I just want to organize my time, not spend it shopping for phones
November 28, 2010 6:30 PM   Subscribe

A world of mobile choices, and none of them fits. How can I find an affordable basic camera phone without a data plan that lets me back up its data?

I'm new to the cellphone world but very fluent in IT. But even with that geeky network background I was flabbergasted at how huge the number of variables is in the mobile world. It's taking way too much time and effort to bring myself up to speed on every one of the issues, so if you could help simplify this choice that would be great.

On the face of it my needs didn't seem that tricky. I wanted a prepaid phone that had:
  • a QWERTY keypad
  • a basic organizer/calendar
  • a fairly decent (2MP) camera)
  • some way to back up its organizer data
  • a pricetag under $150, used or new
Yet after searching hundreds of pages evaluating dozens of models, I keep finding the same problems: Glitchy phone hardware or software, no PC sync, or keyboards that are just plain uncomfortable.

The phones that have come the closest are the Nokia C3 (its reported problems - muffled or tinny sound, no camera flash, so-so pics, 15fps vid, slow CPU, slow data) and the LG Gossip (its reported problems - random resets, sometimes sluggish, music stops when you launch another task, battery meter not accurate) with the LG Keybo looking nice but being only available here in Canada on a plan.

I've investigated things like BitPim where certain LG and Samsung phones can be synced with a PC. The problem is that the currently supported phones seem to be too old to fit my criteria. I'd welcome any other suggestions along this line though.

So it boils down to two questions:
One - is there any pay-as-you-go phone out there that can meet these needs, and
Two - if there isn't, can BitPim or some other homebrew or hack make something else workable?

Thanks in advance for your advice.
posted by Hardcore Poser to Technology (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Virgin Mobile Rumor 2 phone - $99. The camera is only 1.3 MP - but close enough for a cell phone. It takes pretty decent pictures. VM charges you $1 a month to back up your contacts to their web site. Qwerty keyboard, Opera Mini browser, Email, etc. It also has an MP3 player but I've never actually used it on my phone so I don't how good it is.

Not sure what VM's availability in Canada though...
posted by COD at 6:55 PM on November 28, 2010

Virgin Mobile is in Canada. They have the first LG Rumour as a 'preloved' phone but not the 2nd one. The Rumour2 actually had one of the best keyboard feels of the phones I tested; is the first one's keyboard similar to it?

Backing up contacts is nice, but what's much more important to me is that the calendar data be backed up. Does Virgin also back up your calendar?
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:06 PM on November 28, 2010

I just use Google Calendar and access it via the browser, so I've never even looked at the native calendar app on the phone. I don't think it syncs to anything though.
posted by COD at 7:13 PM on November 28, 2010

The QWERTY requirement might be tough since there are just far fewer QWERTY phones. With that said most (maybe all) Nokia phones will sync locally via usb or bluetooth.
posted by mmascolino at 7:14 PM on November 28, 2010

Why do you need a PC sync? You just want to take pictures and put them on your computer -- wouldn't a phone with an SD slot work? Plug the SD card in your computer and there you go.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:17 PM on November 28, 2010

COD - Maybe this is where my inexperience is steering me wrong - I had thought that using things like Google Calendar involved having a monthly data plan; something I'd really like to avoid. Is that not the case?

mmascolino - QWERTY is perhaps not the best way to word it. I just don't want to use the number pad for entering text; anything that has the 26 letters, virtual or physical, would do.

J. Wilson - the only thing I need PC sync for is backing up the calendar data. I'd like to be able to create new calendar entries on either the phone or the PC and have them update each other. I'd be happy doing that any way possible; cable, card or even via Bluetooth if that's an option.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:55 PM on November 28, 2010

Here in the US, the base plan for Virgin Mobile is 300 minutes of voice and unlimited data for $25 a month.
posted by COD at 8:00 PM on November 28, 2010

How about a Nokia E63 or used E71?
posted by kickingtheground at 9:20 PM on November 28, 2010

The Nokia E71 (and 63) looked very promising until I saw a number of comments on how bad the calendar app was. But that's definitely the kind of phone I'm after - are there Nokias with calendar apps that people like? Because I like the look of Nokia's PC Suite for backup.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:50 PM on November 28, 2010

I've been happy with the e63 calendar, but I only create entries on the phone (so not sure about capabilities to create calendar entry on computer and transfer to phone). Backup of phone data to computer is easy. The camera leaves a lot to be desired, though (terribly bright flash, grainy pictures---but okay quality in natural light).
posted by samren at 1:48 AM on November 29, 2010

