I don't want to sound flip, but...
June 26, 2019 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I have a flip phone. I have decided to join the 21st century, albeit kicking a screaming, and get a smart phone. I don’t have the faintest idea what I need.

I want to take nice pictures. They don’t have to be award-winning pictures. Other than that, I don’t know what would be the differences in phones.

My other conundrum is what provider and type of service I need.
I know I need to send and receive texts, as this is the way most people I know communicate to one degree or another. If I have my way, I won’t send or receive tons of texts. I would like to be able to send and receive email, as well.

I guess I want to be able to google stuff, and probably have some kind of GPS.

I have a friend who has Consumer Cellular and said she loves it. This is the only time I have ever heard someone say they love, or even like, their cell phone provider. Is Consumer Cellular a good option for me?

Please help this 20th century person join the rest of the world in the 21st century.
posted by Dolley to Technology (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you happen to have Xfinity (Comcast) internet service, they have an add-on cell service that is pretty good and inexpensive for low to medium data users (probably what you will be for at least a while).

Virtually every phone available today will do text and email unless you look for something very atypical. Maybe not even then.

I've had Android and iPhone and have GREAT preference for iPhones. I am not an Apple devotee, and even had a Windows phone (yes, I'm the one), but I would cry if I were forced to use Android. YMMV, so see if you can play with both before you decide. Maybe consider refurb or used.
posted by sageleaf at 6:27 PM on June 26, 2019

For a great overall experience I suggest a Pixel 3a on Google Fi.
posted by glonous keming at 6:28 PM on June 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I have Consumer Cellular too and I would recommend them. Their plans are very reasonable, especially if you're going to be a light user, and their customer service is good. You can buy your phone from them. They often have refurbished or returned phones and you should probably go for one of those because it will be cheaper but work just as well. I would pick one of the Motorola phones they offer. Motorola seems to be what everyone recommends if you want a reasonably-priced but good quality phone. My first smartphone was a Motorola (from Consumer Cellular) and I was perfectly satisfied with it so all my subsequent smartphones have been too.

I don't see any reason to get an iPhone rather than an Android, unless you're already enmeshed in the Apple world on your other devices. An Android phone will do everything you want to do perfectly well. I can't imagine what additional functionality an iPhone could possibly have that could justify the additional cost.
posted by Redstart at 6:36 PM on June 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

If you're able to afford an iPhone instead of an Android device, I think it's absolutely worth the price difference. iPhones get much better long-term security support (updates, etc.) than the mess of Androids out there since it's just Apple who does it all - otherwise you're at the mercy of whoever made your Android phone. Androids also tend to come with all sorts of pre-installed software, skins, whatever - I believe Google's own phones are the exception to this in that you get a "clean" version of Android. Meanwhile an iPhone is an iPhone.

You'd probably be perfectly happy with an older iPhone too. I'd recommend a refurbished model, and get an iPhone SE or later as that's the oldest iPhone that will be able to update to the upcoming iOS version 13.

Whatever phone you get will need to be "unlocked" for you to use it with a carrier like Consumer Cellular.
posted by reductiondesign at 6:58 PM on June 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

There are several similar services, but I'm very happy with Cricket as a service. They sublease AT&T's network. I have the $40/month plan, with 5GB of data...since I have them withdraw the money automatically, it is an even $35 a month (no hidden fees, taxes, etc). I happen to have an iPhone, but they have lots of Android models (phones purchased directly from Apple are unlocked, so you can use them on any compatible carrier).
posted by lhauser at 7:15 PM on June 26, 2019

@Dolley, are you happy with your current cellular service provider? If so, you might consider staying with them. If not, do you live in or travel in rural areas? Some service providers are better than others in rural areas. For example, AT&T doesn't have service in some of the communities I work in while Verizon does.

