s4. Life Companion. Really?
From Dumb and Dumber to Smart and Smarter(er)
For the past year or so, I have been hobbling along with an increasingly dysfunctional dumb phone. My contract renewal date on our carrier came and went (a couple of years ago) and the hang up/power button on my trusty old phone just plain ol' went. Although I desperately wanted a smartphone, there seemed to be some important things to consider before taking that hi-tech plunge. Namely:
1. Exactly what would a smartphone do to our monthly bill? We're hardly Rockefellers don'tcha know, and the whole data plan thing scares me. Were there better deals on other carriers? Should we change? Could we change? (DH's phone was still under contract).
2. The great debate I could learn to hate; Android or iPhone? Talk about your overly opinionated personality syndromes ("oops" ;o) and let's go for a little information overload while we're at it... Can we get beyond the IMO's to the real story here people? Geez.
3. Old(er) dogs and newer tricks. Otherwise known as: my alter ego "Techno-Twit" may strike (be stricken?) again. Could I handle the learning curve without hurting myself or anyone else? Did I even want to? Did I have enough Tylenol on hand to even attempt it?
Important questions, all.
and the occasional harrumph
In addition to the annoyance of backing my way out of each and every phone call, my battery was beginning to show signs of decline again. My phone started cutting off without warning, and the only way to get it to come back on was to take the case apart, pull the cover off, remove the battery, put it back in again, and then slap the phone against my hand while simultaneously mashing the power button until it sputtered to life. Seriously annoying. I'd already replaced the battery once a couple of years ago, and it cost me about $50. Not really worth the expense this time though. There was also the concern that my phone would crump and the car break down (in the boonies) at the same time. These things happen to me. I was going to need a new phone and soon, so why not make it a smart one? Of course then came my husband's less than enthusiastic reaction. Hmph.
Texting was pretty awkward and it made my thumbs hurt to use that little bitty keyboard; I have big thumbs. I really hated texting. Adding insult to injury, every time someone with a smartphone sent me a picture or video my phone would freeze up. I guess the bigger file sizes were a bit (byte? HaHa) overwhelming to the little guy - a panic attack maybe? No idea.
After a few months of intense discussion and debate (okay, carping and pleading), DH finally caved. Yippeee! A smartphone for Mother's Day this year (and the Fourth of July, my next birthday, this Christmas, and...well, you get the idea). Ready or not, here I come... Whoop!
Note: Forget Carpe Diem
It's totally caveat emptor.
Smartphones had come so far, that they're more like hand-held computers. A contract commitment AND major purchase. I knew I had some catching up to do, but I had no idea just how sharp that learning curve really was.
"But wait! There's more!" Remember those commercials? Every time I thought I was getting a handle on things, I'd find something else that needed to be considered. No more, please, my brain hurts. Ugh, whatta pain.
Carrier schmarrier - Wait. What?!!
Can we make it any more confusing people?
Although he had agreed to the upgrade, my husband was [to understate] not exactly keen to jump on the smartphone bandwagon. The reason? It would increase our monthly cell phone bill (though we didn't know by how much as yet). DH is all about making bills go down; never up (even if it's for a really good reason - like technological progress ;o)
Just to spice things up a bit (and sometimes I think he does it to make me crazed), my husband came home from work all excited over something called "Straight Talk". I was drowning in technological geekspeak already; now the man was asking me to figure out something else? Information overload, here I come. Yeesh. Now if you've never heard of it, or heard of it but don't know much about it (like me), there are some things you need to know about the way it works. Superficially, it sounds like an amazing deal; and it is, sort of. A smartphone with an unlimited data plan for a flat rate of $45/month (plus tax and fees). Wow. You know what though? It also sounded a little too good to be true; and it is, sort of.
- You have to pay the full retail price for the phone, so if you want a higher-end phone you're not really saving that much when you divvy your up front cost over time.
- Unlimited is not really unlimited. There is a "soft cap" around 2GB of data and when you get close to that 2GB your phone will be throttled back to the speed of sloth (if it even goes that fast). Straight Talk also reserves the right to terminate your service if you reach that soft cap repeatedly (Two times? Three? Dunno, but a potential concern).
- What is limited is the selection of smartphones available for use on StraightTalk; most are older models they're trying to get rid of. Every once in a while, they have a good deal on a "real" phone. The Galaxy S was available for around $200 when DH's pal signed up a year or so ago (pretty sure I would have jumped on that one). They're long gone in this area, though they may still be available elsewhere. Rats.
