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Why do you need a Smartphone? (lukethomas.com)
47 points by lukethomas on Nov 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

I'm somewhat famous in my circle of friends for not having a smart phone. I've used a nokia 6100 for the last decade. My thinking was very much like Luke's.

I wanted a small, light phone which could make and receive phone calls and text messages. The side benefits of being amazingly tough, having a battery life of a week or more and being a talking point also helped.

I'm a geek so I'm nearly always on a computer. When I'm away from a computer I actually enjoy the feeling of being disconnected.

For the last 3 years I worked doing IT support for small businesses, I didn't have a GPS device in my car. My co-workers didn't know how I survived. I just planned better than they did, printed out google map directions and worked on having an excellent memory.

I did cheat some what and stole the bosses wireless internet dongle so in emergencies I could just plug it into my laptop and be online from anywhere.

I'm now living in the US and have the exact same phone as Luke.

I'm in a similar situation, although I actually bought a GPS, just 'cause I'd been out of country for so long that the roads had changed.

I've a Blackberry, but with no services active except for voice and text, via AT&T's GoPhone plan - pay $2 on the days you use the phone, and get unlimited text and voice on those days; pay nothing on the days you don't use it.

It's an immense savings, and I'm by no means in a low-wage job or a college student - I just look at it this way: why pay for a plan which would otherwise fund a round-trip for two to Europe, every year?

> The truth is that memories are made in “unfortunate” situations. I once visited a terrible restaurant with friends of mine. The food was cold, the atmosphere was horrible, but we had a great time, and it’s something I will remember for years to come.

Yeah, and hitchhiking across the country can be a memorable experience too, but that doesn't mean you should always avoid flying so that you can make some memories in "'unfortunate' situations".

Valid point - but do you need to tweet, check-in on Foursquare, and check email constantly throughout the day?

I've had a smartphone for 3+ years, but I don't use Twitter or Foursquare, and I only read/reply to email on my phone when it's absolutely necessary.

I do usually use my phone to check for restaurant reviews though, or product reviews if I'm in a store. Google Maps is also extremely useful. I see no reason to eat shitty food if there's a good restaurant just down the road. Unfortunately, most restaurant rating services (like Yelp) aren't too accurate these days.

"Unfortunately, most restaurant rating services (like Yelp) aren't too accurate these days."

The scores are, but in aggregate, I have a decent experience with Yelp reviews. As with any user-generate content, there are plenty of opinionated idiots, but I can generally quickly skim them to find out if they're an idiot or not and discount their negative/positive ratings.

The problem is that in large swathes of the country (outside of the largest cities), there aren't enough reviews to get an "aggregate" opinion. So it's easy for outliers to sway the overall rating for any given restaurant.

Well, in those cases I usually just read the text of the review and see whether it's from someone who would give 5-stars to any Applebees, or whether the person is slightly more aware of what decent food should taste like. It's imperfect, but the results on Yelp are slightly more curated than what's come before. I like their system better than their user generated review competitors, at least. The users seem somewhat more literate.

It is still possible to work around those things, but smartphones are just more convenient for most people.

It would be awesome if phones transformed into computers, sort of what Ubuntu has planned out. http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/android

That's one advantage of foursquare: after you've checked in at a number of restaurants, it does a good job of suggesting places based on where you and similarly minded people have checked in.

Yeah, I saw an interview with the founder on a recent episode of On The Verge, where he talked about that. I guess the whole gamification aspect of the service turned me off.

As a living creature, we only really need food, shelter, and someone to love (and love us back). Everything past that is for the enjoyment of our existence.

If you're not in a position to pay for an expensive cell phone plan, or if you'd simply find the money better spent elsewhere, then do that. When you ask me if I "need" to use my smartphone, you sound like my mother. Don't do that.

Does everyone who owns a smartphone do this?

If you're a broke college student, yeah, you probably don't need a smart phone.

Of course nobody needs one in the way they need oxygen or food, but if you're an average professional adult with a reasonably good job, the $100 a month is not that great an expense for a combination music player, camera, GPS, social networking, and, oh yeah, a phone too.

I went with the unlocked phone and prepaid SIM route, so it's only $50 a month. I feel like I'm beating the system.

The fact that most telcos in US offer cheaper prepaid plans with the same resources (unlimited voice/sms/data) than their 2-year-lock-in counterparts still surprises me... Is the lockin there really just to offset the price of the subsidized device?

