Re-think Your Phone Upgrade

I’ve been eligible for an upgrade for a few months now, but there’s something that’s held me back. For starters my phone has been working fine (until recently), so I couldn’t justify the purchase of a new one. On top of that if I upgrade I’m forced into a new contract which means I will lose my Unlimited Data option. If you’re anything like me, that’s kind of a kick in the head. I use a lot of data for work, and I really don’t want to resort to counting kilobytes. Fortunately, there’s a way around it.

Verizon’s current offerings are something like this –btw, I’m ignoring Talk and Text options to keep things simple here:

  • 2 GB/month for $30
  • 5 GB/month for $50
  • 10 GB/month for $80
  • Unlimited data for $29.99 (no longer offered)

At some point Verizon will change their plans and prices making the above info completely useless, however, the principles below will still apply.

All upgrades lock you in to a 2-year contract. The advantage is that you get the phone for much cheaper by signing up. Typically a new smart phone costs about $600, but they will offer it for, say, $200 if you sign up for two years of over payments –I mean, a contract. Here’s how the prices break down for a new phone today.

$650 for the phone w/out contract
$30 per month unlimited Data (only applies to customers who already have this plan)
$1,370 Two year total

$300 for the phone w/ 2-year contract
$50 per month for 5GB Data
$1,500 Two year total

$300 for the phone w/ 2-year contract
$80 per month for 10GB Data
$2,220 Two year total

In other words it’s $850 cheaper for me to buy a new phone at full price than it is to get the “discount” and pay for usage (over the next 24 months). Plus I have the peace of mind knowing I never have to worry about overage charges.

So if you find yourself in the same situation as me rest assured you don’t have to be the sucker consumer. Try buying a new phone and simply having the number switched over. Your wallet will thank you.

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Personal Review of Motorola Droid

On Thanksgiving Day I accidentally put my MotoRazr cell phone through the washing machine. Granted the screen had slowly collected lint over the last year and a half, but in hindsight this probably wasn’t the best way to clean it out. Sadly this wasn’t the first time I’ve sent my phone through the wash, though I am hoping it will be the last. Anyway, after a very short and unmotivated diagnosis I declared the Razr dead and bought the new Droid on Black Friday.

Unlike most of the initial reviews, I’ve actually had a couple weeks to use it and see how it holds up in day-to-day life. Here are the notes I’ve made along the way:

  • The touch screen is very fast and responsive; it never lags!
  • Multi-touch would be a welcomed addition, particularly for zooming. The “double tap to zoom” feature isn’t awesome, though it’s not frustratingly horrible either.
  • Occasionally it scrolls down the page when you just try to tap something. I haven’t had this problem much lately, so I think it was just a matter of getting used to how it responds to your tap.
  • Android (the phone’s operating system) is VERY impressive! The innovation behind Google is something I already endorse every day via Gmail, Maps, Calendar, etc… Knowing they are behind my phone’s interface is very reassuring.
  • I love the way it syncs with my contacts from Gmail and Facebook. All of my Gmail contacts were showing up in the phone when I left the Verizon store.
  • Contact grouping minimizes repetition in your list. If you have multiple entries or email addresses for someone it will automatically combine them into a single contact. However, it did get rather confused when it saw that I have an uncle named Steve Elliot…
  • Until the most recent firmware (or Android) update on December 11th it had recurring problems syncing with google. The remedy linked above wasn’t working for me, and it kept giving me the error message. Fortunately it has worked flawlessly since the update. (This makes me VERY happy!)
  • The Android Market is abundant, though not as plentiful as the iPhone App Store.
  • There are three keyboards:
  1. Virtual Vertical: A bit too small for my fingers. I’ve gotten better with it, but I still can’t type as fast as I would like. It is however great for one-handed use.
  2. Virtual Horizontal: my personal favorite. I can access the buttons easily and the keys keep up with my typing as fast as I can go.
  3. Slide-out QWERTY: it’s all right, though not spectacular. I frequently hit multiple keys at a time (on accident) when typing on it. I do love the multi-directional arrow pad though. I will often slide the keyboard out just to use it. It makes it much easier to reposition the cursor wherever you need it.
  • The keyboards disappear when changing orientation, so you have to tap the text field to get it to pop up again.  This is mildly annoying.
  • Auto-complete is excellent and doesn’t get in the way. Ninety-five percent of the time it gives me exactly the word I meant to type. I don’t have to waste time correcting the idiocy of auto-complete.
  • The Body Glove case (optional accessory) is the perfect balance between a rubbery grip and a hard case. It’s nice that you can still slide out the keyboard, but it makes the top row of keys a bit harder to hit (for my big fingers). It makes the overall size of the phone appear much bigger than it really is. (I will be using the phone without the case for the next week to see which I prefer.)
  • Slide out keyboard means moving parts, which means more places for dust to creep in.
  • Dedicated “Back” button makes everything better.
  • Multiple windows in Browser is revolutionary! It works just like tabs in Firefox. It’s one of the best examples of Android’s ability to run multiple tasks/apps simultaneously.
  • Perfect response time for switching orientation to/from vertical to horizontal. No waiting and shaking like the iPhone.
  • The built-in LED flash is fantastic. I don’t care for the direct flash in my photos, but it can be used as a flashlight with some of the apps. It’s much brighter than a screen whiteout.
  • I wish it would allow one more row of icons on the home screen. There is a lot of wasted space –particularly if you use Widgets.
  • Names and info from your contacts are automatically added to the user dictionary. Makes life easier.
  • Speaker volume almost seems inconsistent. Sometimes it’s too loud and other times it’s not loud enough. (I guess there are a lot of variables to consider though –ambient noise, connection strength, recorded volume, etc…)
  • Screen resolution is very impressive. Sharp detail and easy readability. Bright enough to see clearly outside on a sunny day.
  • There needs to be an option to disable the camera sound. Unless you put the Media Volume on silent the camera’s “shutter” sound is loud and annoying.
  • Accelerated scrolling is very well weighted. Makes it very easy to get through a long list or page without a lot of finger flicks.
  • The Facebook app leaves much to be desired. It’s not intuitive at all. Just opens the browser for most commands.
  • I can “Bump” with iPhones, thus making me a part of the cool kids club.
  • The Chipotle app is not currently available for the Droid. …That is almost a deal breaker for me. =)

The obvious comparison: If the iPhone has taught us anything it’s that cell phones aren’t just for making calls any more. Ultimately it comes down to the various apps available, and currently Apple has a better offering.

The iPhone has proven that consumers are willing to put up with a second-rate carrier (AT&T) to get the bells and whistles of the hardware. Verizon finally has an impressive phone on their great network, but I don’t think anybody expects it to actually replace the iPhone. At least there is now a comparable alternative.

Conclusion: I LOVE the Droid! It’s been a remarkable tool for me, and has drastically increased my productivity. At the end of the day, it depends on what you’re looking for in a phone. I personally wanted to be able to check email, surf the web, and have GPS for local searches. I haven’t downloaded a single game, song, or movie on my Droid even though I can. It’s just not important to me right now.

If all of your friends have iPhones and you want to be like them, get an iPhone. If you’re on Verizon and want a great phone, get a Droid.