge bonus. The maps function is great (haven't compared to the iPhone, so I can only speak to it as its own thing) and the new gps talking feature thing from Google seems to work pretty well. I think I use it as a phone about 5% of the time I actually am using it.
posted by min at 6:45 PM on December 5, 2009

Your post title reminds me of an idea I once had that I dismissed because I thought it didn't make much sense, but hey, you might disagree.

I already have a MiFi from Verizon. I pay $60 a month (plus taxes and those bullshit fees) for 5GB a month of wireless broadband (I think the most I ever use is about 2.5GB.) The MiFi is a wireless router, about the size of a really thick credit card, that connects to the Internet via the Verizon wireless network. This way it is easy to use with my Linux laptop.

I once thought of getting an iPod Touch. Then I could carry the Touch and the MiFi and do mobile Internet stuff, without paying any additional monthly fee.

The nice thing about the MiFi is it works with anything that has wifi--a netbook, laptop, iPod, whatever. It's really flexible. So you could get one, and then get iPod Touch and a netbook too. You hate the phone part of the cell phone, so for that you could just get a prepaid. Tmobile has a prepaid where you get 1000 minutes for $100 and they don't expire for a whole year; that would work well for you.

The disadvantage of this is then you have to carry MiFi and whatever else you need, but at least MiFi is small. I haven't done this because I'm not crazy about iPod Touch. But this scheme might work for you.
posted by massysett at 7:40 PM on December 5, 2009

Oh, two more things about the scheme I wrote about with MiFi. First, it can be a good idea if you love iPhone but hate ATT, as the iPod Touch does everything that iPhone does (except make calls.) This way you avoid ATT. Second, another reason I thought it doesn't make too much sense is because you can get Droid for $200 with the 2-year contract, and then pay $70 a month for something like 400 minutes and 5GB of data. Just $10 more a month gets you minutes, which MiFi does not have. But MiFi is more flexible for data use
posted by massysett at 7:47 PM on December 5, 2009

My new Motorola Droid is the coolest phone I've ever met.

I can't recommend it highly enough. Verizon service is kinda pricey, though. If you'll use the smart and network features enough, maybe worth it foe the EVDO. But if this is a once-a-week thing, look for a cheaper network.
posted by Netzapper at 10:25 PM on December 5, 2009

To rephrase your own post, I see your needs for a phone as thus:

- Occasional calling.
- Accept/send text messages.
- Access maps and bus info.
- Take snapshots.

My vote is for one of the HTC Android phones on T-Mobil, or to hold out for HTC's next release on that platform (<6 months). Currently, this means either the G1, or the MyTouch. T-Mobil plans are cheaper than the AT&T iPhone plan, and you will have the features you need including GPS. If you don't mind paying the extra $10-20 a month, get an iPhone instead. There are ton of people in your situation, myself included, who want a cheap or prepaid phone plan with a nice device that is hooked into the internet for maps, gps, email, etc, but currently it does not exist. If you want a good smartphone device, you have to pony up for the $70+ / month contract.
posted by sophist at 12:51 AM on December 6, 2009

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