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Cell Phones

TychoCelchuuuTychoCelchuuu PIGEONRegistered User regular
For all intents and purposes I don't really have a cell phone - I have the same one I had back in high school, which means basically all it can do is make calls, send text messages, and take awful pictures. I never really use it anyways. I'm with Verizon on my family's account still (I've been mooching this + Netflix since... forever), and lately I've been thinking about maybe getting a smartphone. I can't do it via our existing Verizon contract for weird complicated reasons (long ago my family signed up for unlimited data for my brother, and now that's not available anymore, and if any one of us upgrades our phone, we have to get a new contract, thus getting rid of the unlimited data, which is not a great idea because my brother's not exactly a very responsible dude and at some point he would totally go over the bandwidth limit and charge a bunch of money to the account etc. It gets even more complicated but whatever).

Reasons for thinking I might want a smartphone:
  • It would be nice to be able to look up directions and other stuff when I'm lost. Right now when I go anywhere I have to write down directions on a piece of paper and hope I don't screw anything up. If I decide I want to go some other place but I don't know its location or how to get there from where I am, then I'm boned, pretty much. Kind of inconvenient, no?
  • Ditto for checking email, checking my Google calendar, etc.
  • Right now when I exercise and drive I listen to music or podcasts on my iPod shuffle, but this is inconvenient for switching between the two (I just delete all the music and move podcasts on, and vice versa), I can only have a limited amount of music, no playlists, etc.
  • It would be really cool to be able to stream KEXP when I'm driving or exercising, at least sometimes.
Those are the main things, plus a few smaller reasons (it would be easier to calculate prices/compare prices while shopping if I could have a calculator and take pictures of the labels, it would be nice to have an exercise app tracking how far I run each day, I was on a plane the other day and I could have done the "paperless boarding pass" thing and it seems like there are other things that require smartphones which seem to be popping up these days, I could put Grindr on it, etc.).

I have Wi-Fi at home but I exercise outdoors and in a workout room with no Wi-Fi, so if I wanted to stream KEXP or whatever while exercising (and while driving, of course) it would have to be through cellular data.

Spending as little money as possible would be ideal...

So, now, questions:
  1. Is it worth getting a smartphone, do you think? Obviously I've lived without one all these years, and if doing many or all of the things on the above list is going to be pretty expensive then I just as soon wouldn't bother.
  2. Which company do I go with? I'm in San Diego if location matters at all.
  3. Which plan? Any idea how much data I should get?
  4. I'd rather an Android phone of some sort than an iPhone but whatever does the stuff I want is fine. Presumably what phone I get would be partially determined by the carrier, and I can research phones on my own fairly easily, but advice is welcome. I guess that's not really a question.


  • Donovan PuppyfuckerDonovan Puppyfucker A dagger in the dark is worth a thousand swords in the morningRegistered User regular
    If you just want a basic smartphone that has internet access for streaming online radio and using the GPS, and can be used as a music player, then you're not going to need to spend too much money. Just look for a phone with a big battery and expandable storage, because pretty much every smartphone in existence can work as a GPS and music player, and stream online radio. Most phones also have an FM radio in them. Have a look at the Motorola Moto G (2nd gen), for example. It even has a really nice camera for the price.

  • TychoCelchuuuTychoCelchuuu PIGEON Registered User regular
    Right, but I need a carrier too. Verizon, I know, will give me a free smartphone if I sign up, and I was assuming other carriers did this too, but I just checked and it looks like AT&T only has one free smartphone and T-Mobile has none. Since I need to buy a smartphone, it seems like I'd save a lot of money by going with Verizon, right? Do any other carriers give away phones?

  • PedroAsaniPedroAsani Brotherhood of the Squirrel [Prime]Registered User regular
    I went with T-Mobile, unlimited everything. Fixed price no matter what usage. I'd rather have higher consistency than unexpected fluctuation in the bill. Turned out that data was still free in Australia and the UK, so it was the best I could have gotten.

  • SoggybiscuitSoggybiscuit Tandem Electrostatic Accelerator Registered User regular
    Right, but I need a carrier too. Verizon, I know, will give me a free smartphone if I sign up, and I was assuming other carriers did this too, but I just checked and it looks like AT&T only has one free smartphone and T-Mobile has none. Since I need to buy a smartphone, it seems like I'd save a lot of money by going with Verizon, right? Do any other carriers give away phones?

    You won't save any money on a smartphone by signing a contract with AT&T or Verizon (I don't have any experience with Sprint or T-Mobile, so I can't comment on those). For a basic smartphone plan on either of those you are looking at $90-$100 a month with a 2 year contract. That should get you unlimited talk/text and a couple gigs of data. Basically, expect to spend $2400+ over 2 years. The termination fee will be north of $300 if you don't like the service, and I don't think they will unlock the phone either. They will extract the price of the phone plus a profit piece by piece from your wallet. The family plans can work if you have a few family members all trying to get service at the same time. As a single user, expect to get reamed monthly.

    My recommendation, if you want to save money, is to go for an MVNO like Straight Talk. Right now, I pay $45 a month for 3GB of data and unlimited talk and text, and the phone uses AT&Ts network. I do get LTE coverage where available. You provide an unlocked phone (something like a Nexus 5) or you buy one from them, and then put the SIM card they provide in the phone. I have Straight Talk, and they are the only MVNO I really have experience with. Others exist and they each have their own benefits and downsides.

