Getting my first cell phone. What should I know?
February 19, 2015 2:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm 35 years old and thinking of getting a cell phone for the first time when I move from Farmington to Portland, Maine. I've avoided cell phones all my life; I hate the idea of being accessible all the time. Nevertheless, I think it's time.

It seems like people like to send text messages. Is this something I'm going to have to get into in order to be social? Can I do this with a standard phone, or do I need a smart phone? I know I can technically send texts with an old flip phone, but are there any limitations I should know about?

Who offers the best coverage in Portland, Maine?

What's the cheapest way I can get out of this? Is it possible to have a reasonable phone and carrier for around $50/month?

What else should I know? Thanks.
posted by jwhite1979 to Technology (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 1. You can turn your phone off. Calls will just go to voice mail. You don't actually have to answer just because someone wants to call you. (You may need to ask how to turn it off and not just vibrate, which can be surprisingly noisy)
2. Texts are nice for short messages because the other person can reply when they feel like it instead of answering the phone because it is ringing. I use text mostly for "where are you?" "is this a good time to talk" or "on my way" type messages but then I'm older than you so my social circle may be different. You don't need a smart phone to text but it is more difficult to enter your text message if you have to use the regular 12 key phone pad.
posted by metahawk at 2:51 PM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you are looking to make friends when you move being accessable by text messages and responding to text invites to coffee/activities quickly are key. I think an hour or less is the expected window for a response, get to know your people for time frames. I would say text/iMessage/whatsapp are used the most. I rarely make/receive social phone calls.
posted by saradarlin at 2:52 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're barely going to use the phone, you might be fully satisfied with an inexpensive prepaid phone from Virgin Mobile or AT&T - a burner phone, basically. You can choose between an actual smartphone or a basic phone (which will still probably have some internet-browsing capability, but you may not want to go the expense of a data plan). I've used Virgin many times as economy, emergency, and "mom, please just take this on your trip" phones and have always been pleased with their products and service.

Coverage is coverage, if you use a national carrier (VM is on the Sprint network, AT&T is on AT&T).

You can walk into just about any convenience store, or go to a Best Buy or Target or similar if you want to see a broader range of products, and have a phone and basic service (which will include texting/SMS). Virgin has contract-free no-internet plans at $20/mo with unlimited talk and text. For $35 you get some fast internet and unlimited crappy internet, $45 gets you international calling and a little more fast data than the previous plan, $55 gets you 3GB of fast data (that's a lot) and unlimited everything else.

You do not have to answer your phone (and you don't have to set up your voicemail if you don't want to do that either).
posted by Lyn Never at 2:54 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think you need text messaging to be social. In fact sometimes I'll tell people my text doesn't work so that they'll call me instead. I wish I could turn off text altogether.

In any case, if you're going to text alot definitely either get a smartphone or a keyboard phone (like a blackberry). Texting on standard phones is a real PITA. You have to scroll through the letters and it can take a few seconds just to type one word. You can get a prepaid smart phone or keyboard phone without a contract if that suits you. I pay on average only about $120 per YEAR for my prepaid phone, but I don't make or receive many calls as I don't actually use it for social conversation. I'm very much a 'phone conversations are just to talk about when/where you're going to meet up later' kind of person so ymmv.
posted by manderin at 2:56 PM on February 19, 2015

Best answer: I'm someone who didn't have a cell phone for a long time, and once I had to get one, really resented the idea that I would be contactable 24/7. Hated it. Still hate the implication.

But ohhhh my god I love texting so much. It is so butt easy to ignore a text. I can get a text, read it, decide if and how and when I want to reply, and do it all on my time at my leisure. It's so much nicer to fire off a text message than to dial a phone number and potentially be roped into a conversation. You can text while pooping and no one will ever know. Much harder to pull that deception off while on a phone call.

I went from thinking texting was stupid to realizing no it's actually the world's greatest thing in the space of less than a week. You may feel the same. But maybe not.

