Sunday, September 11, 2011

My first smartphone - background and review

This is almost embarrassing to admit, but until a couple weeks ago, I never owned a smartphone. Crazy, no? Maybe it’s not crazy for some, but look at my background. I worked in IT and as a web designer for more than 6 years. I currently work at a technology company. I’m a total nerd about computers. Yet I avoided purchasing a smartphone for quite some time.

Keep reading to see why I chose an iPhone.

Part of my hesitation was fueled by money and budget considerations. Smartphones require data plans, and that can easily add $25-30 onto your monthly cell phone bill. You may recall from earlier frugal-living posts that Rob and I have a basic cell phone plan in which we share minutes. So thus far, our monthly bills have been quite low in comparison to others we know. We weren’t sure if it was worth the added cost each month.

But then recently, a family member fell ill, and Rob and I decided to spend some time with family in my home state of North Dakota. The problem is that this situation occurred during a very busy time for me at work. I work on a very small team, and I really didn’t want us to fall behind because I was out of office. Now one huge benefit of my job (that is not lost on me) is that I can do a lot of my work remotely, as long as I have access to the Internet and phone. So I decided to use some PTO time and also work remotely for a few hours here and there in order to stay on top of my workload while I was away. The problem with this is that my parents and grandparents only have dial-up Internet. I can’t access most of my work systems (and definitely can’t remotely connect to my work computer) on a dial-up connection without a lot of frustration and failure. Many websites time out before I can connect to them, and whole thing is an exercise in patience. It’s nearly impossible for me to be productive on a dial-up Internet connection.

There’s the option of wi-fi on my laptop, but North Dakota is different than a metro area like Minneapolis. Minneapolis has city-wide wi-fi or free wi-fi from a variety of businesses, coffee shops, etc. Not the case in ND. This situation finally gave me the push to pull the trigger and get a smartphone so I’d be able to access the Internet whenever I pleased.

To be honest, I had been considering one for the past year, but was nervous about more than just the costs. Smartphones are kind of intimidating. It seems like there’s a lot to learn about each specific model before you can use them with ease, and I am a total newbie, which didn’t help. I started researching to find out which phone would work best for me. I initially decided on the Droid 3. There are many things that sounded great about the Droid. It has a qwerty keyboard, an 8 megapixel camera, and I’d read that it is considered one of the better smartphones for doing business work (email, documents, etc). Also as a former member of a web development team, I liked the Android platform. On paper, the Droid 3 seemed like the perfect phone for me.

But then I tried it out in the store. It was larger than I expected, and I found the user interface to be cumbersome and unintuitive. The 8 megapixel camera was basically useless as the sensor was so tiny that the photos were very grainy and dull. If you are a Droid lover, I don’t mean to criticize the phone and realize it’s probably perfect for many people. But for my needs and what I was looking for, it just wasn’t for me.

Then I tried the iPhone 4 and fell in love. It was sooo easy to use, and the camera (despite only being 5 megapixels) was a million times better than the Droid’s. As you may know, I’m a camera nerd and have 2 DLR cameras, so I don’t expect my cell phone to replace my “real” cameras. But I did want one that was decent enough quality to snap some pics in my day-to-day life. My cell phone provider had a pretty good deal going on, so I went home with an iPhone 4.

My review after the first couple weeks of owning an iPhone? I can’t imagine how I survived so long without it. I love the camera and the fun photography apps. It’s so easy to snap a pic, apply a fun filter, and then email it to friends or post on Facebook.

Some of my photography apps

A few photos taken with the free app Instagram (my current favorite):

Rob cutting my grandma's pasture in North Dakota

A photo of me, snapped by Rob

Out the car window, driving to North Dakota

It was also a very easy phone to learn. I didn’t read a single page in the manual, but I had learned how to do pretty much everything within the first few hours of owning it. It’s *that* intuitive. I’ve never been a big fan of Apple products in general (sour taste after dealing with Mac computers in the computer labs I used to manage), but I have to give them props. They really nailed it on the iPhone interface.

I set up my work email as well as my gmail account to be routed to the phone, and so far, it’s working out great. I did change my settings so that my email accounts won’t update until I manually push them (this saves a great deal of battery life). This makes it easy to keep a work and life balance because I’m not constantly seeing notifications about new emails. But if I WANT to, the option to check work email is there. I enjoy this feature when I’ve got a few minutes to spare and want to get caught up on anything that may have happened after I left work. Very convenient. I also synced my calendars.

I was initially very worried about the lack of a qwerty keyboard since I wanted the ability to read and reply to emails on the fly. I was surprised to find that the touch screen keyboard was actually very easy to use. I was even more surprised to discover that I liked it MORE than the qwerty keyboard type. I guess it’s true that you sometimes don’t know what you like until you try a few to compare.