The term subsidized, to me, seems misleading. On a contract you're usually buying the phone on credit and paying it off in your monthly contract charges. I wish there were more transparency in contract pricing. Ie. this is the cost of the phone this is the, data, voice etc. Then you could compare deals fairly. The sim only and pay as you go at least give you a chance to see what you're paying for the voice/data/texts without the phone cost.

If you're on a 2 year $100/month contract probably $30 a month goes to repay they phone cost the rest for the service insurance etc. If you don't upgrade straight away or get a big discount at the end of the contract you're effectively giving your mobile operator a massive profit jump.

exactly - which makes the prepaid plans A LOT more interesting: all you have to do to cancel is stop paying, and the plans are cheaper than the long-term ones. I'm not sure you can "finance" the phone directly with your credit card, though, but if you can, then it makes even less sense.

I'm saying this because prepaid plans, in every other country I lived in, were absurdly expensive, if compared to the post-paid ones...

Am I the only geek who really loves my smartphone? It seems the popular "geek-chic" position to have these days is "you can have my old-fashioned phone when you pry it from my cold, dead, fingers". If anything, my smartphone doesn't have ENOUGH features, but that's currently due to the "dumbed down" mobile experience that many websites and Facebook seem to be content with giving me.

I can't wait for semi-Augmented-Reality with Google Glass and always-connected Internet with (hopefully) better carrier coverage.

Edit: The contract is too expensive though - I'm paying for tethering as well (AT&T) and with my work discount that puts me just over $80/month. I know, switch providers... (AT&T and Verizon are my only "real" options where I travel).

I don't think the author is saying his old-fashioned phone is chic... just economic. As a college student, he doesn't have a lot of disposable income, and to him the benefits of a smartphone don't justify the cost, even though he admits his feature phone is “not sexy” and “looks funny”. A lot of tech trends are really about fashion, but that couldn't be further from the case here.

Edit: also worth noting, you can go the iPod Touch route and have all the wonderfully geeky benefits of a smartphone, but only when wifi is available. If you usually are in range of wifi, it could make sense... see my other comment about how a friend of mine does it.

You are correct of course. The author is very clear on this (which is one reason I upvoted the article). However, I do have many friends with this opinion who CAN afford smartphones.

Even worse - I have friends that have expensive smartphones with the expensive data/text plan plan and would be better-served with an old dumbphone with a keyboard (for texting) and a iPod touch!

I love my smartphone for everything except phone calls. Since I don't want to give my personal number to work contacts and vice verse I carry two phones. One smartphone (my personal phone) and one 4 year old bar phone (work phone). I use my smartphone all the time, however as soon as I have to make a phone call I instinctively grab the bar phone.

My current thinking is to get something like a Note II to use as an always on internet device I can carry everywhere and an old bar or flip phone for making and receiving calls.

Just ordered my third smartphone, a Google Nexus 4. After a Nokia Lumia 810 (gave to wife), and previously a Google Nexus S (handed down to daughter).

I don't tweet from it, or do Foursquare.

I did some emails on the WP8, but use my phone primarily for SMS and maps/navigation.

I very occasionally tether a laptop or tablet, usually just to fetch a file while in an airport.

What I want to do on my mobile device is software development, almost any language will do. I know it has a very small screen, but without my glasses on I have this really neat microscope-like vision.

When I get my Nexus 4, I'm thinking of putting a Linux-from-scratch type of system on it. If I can still use it as a phone, and program OpenGL ES with a keyboard, I would be happy as a lark.

Just a data point, since you asked. :-)

Americans pay way way too much for mobile data plans. In Vietnam I get unlimited data for $4/month. Speed is throttled after 500mb but there's no hard cap.

At the end, the author suggests getting an iPod Touch. A friend I just visited in NYC does this. My friend has an iPod Touch he uses to make Google Voice calls when wifi is available (which is most of the time). He also has a dumbphone for making calls/texts when they're absolutely necessary and wifi isn't available. The dumbphone is prepaid with a very small allowance of minutes and costs him $10/mo.

I felt inspired by this setup, but the truth is I do rely on using Google Maps when in unfamiliar places, and that requires a data connection. To a lesser extent, finding local business listings/reviews without wifi comes in handy, too. I don't need it all the time, but when I do, these features are crucial.

If it were possible to refine my friend's idea by using only one device (say an unlocked Nexus 4), and getting a small prepaid data plan as well (say 500MB/mo), I'd consider doing the same. Does that exist?

See if you can get your hands on a Symbian/WP8 device for cheap.

