I use this $20 phone for text messaging and emails and an iPod touch for voice.
One of the interesting things I learned in Japan was that text messaging is often more convenient than voice calling despite its much lower information content. In Japan, people almost never talk on the phone in the subway and it’s much less common to see people talking while walking on the street. Instead, they use text messaging because it doesn’t distract others around them. Also, text messages can be easily understood in noisy environments such as busy streets and restaurants.
So like the Japanese, I ended up making almost all of my phone calls from the privacy of my apartment. And since I had internet access in my apartment, I was able to make all of my calls using the free VOIP service in Gmail, which allows you to call any US landline or mobile phone for free from anywhere in the world. When I was away from home, I used a pre-paid cell phone from SoftBank to send text messages. I was amazed that the phone only cost about $25 and had unlimited messaging and email for $21 per month with no contract. The phone itself was really high quality and seemed much more expensive.
So when I got back to the US, I decided to try to setup a similar plan. After a little research, I found that the AT&T GoPhone service offers 1000 texts/emails for $9.99 per month with no additional taxes or fees. They also have unlimited messaging for $19.99 per month, but I’ve never used more than 1000 messages in one month, so I bought an R225 GoPhone for $19.99 plus sales tax and subscribed to the $9.99 per month plan. The phone also has its own email address for receiving email and can send email, both cases counting as one of the 1000 messages.
The GoPhone can do voice calling and internet, but it is really expensive, so I would only use it in case of emergency. But of course, whenever you fill out a form for something, you have to give a phone number for the business to contact you. One option is to let them call your GoPhone and then dial into the voice mailbox later from your computer. But there is an even better option that is totally free. I signed up for Google voice which gives you a free phone number with a voice mailbox. When a voicemail comes in, it sends an email to your Gmail inbox with a text transcript generated by speech recognition technology. I setup a forwarding filter so that whenever a new voicemail arrives from my Google Voice number, an email is sent to my GoPhone with the transcript of the voicemail included.
For voice calling, Gmail’s VOIP service is free, but it has the disadvantage that it doesn’t work on the iPod touch. For more flexibility, I decided to pay $2.99/month for unlimited calling to US & Canadian landlines and mobiles through the Skype service. This allows me to make calls using my iPod touch wherever WiFi access is available. Skype allows you to set the caller ID to your phone number, so when I call using my iPod touch, the caller ID shows up as if I’m calling from my GoPhone, which makes it easier for my friends and family to recognize who is calling. The battery only provides about 90 minutes of talk time, but with the Energizer XP2000 external battery I can triple the time (note: if you have iOS4 installed, you can continue talking after pressing the power button, which turns off the screen and saves battery power). Also, using the touchTXT app on the iPod touch, I can send and receive text messages for free through the AIM service without using up my cell phone quota.
One of the best aspects of this plan is that there are no contracts. So if you leave the country or change your mind and decide you need an iPhone, you won’t lose more than one month’s expenses. And I used to pay $5 per month to insure my phone because it was so expensive, but now that I’m using a $20 phone, there is no need for insurance either. Eventually I might need to get a phone with a data plan for internet access, but for now I’m going to save my money and try to avoid getting more addicted to the internet.
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