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  • Eat it You Nasty Pig.Eat it You Nasty Pig. tell homeland security 'we are the bomb'Registered User regular
    the 'free' phone isn't really; it's baked into the cost of the agreement. You are essentially leasing a phone; you do get to keep it when the agreement expires, but it'll be network locked and phones depreciate so far in 2-3 years that it'd barely be worth the carrier's time to take back anyway. These agreements are not a good deal in the long run, and only really persist because of the sticker price on smartphones.

    I too am on an MVNO (consumer cellular, AT&T.) I had to buy a new, unlocked phone up front but the monthly cost savings compared with verizon made that up within the first 8-9 months. Because I'm month to month and have an unlocked phone they can't really gouge me on overages, either.

    it was the smallest on the list but
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  • Inquisitor77Inquisitor77 2 x Penny Arcade Fight Club Champion A fixed point in space and timeRegistered User regular
    1) YMMV. It's really hard to know what you will use a smartphone for until you actually get one, partially because new apps come out all the time, but also because your own lifestyle and user habits come into play. I never thought I would use my phone to read the news, but it's basically the entire reason that I have a New York Times subscription now. From what you've described, you could technically get away without having a smartphone. A nav device like a Garmin can get you directions at a fraction of the price. Checking emails and the like are, to be perfectly honest, overrated and generally unhealthy habits. Listening to podcasts/music can be done with a cheap MP3 player (most of them include FM tuners as well) and simply downloading the stuff you want beforehand. But the thing with smartphones is that they can do all of those things at once, which can make life a lot easier. The main issue is the cost - not only are they hundreds of dollars up front, but they end up costing you thousands of dollars in carrier fees, especially if you go the contract route.

    2) Carrier is highly dependent upon your local area and usage patterns. If you are rarely on the phone, maybe you don't care about having the best coverage. Or if you only tend to use your phone in an emergency, then maybe it's worth more to get that peace of mind. If the vast majority of your life is spent in particular places (home, job, etc.) then paying for "the best" coverage makes no sense if that carrier happens to have black holes where you need it most. Third-party carriers have recently been able to get into the market, so you may want to consider those as well.

    3) Carrier & plan are related. The big carriers, except for T-Mobile, require you to have a contracts, so you pay a lower up-front cost for the phone but end up paying for it (or more) over the life of the contract in higher monthly fees. They also lock out each others' hardware, so you can't buy a phone for one carrier and expect it to work for another (the exception being third-party carriers, who piggyback their purchased carriers' hardware). However, even if you have a contract carrier, you can switch your plan details month-to-month, so if you find you need more or less, you can simply change the plan. Most carriers are also pretty decent about warning you before you go above your limits, or automatically pushing you into the next plan if you do end up going over.

    4) This is really hard to recommend. I'm not a big Apple fan, but truth be told there is a reason they are the best in the market - the focus on usability and the customer experience is much better than Android, particularly since the latter suffers from extreme amounts of fragmentation and bloatware. You really don't know which you would prefer unless you tried them both for extended periods of time, and even then it's kind of like a, "You don't miss what you don't know" situation - if you just stuck with one, you wouldn't know how much better/worse the other is. One thing that may tilt your decision is that iPhones are perennially behind in terms of Google Maps, so getting directions using an iPhone can sometimes be hit-or-miss (although it's usually not a big deal).

    It's unfortunate but the U.S. market is bogged down by lack of competition and regulatory capture by the major cellular networks, so this unnecessarily complex situation is what we get. Your biggest resource is probably the people around you. They know the area best, and have experience with at least one of the carriers/phones. Seriously, just ask everyone you know and I'm sure they will be happy to give you their opinion on their phone, their carrier, their plan, etc. etc. etc.

    As a blanket recommendation, I'd push you towards buying the phone separately from the carrier, and then choosing T-Mobile or a third-party carrier for your network. Over the long run, this is generally the cheapest option for the vast majority of people.

  • BurtletoyBurtletoy Registered User regular
    edited January 2015
    Right, but I need a carrier too. Verizon, I know, will give me a free smartphone if I sign up, and I was assuming other carriers did this too, but I just checked and it looks like AT&T only has one free smartphone and T-Mobile has none. Since I need to buy a smartphone, it seems like I'd save a lot of money by going with Verizon, right? Do any other carriers give away phones?

    T-Mobile no longer uses contracts to subsidize the price of the phone, like the other big carriers.

    The phone + contract will still cost ~ the same amount, it's just, once you have the phone, on T-Mobile, you monthly bill will be lower, because you are no longer paying for the phone. If you just buy a phone and activate it on their network, the monthly prices will start, and stay lower. With the other carriers, most of the contract price is paying off the phone, not the service (but the rates stay the same, even once you've paid off the phone)

    Burtletoy on
  • PantshandshakePantshandshake Registered User regular
    I don't know if its because I'm already a Sprint customer or not, but I just changed my plan to an unlimited talk/text/data plan. With the plan and the phone lease payment, it's around 70 bucks a month.

  • Liquid HellzLiquid Hellz Registered User regular
    Using Ting here, bills range from $30-$45 per month depending on usage. Was even less when I was using an app to make calls over Wifi. They use Sprint towers so you get the exact same coverage. I also held out on getting a smartphone for a long time. I would NOT do that again, the phones are great can do nearly anything/everything you need to be able to do CPU wise right from your pocket.

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    Home Inspection and Wind Mitigation
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