I have a Nokia 500, which is smart enough for my needs, and Nokia maps offers entire countries/states to download so that they are available offline. Offline landmark coverage isn't the great quality as online, but virtually any major shop/restaurant/street is present

Check out TMobile's prepaid plans http://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/monthly-4g-plans

If you can deal with very few minutes the $30 100 minutes/unlimited everything else is a great deal. Nexus 4 would work on this

Not bad at all. I'm surprised there's not an even more affordable pay-as-you-go option for data, though.

I have a credit-card sized phone - straight from china, works like a charm. USB charge last for 3 days


Call me when smartphones reach that size so I can replace my N900 (because a camera is the only thing I miss in such a tiny phone)

Because I don't have my own car. Just having public transit info at my fingertips is enough reason for me. I'm not really sure how I would get around in new/unfamiliar areas efficiently without my phone. Obviously it's possible, because I used to do it, but it was far more hassle. Add to that driving directions for when I am in a car, a music library in my pocket, and it just makes sense (for me).

It's absolutely a luxury, and I could certainly survive without one. Frankly, though, its not the first luxury I'd give up. I'd do without cable, without a television, and without a clothes dryer before giving up my smartphone.

P.S. Turn off email notifications. You don't need to be alerted every time an email comes in.

> I thought paying over $100/month for a smartphone didn’t make a lot of sense.

I pay $10/month for mine (including the cost of the phone).

> but my assumption is that you are like me, and constantly near a wifi hotspot

No, I'm hardly ever near one when I need to use my phone.

Republic Wireless just opened up to the general public: http://republicwireless.com

I like it. I don't love it, but I like it, and I definitely like the price. I've learned that it's best for me to annualize my recurring bills so I can think about them clearly, and $40/month vs. $110/month adds up pretty quickly. (I have two lines in my house, but my $110/month was on a "feature" phone, a term I can not use without using scare quotes around the word feature. A single person is looking at $20/month.)

Obviously this just addresses the price issue. I'm not talking about the other stuff.

Might as well just get Straight Talk at $45/month, then you can use any unlocked phone, and aren't forced to use that one model that Republic offers. But I like how they're thinking outside the box.

That's $600/year for me more than RW, and I'm fine with the Defy XT so far. (I'm coming from a "feature" phone, so it's a huge upgrade for me, even if it's nothing special by Android standards.) I don't mean this as a bad thing per se, just observing that's $600/year difference, which isn't trivial for me (though affordable).

I think the most important use of a smartphone is the maps app. Not getting lost anymore (provided the battery isn't dead) is hugely beneficial.

To add to that, the cycling lanes on google maps help me not die by staying on safe roads.

Its true that people dont always need a data connection, and an ipod would be one alternative. However, there are ways to get smartphones for cheap.

I discuss a few options here: http://www.zappable.com/2012/07/smartphones-for-cheap-ii/

You can also buy a chinese smartphone for less than 100$ and use only the free wifi near you.

(I am also biased by the fact that in France we have unlimited call, messages and data connection for 20€ ~ 25-30$ per month)

I have a Samsung Galaxy Mini I bought jailbroken off of Ebay for about 100 dollars. I use a pay-as-you-go card for calls and free wifi for the internet -- except for the part where I don't dare login to anything because anyone could probably root it on a whim, it's pretty awesome.

What pay-as-you go card do you use?

T-mobile. Payments through their website are a bit broken though, currently the only way I can put more minutes on is to use the refill cards, they don't seem to be able to accept my debit card.

Used Nokia N900 Linux smart phone with nokia maps (supports offline)

about $200 and works on most pay as you go bands....

Bluetooth, 64 Gb storage, FM Radio, FM Transmitter, TV Out Tethering, Infrared, Backlit Keyboard

Still miss it after 2 years of android smart phones http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=m570.l2...

Yes please, where? I'd really like to get some cheap-as-chips android phone to play with, as I've started doing android development. The Nexus 4 looks like it isn't happening, and honestly it wouldn't be healthy for me to have 24/7 web access. But a crappy little Chinese handset sounds perfect.

I pay about $58 a month for my AT&T iPhone contract with no texting plan and an employer discount. That includes fees.

Were I a college student on a tight budget I might migrate to an iPod mini LTE, a bluetooth headset* and VOIP apps (Talkatone for Gvoice). You could throw an iPod touch in there or not. Assuming you went with Verizon that's $25 a month base with no contract.

