Come on, you knew it had to happen. You knew that sooner or later I’d have to put that earlier unpleasant smartphone experience behind me because, after all, I need to carry a phone of some kind for emergencies, even if it’s only capable of dialing 9-1-1 and AAA. (Can’t remember what we did in emergencies before cell phones, but I’m sure by now they have become part of that Boy Scout “Be Prepared” thing.)
Anyway, I have a new phone and so far I’m delighted. It’s a Samsung Galaxy Proclaim (lousy name) from Straight Talk. It’s a twin to the Galaxy Illusion (a Verizon phone) and compared to the Motorola flip phone I carried for five years, it is a giant leap forward in cell phone technology. Not as giant as the gorgeous Galaxy S III (aka S3) would have been, but big enough for someone who’s completely new to smartphones. Think smartphone with training wheels.
Straight Talk, for those who don’t know, is a TracFone subsidiary that sells cell phones and prepaid calling plans for $45 a month — prepaid, no contract, no monthly fees — for what’s billed as unlimited talk, text, and data. Various websites report that it’s not really unlimited data and that if you use too much (estimated at 2GB per month by some), you will not be throttled or charged for overages as on other networks; you will be warned once and then cut off. Period. I’m not entirely sure what gets counted as data usage, but I’m willing to gamble that I can get by on 2GB or less a month (need to find an app that will keep track of that for me). I don’t download movies, stream video, or anything like that. In fact, unless I get terribly addicted to this phone’s multiple functions, it will probably spend most of its time just spitting out my Google Latitude location to the kids. I know they must worry terribly that I’ll get lost on my once-a-week trip to the supermarket or several-times-a-year drive to the doctor’s office.
But let me begin at the beginning. After I canceled the Sprint deal, I started researching again to figure out just exactly what I wanted, what I could live with, and if such a thing even existed. I’d already had my hands on the latest, greatest smartphone (the S3) and it was a thing of beauty, a computer in the palm of my hand. I could see its potential, but I didn’t have it long enough to get familiar with or addicted to all its particular gee-whiz bells and whistles. I’d learned a lot, but in the next few days I learned a lot more.
It’s not easy comparing specs and capabilities and carriers when you need a definition of every other word and acronym the reviewers and forums throw out. But I concluded that, if it was possible, I wanted a smartphone with at least 3G/WI-Fi capabilities for better reception over a wider area, and one that would operate on the Verizon network, which is reputed to have the best coverage up and down Colorado’s Front Range. (The Verizon thing was the real sticking point. In this area Verizon would much rather sell their expensive contracts than make phones available to the cheaper prepay market.) And I wanted a calling plan that required no contracts and added no monthly access, data, or other fees to the base rate — if not simply prepaid minutes like my old TracFone, then at least a monthly prepay rate that was affordable. I definitely didn’t want to be locked into a 2-year $100+-a-month contract.
SAMSUNG GALAXY PROCLAIM
And I’ll be damned if I didn’t find it. Finally. New in the prepaid market this summer, the Samsung Galaxy Proclaim is an Android phone that runs on the Gingerbread operating system — an older OS but lightyears beyond my old “dumb” phone. It’s smaller than the oversized Galaxy S3 but fits my hand comfortably and the touchscreen keys don’t seem impossibly small, as I feared they might be. The 3 MP camera/video recorder has no flash, no autofocus, and no front-facing lens, but I have a nice pocket camera if I want better pictures. The smaller screen won’t be as good for GPS navigation as the S3, but I already have a portable GPS, so no loss there. The phone’s GPS has voice control, however, so I may end up using it if I ever get used to talking aloud to inanimate objects.
Walmart sells Straight Talk phones, but none of the stores near me had the Proclaim in stock. Nor did they have them for sale online. Amazon was selling them, but they didn’t list some of the details I wanted to know. So I decided to buy directly from Straight Talk. That was a problem because, as I’ve said, Verizon doesn’t want to undercut their contract sales in this area. If you enter a Denver-area ZIP code on the Straight Talk website, the phones it shows you won’t include the Proclaim, one of the few ST smartphones that operates only on the Verizon network. (It’s a CDMA-V phone.) Thanks to one extremely helpful website, I learned I could enter a ZIP code for an area that has only Verizon service and I would be shown the Proclaim, assuming it was in stock. Then when I entered my shipping address at checkout, I simply changed the ZIP code back to my own. The phone itself is not tied to any particular area until you activate it in that area, which I did when it arrived.
I’ve been hunched over the phone all weekend (aching thumbs!) learning where everything is and how to make it work, downloading apps (those freebies are rife with ads!) and, the most time-consuming task of all, getting my contacts in order. The Sprint people had glommed together (yes, glom is a word in my family) all my contacts from my old TracFone and my Yahoo and Gmail accounts, and fortunately, although unknown to me, the aggregation was backed up on Google. I had no idea that was the case, but they all magically appeared on the new phone. Sweet! I’d been anticipating having to type them all in on that itty bitty touchscreen keyboard. Still, they were a mess. For the most part the email accounts didn’t include phone numbers or home addresses, and the TracFone contacts had only names and phone numbers. Then I had other names and numbers on my home phone. You can imagine the duplicate and partial listings. Big job cleaning everything up, but long overdue. Luckily, I found I could edit them on Google using the computer instead of the phone. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
I can’t say anything about Straight Talk’s customer service. I managed to get set up without having to call them, and I’m hoping I never have to call because I expect less than nothing from a prepaid service.
To further complicate my learning experience, I decided to get into Google Voice, too. I was intrigued by my son’s voicemail-to-text capability (free from Google Voice; Sprint charges for it). Why listen to and through all those frustratingly slow voicemail menus to retrieve missed calls when you can read them, transcribed, on your smartphone or computer and only respond to those you care about? Based on my home phone experience (with CenturyLink), I’ll definitely be studying how to use GV’s spam filters and call blocking options.
So anyway, that’s where I am. Those of you with smartphones, probably most of you, know what I have to look forward to and the rest of you probably don’t care. But I’m finally in business with a new smartphone. Assuming, of course, that it continues to work as expected when I venture out of the house …