Hmmm, pay you people $50 a month or buld a short wave radio out of a razor blade and pencil lead using a Swiss army knife...
June 7, 2010 3:25 AM   Subscribe

So let's say you are some sort of technophobe who doesn't have a cell phone. Only you're exactly not that thing. What mobile phone / plan is for you?

I have resisted the urge to get a cell phone because it seems like a great way to solve the problem, "How can I spend a lot of money so that people can annoy me no matter where I go?" This weekend, however, I ran into a situation that convinced me that a cell phone might be a handy thing to have.

I don't need a huge amount of minutes. If I talk on the phone for more than 30 minutes a month I've had a "time for a PET scan" personality change. Phone calls are a thing you do to plan getting together with people so you can talk. (Or maybe when you are stranded in the woods, see above.)

Similarly, I'm spoiled by my coffee table sized monitor at home and can only see myself using the web "in the field" to look up addresses and phone numbers and such. I certainly don't need a data plan that will let me pull down everything recorded by the Arecibo array.

Now the shocker - I'm a gadget loving geek. What I'd like is a combination camera, mp3 player, GPS, PDA, oscilloscope that just kinda has a phone attached to it as an afterthought. There's a part of me that finds the idea of forgoing web capability and cobbling together an interface that let's me have my PC at home read web pages to me in Morse code strangely appealing, but it's one more project I don't have time for.

Also, I'm 6'4" and have fingers that are proportional, so typing on a blackberry keyboard is not a happening thing.

I think I might be happier just getting a netbook with a wireless plan, but a netbook is probably just big enough that I won't take it with me when I do things like blow a bicycle tire in the woods and haven't bothered to strap the bag with the tools and tube in it onto my cargo rack.

Advise me great hive mind!
posted by Kid Charlemagne to Shopping (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A prepaid plan sounds like the best approach for someone who only sees a cell phone as something to be used occasionally. When I was on a prepaid plan here in the UK I ended up spending the equivalent of less than $30 per year.

For a phone, maybe you could look at the smartphone-with-stylus options, as these will sidestep your giant finger issues. You probably then need to decide how you feel about Android/Apple/Windows and see where that takes you.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:36 AM on June 7, 2010

No idea as to the plan you should go for but I can recommend the Nokia 5800 for all the features you listed, plus it takes normal sized headphones and runs lots of nice useful things like PuTTY so you can log into your computer remotely. And the on-screen keyboard has pretty big buttons, although there is a stylus too.

Depending on what kind of geek you are, you could write your own programs/apps for it as well, since it's on Symbian which is an open platform and supports C, Python, Java and a bunch of other languages.
posted by teraspawn at 4:36 AM on June 7, 2010

I think two roads diverge in the cellular woods -- one heads towards rather expensive phones and monthly plans with lots of web-enabled features, and the other leads towards cheap phones and prepaid plans that are less feature-rich. For the latter, you can pick up a used Verizon phone with camera and mp3 player (but no PDA or oscilloscope) for $25 on eBay, register it with PagePlus and satisfy your minimal calling needs for probably $5/month.
posted by jon1270 at 5:00 AM on June 7, 2010

How about the Nokia n900? It's basically a tablet computer... that happens to have a gsm slot. You could get a repaid or cheap monthly plan from any gsm carrier. I've heard it's great for people who are happy playing with technology. Its keyboard is much bigger than a blackberry, but it's basically the size of a large phone. 
posted by Salamandrous at 5:04 AM on June 7, 2010

Huh, and apparently it can be made to dual boot its own operating system, maemo, and android.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:07 AM on June 7, 2010

I don't know how you feel about Apple but if that's something that you'd be interested in you can certainly swing it so that you pay as you go and don't have a contract -- buy a second-hand iPhone (or a new one without contract but that's expensive) and jailbreak it, then buy and activate a cheap GoPhone prepaid phone from AT&T, and then switch the SIM.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:14 AM on June 7, 2010

I'm 6'2" with pretty fat thumbs and I'm on my 3rd BlackBerry. With my fat thumbs I'd steer clear of a Pearl or Storm but I have no reservations recommending the Bold, Tour and Curve models. BlackBerry plans on most carriers are pricey though. My girlfriend has an LG EnV of some description. It's a phenomenal phone with adequate data capabilities.
posted by KevCed at 6:25 AM on June 7, 2010

Unless you live in Canada, a pay as you go (prepaid) plan would probably work best. You could buy 30 minutes and just refill when you use it all up.