- You still have to choose a carrier if you want a fancy-schmancy cell phone, and your phone may not work outside of the Straight Talk network. For example: A StraightTalk Verizon phone using wCDMA (w=WalMart) will NOT work on the regular Verizon Wireless network (using CDMA) - you would have to buy another (other) new phone directly from Verizon). This is because not all carriers use the same technology (more on that particular migraine in the next module).
- In visiting the Straight Talk forums, I noticed that the customer service reps never addressed phone/service issues publicly where the rest of us could follow a problem from its initial posting to its eventual resolution. I found this to be very strange. Any problems or complaints posted in the forums were always addressed in the same cookie-cutter manner:
"Sorry that you're having a problem. I'm going to try to help you now. We need to take this issue
offline, so I can address it further. I will contact you directly with a private message. Thank you."
Now maybe it's just me, but for some reason that just makes me twitchy. Every forum I've been to posts problems and resolutions in their entirety. This is so that anyone else having the same issue can easily find the solution in a search. So what's up with the offline secrecy?
The Mathematical Migraine
*scratching head* Let's see...Today's hottest phone costs about $700 retail with tax. Divided by 24 months (the renewal cycle), the Straight Talk phone would end up around $79/month. Not exactly ginormous savings from that angle, is it?
Location, location, location
And by now I could use a vacation!
Clearly, we were entering some totally convoluted territory here. Do I have to know all this stuff? Yes, doggone it, I do. It's the best way to make an informed decision. I learned that cell phones use one of two technologies (and hopefully I'm explaining this properly):
CDMA - Code Division Multiple Access - is used by Verizon Wireless (our carrier), Sprint, MetroPCS, Cricket, and U.S. Cellular (the majority of the U.S. is CDMA ).
GSM - Global System for Mobiles - is used by AT&T and T-Mobile
wCDMA - [Walmart] Code Division Multiple Access - is used by Straight Talk.
You cannot switch between these technologies (which is why your AT&T phone can't go to Sprint and vice versa if you want to change carriers). Older iPhones were a little more universal; they allowed for the purchase a SIM card that lets you turn a CDMA into a GSM phone and switch between networks (which offered a "fail safe" of sorts, since you could always change back). Unfortunately, the SIM cards are not readily available any more, and the iPhone 5 has separated the technologies (you now have to choose either GSM or CDMA). Hmmm.
Additionally, if you want to switch between carriers that use the same technology (e.g. go from Sprint to Verizon), the phone must be "unlocked" by the carrier; and not everyone plays nice in the cellular industry (although some phones do ship from the factory already unlocked). Straight Talk's Verizon phones were wCDMA phones, manufactured specifically for Walmart, meaning we couldn't go back to Verizon with the phone if Straight Talk didn't work out. Who knew there was such a major lockdown on this cell stuff? Not me.
We live in a fairly rural location, and the best coverage here is with Verizon (nobody else is even close). I've checked with friends that have other providers, and their service is pretty spotty overall. If we lived in a more metropolitan area, our choices would probably be better. Maybe I should amend that to read we would actually have a choice ('cause when you're stuck, you're stuck, right? ;o)
There is also something called "tethering", but I'm not even going there (it wasn't a viable option for us either-either).
Pretty sure I could use some of that Tylenol right about now...
In A Nutshell
If you live in or near a big city, are happy with a sorta smart phone (lower-end model), or plan to keep your high dollar high tech toy until the end of time, and don't need a lot of data, then Straight Talk is definitely something worth checking into.
Who do you use for your cell phone service?
Seems Verizon revamped their plans awhile back and we were still schlepping along on the "old" plan. Upgrading to a smartphone would move us to the "new" plan, which was a better deal. This meant our bill would go up only about $12/month when we added the smartphone and data package.
Hold the cheese, please
(because are you kidding me?)
In the middle of my new-found quest for smartness (by way of the TMI* migraine), Samsung announced the unveiling of their latest flagship phone: the Galaxy s4. Up to this point, the only thing I associated with the word unveiling was art. Well, that and exotic dances involving the number seven. Anyhoo, I'll admit that I was intrigued, having never paid attention to such things in the past.
