Why Switching Back to Dumb Phones Was a Smart Move for Us (Part 2 of 2)

dumbphoneIn part one of this series, I looked at why I switched back to a “dumb phone” and which one I chose.  In this article, I talk about the solutions to challenges I found and discuss whether this move is for everyone.

Challenges of Dumbphones

As good as our dumb phones are, the transition has still been tricky.  It’s only been a few weeks, but we’ve noticed a some key challenges.  None of them make us regret our decision to switch, but there certainly are things that made us look for solutions.

The biggest challenge by far is texting.  After being used to a physical QWERTY keyboard and then a virtual touch keyboard, thumb typing “home soon” is just a bit annoying (because it means having to hit the keys this many times: GH MNO M DE PQRS MNO MNO MN).  Also, you can’t see the flow of the conversation like you can on a smartphone.  Group messages don’t seem to come through properly either (as in, I couldn’t open any I’ve received so far).

Our philosophy on data was all or nothing.  Since we gave up unlimited data, we didn’t want any data.  We had previously used mobile email and web on these flip phones, and the overage charges were about the same cost as our unlimited data plan had been.  But refraining from using data also means no email and no Internet on these phones, which limits our communication abilities.


Workarounds with Dumb Phones

When it comes to technology, I realize that there is not a solution for everything.  But in this increasingly connected world, I know not to assume that there is no solution for a given problem.

vzwmsgAnnoying thumb texting?  I searched for a way to forward text messages, hoping I could forward them to my Google Voice number.  No such thing, at least for dumb phones.  Enter Verizon Messages for texting.  This enabled me to access my texts on a tablet or through a computer web browser, with multiple benefits, including seeing the whole conversation, being able to read and reply to the group texts, and being able to type texts out with a regular keyboard layout!  I can still text on my dumb phone if I have to, but if I can wait, I use Verizon messages on a tablet or computer.

No email?  I set my Gmail account up to forward my messages to my phone number.  To do this, go to gmail on a computer web browser, click on the gear cog icon, go to settings, then choose “Forwarding and POP/IMAP.”  You can send email to a mobile phone with texting capabilities (at least with Verizon) by sending it to the 10-digit phone number followed by “vtext.com.”  For example, if the number was 555-555-5555, you would send an email to 5555555555@vtext.com.  If you replace “vtext.com” with “vzwpix.com” it will enable the recipient to get pictures in the message, as well as text (sample:  5555555555@vzwpix.com).  I can’t always read the entire email this way, but at least this way, I can know I have email, even if I can’t easily reply to it.  (You can “text” email addresses if you need to; just substitute the email address in place of a mobile phone number.)

GoogleVoiceGoogle Voice worked great with my smartphones.  But it works with dumb phones too.  I can’t immediately check my voicemail with it enabled, but I can see if I have a missed call, and can call back, or check my Google voicemail from a computer or other mobile device later.  I can also disconnect/reconnect the phone from/to Google Voice at any time.  With Verizon, it’s as easy as dialing *71(plus my Google Voice number) to have voicemails go to Google Voice (phone calls still come through, until they reach the limit of rings before going to the answering service at Google).  Whenever I want to disconnect Google Voice, I just dial *73.  (By the way, if you have Verizon, you can also forward calls in general to another phone number by dialing *72 plus the number).

Facebook and Twitter also let you connect your dumb phone so you can upload pictures/videos or send status updates via text.  After your mobile number is verified, all you have to do for a status update on Facebook is text it to FBOOK (32665); for Twitter, it’s 40404.  Facebook gives you a custom email address where you can text photo/video uploads.  (They list this for you on the mobile part of your account settings.)

A standalone GPS unit is cheaper than the extra monthly costs of a smartphone, when you do the math.  In just a few months, the unit will pay for itself.  We’ve not gotten one yet, but we’re planning to go with a Garmin unit with lifetime maps and traffic (like this one) when we do.

Even though I don’t use it as a phone now, I didn’t get rid of my old smartphone.  I still carry it around and use it with Wifi.  We have it at home, I have it at work, and I know several public places I can get it on the go if I really need to access the web, send an email, etc.  I enjoy using it with a Motorola lapdock, or hooking it up to its HD station to make it a mini computer, with dedicated physical keyboard/mouse, where I can use it for productivity or entertainment.

Is It Smart for Everyone to Switch?

I wouldn’t mind having a smartphone again… but not at the price we were paying.  I may look into a service like Republic Wireless offers, someday.  But for now I’m pretty happy with using a dumbphone and employing the workarounds I’ve found.

