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Tech, GP

January 15, 2011

Smartphones can open up a world of possibilities

I think we have a remarkable coincidence, folks. Just last weekend we were treated to my old colleague Cary's view on the advance of technology, part of which is his lack of motivation to get a smartphone.

Well, I recently took delivery of my second smartphone a month or so ago, and I had planned to write about it for this column.

Now, don't get the wrong idea. I agree with Cary on a lot of things, probably many more things than we would disagree about. And, in fact, a few years ago I would have put forth the same line of reasoning he did, something along the line of "Why get a new phone when this one still works?"

My opinion has since changed.

In general, although I am quite interested in technology, I don't like to see things wasted. Generally, I tend to go along with the "use it up, wear it out" theory of life. I always clean my plate at suppertime. You can ask my wife.

So, as cell phones kept getting "smarter," I kept an eye on things. But I didn't run out and buy one. I kept my old "flip phone," which just made calls and kept a phone book, up until a couple years ago.

I don't mean to say I wasn't tempted. But to use the neat Internet features of the smartphones, you had to purchase a data plan from your carrier. And, it wasn't cheap for an individual.

I didn't really want my monthly cell bill to be in the three-figure range. The play value of the Internet on my cell phone just wasn't enough to warrant the extra cost, to me. Fifty-some-odd dollars a month was enough, thank you.

So, a couple of years ago I got a smartphone, but without a data plan. Seems like an odd combination, but it did have some advantages. I could synchronize my Outlook phone book and calendar with it, but I had to use a wire to connect my computers and the phone. That right there was worth getting a smartphone for. I forget things, and the phone reminded me. I was pretty satisfied with life.

Then, not too long ago, Verizon must have figured people like me out. They created a data plan that was only an extra $15 a month, instead of an extra $40 a month. That made me really begin to think about it.

I would have to be careful about my usage, but I figured I could manage that. After all, I didn't plan to surf the Web on the phone anyway, it's screen is too small to realistically do that.

So I took the plunge, as they say, and used my "New every two" credit toward a new Droid 2 at the end of last year, and signed up for 150 MB a month of data usage.

I consider that 150 megabytes per month a hard and fast rule for myself. If you do like I did, you should too, because if you go over that, the extra is pretty expensive. That's something to keep in mind.

Now, the big deal about smartphones is the application programs you can run on them. Everybody just calls them "apps," now. These are the programs that do things for you just like programs on a computer.

There are loads of apps. The number of apps for the Android operating system number in the hundreds of thousands. Everything from apps that turn your phone into a carpenter's spirit level, to apps that predict the time of your ovulation, if that's something you want to keep track of. It's amazing.

And many, many of the apps are free to Android users.

Now, you may wonder why I got an Android phone instead of an iPhone. Good question. I believe there are even more apps for the iPhone than for the Android phones. There is one big difference, though.

Apple, the company who makes the iPhone, strictly controls which apps can be sold in its app store. And it is not shy about keeping certain apps out. If the powers-that-be don't like what an app does, it's not going to be available in their store. I don't like that way of doing things. It's a bit too big-brother-ish for me.

So I got an Android phone, and I'm not sorry.

It's neat, and fun. And I continuously discover new neat and fun things it can do. Anyhow, enough about the phone.

Back to the difference between Cary's way of thinking and mine.

The short story is this: It's fine to only get something new when something old wears out. That's the frugal, conservative way of thinking.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, if you like being conservative.

But if you don't move ahead along with the rest of the world as it changes, you are necessarily falling behind. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, either, if that's the way you want to be. It's your own prerogative.

But that isn't where I want to be. I may be oldish now, but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in new things; things that may be better than what I had before; things that may be fun; things that may solve a problem; things that may give me an answer for which I've been looking.

If you don't open yourself up to try new things, you may very well miss out on something that could be important to you.

I guess that's my excuse for getting a smartphone, Cary.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@dailystarmail.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp

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