Category Archives: Phone

Why Smart Phones are Smart

Most people in many first world countries own and rely on a smart phone daily. However, there are many people that still find smart phones as too expensive, too complicated, or just not effective. I am going to address many of the concerns that some many have.

Expense

Yes, most smart phones are more expensive than basic phones, or even feature phones. However, let’s look at the expense. First, the price of a phone. A basic phone can cost as little as $30. However, a reliable smart phone can cost more than 5 times that price. I would recommend at minimum a Motorola Moto G. The Moto G is not capable of supporting LTE, but it is also less than $200. Next is the service. Many cellular plans are about $35 or more. A smart phone plan if one shops around can get service for about $50. What would one get for the extra $15. First, at least 1GB of data. Keep in mind that the extra cost provides for data that a basic phone will never need.

Complicated

In reality, the smart phone is simpler than a basic phone. Yes, there will be some areas where a smart phone might be more complex, but keep in mind that there is much more that a smart phone can do. A smart phone not only will have a 12 key dialer, but can also handle the keys in a larger format – making keys easier to dial. However, where a basic phone will have to rely on T9 for text input, a smart phone can bring forth a QWERTY keyboard. This makes using SMS easier. In addition, a smart phone can handle email, and social networks. Don’t like your SMS capabilities, consider a new one.

And another issue to consider. What happens when you buy a new basic phone. You may have to enter all of your contacts again. All smart phones now can simply import your contacts. So, login with your credentials, and in a couple of minutes – all of your contacts are in your new phone. And rather than trying to find a number, important contacts can simply be put on the home screen (on some phones).

Efficiency

So, what about efficiency. Well, let’s take a look. Your smart phone can not only be a phone, but in some instances, it can also replace your transit schedules. The more routes your city may have, the more valuable this could be. It can also be your map, and navigation. It can be your calendar, and social network clients. It can handle your email, and provide for a basic point and shoot camera. The phone can connect with cloud based services to back up and store your content, and even be a flash light if you have a LED light for your camera. Services with some taxi services, and Jitney services such as Lyft and Uber can be installed. You can also play games, watch movies, read books and media. There is also the ability to have a translate service, and a media player. So, if you have a music library, or want to rely on streaming service – the smart phone can do it. The phone uses the cellular networks for your time, so no matter what time zone you are in, your phone has the right time. And with that in mind, you have an alarm clock. And as if that wasn’t enough, depending on the device – you can even have a digital wallet including storing all loyalty cards.

With this in mind – you can replace your cellular phone, calendar, social network clients, email client, camera (basic cameras), flash light, gaming device, ebook reader, alarm clock, timepiece, loyalty card, and in some cases, an NFC credit card. And of course, if that wasn’t enough – there is a web browser involved. A good smart phone can repalce a number of different devices, and even your personal wallet. I know personally, I carry a phone, photo ID, Google Wallet Card, and my Transit Card. If most places supported NFC payments, and if Port Authority of Allegheny County supported Google Wallet – I would only need to carry my ID.

And if this wasn’t enough, one can likely install a SIP client on a smart phone. This will mean that with a broadband internet connection at home, one can also have a lower cost home phone. If most home phone services are $30, and a sufficient calling plan with SIP is half that – this means that this could actually save the cost of the expense of a monthly service that would have to be paid more.

Reality

My first smart phone was the Blackberry 8320. This was about 7 years ago. Obviously, I had basic phones before hand. I would never consider a basic or even a feature phone. And it is not just me, but I recommended a smart phone to more than a dozen people, and those that took that suggestion, never regretted. In a matter of fact, none of those dozen of people will switch to a basic phone. This is because the basic phone will simply no longer meet the expectations they expect from their mobile device. A smart phone has become too valuable.

My Suggestions

So, you are going to bite the bullet, and will jump out to a new smart phone. You have a number of options, and this could be daunting. You might ask a sales representative who might be a fan-person (thinks a particular brand/model is the best ever no matter what), or they may be paid by commission of how much money they can get from you. I understand the value of most OSes, and therefore will give suggestions on that. So with that in mind, here is my opinion.

First, unless you live almost entirely in the Apple eco-system, an iPhone will not be the best choice. Even the cheapest iPhone is $500. To jump in the iPhone will mean exclusive use and demand of iTunes, and iCloud. You will also be limited to the types of apps. For example, no call manager for you.