I've posted the full video below. Some of it was fun, however, I should warn you that the bulk of it contains more cheese than the entire state of Wisconsin (which is probably saying something). I watched it online on the big day, and found myself very interested in the s4 in spite of the over-the-top ridiculous manner with which it was introduced.
I'll admit to considerable eye-rolling at the screen, listening to all the blathering about this wonderful new device. Particularly when it came to Samsung's "Life Companion" tagline. Are you kidding me? I remember scoffing something along the lines of; "Oh please, people. Be serious."
Life Companion. Ha.
*Too Much Information
The unveiling of the Galaxy s4 - Crackers are highly recommended ;o)
Those Friday night fights
Are not just on TV
Finally! We've arrived at the fun part: the phone. Now that we've decided to stay with our current carrier (mostly because we have to) maybe we can tackle the real issue here: Finding Jen a new [fully functional] phone.
There's quite a technological battle going on between iPhone and Android along with some [very] strong thoughts and opinions of both. Although I was familiar with Apple; I can get around on my Dad's Mac if the need arises, I thought I might like the Android technology better. I played around with Pop's new iPhone 5 to see what it was like and it was nice, but didn't really wow me. Okey doke, Android it is then. Now that I'd made that part of the decision, I guess it was time to see exactly what kind of phone choices were out there.
The answer? As far as Verizon went, not too many. This is where I learned that your cellular choices are dictated by your carrier. They decide which phones they wish to offer their customers and (for reasons that completely escape me) Verizon chooses to limit their selection more than most. Note 2? Nah, too big. The HTC One? Not available. *scowl* Blackberry Z10? Too business-y. Windows phone? Nope, not interested. What about the Xperia Z? Not available. *snarl* Droid? Meh. And on it went.
After doing a LOT of reading and painstakingly separating reviewer bias from reliable fact, I decided that the Galaxy s4 was the smartphone for me; a nice all around phone with a great camera. It even had an easy mode to help with that learning curve. I'll interject here to tell you that I never did use that handy feature. I forgot all about it in the excitement of playing with my new toy; bet it would have saved me a few Tylenol if nothing else. Oh well. There was enough difference between the s3 and the s4 to make it worth waiting for (although maybe not so much if I already had the s3) . I really liked the bigger screen (bifocals, don'tcha know) and the overall features of the phone. I liked the SD card capability for photos too and the removable/replaceable battery was a definite plus.
*Ding*Ding*Ding* Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!
Hurry up and wait; then wait some more
A lesson learned
Two, actually. Lesson number one? I have exactly NO patience. That in and of itself is hardly shocking, but you would think that having waited a few years to get a smartphone that I could easily handle a few more weeks for it to arrive on my doorstep. Not so. It's lowering to admit you are worse than an six year old on Christmas morning, but there I was; all but jumping up and down in anticipation. *Bounce*Bounce*Bounce*
Lesson number two? I was not alone. The Android forums I visited [lurked in] had s4 "Waiting Rooms" full of other excited and impatient souls which, although they struck me as a little silly, made me feel considerably better about my own extreme sense of *cough* Readiness. Verizon didn't help matters by delaying their release of the s4 for an extra month. Really? You mean I have to wait more? But I'm ready NOW... *sniffle*
Ugh. So very mortifying.
One of the things I did while I was waiting, was set up a calendar on Google; birthdays, important dates, etc. I put in the schedule for the entire next school year, too.
When I got my phone, I tapped the screen and WOOSH. It was all there.
Synchronization is a wondermous thing :o)
A side by side look at father/daughter phones - My Galaxy s4 (left) and Pop's iPhone 5 (right)
It's harder than you'd think to get a decent photo of a cell phone with the background lit (my power saving mode was on). This one isn't too bad though. Funny that both of us wound up with Otterbox cases. Bit of a difference in those screen sizes though, eh? I've since learned how to increase the size of my screen icons, so now they're nice and easy to see.
Note: My Dad is in his [upper] 70's and has always used a Mac computer. The iPhone 5 was a great choice for him because the UI (user interface) is quite similar to his computer, which helped to cut down on the learning curve.*
*I have heard him threaten to run over it with the car a time or two, though.
I have pretty big hands, so the s4 is a great fit for me.
