Once I had made the decision to give up the iPhone, my next task was to choose a suitable dumbphone. It seemed easy enough: sell the iPhone on eBay to the considerable market of domestic and international buyers who will pay $500+ for an unlocked/jailbroken phone to use on any network, choose a new AT&T phone that was cheap-to-free, and pocket the difference. Unfortunately, I fully thought out my remainder of the service carrier’s subsidy.
For those of you not hip to the concept, the retail price of an iPhone is like $599, could you buy it with no contract with AT&T. To make it the much more attractive price of $199, AT&T and Apple “subsidize” the cost by making that money back over the course of a two-year contract through their steep and required monthly fees. You see, in addition to the voice plans that the vast majority of carriers require as part of their service—and a text plan—AT&T requires that all smartphone users have a data plan.
For me, this meant a couple of things: there would be no way to keep my iPhone but cut the data (there are tricks but AT&T seems to find out eventually) and there are very few phones they offer that I would want that aren’t considered smartphones. After a bunch of research into the features and reviews of phones that were free or cheap, could play music, and have a decent camera (since I didn’t intend to start stuffing an iPod or camera back into my pockets), I discovered from a string of emails to customer support, that if I wanted some manner of a QWERTY keyboard, but didn’t want data, I was looking for what they call a Quick Messaging phone.
Why do I “need” such a phone? A couple of reasons. First, I’m married and I have a toddler—with type 1 diabetes. So, on top of the general “where are you” and “I need XYZ” sort of requests that are common in a household, we rely on text messages to communicate blood sugar levels, insulin dosage, and other time-sensitive actions to each other and to teachers/babysitters day and night. It’s really the most practical way to get the information across. I remember what texting on a 12-key phone is like, and it will not suffice. It’s not a matter of it being intuitive or easy, it is a matter of being able to quickly get the information across while half-asleep, in meetings, etc.
So I was looking for a phone with AT&T to meet my requirements but my initial customer support emails were misleading and had some misinformation in them. As it turns out, I haven’t completed my obligation to AT&T and it would be until February 2011 until I could just walk away. After a few more emails and clenched fists, I discovered that I would only owe them about $100 whether I chose another of their phones with a new 2-year contract or if I exited the contract with a penalty.
In the end, I have decided to get out of the contract game entirely. I don’t want to be in this situation down the road and since I no longer want or need space-age technology in a phone, I can afford to just buy a cheap phone outright and pay for service month to month.
This has been another good downgrade decision. When you choose the iPhone, your sphere of options goes from the seemingly infinite to about 2: color and capacity. Alternately, when you start considering all the other phones out there—even just the Quick Messaging ones on AT&T, there are tons of choices and none of them all that great. Lesser cameras, lesser music players, lesser interfaces, and none of them especially compatible with contacts, calendars, and iTunes. Before I decided to get off of AT&T, I had selected a Samsung Solstice which has a touch screen, the basic alarm and calculator programs I need for diabetes management, and is relatively small and cheap (with the subsidy). I trotted down to the AT&T store a couple of times to try it out and scope out accessories and everything.
When I was researching and pondering the viability of sneaking the iPhone past AT&T with no data plan (a process involving putting your SIM card into a lesser phone, activating it, then switching it back until they notice), I discovered a phone carrier called PureTalk USA, which apparently is owned by AT&T but does month to month service with only voice and text. It’s cheap (unlimited plans are $39) and they have a super limited set of phones from which to choose. They have one with a QWERTY keyboard that can also sync contacts and calendar events to a Mac. Done and done!
So that’s it. I’m ordering a Samsung Propel this week, porting over my existing number, and picking up a couple of accessories like a thing to convert their silly proprietary headphone jack to a regular one, and maybe a case. I’ll sell my iPhone for like $500 on eBay to some unsavory character and be done with it. I’m sure my new phone will be a nuisance and hard to use, but that is sort of the point. Whether I desire it or not, I need something I won’t be compelled to fiddle with at every available moment. I just want a crumby phone again. Can’t wait!