A throwback to my old Java class.

I’ve downloaded a number of apps and will write a post soon about my favorites/most useful apps. But if you have an iPhone and know of some that are must-haves, please by all means comment below.

So many apps, so little time.

And finally - a word about data plans. I was pretty skeptical about having a limited number of gigs each month, but my cell provider doesn’t offer any unlimited plans. I was surprised to learn that most smartphone users use less than 2 gigs per month (our salesman said 95% of their customers use less than 2, but citation needed if you’re a skeptic like me). I get a LOT of email at work, with sometimes large attachments, and I also wanted to stream music and watch YouTube videos. But the overage charges were not too bad ($10 per gig over), so we decided to start out with the basic 2 gig plan. After a month of owning my phone, I have only used 0.229GB of 2.000GB. Isn’t that crazy?? I’m glad to learn that I won’t need to ration my Internet use.

Tip: If you connect to a wi-fi network, you don’t need to use your data plan. Pretty awesome.

So that's why I chose an iPhone. So far, I couldn't be happier. Again, comments welcome regarding your favorite iPhone apps, tips and tricks, or even just insight as to why you chose another phone (Rob's still on the fence about which phone he would get if he upgraded, so we welcome all opinions and insight).


Sarah (Mrs. Ruffled Flats) September 11, 2011 at 12:09 PM  

Awesome! I got my first smart phone last Christmas when Best Buy was giving them away for free for new contracts. I got a Droid Incredible and so did San. Mine turned out to be a lemon, and I waited too long to take it back, so all they could do was send it into Geek Squad, where I'm pretty sure all they did was reset it. It froze when he salesman was activating it again! It drives me crazy a lot because it seems to have a mind of its own. I'm buying the iPhone 5 when it comes out and we save up enough money. I can barely take it anymore!

kristi.w. September 11, 2011 at 12:36 PM  

Sarah - that sounds terrible! I had to deal with Best Buy's Geek Squad once (had a faulty laptop), and it is is soooo frustrating. You are going to love the iPhone when you get it!

Lauren September 12, 2011 at 8:29 AM  

iPhone all the way! Rebecca is a lot like you - she comes from a programmer family, is very tech savvy, and likes to customize everything. Everything except for her phone. The Droid really isn't very intuitive, and honestly, for a phone, I'd far rather just be able to use it and move along, not have to work so hard (and with such a bulky phone at that). The iPhone is just so slick and easy to use - it's hard to not like it.

I got mine for a similar reason - I got stranded at an airport for 26 hours and was one of the only people around me who was struggling to find a place to stay, a way to get around, and to have more information. It was sort of the last straw in a series of us going back and forth over whether or not to get them. We'd been trying to hold off until I'd gotten a job in NYC (I was still searching at that point), but took the plunge and got them anyway. It was well worth it.

As for apps - the native maps app has been invaluable so many times to us. I like the Twitter app. Facebook's app is terrible for frequent use, but is ideal for posting photos. Citypages has a lot of useful stuff on theirs. MLB at Bat for keeping up with the Twins. The Whitepages app has come in handy countless times. There are plenty of fun ones, too, but I'm blanking on several that I really like. I'll take a look at mine and send you a few suggestions.


Chelsea September 12, 2011 at 4:19 PM  

You guys weren't the only people without smartphones. :) We're still using regular cell phones (and I don't even have unlimited texting lol) - although we recently did upgrade to a phone with a full keyboard, woohoo! lol Ah well, once we can afford it we're totally going to spoil ourselves with some nice iPhones.. so maybe in a few years, haha!

Glad you're liking your iPhone so much!


infourseasons September 14, 2011 at 12:53 PM  

I'm cheap too, so I have an ipod touch instead :). It does pretty much everything an Iphone does, without the bill every month! :)
Since I stay at home most of time, it makes sense for me to use my wi-fi internet. But if I get a job and find it useful to get a smartphone, I would totally get an iphone! :)
My favorite thing to do on my ipod is facetime with my mom in Brazil! So easy and fast....much better than using skype!
My fave apps are: mint (for financial control); IReaderG (to read my blogs at once, btw, does anybody know how to post a comment in a blog using this app?);
CraigslistPro (must have!); Pinterest (even though it drives me crazy with all the crashing, I'm addicted); WhatTheFont (take a pic of a word and find out what font was used); PostalPix (order prints as low as 21cents and they send them to your house! awesome!); Postagram (order a postcard, add a pic and a msg, and send to your friend's address for 99cents!).

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