Windows Phone is really only of any good if you are going to remain within Windows entirely. The lineup of apps for Windows Phones are limited, and as with Apple, apps that can handle various controls of the phone is not available. Blackberry has fallen out of favor, and like the iPhone – expect to pay more than you should. You are also limited by the number of apps, and while there is a way to get to use Android Apps, this is not completely reliable.

This leaves Android. And unfortunately, not all Android phones are equal. In my experience, non Nexus devices may get a minor update, but you already bought the phone, and therefore – no one cares about your happiness. In they end, they just want to be good enough to get you to buy their product again. Also, many phones will have OS UI overlays and “value added software” (aka: S**tware). This could be a good thing for some people, but my opinion, it is more trouble than good. Even non-modified UIs do not guarantee a reliable update path (LG G2x is a good example). Why should you care about this? Well smart phone OSes are much like your PC OS. If not updated, it leaves to security issues. However, where you can update your PC, the smart phone is at the mercy of the OS developer, phone manufacturer, and in some cases – carriers.

To avoid this, one should look to one of the following lines of devices

  • Android One (found in India, and eventually 3rd World Countries)
  • Google Play Edition (like other phones, but stripped of UI changes, and S**tware)
  • Nexus Line (specified by Google for hardware, and handled all OS updates)

You should have at least 8GB, or 16GB if you will see yourself in using a lot of apps. 8GB with a micro-SD card is needed if you would want a low number of apps, and want to use media. The Motorola Moto G (Play Edition) with 16GB for $200 is probably the best budget choice. The Nexus 5-32GB is a much better option in every way (no micro-SD card slot) is $400 which will be twice as much, but much better option which includes regional LTE, and global GSM-2G/3G. There is so much more. If you are on a tight budget, the Moto G, and those that can splurge a little – the Nexus 5. If you are going to buy used – a Nexus 4 or 5 is worthwhile if on a budget.

For service providers, you will likely have to utilize a GSM or LTE provider. Even with LTE, consider the carrier to support your bands. In the United States, this will likely limit to AT&T, T-Mobile, and TIng. Also, MVNOs using one of these carriers will likely be sufficient. T-Mobile with 2GB of service for $45 will likely be the cheapest. Cricket Wireless (now owned by AT&T) is $50 with 2.5GB. If your provider is using Assurant, I can not in good concience recommend using this insurance option. Consider outsourcing new or refurbished devices through Securanty, or Square Trade.

What I Do?

I personally use a Nexus 5 which I have payments through T-Mobile. This increases my phone bill, but allowed me to purchase a phone that would otherwise not be available to me. My phone has Securanty as the insurance provider. If my phone breaks, it will be repaired or the money for a new phone will be provided. I also have a Nexus 7-32GB with LTE – also through payments on T-Mobile, and serviced through them. As soon as a new Nexus tablet becomes available with T-Mobile, I will be upgrading which will eliminate the payments I have with T-Mobile on the Nexus 7 and I will start with new payments. As with the phone, the tablet will get Securanty as the insurance provider. While I am on a family plan, I am going to account if it was just these two devices:

  • Nexus 5: $16.50/month
  • Nexus 7: $16.00/month
  • Service: $50+$10 (Tablet – 1GB)+$10(JUMP on Tablet until replaced)+$15(taxes/fees)

In total, I pay $85 for the service for both phone and tablet. About $25 is for the tablet. $32.50 is spread across 24 months. This will pay off the tablet and phone. However if this was just on the phone – one can expect to pay $76.50 and this will assume they went through T-Mobile to get the phone payments across 24 months. If service is cancelled before payments are fulfilled – consider it as an ETF.

Dear Google about Google Voice

Dear Google
re: Complete F**k up with Google Voice

I have been a loyal user of Google Voice back when it was Grand Central. And ever since you offered the app on my first smart phone (Blackberry 8320), I have been using the Google Voice App. Now of course, I am an Android user, and my primary phone is a Nexus 5. So, when you decided to merge Google Voice into Hangouts, I was reluctantly pleased. It would seem as if that reluctance was warranted.

