Before long, every cellphone will be a smartphone
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 30 years


Cheapskate's guide, Part 2: Smartphones

November 24, 2013

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, The Post-Standard

Some people buy a phone so they can take pictures, surf the web, monitor Facebook, track their kids and play games in the dentist's waiting room.

Others, as hard as this is to believe, use phones to make phone calls.

Don't think the second category is for hopeless troglodytes. I have one of those phones. It even has -- and I'm not kidding -- a removable battery. (Yup. It was made in 2007. It's a hand-me-down. Santa had better fix my smartphone drought this year.)

"Smartphone" is a temporary word. Before long, every cellphone will be a smartphone, and nobody will remember what we used to call them. Not even me.

A smartphone is actually a tiny tablet that makes phone calls and does all the other things tablets do. (Think of iPads and you'll get the point) . Some smartphones are even the size of small tablets, and that's got to be a boon for the clothing industry. You'll need new pants with big pockets next year.

So here's an easy-to-follow guide to smartphones, which I'm calling "phones" from here on.

1. Avoid contracts. You might think the only way to buy a phone is to buy a contract that commits you to a couple of years of monthly bills -- big monthly bills, to be sure. But do a little wake-up exercise. What's cheaper over two years, a gizmo that costs $100 to buy and $3o a month or one that costs $30 to rent and $100 a month?

And don't tell me you failed math in school. The real cost of a phone -- in this example, $100 -- is hidden when you get one through a contract. Imagine buying a car like you buy a phone. A new Ford Focus for $1,200! And only $1,200 a month for three years! (It's HUGE, right?) And if you skip out on this deal before the end of the contract, you have to pay a termination fee of only $12,000!

So buy without a contract. My suggestion is Straight Talk, part of Walmart's giant empire. You buy a phone outright; it's yours forever, or until you pawn it off to your nephew. You pay only for the service. Our Straight Talk phone cost us $80 (a Huawei Android phone), with a no-contract fee of $45 a month of unlimited talk, data and messaging. (No-contract means you can quit at any time without a penalty.) Go to the camera and phone section of your nearby Walmart.

2. Avoid the lock-in. Apple locks you into its ecosystem by preventing you from doing anything it doesn't want you to do with your phone. No apps that haven't been approved by granny. I mean Apple. No slot for a memory card, which means no extra storage. And so on. If you really, really care about camera quality, get an iPhone. Otherwise, enjoy your freedom and choose an Android phone. (Avoid Windows phones at all cost. They're the odd man out.)

3. Finally, get the message: Cheap smartphones are usually just as good as expensive ones. The basic difference is likely to be screen size, which makes those models awkward. Besides, smaller screens are easier to hold. Big-screen models cost a lot because the technology that makes them possible costs a lot. Let your neighbor and your brother-in-law help pay the cost of new technology while you keep sitting on your wallet. Next: Give the gift that keeps on spinning -- an external hard drive.