Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cell phones: boon and bane

Cell phones: Yeah, I know, they are a necessary evil. A few years ago, it seemed so surprising that normal, mortgage-paying 8-to-5ers would every give up the safety net of the landline and go wireless, but now wireless has become the norm. My young neighbor remarked, after watching me use the landline, "Do you have a regular [cell] phone?"

I still maintain my landline and DSL, but for seven years, I had a bare-bones prepay phone as a matter of necessity: you know, one pre-buys a finite number of "minutes" and airtime. Not a smartphone. But it fulfilled my limited needs: got great reception, the minutes were relatively inexpensive when bought in bulk, it sent and received text messages. I use my iPod Touch for data and apps.

But for a few months, I had no bars, no reception. Incoming calls were routed directly to voicemail, or sometimes, lost altogether. Text messages failed. This is not good.  If I go incommunicado, I want it to be on my own terms.

Frustration converged with opportunity, and on a whim, I turned into the first cell phone vendor I passed on the main drag: a shop catering mostly the Spanish-speaking community.

The phone and plan I ended up with was exactly what I wanted. How often does an impulsive decision work out for the best? Once the owner understood that I did not want or need an unlimited plan for a fixed amount per month, he found a prepay per minute plan (Total Call Mobile) and a Sanyo Katana phone. the ultimate cost per minute is less than that of the previous phone, the plan does not require purchasing airtime in addition to minutes, the Katana phone (for which he discounted the price) is packed with features that I'm still learning about, the contacts database is more user-friendly, the screen is easy to read, and never has the phone been out of service.

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