* Picking the right headset seems vitally important here; some work smartly with Siri where you just tap the headset once or twice to activate voice control.

I don't need a smartphone. I've been happy with the cheapest Nokia I can buy from the shop each time I've needed to change phones.

Recently I wanted to use a phone to get some Internet (for maps and WWW) when out and about. So I got a Wildfire S (it's small and cheap) and will get some kind of data plan from somewhere.

Agreed! If you aren't app crazy, just want basic email/calendar/contacts and maps, then Nokia is the best. Rock solid hardware and offline maps!

Why are you looking at the high end phones? I agree they don't make much sense financially. If you go with Virgin Mobile they have a $35 a month unlimited data plan with 300 minutes a month (easy to stay within if you use google voice on a computer for longer calls). Phones start from around $99

You can also buy grandfathered virgin plans on eBay. These are $25 a month for the same offer. You can buy one of these plans with a smartphone for around $70. Eg: http://www.ebay.com/itm/25-month-Grandfathered-Virgin-Mobile...

Where I live I only have 3 options (US Cellular, Verizon, ATT). I tried T-Mobile prepaid, and the reception was horrible. Maybe I need to move.

Because facebook is a waste of time, and if you put that $100/mo for 45 years in an IRA with an index fund you will have enough money for at least some heath insurance in old age/senility (may you live to 120). This is coming from someone who graduated college last august.

My number one reason is for commuting. I catch the train most days. Sure I could just read a book but often I prefer to read articles online.

Sure you can use a tablet for this but if you want to carry a phone anyway cuts down on what you are hauling around.

I am not a big fan if pulling my laptop out on the train.

For calls and texting, why would you need anything more advanced than a 3310? Altho I do like my N900.

I found it significantly harder to avoid "procrastinating" on an Android device than I do on my Mac (so I no longer own an Android device.)

iPads are less "problematic" in this regard than Android devices although probably more "problematic" than Macs. (Have never tried an iPhone.)

You don't. I've been debating this for a while and I'd rather have the extra money in my pocket every month. It's a luxury and if you want it, you'll have to pay. I know many successful people who do not have them, so it's not an absolute.

I still don't have a smartphone. I have an old clamshell phone, and I'm happy with it.

I dunno, I got a smart phone only after I left school. The only primary reason I have a smart phone is so that I can check Google Maps. Everything else is expendable.

(Yes, I am one of those people who hasn't upgraded to iOS6 yet. )

He recommends an iPod Touch for 300$ - hasn't heard about the Nexus 4 yet?

Is mobile internet really 100$/month in the US? I pay 10€ a month for 1GB, and there are cheaper plans available, too.

Don't some carries have free smartphones with plan nowadays?

Its just progress. Like why drive a 2012 Camry when a 2001 Camry can do the same job?

I don't, as I'm always surrounded by computers (at work and at home).So I just bought a Nokia 113. Exactly what I need.

How does Google Voice reduce minute usage? It still dials your phone and uses your minutes, doesn't it?

You can use VOIP solutions with it (GroveIP is one, it works okay), or just call from your computer.

Not if you use your desktop computer.

Segmentation. When I'm not working, I stay away from a PC but I stay connected using my phone.

because everyone else has one and complains if you don't reply to emails within 30 seconds?

I don't have one, I feel I don't need one, and no one has ever complained about me taking too much to reply to something. As a matter of fact, as I take my time to reply to something, I usually change my mind about what to say, about what's important and what's irrelevant...

And, no, $100 a month isn't nearly close to an acceptable price to mitigate random "complaints" about a possible "reply lag"

All I need is a John's Phone, which I've been using since it was released.

Nice article. Adaptability is the key to sustainability.

How else will I play LetterPress with my brother?

Once again, moderation isn't an option.

It is possible to own a smartphone, use it sparingly and gasp not have it tied to your corporate email.

Yeah I get that same feeling from all these "productivity" stories. It just seems easier to not do these things, rather than write about the weird ways in which you restrict yourself from doing them.

Also phene you seem to be hellbanned.

For just $35/month and a one-time purchase of about $100, you can have a decent enough smart phone:


Hopefully the coverage is good in your general area as it is in mine. (It used to start at $25/month if you signed up about 2 years ago like I did. I am grandfathered in on the $40/month/1200 minutes plan even though there really is no contract...)

My 2 year old LG Optimus V running Android 2.3 can do just about everything I need it to, which really isn't much. Mainly I use it for Phone, Texting, Music and Maps/GPS. Everything else is just icing.

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