I agree with @reductiondesign that iPhones typically just work out of the box. A recent model iPhone (i.e. within the last few years), either new or refurbished, would be a great option that will stay updated with very little work.
posted by golden at 7:22 PM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I, a longtime smartphone resister (until the point it really stopped being cute and quirky and just became "what is wrong with you?"), bought an unlocked Moto g5 Plus 2-3 years ago and used (and still use) a pay-as-you-go plan with T-Mobile for $50 a month (well, every 30 days, but ...). It comes with 10 gigs which I've never once come close to using all of (with some reasonable Google Map-ing and music streaming outside of wifi range). That's probably more than I need but I like knowing it's there if I need it. I've also found T-Mobile to be decent enough customer-service wise. I live in a major metropolitan area so I don't really have coverage issues, but that may be something to consider (I do live in a basement and sometimes my reception is a bit spotty there but when I'm at home, I have wifi calling so it's generally not an issue).

I still think that's a fine and decent phone (camera is pretty good but not great) but I was also eyeing the Moto g7 before the Pixel 3a came out, which I basically immediately bought. It was slightly pricier than some of the other phones I was looking at ($400 vs. $300) but the camera is infinitely better (it is great! and this was the major reason I was shopping for a new phone) and the "dealbreakers" (hard drive space, lack of a slot for a memory card, not super-fast) weren't really issues for me. I just do some light web browsing, some music streaming, texting/messenger and calls and ... well, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. I don't need much.

I like Android phones, though, but I know plenty of people who love iPhones and will never get anything else (but I also know people who will only ever get Android phones so ...) it may just come down to personal preference. If you're somewhat computer/tech-savvy, I don't think Android phones are really that much harder to use.
posted by darksong at 8:14 PM on June 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

The main phone decisions these days are:

- Apple vs Android
- phone that barely fits in your hand/pocket vs huge phone

Android phones generally give more "bang for the buck" - at the same price point, you're going to get a larger screen/more modern design, better cameras, and features (some of dubious value). Apple phones have much better post-purchase support. They will get software updates that fix security vulnerabilities and often make it better/faster for a longer period of time. You can get the battery replaced at a official Apple store with original components within a few hours with an actual warranty.

I think iPhones are better for those just starting out. There are so many features crammed into modern phones that you may want a simpler, straightforward way of doing things. If you go to the Apple store they will actually have free beginner classes. The oldest I would get is a 6S, which is three years old but shouldn't go for more than $200-300, or $150 used. If you're lucky, a relative or friend might have a used one sitting in a drawer they're not using because they upgraded.

Size is the other big decision. Most phones come in two sizes. There's a standard size that can fit into a normal pants pocket (maybe not womens'). Then there is a much larger size that doesn't really fit into anything other than a jacket pocket or purse. Apple calls their larger models the "Plus", other manufacturers may call them the "XL", "Max", or some other derivative. People get the larger models because they are much easier to use due to the large screen and the battery lasts a lot longer. However because they are so large, they are hard to carry with you and also easy to lose. I wouldn't recommend these, especially for your first phone.
posted by meowzilla at 8:21 PM on June 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've used Android Phones for over 8 years. They've worked mostly well for me but I don't think I can recommend Androids anymore due to Google's disregard for privacy and the relative short amount of time most of their phones receive security updates.

If I were to buy a new smartphone today I would go with the iPhone 7. It will probably receive updates for at least another 2 years . That's pretty good for a phone that came out in 2016. One major con of the iPhone7 is that it doesn't have a headphone jack. It is water resistant though.

The Apple website lists the price of a new iPhone 7 as $449. That's a lot more expensive compared to most Android phones so you may want to buy a good used one. Consumer Cellular is selling the iPhone 7 for $300 but if you buy it from them the phone will probably be locked for a certain time period (you can only use the phone on their network).