Let’s get this straight. If there is a cellular connection on my phone, I still need Google Voice app to show my Google Voice number. If I move my SMS and hopefully MMS messages to Hangouts, I can’t send SMS messages from the PC without having to have the Hangouts Extension installed on my PC which of course means my PC rings when a call comes in (as if my phone isn’t good enough). Now, to be able to make a call within Hangouts, you need the Hangouts Dialer. So Google, why do you wish to do more work than need be. Here is why I am saying that. Continue reading Dear Google about Google Voice

Why Cheapest is the Worst

OK, I know that many peolpe who know me, and even myself is on a very tight budget, and therefore not a lot of money. However, the smart phone is the hip thing. Actually if used correctly, it can be a very reliable and relied upon tool. So, naturally, people – especially the ones I know will want to seek for the absolute cheapest they can get. And with this in mind, they are doing themselves a dis-service. Let me give an example.
Continue reading Why Cheapest is the Worst

Blocking the Blockers

It’s available with most home phone services, but not really available for mobile phones. The problem with that is that more people have mobiles than not. In a matter of fact more than half that have mobile phones only have a mobile phone. Therefore denying basic capabilities from mobile phone users should be a crime. However, to my knowledge, no United States carrier offers Anonymous Call Rejection. So, what is one to do?

This blog posting will help you as the deprived US consumer to stand up for your right to block the blocker. Let’s face, it is your phone, your phone line, and your bill that you pay for. You should have a right to say no to Anonymous callers. Just so one will know, if you have a Basic Phone – you are likely SOL. This is because all of these options are software, and service level. For service level, if you are using a basic phone – you are going to have to jump through hoops to use the service number.

Android

While I have a combination of service and software – I am going to discuss the software end. The software will be installed on the phone, and with some tweaks, you can even hide the app from showing in your app drawer. You will pick a special number for you to dial on the dialer that will launch the app. aFirewall. This app has proven very reliable, and when an incoming call comes in from the defined phone app, it will intervene before the phone rings. Within the app, you set private numbers in a black list, and then set the call rule to block the black list from 12:00AM – 11:59PM. If you want the caller to go to your voice mail, be sure to set up to hangup, and forward to your cellular phone number so it will go to voice mail.

There are a few issues with this app. First, you can’t have multiple rules at the same time with exception of the default rule. This could be a problem if you want to manage various groups ringing or not ringing your phone. In example, because I only want family to ring my phone in the middle of the night, and contacts to ring with more flexible times than non-contacts – I have to build out multiple rules to jump through the time frames. This could be done better by using a hierarchy, so the higher the placement of the rule is, the more authority it has.

Another issue is SIP calls. If you use the built in SIP client within the Android dialer, then incoming PSTN calls will come in as a SIP address. aFirewall assumes this to be an anonymous, or spoofed number, and will block it. You would need to rely on other SIP clients that can handle caller ID better.

Which leads to another issue. The app is assured to work within the standard phone app, but not necessarily with other SIP/VOIP apps. I actually use this to my advantage. When I need a caller to bypass the call restrictions I place, I will give them a number with a VOIP provider, and then run the app. When the app is inactive, it forwards automatically to my primary number.

Android – Alternate UIs

One thing about Android is that there are a number of UI overlays that change the interface of the Android OS. Some phones with custom UIs may have a setting to offer Anonymous Call Rejection. Most likely, this will be a Call Settings feature. If there is no such option, refer to the option above.

Blackberry

When I had a Blackberry, I used iCall Manager which doesn’t seem to exist any longer. This is depressing, because a Google Search does not provide any reliable solution. One solution I found after extensive looking is Call Control Blacklist Lite. The lite version only allows for 5 numbers to be added to the Blacklist which I will assume private will be one of them. However, there is a professional version also available.

Google Voice

Google Voice will allow you to handle Anonymous Callers through the Groups and Circles Tab which has a group called Anonymous Callers. You can choose which if any phone to ring to. You can also do call screening or set up a special voicemail announcement. Obviously for this to work, the callers must call your Google Voice number. If you are interested in this solution, and don’t want to give people a new number, you can port your current number to Google Voice for $25. Obviously, porting a number will turn off service the number used to be tied to. If this is your cellular phone, you may have to pay an ETF. I would suggest contacting your carrier and telling them that you wish to port your number to Google Voice for the advanced features that Google Voice offers, but you want to keep service. They may allow you to have a new number when the port completes, and not charge an ETF.

