A Device for Every Snowflake!
July 23, 2012 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I need a new cellphone/GPS setup. Did I mention that I am also the most special snowflake in the world?

In about a week, I will be moving to a rural area. The primary reason for the move is for school/work, but I'm excited about living in the middle of nowhere again, and I want to take advantage of it by drastically reducing my involvement with my cellphone. Cutting the cord(less), so to speak.

So. Currently, I have an older and beat up Samsung Galaxy S (the first gen of Galaxy phones sold in the US, I think). I use it as a phone, texting device, email thing, (occasional) GPS, and MP3 player. I have a plan with T Mobile that gives me what amounts to unlimited usage (I think it's actually 300 anytime minutes, free calling to my selected "5 Faves," and unlimited data and text, but I've never come close to using up the 300 monthly minutes), and I pay right around $100 a month.

Here's the snowflake parts:

I don't want to be glued to my phone anymore. Ideally, I will end up with a super-basic phone that I can use for outgoing emergency calls and whatnot, occasional texting, and reading email. I don't use google email at all anymore, and I sort of have grown to loathe google in general, so I don't want another android device. I'd like functional GPS on my phone, but I don't absolutely need it. I don't browse the web on my phone (at least I'm trying not to, going forward). I'd like an MP3 player on it, but that's not a must-have either. I also don't use or buy Apple stuff, so an older iphone is out.

Ideally, I want something like this: a phone with the ability to receive email from assorted services (exchange, POP3, whatever), play MP3s, and make calls/texts. I'd love it if I could get this without a contract, and for a relatively low monthly fee.

Is there a device and service for me?

Or, should I just buy a no-contract dumbphone and use a month-to-month provider like Virgin?

If I do that, is it possible to continue to use my Galaxy--no service plan, just wifi--as an email reader? I like that idea, because then I can still have it as an MP3 player, camera, email device, etc. without having it as my phone.

Can I axe my current gmail account and continue to use the android device, or will I need to either a.) keep the current gmail or b.) register a bogus gmail just to make the device usable?

My contract with tmobile is up, by the way, so walking away from them is no issue.

Does this make sense, or am I asking for something that just does not make sense/exist?

Thanks mefi!
posted by broadway bill to Technology (8 answers total)
If you're willing to go with a standalone GPS, you can absolutely get all of that from a dumbphone with a 200MB (or so) monthly data plan. With some hunting you can find one that plays MP3s off a MicroSD card, no problem - I had one five years ago, you can certainly get one today.

For the GPS option...Have you looked into Windows Phone? The main knock on them seems to be the paucity of available apps compared to iOS and Android, but if you're just using the phone for email, voice and GPS, that shouldn't be an issue. You can hunt down a Symbian device, which would be available much cheaper, but continuing support is a worry there; the platform is very definitely dying.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2012

Yes, you can still use an Android device with wifi only once you cancel your plan or upgrade your phone. Just activate airplane mode to turn off the cell radio (to save battery) then turn WiFi back on when you are home to use the internet.

You will need to keep your current gmail account to continue using your downloaded apps and to get new ones, but you can turn off email sync for that account if you don't actually use it and don't ever want that inbox to notify you of new messages.

Also FYI, the newest version of Google Maps allows you to pre-cache large areas, so you can use the navigation function without any signal - so added bonus, you still have your GPS as long as you are within an area you previously downloaded.
posted by trivia genius at 1:44 PM on July 23, 2012

Forgot to mention - not sure if you would be able to keep your same phone number, or whether that's even important to you - but you can probably keep this phone and switch to a pre-paid plan on T-Mobile so you wouldn't need to carry around 2 devices. Just keep airplane mode on when you don't want to answer calls or texts.

Other providers may have cheaper prepaid plans that make it financially worth carrying 2 devices, but you'll have to price that out in your location to see what makes the most sense.
posted by trivia genius at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2012

Response by poster: Interesting. I had considered a standalone GPS (I don't really use GPS now, because it sucks on the galaxy phone and I know the city I live in quite well). Living in a newish place in the middle of nothing might make a GPS pretty handy tho.

HZSF: any idea of specific phones or providers that might sell them?

Trivia Genius: that's interesting about google maps. So, if I preload an area into google maps, do I actually get navigation without service, or just the map? Like, will it actually use GPS to know where I am in relation to the map, or will it just display the map on-screen?
posted by broadway bill at 1:49 PM on July 23, 2012

Yes, as long as you have a good satellite signal for the GPS to lock on, you get full maps and navigation. I've tested it on my phone by downloading the maps in advance then using airplane mode while navigating to to the office and home again. It worked flawlessly. Just make sure you are using the latest version of Google Maps, and not a 3rd party or carrier loaded maps app.
posted by trivia genius at 1:59 PM on July 23, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, wow. That's a game changer! Since I'll be in my small community almost all the time, I can likely just load up the area into my google maps on my not-in-service Galaxy and roll with that (assuming I have decent satellite signal, which I think I will, since in my visits to the area I have used my GPS without much issue).

So, maybe my best bet is to simply switch my tmobile plan to a no-contract dumbphone (for occasional calls/texts and nothing more), keep my number, and use my Galaxy as a wifi-only GPS/email machine/MP3 player/camera/etc. I like this idea quite a bit, since I don't think I'll really have much need to talk on the phone and text, so I can get one of tmobile's "$1-2 a day" plans for the dumbphone.

To use the GPS without standard service, do you just put it in airplane mode and then go back in and enable GPS? Can't believe I did not realize that would work!
posted by broadway bill at 2:06 PM on July 23, 2012

Yes, you should be able to do that - go ahead and try it out now to make sure.
If your phone happens to be running a specific version of Android with the bug that won't let you enable GPS or WiFi after airplane mode is on, you can always root and load another rom like CyanogenMod to work around that. There are plenty of android user forums online that will have specific instructions on how to do that successfully if you need to.
posted by trivia genius at 2:28 PM on July 23, 2012

Since you apparently don't use the phone much now and want to use it even less in the future, let me suggest a Tracfone. Unlike most prepaid plans, you can pay three months or a year in advance and if you hardly use it, you can have a phone for a year for under $200. I think I paid $145 for the phone and a year of service, which was actually 14 months of service. I had a discount, so it might cost a bit more. But I found nothing else anywhere near as cheap for a low use phone.
posted by Michele in California at 2:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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