I also have a Moto G5 Plus. It's a good phone but I did some tinkering to put the open source version of Android (non-Google version) on it.
posted by mundo at 8:42 PM on June 26, 2019

You need to choose a service provider, talk to people who live near you and maybe who visit you, do they have decent service?
Choosing an iPhone is not hard; decide what you can afford, buy that. They are expensive, and tightly bound to Apple.
There are a gazillion Android phones. I chose Moto because they have good sound and I am hearing impaired. I got a good deal on a Moto X Pure. It has a very nice camera, good sound, it's kind of big. Web browser, GPS, music player, etc. I have Amazon Prime and can download some video to watch while on a bus. I have a heart rate app that is useful.

Take the time to learn to use your phone, find good apps, and I think you'll enjoy it.
posted by theora55 at 8:45 PM on June 26, 2019

If you have small hands and are used to a flip phone, you might be used to single-hand phoning.

Apple does not currently make a phone small enough for me to hold in one hand, or to fit in any of my normal pants pockets (yeah, I’m female, but I wear perfectly normal pants, thanks).

They used to; it was called the SE. You can still find refurbished ones. (That is what I would get if I were you). I don’t know what’s out there in small form factors in Android, but even if there isn’t a current model that is nonhuge, you should be able to find a refurbished one. It is possible to make a phone small enough to fit the hands of more than half the population, so if you’re in the smaller half you might consider looking for one.

If you don’t plan on getting many apps, then this isn’t an issue, but there can be a feeling of being “locked” to a particular ecosystem; I used to have an Android tablet, and it was a noticeable extra cost and time sink to find and buy equivalent apps for my workflow when I moved to iOS; so if you do expect to need some apps it is worth figuring out your ecosystem choice early.
posted by nat at 9:02 PM on June 26, 2019

I made the transition to a modern smartphone very late. One thing to be prepared for is that compared to dumbphones, modern smartphones are very large and very fragile. So be prepared for something that is ergonomically a lot worse than you're used to, and invest in a case to protect it.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:17 PM on June 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

One thing to be prepared for is that compared to dumbphones, modern smartphones are very large and very fragile.

I have a re-purposed Wiimote wrist-strap attached to my iphone for exactly this reason. It's probably "home depot dad with the cellphone belt-holster" level dorky to some, but it's saved me from dropping my phone an uncountable number of times and I never intend to go without it again.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 9:27 PM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

modern smartphones are ..... very fragile.

That’s not been my experience. I’ve had smartphones continuously for more than ten years now. At times I had one for work and a personal one, both in constant use. And I have never accidentally* damaged one in any significant way. With the smaller models I didn’t even use a case, but ever since the iPhone 6 they seemed to slide through my fingers more easily and now I normally just get the thinnest silicone case I can find, not so much to protect the phone but to allow me a better grip

*work took such a long time to replace the iPhone 5 that it had become almost unusable so it may or may not have fallen on a concrete floor a few times. It turns out it was very sturdy even when going up against a concrete floor
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:40 PM on June 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have an iPhone 5C which I love so much I recently extravagantly paid a guy $50 to put a new battery in, hoping to squeeze some more life out of it while I was overseas for the summer.

It does texting, phoning, email, websurfing and maps just fine and takes acceptable (but not great) photos. I bought mine used 5 years ago and it's still going strong! What I like:

- tough. It has fallen in the toilet twice (til i learned not to put it in the back pocket of my pants) and onto the floor innumerable times and still works fine. Maybe its ugly plasticky back protects it somehow?

- small. Fits in pockets, easily usable one-handed.

- cheap. Currently available for around $40 on swappa.

All this means no need for cases or extreme worry about losing it/someone stealing it (who would do that). As it is not very fun to surf the net on a small screen, it cuts down on surfing time, slightly. I use a pay what you use cell provider (ting), which costs around $20-30 a month.