Obviously for Google Voice to work completely, everyone must see your phone number show on their CID. If they see your new cellular number, they may just start calling that. On Android phones, there is a Google Voice App. Once set up, it can take over and display your Google Voice number always. With iOS, it is a little more detailed as you have to start the Google Voice app, and dial the number in the app. Other OSes will have to use the XHTML Web version. Basic phones will not work at all. An exception to this is Sprint customers which can contact customer service to set up all of their calls to be their Google Voice number even if they have a basic phone. Therefore with this set up, the Google Voice app is not even needed.

iOS/iPhone

At the time of writing, there is no such software, nor is such allowed in the Apple Store as this interferes with the functionality of the phone. And while iPhones have a DND switch, this silences the ringer of all calls with exception of a White List.

Windows Phone 8

Lumia Windows Phones have this built into Settings, and Call/SMS Filter. Under other Windows phones, it will seem to be under Settings > Call Blocking.

Can it be simpler?

Yes, very much so. Cellular providers have the ability to block Anonymous callers from reaching your phone. They may not have the feature active in their systems, but this is where an upgrade on the network which is probably a few lines of code to offer the option. However, until then – one has to rely on other services, and software solutions.

Another option which will have a monthly recurring cost is to acquire a toll free number. You would want to make sure that the provider will unblock private numbers, and you should make sure of this as well. However, keep in mind that there is a monthly cost, and likely a per minute charge as well. Since you will have to change your area code – you will obviously have to get a new telephone number.

Value of StarStar Me

There is a service in the United States called **Me. This service works with the major 4 carriers to allow those customers to choose a special number that is somewhat limited and could be practical for some, but not everyone. **Me is is $3/month for each number. You will be required to choose at minimum a 5 digit number which can, but not likely spell out a word or name you want.

So, what happens, and how does it work. Well, let’s assume that I was to get FSPTECH as the ** number. This word will be the number 3778324. First, no one else in the United States can have **3778324. If they do, you are SOL. Second, the number must point to the phone activating the number. This will mean exclusively intended for cellular phones. So, therefore even if I wanted and received **3778324, I can not have it go to my regular Google Voice number. Obviously, the phone I set up will be able to forward to Google Voice, but now makes a $3 service $53 or more. Now, once I received and activated the number, I will want to download an Android, or iPhone app. If you are running on Blackberry OS, or Windows Phone – well you’re SOL.

The App will allow you to add more numbers associated with the phone. I don’t think this will be to useful as these are not PSTN numbers. You can set the app to ring the phone, send a text message, or send your contact information. You can also share your number through various social networks as long as you set up the credentials. You can also see a call history in case you want to know who is only calling your **ME number. You can choose to block callers, but in my opinion – blocking callers based on the number they are calling from is a fool’s errand.

So, what would happen if someone calls your **Me Number? Well, assuming they are on a supported network, they will simply interact based on the setting you have. Blocked callers will receive a person not available message. If you aren’t blocked, you might get a notification of some sort, and then will receive an SMS or a link to the person’s contact information. On Android, and I am assuming iOS, you can decline a call and send an SMS. That would make the SMS feature somewhat useless. As for delivering the contact information, for $10 per year – you can get a .TEL address which can do so much more than the **ME contact page. A **Me will not unblock a phone number calling you, so Anonymous callers will still be anonymous.

So, why would you want one? Well I can only see two reasons. One, if you can get your name, then that will be worthwhile. I am sure all of the common names (5+ characters) are taken. I know Frank is as I tried it. So, if your name is uncommon, you might be able to get your name. Another reason is if you are OK with discriminating against unsupported carriers, and you don’t wish to disclose your mobile number. In the above example, I can not expect to give my doctor’s office **3778324 as my telephone number. Therefore, this will likely be on a personal basis.

So, would a **ME Number be worth it? That would have to depend on you. First, it is $3 per month. While this is not a lot, keep in mind, it is for a crippled phone number. Many telephones will not support this number. In addition, no business will likely recognize this as a real phone number. Maybe if you’re paranoid, and don’t want people to know your mobile phone number – you might give this out to public social events such as clubs or hangouts, however again – the person you are giving the number to will have to support **ME. In honesty, I am not sure if MVNOs will support it. No house, business, or SIP phone will support this number. In the end, one would have to make a decision, however – I would not see me recommending this to most people. For those who want a number that can be regulated on their end might actually find value in a Google Voice number (free). Other options include Line2 ($10/month) or Vumber ($10/month: 2 numbers, 500 minutes). Also, for those with a home phone (such as from their broadband plan) can likely set up the phone to forward to their cellular phone.