Expedition Journal #3: Faking a Phone

A few months ago I started on a mission to explore some technology-stuff I might want to use, and (having done the research) reported my opinions findings here… In my first expedition, I went prospecting on Pinterest (which has continued to serve me well—and has continued to be FUN), and I followed that up with assessing various photo sites for storing & editing & organizing & sharing family photos.

I still have a substantial list of tech-stuff I want to check out (with the idea of streamlining and organizing life, rather than adding more “time-sucks”), but I’ve gotten diverted and distracted by… oh, I don’t know, Life. Un-streamlined and disorganized as it is. But here we are, resuming the series again because I had reason to go hunting once more. As I wrote recently, we’re playing Budget Limbo (How LOW can we go?), and one of the creative cuts that occurred to us was the idea of dropping our phone service.

Maybe this should have been a no-brainer for me a long time ago. I’m pretty sure I tie (with my sister, and possibly our dad) for the title of Most Phone-Phobic Person Ever. I have always hated talking on the phone. When I had jobs that required phone contact (like program coordinator for the Girl Scouts, where the majority of my arranging-of-logistics for events around the state had to be accomplished by phone), I would habitually fill the first couple hours of each morning with all the other tasks I could find, all the while working myself up to a state of readiness for having to pick up the phone. Total dread, every time—completely irrational, but there we have it. There is one person in my life that I can dial without difficulty—my mom.  And even she would complain (correctly) that I still seldom DO so.

Wait, do you see CALLING on this list?? (infographic courtesy of tatango.com)

I was probably the happiest person on the planet (maybe tied again with my sister and our dad) when texting was invented.  Hallelujah, I could get my communication accomplished without actually dialing. I do text a lot (especially with our teenager!—I challenge any parent of a teen these days to have a clue about their kid’s life without this tool), and I recognize that having a contact number is still an indispensable evil. We get calls from the kids’ schools, and pharmacist, and doctors’ offices, and (until his heatstroke-prompted resignation) Keoni’s work, and (the one call I’m NOT loathe to answer) from the younger kids when they’re with their dad.

No matter how little I want to use it, it’s just not practical NOT to have a phone number. Still… We had slashed our monthly bills (after rent) down to $300, and a full $125 of that was our phone bill! We’ve been on the most basic plan available with the single carrier that gets service where we live, but that’s quite a chunk of change for the simple privilege of having a phone number.

Enter… The texting-and-calling smart-phone app!  A smartphone without phone service still picks up wifi internet just fine… Haha, why didn’t I think of this before?

Weighing the pros and cons of a phone app versus actual phone service, it really comes down to just a single con and a single pro.

CON: the app only works when the phone is picking up a wifi signal. So we can use them just fine at home (i.e. pick up those “important” calls for which it’s necessary to have a phone number, and keep tabs on the Teen), but Keoni at the store won’t be able to pick up a text from me with an addition to the shopping list. I can live with that. We also won’t have phone service if we go on the road–but in Idaho that is usually the case anyway! During out six-hour drive to visit my parents in northern Idaho last month, I got cell reception in exactly two spots. (My parents’ house, incidentally, was not one of them.)

PRO: Easy one. Our monthly bills (after rent) are down from $300 to $175. Score!

All that remained was to find an app that would get us a phone number and allow us to text and (sigh, when necessary) call via wifi. My main search criterion was to find something free, and there turned out to be a rather overwhelming number of apps available that  offer free texting, many of them with calling available as well. I’ll spare you the run-down on all the ones I looked at (and installed, and goofed around with) and rejected, but in case anybody else is thinking along these lines, I’ll share the two we found that we’re using (one on each phone).

textPlus (icon courtesy of textplus.com)

textPlus

This app is available in a text-only or a text-with-calling version for free, or if you want to go without any ads on your screen, you can pay a couple bucks for the “Gold” version. You get a regular phone number, and can place calls and send text messages from the screen of your smart phone, pretty much the same as you would do with the phone’s “regular” functions.

The app can be integrated with your existing contact list or address book, as well as your Facebook account, Yahoo and Google contacts, and I don’t even know what else. (You may have already guessed that I’m not the phone-social person who’s going to be using these particular features, but they exist for the rest of you…)

You don’t automatically get free calling by using the app, but you can get free calling. Here’s the deal. Any calls made app-to-app (instead of to a “regular” cell phone number or land line) are always free—kind of like the “family plans” with some phone companies. So if there are a couple main numbers you call most often, you might get those folks to download the app as well.