The quest for a case? Easy peasy. - Which is good, 'cause I can't learn anything else for awhile
Because we have horses, because I am outdoors a LOT, and because I am frequently fumble fingered (say that three times fast), Otterbox's Defender case was it. It offers three layers of protection against dust, scratches, and drops, and came with a handy holster. In spite of the three layers it didn't really add much bulk to my phone, which was a nice bonus (it still fits perfectly in my back pocket). The back of the case has a slight texture to it, which is great. I also liked the pretty colors they offered - because hey, girl here - mine is the first one in Aqua Blue/Violet.
Although Gorilla Glass 3 is pretty tough, it's not indestructible, so in the interest of paranoia I left the heavy duty screen protector on. Surprisingly, the extra layer only reduced the responsiveness of the touch screen around the very edges of the screen (and only slightly - wow). Looks a bit funky when the screen is dark though.
What's funner than a shiny new hi-tech toy?
Using the word funner. It's so.... wrong.
Apps. In spite of hearing, "There's an app for that." somewhere in the vicinity of 2.6 million times over the past few years, I was blown away by the staggering variety of apps there are to choose from. Not to mention how phenomenally handy some of them actually are! Be sure to poke through user reviews and pay close attention to the ratings.
I've listed a bunch of my favorite apps in the next module; it's amazing how helpful a smartphone can be. When I think about it, it's sort of like having a [programmable] mom, secretary, and personal attendant all rolled up into one little electronic gadget that fits in my back pocket. This thing is handy with a capital "H" (and an exponent ;o)
Instead of putting it on a credit card, I bought a Google Play card. My way of maintaining a modicum of control over my own spending. Good plan, that.
Some of the handy-dandiest apps so far - In both large quantity and random order
NOTE: On the apps I love and use consistently (like the ones listed here) I tried the free versions first, but then made it a point to go back and buy the pro version (seemed only fair to the developer, right?) Most of the apps range from .99c to $2.99 and if you've ever purchased software, then you know that's a drop in the hat ;o)
- Aqua Mail
Keeps up with incoming emails. The pro version allows you to have multiple email accounts, which was perfect for me as I have a separate email address for our non profit (Epic Farms).
Absolutely life saving! Reminds me to do all manner of things; take my bedtime medication (daily); water the plants (weekly); and change out the A/C filters (monthly). You can even customize individual alert sounds for each reminder - I'd be lost wit
- Simple Workout Log
The s4 came with its own fitness app, but I use this one in conjunction with the built in. It lets me log individual sets and reps as well as run my routine so I don't accident omit an exercise.
- Jorte Calendar
Nice little planner style calendar app with a month view that lets me have fun with icons. Syncs with Google Calendar and tasks. It was SO nice to have a calendar handy when I made my next dentist appointment (complete with the days when school is ou
- My Data Manager
Great way to keep up with how much data you are using. Tells me how many days I have left in the billing cycle, running total of how much data I used today, the percentage of data that has been on wifi (mine has averaged around 96%).
- Out of Milk
I love this! I was using index cards for my shopping lists, which worked fairly well BUT this is a million times better. I can maintain separate lists for multiple stores and they are always with me (because sometimes plans change and you wind up sto
Humungous collection of wallpapers, live wallpapers, ringtones and notifications (alerts). See my comments in the next module (I absolutely loved the selection of ringtones and alerts - they have just about everything!)
- Home Library
I'm a bibliophile (book lover), so I have books everywhere. On top of that, we don't have cable so we also have lots of movies. This app lets you scan barcodes (so fun ;o) and keeps track of all the books and movies in your collection. The app also o
A nice little reader app for keeping up with the blogs that you like to read and follow.
- ES File Explorer File Manager
Lets me view and manage files and folders in a manner similar to Windows (made things a little less confusing for me).
- Go SMS Pro
The "Go" apps are terrific for customizing your text message app and contact list. This one lets me add all those cute little icons to my texts; it also works for messages sent between Apple and Android.
- WiFi Manager
Free app that keeps track of WiFi connections and will automatically connect you to your favorites. For example: easily switch between home, work and a friend/family member's house or favorite restaurant with free wifi.