I think what we did was a good idea for us.  The timing was good, as our contracts were up.  The limited and less-streamlined access to helpful services has been more than offset by the money saved and the reduction of distractions on the go.

If you constantly need Internet on the go for your business, going back to a dumb phone might not be a good idea for you (especially if you’re grandfathered in on an unlimited data plan).  It might not be as easy a switch if you’re with another provider, either.  If you’ve got the budget for a smartphone and it enriches your life, of course, you won’t want to switch.

Your mileage may vary, when it comes to going with a dumbphone.  But if you’ve been thinking about it and decide it’s for you, here’s my advice:  make sure you’ve found alternatives for any services you really need, and then go for it.  The phones may be smart but it doesn’t mean that it’s a smart thing for all of us to have them.  Sometimes the smart thing to do is to have a dumb phone.

Why Switching Back to Dumb Phones Was a Smart Move for Us (Part 1 of 2)

dumbphoneWhy Switch Back from Such Cool Devices?

My wife and I got our first smartphones in 2010.  The original DROID by Motorola had just been released.  Verizon was offering it for free with a two year contract that included unlimited data.  We researched the phone and were excited ours.  As soon as I got mine, I used it to navigate to work with Google maps, where my wife met me to pick up hers.  It was sweet.  We were smartphone owners.

In the coming days, I was pleased with the ability to use my phone from virtually anything from checking email to typing a text rather than “thumbing” it out on a number pad, to streaming live video, to watching YouTube and Netflix, to listening to my music library, and more.  Cloud services like Dropbox and Box let me access my files anywhere via the 3G connection, so I could often substitute my phone for a computer in a pinch.

Then, two years later, I got the DROID RAZR MAXX.  I missed the physical QWERTY keyboard and the lack of a removable battery of the DROID 1, but I got a lot of use out of the device, due to its faster processor, 4GLTE capability, and special features, both with its physical and software  .  especially due to the micro-HDMI port (watch videos on a TV!) and its ability to interface with the Lapdock and HD station accessories (which effectually turned it into a little mini computer, with a physical keyboard connected).

Unlimited data was great.  We were glad when we got to stay with the unlimited plan during subsequent changes to Verizon’s plans, in which all data was limited.  (We regularly went over what would have been the maximum limit on their new plans!)

Nice devices… improving features… incredible functionality…. no need to have a dumb phone anymore, right?

Problems with Smartphones

Despite all the good things about smartphones, there was one big negative:  the bill.  Sometimes our cell phone bill was more than our electric bill (mainly in mild months).  That’s just not right.

There was also the issue of figuring out redundancy and necessity.  Did we really need to have access to the Internet via Wifi and 3G/4G?  True, we couldn’t easily or economically take Wifi on the road with us.  The only way to access certain services while traveling was to have service on a smartphone.  But that brought up another issue: did we really need anytime access to those services?  And was there another way to get any services that were useful (like navigation)?

Smartphones also lend themselves easily to distractions.  It was way too easy to check email when I should have been focusing on a conversation.  It’s also a temptation on the road, and we all know that any distracted driving isn’t safe, wise, or loving toward your neighbor.

When we added it up we decided it wasn’t worth $720 a year to have the convenience of a smartphone, even though we were forfeiting the option of ever having unlimited data on Verizon again.  If the only thing we really needed in a pinch was navigation, it would be more economical to buy a stand-alone GPS device and have dumb phones.

A Good Dumbphone

When we switched from SunCom to Verizon in 2008, we both got the Motorola W755 multimedia flip phone – in “his and hers” – black and purple colors.  We enjoyed this phone.  It had a camera with a camcorder option (it even let you pause when recording video, so you could make a decent multi-scene video clip, like this one I recorded).  It let us put MP3 music files on a microSD card.  It let us text pictures and videos.  (We could also access the Internet on it via MobileWeb, but I don’t recommend it… slow, ugly formatting, and uses a lot of data.)

Well, we still had this phone around.  We even had a charger for an extra battery to swap out in a pinch.  To see if they would still work, I emailed the Verizon customer service rep I knew.  Yes, those phones still work with Verizon.  The day after our billing cycle ended, we pulled the plug on the smartphones.

Working Around the Limitations of a Dumbphone

A dumbphone… is still a dumbphone though, even if it has a few cool features.  Texting is a pain.  We don’t get group messages.  No good Internet solution with it.  But we have found some things that don’t make us miss the smartphones too much.  Next Friday, Lord willing, I will share the helpful work arounds and alternatives that have made the switch work for us.