For using it with outside-the-app phone numbers, though, you start out with just 5 or 10 calling-minutes. Having said that, there’s an option to “get free minutes,” most easily accomplished by watching their free video-ads. (I sat with the phone next to me—and the volume muted!—one day, and just kept hitting the “watch video” button while I worked, racking up more minutes than I’d be likely to use this year…)

One feature that might be considered a negative (but which we didn’t figure out until we’d racked up a bunch of minutes) is that there’s not an opportunity for an incoming caller to leave a voice message. The app shows you that they have called, but they can only send a message if they can text. (Not so useful if they’re calling from a land-line at the school or pharmacy.) This one won’t be a deal-breaker, though, because this app is downloaded on Keoni’s phone, and we give out my number for those things. And on my phone (because it’s so ancient it won’t run TextPlus) there’s a different app:

Text Me! 2 (icon courtesy of go-text.me)

TextMe 2

In most of their layout and functionality, these two apps are super-similar. Same features, same set-up, same deal. A couple differences in practical application…  Potentially a big one: TextMe 2 allows me to record a voicemail greeting, and allows callers to leave a voice message for me. However…

When another person calls my number, I don’t get any notification  on the phone that there’s an incoming call. The caller just ends up at my recorded voice message—after which I get a notification that there has been a call, along with the option to play any message. As I think about it, maybe that could be considered a positive feature for Ms. Phone-Phobia—kind of like an automatic call-screener… Though I’d like to be able to pick right up at least when the kids call. Still, this is something I can live with.

Bottom Line?

Well in this case, the “bottom line” really IS the bottom line. Would I consider taking on the inconveniences of dropping cell service if I weren’t singularly determined to cut every possible expense? The answer might be “no,” since I haven’t done so before now. (Of course, the app-idea also didn’t occur to me before now…) But I don’t think I’ll know the real answer until we’ve been using these for a while. I probably can’t answer this question fairly until the time (whenever it may be) when our finances are stable enough to renew regular phone service, and the answer will be found in whether we choose to do so.

Among our options, there’s a pocket-sized “mobile hotspot” we could get from our internet provider, for $30/month more than our current $35 internet bill. It’s not an expense we’ll spring for now, but if the apps prove not to be too cumbersome, we go with the mobile hotspot at some point rather than the more expensive option of “real” phone service…

I’ll let you know. It just won’t be via phone-call.

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About Kana Tyler

I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a minister, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a cartographer, a joyful wife, a mom (and Granny), an island-girl at heart... a list-maker! :) View all posts by Kana Tyler

11 responses to “Expedition Journal #3: Faking a Phone

  • lovelylici1986

    Looks like a win! I’d go with that!
    Maybe you can check out prepaid options where you can only use talk time that you’ve already paid for with a phone card. That’s what we do in our house.

  • Sandy Sue

    Wow. My eyes glazed over. Cudos to you for doing the research and testing all these options. We do what we need to do.

  • Let's CUT the Crap!

    Whew. You’re efficiency in cutting your bills so drastically bowls me over. Great work. I don’t have one of those new fangled phones but I’m sure you’ve made the right choice. For now. This is good information to share. I’m sure lots of people will be doing some rethinking after reading this post.

  • i mayfly

    You’ve got me thinking, Kana. I’m with you on the visceral aversion to yaking on the phone and out of control cell bills. I think I could handle the modifications. The old dog and the 2 pups – that’s going to take some selling, I’m afraid.
    Emergency 911 and talking to my daughter across country are the major hurdles I foresee, but I’m kicking it over in mind. Thanks. -Nikki

    • Kana Tyler

      True about 911—although after thinking it over, I can call the police, sheriff, fire, or ambulance directly (and have the numbers in my contact list already). As for your daughter, perhaps she’d download the app also, for free app-to-app calls? It’s a thought. ;)

  • lizsturm

    I hate the phone, too. But unfortunately none of my close circle uses their text features. (sigh). I’ve seen ads for something called “Magic Jack.”. Is that only for long distance?

    • Kana Tyler

      I hear you on that lament! ;)
      The Magic Jack, as far as I understand it (with the disclaimer that it’s NOT something I’ve played with) also uses VoIP (voice over internet protocol) to allow you to call via internet rather than phone lines, and it’s advertised as free calling, local as well as long distance… It doesn’t get stellar user reviews, and isn’t entirely free (in fact, the product website doesn’t state the fees for use after purchase, which puts my guard up)–so I left that one alone. ;)

  • granbee

    Nobody explains new technical stuff for writers better than you, Kana! And congrats on the Lovely Blogger award from Miro!

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