I crochet, and I'm also on Ravelry. With this app, my entire yarn stash and all of my projects are right here on my phone. Is that neat or what? Important stuff, that, because you just never know when you'll be in a store and stumble over a monster y
I don't know about you, but I have a ToDo list that would stretch from here to Mars. This app lets me keep up with different projects and things I need to do (great for me as I forget half the things I want to accomplish in a given day/week/month). S
- Mobile Security & Antivirus
I already had Trend Micro installed on our home computers, so I decided to try their mobile app (free for 30 days).. I found out that our annual subscription to Trend Micro also includes smartphone protection, so I didn't have to pay for the app. Nic
- Dragon Mobile Assistant
Even though texting is a million times easier on the s4, this app lets me dictate and send text messages by voice instead of typing. Cool.
- Nights Keeper
A wonderful "Do Not Disturb" app! Because I use my phone's alarm, it's right next to my head at night. If you've ever had a voice mail or text message come through belatedly (like at coronary causing 1a.m.) this is the answer for you. Allows you to s
- Missed Call
Seems Android missed a step when it comes to keeping smartphone users in the loop. Although voice mails and missed calls are (quietly) added to the Notification Bar, some of us need a much bigger announcement than that. This little app does the trick
A few screen shots of the apps I listed - In case you're curious to seeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Definitely the funnest part!
As much as we grownups like to feign maturity - and HA - sometimes you just have to be twelve. I will admit to having SO much fun tweaking my new toy it probably should have been illegal. Going through the collection of ringtones and alerts offered by Zedge was a blast. Nothing like hearing, "WooHooo! Text Message" [said by one the of the Chipmunks] to make you smile.
When my parents call, I hear "The Addams Family" theme song; my Dad's cell is a train whistle (he loves trains); my galpal with a quadrillion canines? "Who Let the Dogs Out", of course. My crazy horse crazy friend (yes, she's twice crazy ;o) is a person imitating a whinnying horse complete with clopping coconuts - too funny. Work number? "They're Coming to Take Me Away, HaHa"... and on and on.
The one that cracked me up the most had to be the alert I chose for the kitchen timer app; the Swedish Chef from the Muppets singing his *Bork*Bork*Bork* song.
It just doesn't get any better than that :o)
Don't forget to stay in stylus! - I love the combination stylus/functional pen
I bought the three pack the first time and put one in my purse (which has mysteriously disappeared), set one by my chair in the family room, and gave one to my daughter. I'd still like to have one for my home office (by the computer), and one for my bag at school (work). I just ordered the eight pack shown below, so I should have plenty - love those colors! :o)
For the price, I can afford to leave them scattered about so there will always be a stylus handy when I need one.
A Frugal Footnote
My dad bought a single stylus (without the pen) directly from the carrier. He paid a whopping $12 for it - ouch!
The Motivation to Move
Can come from the strangest places
I've been trying to exercise more. A LOT more. Between the Polymyositis (in remission) and Fibromyalgia et.al., it's pretty tough. I stumbled across a supplement called BCAA in a Fibromyalgia forum, and it has had a huge impact on my ability to work out (but that's a story for another lens). I still hurt quite a bit and I'm still stiff sometimes, but I am far more functional than I was. I'm back on the treadmill and even the weight machine (carefully), and maybe one day soon I'll finally be shed of those last 10 lousy pounds left over from the steroid treatment (grr). But I digress.
Where was I going with this again? Ah yes, the point. My phone.
Coming in from the evening feed (a couple weeks post-cellular euphoria), I plopped down on the sofa and set my new best friend down next to me. A moment later, a burst of fanfare erupted from the phone. Puzzled (Huh? Did I program that as an alert somewhere?) I looked at my screen and saw a little gold medal and the word "Congratulations!" popped up. Apparently I had hit my goal for the day of 10,000 steps. Um, where did I get a goal? Poking around a bit, I found the pedometer feature with its factory default goal. Then found I could automatically generate a nifty little bar graph of my steps and activity throughout the week. Well now, how about that?
Really puts things in perspective sometimes to look at a graph of your steps/activity. I don't know exactly why, but for some reason seeing a nice line of "skyscrapers" (10,000 steps and beyond), with that dumpy little two story building at one end (a slothfest) gave me quite a jolt. I guess I don't really care about the why as long as it works. Of course Sundays are supposed to be a day of rest; although perhaps not quite that much.
s4. Life Companion?
(really, really ;o)
I'm still learning about the camera - I can say "cheese" to snap a photo when it's on - Awesome!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Oh, and in case you're wondering why on earth I picked this particular theme for a lens on technology? Because this whole experience drove me dotty, of course.