Texting without a full keyboard is a pita, though. They do sell dumbphones with a slide out keyboard. That might be a low cost option worth looking into.
posted by phunniemee at 2:57 PM on February 19, 2015 [19 favorites]

You can turn off the ringer and notifications for texts,emails and other social media.
posted by brujita at 3:15 PM on February 19, 2015

Virgin mobile offers a prepaid iPhone.
posted by discopolo at 3:15 PM on February 19, 2015

It seems like people like to send text messages. Is this something I'm going to have to get into in order to be social?

Data point: I've made one phone call from my personal phone (i.e., non-work-related) in the last month, and received none. I've participated in a couple dozen text conversations over the same time. I'm 43. To some extent this is going to depend on your circle of friends, but even at "our age" text is becoming a much more common means of communication, and phone calls much less so.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:26 PM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Tracfone- flip phone is very cheap, buy at any big box store. 130 minutes + 90 days for $20. If you're not going to talk much this is very cheap. You can upgrade later if you want to.
posted by H21 at 3:34 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just asked a question about smart phones and got a lot of helpful answers, though it sounds like you want to stick to a dumb phone. On my current flip phone, it is indeed kind of annoying to text on it. Takes me way longer than people who have full slide-out keyboards or smart phones.

I also did a lot of research. The first thing is to figure out what networks get good coverage in your area. Ask around locally to see what carriers other people use. Verizon generally has the best coverage in smaller towns or rural areas, esp. on the east coast. You can get cell phone plans from the four major carriers (Verizon, Sprint, ATT, T-Mobile), or you can get plans from smaller companies called MVNOs that use the same networks as the big 4. Plans from MVNOs are usually cheaper, esp. if you're going not going to be a heavy user.

What's the cheapest way I can get out of this? Is it possible to have a reasonable phone and carrier for around $50/month?

Definitely possible. Don't do a two-year contract; do a prepaid plan. It will be cheaper and you can change the amount you're paying for as you figure out what you need. You'll need to decide three things: how many minutes you want, how many texts you want, and how much data (if any) you want.

If Verizon does indeed turn out to be the best coverage in your area, Page Plus is an MVNO that uses the Verizon network and has cheap pre-pay plans. For $12/month you can get 250 minutes of voice, 250 texts and 10mb of data.

You can definitely get phones for cheap if you don't care about having a fancy phone. Here's one for $20. It can get complicated making sure you have a phone that will work on the network you're using but if you just get a cheap phone from whoever you're buying the service from you can avoid dealing with the compatibility issues. Or you can get one used somewhere and check with the carrier to make sure it will work on their network. It seems like this whole issue is a bigger pain with Verizon than with other networks.
posted by aka burlap at 3:36 PM on February 19, 2015

I have had cell phones for 15 years now, and smartphones for the last three of those years. In all that time, I have set every device I've ever owned never to emit a sound - you can set your phone - even an inexpensive, basic phone - to vibrate instead of ring when you get a call or a text (and with smartphones you can set it up so the phone doesn't notify you of anything during certain hours if you want). So, while my phone is almost always on, it's very unobtrusive, because I can't hear it do anything.

Also, I'm 46 and most of my communications via my device are text these days. I can't remember the last time I got an actual phone call just at random from a friend.
posted by pdb at 3:40 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Who offers the best coverage in Portland, Maine?

You'll be fine with just about every carrier. Portland, Maine is covered pretty well, as is most of the coastline to Brunswick. Heading north and east you'll hit dead spots with just about everyone, depending on the road you're on (my wife used to travel extensively in southern maine for work). Heading south won't be a problem on any carrier.

It seems like people like to send text messages. Is this something I'm going to have to get into in order to be social?

This depends on your particular social network, but yeah, probably. Things are swinging that way and its becoming more and more standard. I'm only a couple years younger than you, and on my personal line, I only make 2-3 calls a week, the rest are texts. Its about a billion times easier to receive directions, instructions and other coordinating information over a text than it is over vocal lines. My co-worker just viewed and rented an apartment with zero phone calls; only texts. The woman renting out the apartment didn't want phone calls at all.