Potential bad things are to do with the lack of updates from Apple, as it has aged out. This probably impacts security, though I personally don't care about that. Big caveat: maybe it means you can't install some apps (programs), because the old versions have vanished from Apple's App Store? I have indeed not been able to update some apps, but as the old versions have kept working, this hasn't been a problem. If this last is a dealbreaker, I agree with the poster above who suggests the iPhone SE, though I don't know if it is as tough.
posted by ogorki at 2:44 AM on June 27, 2019

As a previous very-old-blackberry user, I walked into the store and got the absolute cheapest smartphone contract I could. (It's some sort of huweii). And you know what? It's fine. Just fine. Maybe if I was a pro blogger or something I'd need a better camera, but the one I have is perfectly sufficient for taking pictures of my cats. The battery lasts a day no problem, it's not slow on the internet, I can get Google maps... I would not have got anything more out of a more expensive phone. You might want to pay a little more for something with a better camera, but in usability terms (and I have used many of my husband's and friends "better" phones) I see little difference at a casual consumer level.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:20 AM on June 27, 2019

I can't imagine what additional functionality an iPhone could possibly have that could justify the additional cost.
Privacy. Full stop.
posted by uberchet at 4:54 AM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Dolley...I am in the same boat as you. I'm creeping along with my flip-phone. I know I'll need to get a smartphone eventually, and my needs are pretty much the same as yours.

Personally, I'd get an iPhone 6s and carry on with it until it dies. It's a very comfortable size, has relatively good features (including a real headphone jack!) I don't need or want the latest new shiny thing, and I really hate how enormous phones have gotten.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:57 AM on June 27, 2019

I personally use Ting, if you use wifi more than mobile data it's affordable, lots of data is where other options get better.

For Android, I have been happy with Motorola, the g7 power has a very adequate camera and stays charged about~2 days for me.

I also have an iPad on their data plan.
posted by typecloud at 6:56 AM on June 27, 2019

I have an iPhone SE and love it to death. It will get iOS 13 and that's all I need. It's small, fits in my pocket, is plenty fast and *just works*. The pictures it takes are fine for my purposes. I actually have a lot of fun with the free photo editors out there.

I have an Android tablet. It's not top of the line by any means (Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10'', bought for around $160 on Black Friday). It works. It's the Google ecosystem. Google knows everything about me by now, so it's not a huge deal to me. I don't know how much longer it's going to get security updates. That worries me some. But I use it almost exclusively for a color by number app rather than any major web browsing.

I prefer the iPhone experience to the Android experience.

iPhone SEs are going for pretty cheep on Swappa. That would be my recommendation for a first iPhone.
posted by kathrynm at 8:13 AM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have an iPhone SE I bought used for ~$150 a few months ago (see my ask history), and it's great. I recommend it as a first smartphone, and it should be supported for another couple years, at least.

You should be able to use it with most carriers if you buy an unlocked iPhone - my mom has an iPhone on Consumer Cellular and is happy with it. I use Google Fi with mine and it's fine, just use the Fi app to walk you through setting it up.

I would not buy a Huawei phone if you live in the US. Both because they use a weird version of Android that will be more difficult to troubleshoot / won't get updates quickly and because security concerns.
posted by momus_window at 9:32 AM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mr. Terrier and I are happy Consumer Cellular customers. We each bought our iPhones from CC, on an easy-pay monthly plan. Now that my phone's all paid off, my monthly bill is usually $28 bucks (that's with a tiny AARP discount.)
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:07 PM on June 27, 2019

Best answer: I'm just here to point out that an iPhone is not meaningfully more private than an Android device.

(Plenty of references on that, notable Marketplace this morning: https://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-tech/when-tech-columnist-digs-into-secret-life-his-data/ )

I use both, so I don't want this to come off as an attack on Apple. It's just the way things are.
posted by Zudz at 12:31 PM on June 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Thank you, all. I took the plunge today and bought a Moto E5 Plus from Consumer Cellular. It was pretty easy to set up and you should have heard my good friend laugh and scream and carry on when I called her with it. I'm a little afraid of it, but I think that will pass pretty quickly as I use it. Again, thanks for all the help.
posted by Dolley at 4:29 PM on June 28, 2019

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