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New Phone

Started: 2011-09-07 15:15:58

Submitted: 2011-09-07 16:56:36

Visibility: World-readable

In April, my existing phone died and I managed to get it replaced for a modest fee (far less than buying a new phone). By July my replacement phone was beginning to have issues; the touchscreen was losing digitization, so I couldn't tap icons at the top and bottom of the screen. Since my phone was a Windows Mobile 6.1 phone, not being able to tap the top and bottom of the screen meant I couldn't access the start menu (at the top-left corner of the screen) or the soft button for common actions in every application at the bottom of the screen. I was also having serious issues with my Sprint coverage in Boulder and Longmont: where I had previously been able to get great coverage on the interior of the main level of my house, and reasonable coverage even in the basement, I had to struggle to get mediocre coverage on the main level. (I didn't even try the basement.) I heard an off-hand comment around the office regarding the recent sudden drop in Sprint's network in Boulder County (since I work for a company intimately involved in the production of cell phones it seems reasonable that the engineers would know such things, and some would even be able to explain why in detail) but I didn't manage to follow up in detail.

My principal objective in a phone was a smartphone with a physical, slider keyboard that didn't also require me to enter the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field. I looked at Sprint's slider smartphones and was generally underwhelmed, especially by the extra $10/month I would have to pay for the privilege of using a smartphone on an unlimited data plan. I looked around at other carriers and found that it was true that Sprint's unlimited data plan was cheaper than other carrier's unlimited data plans (where those carriers even offered unlimited data plans), a careful study of my last fifteen monthly phone bills revealed that I used, at most, 274 megabytes of data in one month; my monthly average was 105 megabytes. The cheapest data plan offered by Verizon gave me two gigabytes a month, meaning I would have to increase my peak data usage by a factor of eight to run over and incur extra data charges. It seemed unlikely that I would suddenly start watching Youtube videos or streaming music all day long on my phone (even though I would expect to use more data in general because the phone would be easier to use), so the likelihood of my exceeding my monthly data allowance seemed slim. (I also compared the merits of buying a phone outright versus signing a two-year contract and accepting the handset subsidy and saw that I wouldn't get any discount on my monthly bill for having paid for my phone with cash, so if I expected to have a data plan for the next two years, I'd be leaving money on the table by not accepting the subsidy and signing the contract.)

While I was contemplating my options in July, Motorola released the Droid 3 for Verizon. On paper it looked like a pretty good phone: Android Gingerbread (2.3) running on a zippy dual-core applications processor with a four-row QWERTY keyboard. I'd looked at Motorola's Droids before and I liked the idea but felt there was something a little off in the implementation. I spent half an hour playing with Kiesa's Droid 2 (her work phone) and got the hang of how Android worked, and thought it might work for me.

(I spent a few minutes contemplating Windows Phone 7. Since all Phone 7 phones run on my employer's smartphone chips, my code is baked into every Phone 7 phone, so it'd be neat to be carrying my code in my pocket. (The same is true for many, but not all, Android phones, notably excluding the Droid 3.) I like the way Phone 7 discarded most of the existing UI conventions and built an active tile-based interface, but on balance I wanted a phone with an ecosystem of applications that I could install and run, and since Phone 7 is fighting desperately for third place in the smartphone market it's not yet clear that it will ever have anything that could be considered an "ecosystem". Right now is probably a bad time to buy a Phone 7 phone, since Nokia is due to come out with its Mango-based phones sometime this fall; the current lineup is getting a bit stale.)

The day after the Droid 3 hit store shelves happened to be the interregnum day I spent in Boulder after trying and failing to fly to Portland. I dropped by Longmont's Verizon store after work that day and asked to see the Droid 3. They didn't yet have them on display but pulled one out of the packaging to let me play with it. It felt like a good phone, though my first impression of the keyboard was that it was almost too big to use effectively with my thumbs. I liked the phone but left without buying it because I didn't want to manage a phone number port while on vacation and I still wanted to study the plan options.

Once I returned from vacation (and struggled to use my phone; while returning from Mount St. Helens I tweeted "Also, I'm developing a deep and abiding hatred for my phone") I studied my historic phone usage data and decided that I could pay US$70/month for a Verizon voice and 2GB data plan that would fit my normal usage patterns. I discovered that I could get a sizable discount on both the phone, and a good discount on the monthly service, based on my current employer, if I ordered online. It was late in the day on Wednesday in late July, so I elected to pay extra for next-day shipping. On Thursday morning I visited my standard morning coffee shop to think about writing a changelog and checked my e-mail to learn that my phone had in fact shipped the previous evening and was out for delivery and someone needed to be at home to sign for the package when it arrived. It being Thursday, Kiesa would be away at the library instead of working from home, so I headed back home and decided to work from home myself. My package finally arrived late in the afternoon and I set out to unpack and activate my new phone. I did not actually get a how-to-activate sheet in my package, so when I called Verizon to check on the state of my ported phone number I got the activation instructions as well. My only remaining step was to call Sprint and cancel my service there (when asked why, I said simply that I didn't want to pay for unlimited data when I didn't need unlimited data) and pack my old phone away in the basement waiting for me to figure out what else to do with it.

I've now had my new phone for more than a month and I'm quite happy with it. I still need to find a fantastic Twitter app, and I'm sure I'm missing out on a few other killer apps, but it's a great smartphone and runs circles around my old phone. (It even makes phone calls!)