I mean, at my job texts are also replacing a lot of email communication. About 80% of the clients at my work place their weekly orders by text. Another 10% use email…the rest actually call us. Schedules get sent out by text, not email. Stuff like that. We had an employee who couldn't receive texts, and it actually became a problem. We've since actually had to add that to our job requirements for folk that are applying to work with us.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:41 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

$25/month gets me 250 minutes and unlimited texting with AT&T GoPhone, so yes, you can do this for well under $50. This is a prepaid plan which I use with their Blackberry-style phone--not a smartphone, but it does have a keyboard. I second everyone above who said that this makes texting a lot easier than with a flip phone.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned: In my experience, using a dumbphone seems to cause hiccups with group texts. This may or may not matter to you, and it hasn't been a huge problem for me, but you asked about limitations. When two or three of my friends are sending texts to each other and me, they all get them in a neatly threaded display on their smartphones, while I get a bunch of out-of-order messages where it's not immediately clear who's on the message, and my responses only sometimes go to everybody and sometimes (I'm told) will appear as a separate text instead of part of the thread. So that's mildly annoying.

I'm thinking of switching to T-Mobile's $30/month prepaid plan (100 mins, unlimited text, 5GB data), which you could do if you decide to go with a smartphone.
posted by sunset in snow country at 3:48 PM on February 19, 2015

But ohhhh my god I love texting so much. It is so butt easy to ignore a text. I can get a text, read it, decide if and how and when I want to reply, and do it all on my time at my leisure. It's so much nicer to fire off a text message than to dial a phone number and potentially be roped into a conversation. You can text while pooping and no one will ever know. Much harder to pull that deception off while on a phone call.

This. A million times this.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:49 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm 52 and just got my first cell phone. All my other gadgetry is Apple but I went with an Android Moto G because it was less than half the cost of an iPhone (wouldn't be a total tragedy if I were to break or lose it). I pretty much love the Moto G. The battery life has degraded in the last 7 months but it's still useable. I use it almost entirely for the data. I started out with Virgin prepaid but switched to the month by month payment, which is a better value.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:55 PM on February 19, 2015

I've got 10+ years on you and I thought I would have trouble adjusting to a smartphone's touchscreen and so I got the Samsung Galaxy Relay that has a slide out keyboard so it would be easier for me to type. THEN I discovered "voice to text" where I just speak the text into my phone and it types itself (OMG MAGIC) and I never slid that keyboard out again! I guess what phunniemee (above about texting*) and I are saying is it's hard to judge what you want or like until you've test driven a smartphone. I'm surprised at how I gradually started using my phone for more things than talking and texting - I started putting appointments in the calender, using the alarm clock or timer when baking, camera, notepad for grocery lists; I never thought I would use those things, but now I use them all daily. And that's not even mentioning the Apps that you can get for your phone. I never complain about waiting for appointments anymore - I've got a ton to do and watch (via Netflix) on my phone. That's my story. I suggest you start with the basics and you'll eventually figure out what you like and need - good luck.

* I totally agree with phunniemee and speaking as an introvert, texting has been a godsend for me.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:02 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I also didn't have a cell phone for a long time. I have one now, but I don't feel like I'm more accessible when I don't want to be. My phone is either completely off or set to silent 95% of the time, maybe more. As in, it doesn't ring, buzz, chime, make any noise whatsoever most days. I have to remember to turn it on if I'm expecting a call and want to answer immediately--otherwise, it all goes to voicemail and I check it at my leisure.

And I kind of feel like texting was invented for people like us who don't like to be accessible all the time, for all the reasons phunniemee said. However, when I had a flip phone, texting was a pain in the ass. Now that I have a smartphone, texting is a lot easier and I prefer it.

On preview: I agree with NoraCharles--I'm an introvert too, and I find texting is a nice, non-draining way for me to enjoy social interaction on my terms.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:08 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was a smartphone holdout for a very long time, and only have had one for a few months.

Embrace texting.