Buy the cheapest lamest simplest phone you can. It honestly doesn't sound like you would be happy with (or need) some crazy ass smart phone. I'd just buy an iPod Touch or an iPad or some sort of netbook if you also want some portable gadget. Like you said, the times where you would need a phone, and the times where you would want a gadget probably don't intersect.

(I have an iPhone and I think it's the best thing ever.)
posted by chunking express at 6:42 AM on June 7, 2010

I have resisted the urge to get a cell phone because it seems like a great way to solve the problem, "How can I spend a lot of money so that people can annoy me no matter where I go?"

Are you me?

I eventually cracked when Dad got sick and I needed to be reachable by family. I just bought a cheap 3G phone, and asked the only carrier who provided service in my home town to put me on their cheapest post-paid plan (this actually worked out cheaper than their pre-paid oifferings, because the pre-pay runs out in 30 days). So I now have an LG TU550 phone with a 2GB MicroSD card stuffed in it, which costs me AU$15/month to stay connected, and I use PennyTel's ANI callback service for most of my outgoing calls to avoid paying my phone carrier's extortionate call rates.
posted by flabdablet at 6:50 AM on June 7, 2010

Dumb phone: runs forever on a charge, reliable and durable
Smart phone: runs most of a day on a charge, somewhat fragile
Netbook: runs a few hours on a charge, super-fragile

If you want a reliable way to contact people, go with a simple phone. Days of standby time between charges is what you want.

If you want a phone and a browser/camera/mp3 player, I'd recommend one of the Android GSM phones. GSM because you can easily get a Pay-As-You-Go SIM from multiple vendors, Android because it's quite nice and is the most hackable/customizable of the gadget phones.

But figure that, with a data plan, you're adding around $20 - $40 per month onto the cost of a voice plan.

I'd personally rule out the netbook for phone purposes. Maybe you could also get a Netbook, but I think getting it as your primary means of communication in the wild would not be satisfying.
posted by zippy at 8:47 AM on June 7, 2010

I used to have a Sony Ericsson "walk phone." It took adequate pictures, played music, caught FM radio (I miss this a lot), and worked on the AT&T phone network. You may be able to get an AT&T pay-as-you-go(payg) SIM card to put into a smarter phone than you'll find at Walgreens. Payg phones are perceived as being for poorer people, so the SIM/account card probably won't come w/ a nice phone, but you can get a nice phone on ebay for not too much. Do check w/ the company before you try this. The world of mobile phones/ accounts is really byzantine. Payg phones often charge you for a combination of days of service plus minutes of use. It's highway robbery; shop around.

Consider dropping your land line. Consider having calls routed to Google voice. You don't have to be a prisoner of calls to your mobile phone.

This site has lots of phone for sale, and a truly nifty phonefinder, so you can buy a phone with the features you want.
posted by theora55 at 11:55 AM on June 7, 2010

You should really really consider a smartphone. I wasn't really a big phone person either until I got a smartphone, but once I got one, I would never consider going back.

I use my phone to get directions to places (using the built-in turn-by-turn navigation and GPS), browse Google Maps, play games in waiting rooms, look for restaurant recommendations on the go, occasionally browse the web (settling arguments with friends, checking something I wrote in Google Docs), take photos, and a whole host of other things that are not talking on it. One thing that slightly eases the pain of talking is Google Voice: when I call people, I can route calls through it, which lets me selectively block certain people using the Google Voice interface. It also has a feature that transcribes voicemail, so that you don't have to sit through the stupid menu.

I would probably recommend a Nexus One or HTC Incredible at this point, but iPhone 4 also looks very impressive. If you have any family/friends with cell phones who would be willing to share a plan with you, I would strongly consider that. I pay only $30/month for unlimited data, texting and some number of minutes that I'll never use, because I'm on a family plan with my parents.
posted by !Jim at 1:33 PM on June 7, 2010

A caution: If you are a natural technophobe like me, do NOT get a touch-screen phone! The ability to check your e-mail and that nifty pull-out keypad will NOT compensate for the aggravation of having the phone start calling people, deleting voicemails, launching browsers, etc. every time it touches your ear, your face, your hair, your hip, the contents of your purse, etc. Especially if its doing so results in the phone spending all your minutes/all its battery juice while you are cluelessly doing something else.
but I don't're also a "gadget loving geek" you say? Maybe you can evolve. Wish I could :P
posted by Ys at 2:58 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

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