Have you considered combining a basic camera phone on a prepaid network with an iPod Touch? You'd be carrying a little more hardware than is ideal, but you'd get "free" internet access via WiFi, sync with Google Calendar, and the ability to use all sorts of handy applications.
posted by jon1270 at 3:04 AM on November 29, 2010

Prior to moving to the iPhone I had used and liked the E62 and the E71. In fact I still have the E62 in a drawer somewhere in my office... the drawback in my case was that both were carrier-locked and had craptastic carrier-installed apps I could neither remove nor disable, but they were pretty solid phones.

The advantage to the E71 was the WiFi capability. With that enabled, it could sync with Google Calendar pretty easily, and would pull in my email using the built-in email program. Of course, both of those built-in programs kind of sucked, but they worked. I think I had to manually tell it to sync, rather than doing it automatically to make sure it wouldn't try using cell data to get the updates. Syncing offline was possible so long as I was willing to use Outlook to do the heavy lifting (which I wasn't willing to do - I despise Outlook. Why the hell does every damn Windows-based phone sync rely on that turd of a program? It's not like every PC comes with Office preinstalled... they're asking you to pay an additional $2-300 just to do something with your phone that an open-source program could do for free!).

The disadvantage was that unlike the iPhone - which automatically tries WiFi first and only goes to network if you tell it to do so - the E71 would almost always try network first, and then fall back to WiFi, unless I specified every single time to use the WiFi. This may be a design flaw, or it may have been AT&T trying to screw me. Who knows. Also, while web browsing was possible, navigating around the screen using the little joystick was kind of a pain, and the screen size was a big issue on a lot of sites.

I think that jon1270 has a pretty good idea there, with the basic phone + iPod Touch. Especially with the new generation of Touch coming out, you ought to be able to pick up a last-gen one (new or used) for a steal, and have a massively more useful device on your hands. Or, sell out a little bit more and get the new Touch, with the retina display (awesome by the way) and the camera. The flash isn't spectacular but the HDR photo option seems to make up for it most of the time. I loved Nokia for years, but there's a reason Apple is selling so many phones - it's all about the ease of use, and the Touch is all that without the data plan. Unless they manage to develop a phone that is as simple to use and as intuitive as the iOS interface, I doubt I will ever carry around a Nokia again.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:33 AM on November 29, 2010

Oh. Forgot to add. You'd need iTunes for syncing a Touch, but every sync would also do a full local backup of your data. Dead simple. If you go this route, basically any cheapo prepaid phone ought to work for you.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:34 AM on November 29, 2010

What about a Palm Centro? it does everything you need from the calendar/QWERTY perspective, but the camera is only 1.3 megapixels. In my experience, the Centro is the last of the Palm devices to not require a data plan; most of the newer ones do.
posted by CathyG at 9:44 AM on November 29, 2010

COD : Here in Canada the base plan for Verizon is 200 min and 500MB of data for 50$/month. It's also the same price for all other companies. (Yes, cellphone plans really suck in Canada)
posted by domi_p at 9:51 AM on November 29, 2010

Thanks for all the answers so far. I do like the idea of the Touch, but up here even a 2nd gen. used 8GB one costs $150 and up. Perhaps I'll wait until xmas and the market flooding brings down the used prices a bit.

As for Palm I love their calendar SW (rock-solid syncing) but the Centros (and other recent Palm phones) are very hard to come by locally. I'd rather see it operating before I buy, so eBay is out.

Yup, data plan prices here are outrageous and there's no good reason for it except it's what the timid marketplace will bear. That's the main reason I'll be using prepaid for a while. Hopefully Wind Mobile will bring prices down eventually but they're not in my area yet.

I'm still undecided so please keep the replies coming if you have any further thoughts on this.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:29 PM on November 29, 2010

So I bought the Touch and am really happy with it. I'd tried it before but the more I work with it the more I appreciate its design. Will pick up a very basic phone later.

The only hitch is getting some of my old Palm calendar data onto it. I'd thought that since Palm's DBA and the iCal format were long-established standards it would be easy, but judging by the very small number of tools that only 'sort of' do parts of the conversion it must the world's most complicated (or annoying) programming task. A day of struggling with it and still no perfect export/import. So I know what my next AskMe question will be.

Thanks for all of your answers.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:48 PM on December 1, 2010

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