Especially since you're moving to a new area, I think that you might fall in love with Google maps on an android smartphone. It's a really nice gps system with solid real-time updating directions support - when you have it on driving, it'll alert you if there's traffic issues on your current path and offers on the fly route updating if it finds a better route based on traffic conditions.
posted by porpoise at 4:10 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It seems like people like to send text messages. Is this something I'm going to have to get into in order to be social?

Being "the guy who almost never answers texts" has not caused me significant trouble, but this is among the same group of friends who were easy to communicate with even when I was steadfastly refusing to have a phone at all, which was the case until recently.

Just so you have more data points, I am absolutely not a convert to texting. This is not simply because I have a dumb phone and thus can't text as fludily; I just find texts -- which sit there, staring at you, detailed enough to tell you what you need to deal with, but never precise or clear -- more of an annoying interruption than calls (where you can just mute the ringer and not pick up, if it's interrupting you, and nobody is the wiser). There's no plausible deniability about receiving a text. Even if it doesn't interrupt, I find it either captures some time (if I respond) or engenders some guilt (if I don't), compared to an easily-ignored (and forgotten) call.

I receive calls, and talk to people on the phone, all the time, and I find this works much better than texting (where it's hard to communicate clearly about all but the smallest issues, and I often call anyway after a brief and annoyingly unclear series of texts).

If you're sort of ambivalent about phones, don't get a smartphone unless you have some specific need to have a conveniently (or inconveniently?) small, but not especially good, computer that you carry with you. If you just want to be able to send and receive calls, and do a limited amount of texting (but more than you might expect), just get a flip phone. Depending on whom you associate with, this could easily be all you need to maintain social contact, without allowing people to turn themselves into interrupting time sinks that you'll end up resenting anyway.
posted by busted_crayons at 4:22 PM on February 19, 2015

I have an AT&T GoPhone. The phone is a standard candy bar phone with camera, and was about $20-30 bucks at Best Buy. I am on a per minute plan of 10 cents a minute and refill it monthly with a $10 minimum, then I add a $4.99 messaging plan for 200 texts (which also has to be refilled monthly or you lose your balance). So, about $15 bucks a month for a bare-bones phone.

I don't have internet connectivity/smart phone, but I know AT&T has smartphones with pay as you go internet plans at reasonable prices. However, I think if I go online on my current plan/set up I can use minutes from my talk balance to pay for the access.
posted by goml at 4:33 PM on February 19, 2015

Best answer: What else should I know?

I didn't see anyone else mention this--if you do opt for the cheapest possible plan or a prepaid phone, one with no or limited texts per month, you'll have to get in the habit of letting people know this if you're trading numbers for being social (or even list "calls only, no text" on a resume)--just because you don't "have texts" doesn't mean your number won't receive them, so you will still get the overage charges. Many or most people who have regular carrier-provided phones will also have unlimited-use plans, so with texting especially people in the under-40 range will text in a conversational way rather than maximizing character use--if your regular-carrier-plan doesn't include text or is limited then you can get billed a mountain. A prepaid plan is probably the best way to avoid this if you expect to only receive "accidental" texts and never send any. Smartphone plans often package unlimited use in for minimal costs, if the GPS and so forth are appealing to you for practical reasons.

Like phunniemee & NoraCharles, I do not consider myself "available at all times" which is why I eventually switched to an unlimited text plan. Even if you expect to be calling people more often than texting them back, it's still nice to have that initial signifier of "is this an urgent emergency or does she just want to know if I've seen Jupiter Rising yet?"
posted by C. K. Dexter Haven at 4:34 PM on February 19, 2015

Get Google Voice. Only give out your Google Voice number to people and only call via Google Voice. You can set it up so that all your texts convert to emails and you can respond at your leisure with a real keyboard.
posted by grouse at 4:39 PM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Text on dumb phones isn't that bad, as long as it supports T9. It's basically like auto complete on a smartphone keyboard. You type 43556, for example and it knows you probably mean 'hello' or one of only two or other other words you can flip between by hitting the * key. It's nearly as fast as an on screen keyboard for me, although I can type much faster on a physical keyboard than either.

