I don’t consider myself a late adopter, maybe just for things that are hard on my personal budget. I experimented with an 8 bit Motorola 6800 developers kit (hexadecimal keypad and display) around 1978, and built a 6809 home computer from a schematic with wirewrap in 1982. My first cell phone looked like the one at left, so I’m not a late adopter of home computing or cell phones. I was an early adopter of structural test circuits in silicon chip design, years before it became common practice. But then I only recently purchased an HDTV, so certainly a late adopter in this case.
I concede I’m a late adopter for the smartphone wave, so I think it’s time I take the plunge. So in proper engineering form, lets do a requirements analysis. What are the factors to consider when purchasing a smartphone? Not a comprehensive list, but these come to mind:
- What kind of service plan do I want, what’s my budget?
- Which carrier should I go with?
- Do I want a real or virtual keyboard?
- Which device manufacturer?
- What features are important?
- How many cameras do I need?
- How big of a screen do I want?
- Do I want to use this for work or pleasure or both?
- Which mobile operating system?
- Do I have to have the latest hardware or software?
In the interest of keeping these posts short, and providing material to carry me all week in this subject, I’ll break up these points over a series of posts. I think it’s wise to begin with what you think you can afford, so lets examine service plan options.
The most popular thing these days seems to be getting a smartphone for free (or almost free), in exchange for a 3 year service contract, and I must admit that I have acquired one cell phone this way. It is sad that the phone expired before the contract did. Now we know the device really isn’t free, we pay for it in the service fees. I haven’t done the analysis myself, but I have a few friends who have and figured that you will pay for the device a few times over during the length of the contract.
My 18 year old son bought a $50 HTC phone with a physical keyboard and a mid-size screen to use with a pay-as-you-go plan. He just wants to text, so only pays for that, so that’s a good low cost scenario, but it’s a locked phone. My 20 year old son got a 3″ Samsung running Android, and is paying for it through a service plan with a major carrier, not a low cost scenario and again a locked phone, but one that could likely be jail-broken if need be.
The idea of being “locked in” does not appeal to me, especially with new wireless carriers entering the market and stirring up some competition on service plans. Although my service contract has expired, my carrier called me and tried to get me to lock in for another 3 years by offering me a gift certificate. It was presented as if the gift certificate was towards a new phone in appreciation of my past service, but I found out at the end of the call that it commited me to another 3 year contract just by accepting the gift certificate, even if I didn’t get a new device! I thought this was pretty sneaky and declined. Warning – always look a gift horse in the mouth! I’ve done business with 2 of the major carriers and have not been impressed with the customer service from either.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d rather buy the smartphone I really want, and pay for the service plan I really want and have the freedom to get the best deal that I can in either case with an unlocked device. We’ll examine hardware (insert manly ‘home improvement’ grunt here) in the next post.