If you do get a dumb phone, I strongly suggest finding a Nokia of some description. The Asha line has some keyboarded options and can run Opera Mini for light web browsing if you end up wanting to do that. They just handle things better than the typical Samsung/LG crap the carriers throw at you, both software-wise and in reception.

If you want a smartphone, the best budget option is by far the Moto G.

The point of all that being that you really don't need a smartphone if you primarily want a phone and to text. A lot of people use smartphones for simple texting and phone calls, but I think they are nuts. Feature phones will last several days on a single charge even with heavy use and will be faster and more reliable at the simple stuff, not to mention far more durable. (I do use a huge smartphone these days, but that's because I like the features, not because it's better at calling and texting)
posted by wierdo at 5:12 PM on February 19, 2015

I think I've made one phone call since Christmas, to make an appointment at the mechanic's, and have probably only received the one telling me my car was done.

I don't send that many texts, either, however--mostly just to that-one-friend who doesn't do social media. Everything else is facebook or google talk...

I have a (relatively) large smartphone, the HTC One, and service through Ting, a Sprint MVNO* which only charges for actual usage--I don't have internet (or cable), and rarely pay as much for phone + internet together as most of my friends pay to have both...

* owned by Tucows--remember them?!
posted by FlyingMonkey at 9:11 PM on February 19, 2015

I'm also 35 and got my first cell phone last year; I was looking for a "portable phone booth" that didn't cost a lot and didn't lock me into anything. You don't say why you think it's time for a cell, but if it is just so a few people can get a hold of you and vice versa, I would suggest the dumb phone/prepaid route. Regarding texting, I don't know how, I don't want to, and so I don't. Hasn't impaired my social life* any.

*Caveat: My social life was/is pretty non-existent.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:34 PM on February 19, 2015

Portland resident, 41, iPhone 4s, and I love to text rather than speak on the phone when it's a minor exchange, such as when and where to meet a friend for lunch.

And, crucially, as said above, the nice thing about texting is that I don't feel obligated to "reply" to texts that aren't time sensitive (unlike the lunch location for that day), because nobody expects me to. (Caveat: I do so by the end of the day.)

For example, my husband and I have long pauses between our texts when discussing stuff that isn't time sensitive, such as what we will eat for dinner. We're both busy, but we can do that over the course of an entire day without feeling pressed for a decision.

Welcome to Portland!
posted by miss tea at 2:36 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing that texting is the most fun part of having a cell phone.

I use and like a phone company called Ting. They don't have contracts, they use the big Sprint and TMobile networks so have good coverage (at least where those networks do), and you pay for what you use. I don't talk on my cell much but I use a good bit of data and texting and my monthly bill is $24.

On the other hand, if you won't have a land line and/or you do plan to talk on the phone a lot it can be nice to have an unlimited plan. If that's what you want I would check out the carrier Virgin Mobile. They are also a no-contract Sprint reseller and cheaper than the big four.
posted by feets at 6:30 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to chime in to say, I work in Portland and live nearby and I have Republic Wireless, a Sprint MVNO. It was the cheapest carrier I could find and I have had no reception issues anywhere. So that might be worth a look for you. Also, they have Wifi calling, so when I'm up in Farmington Falls (I have family up there) I use their Wifi to make calls and texts since there's no good cell coverage at the house from any carrier. You can buy a perfectly decent phone (Moto E) for 99 bucks, and then get 3G service for $25 a month plus fees.
posted by selfnoise at 6:55 AM on February 20, 2015

Response by poster: So many best answers. Thanks everyone. Here's an update.

I decided to go with a two year, 1gb data plan with unlimited talk and text from AT&T. The service is $25/month, and I pay $6/month for an LG G3 Vigor. With insurance I pay $36/month. So far I'm really happy with everything. I can't believe how amazing this phone is.
posted by jwhite1979 at 1:04 AM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

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