Talk to me about smartphones

I’ve decided that it’s finally time for me to get a smartphone, but there are a bewildering array of options out there. Currently, I have an ancient iPod Touch that I use a fair bit, but don’t have very many apps for, because it’s too old to run most of them, and an even older dumbphone (with a pretty decent camera for its age, but no other features of note).

Here’s what I currently use a device for:
A calculator app that emulates an HP 48G
Jotting down notes
A few games, mostly a Sudoku app and Freecell
An app that gives the Catholic mass readings
A couple of e-book readers
A dice-throwing program
Occasionally, looking things up online, but this is at the mercy of crappy free WiFi and an outdated browser

Here’s what I would additionally like to use a device for:
A camera
A QR code reader
A slide rule (yes, I know)
Looking up more things online (mostly textual information)

I expect there are also many other things I would find myself interested in using, but I’m not sure off the top of my head what they would be. Any suggestions, there?

I’m not yet decided between Android or iOS: What are the pros and cons of each?

I’m currently with Verizon for phone service, and don’t have any particular complaints about them, but I don’t know how they stack up here: Are their prices good? How about their service?

I expect that I’d probably want a minimal data plan, since nothing I’d use the phone for is particularly data-intensive (no video, no music downloads). What’s a reasonable price for something like that?

On the other hand, depending on prices, I might also consider a high-data plan that allows computer tethering, in which case I could cancel my cable internet. How good/reliable/useful is a phone for primary Internet access?

Any questions I should be asking here that I’m missing?

A cheap android phone will do all of the things on that list. I believe a cheap Nokia/Microsoft windows phone will too but you would have to confirm that all the apps you need are available.

Android and iOS really don’t compete in the same market anymore, since you can get a perfectly competent Android phone for $100 and the cheapest iPhone is like $400. About the only relevant advantage of the iPhone is that it will definitely have better battery life than the Android, especially a cheap one. You can decide whether that’s worth the extra money or not.

Per the above, even the most modest android or iPhone smartphone can do all you ask. The issue for you is

1: Usability

You can get lowered powered, less expensive phones that will work fine… but if you get one of the popular sales leaders from Samsung or iPhone you will be assured that almost all apps will be certified to work smoothly with your phone and the OS updates will happen on time. Also, you will have a much larger selection of protective cases, holders etc, which is actually (for me) a fairly important consideration, and because there are more of the case manufacturers competing you can get much better deals on them.

The better phones also generally have better screens which is (for me) a BFD.

Re size this is a judgement call. Some people (especially women) love the larger “XL” sized phones as they are almost like carrying a mini-tablet along with you and are easier to work on if you do a lot of texting and browsing. Men sometimes have trouble with these as they are not pocket friendly.

2: Service cost -

A standard, single person Verizon package will usually be about $ 80-90 per month all in with unlimited talk and texting and a few gigs of data a month. Verizon has the best overall coverage for rural and outlying areas so if you’re out of the big city they are your best bet. If you’re mainly in an urban area they are lots of other plans that are 2/3rds to one half the cost of a Verizon plan for roughly the same services.

it used to be that you would get a phone for a hugely discounted price then be very firmly locked into a 2 year plan and it would cost a lot of money to extricate yourself from because they had fronted the price of the phone. Now the deal (Verizon “Edge” plan etc) is that they effectively finance the full price of the $600 to $800 phone and amortize your payments across 24 months in the monthly phone bill. In this deal you can walk at any time to another plan but owe for the unamortized portion of the phone loan if you bail. The amortized cost of the phone is usually $25-$33 a month as part of your plan on top of the connection and data fees. If you bring your own paid phone to the table all you pay for is the connection fees and have no time obligations.

Also, be aware that if you a member of various professional associations or groups or companies (and ex military) if you have Verizon there are some decent monthly discounts (5%-15% typically) off the cost of your service plan. Being a real estate agent saves me about 8% which is good chunk of change annually since I’m carrying 3 phones.

They (Verizon) will not tell you this you have to ask and you have to *prove *you are a member.

Link here for verification

In terms of canceling your cable internet a big question is how many data you currently use. Your cable internet provider may have a way of determining this. If not the question is what do you use cable internet for? If it is mostly email and Straight Dope a cellular plan will be fine. But even moderate video use can get very pricy on a cellular plan.

Do not do this. Extra data in Verizon plans is fairly expensive and even modest net use will chew up even an expensive 12-15 gig monthly plan in no time at all. Even with 4G net speeds will vary wildly by connection quality. You are better off using home high speed internet and using the phone on that wifi connection as much as possible to keep you cell data use down not the other way around.

OK, so there’s no such thing as an unlimited-data phone plan (or at least, not for any reasonable price)? I thought that it might turn out to be uneconomical, but figured it was at least something I should look into.

Realistically, I probably wouldn’t be using home WiFi much, anyway, since if I’m in WiFi range, I can just use my computer to begin with. I see the advantage of the phone being in that I can keep it on my person and always have it available, whereas I’m not always near my computer.

How much battery life would a cheap Android have? I don’t mind plugging in every day or two, but charging multiple times per day would be a nuisance. My current phone can generally go a few days at a time, but on the one hand, its battery is much older, and on the other hand, it probably doesn’t consume as much power.

For size, my only criterion is that it fit in my pocket. That’s probably most easily investigated in person at the store.

And any suggestions for other apps I might be interested in? With the wide universe of possibilities out there, there are probably some I’d never even heard of that I would nonetheless find quite cool and/or useful.

Android power consumption is very dependent on usage. Things like navigation drops your power usage dramatically, like down to single digit hours IME - you may consider getting an extra battery back if you’re going to use it for that a lot. Just idling, most phones are good for a few days at least.

The Apple OS, maybe by nature, is simply much better at managing power consumption by its apps than Android is. I think the biggest most expensive(i.e. more money than iPhone) Samsung Galaxy gets about the same battery like as the newest iPhone but uses a significantly larger battery. The newest revision of Android, 6.0, is supposed to improve this substantially but you won’t be getting one for $100.

I’ve gone back and forth on (Samsung Galaxy) Android phones and iPhones. The #1 reason to go with an iPhone is the ecosystem, if you have lots of friends/family already with iOS devices. If you’re going solo and need just one thing for yourself, a cheap Android phone makes a lot of sense, especially a used S4 or S5 with a swappable battery.

I personally vastly preferred the iPhone camera, specifically the Camera+ app that doesn’t exist for Android nor had an analog through at least 2014, and need to view my screen in direct sunlight to use it as a GPS, which the iPhones do much better than the Galaxy phones.

But man, swappable battery was sooo nice.

Real world you’re pretty much going to be charging your phone every day if you have normal use. If you are voice only you might get 1-3 days from a charge, but with the exception of some phones like the mid-tier Moto-X with a huge battery and aggressive power conservation, you had better expect to be plugging in every day. The latest Samsung Galaxy 6 has very neat wireless charging where you just lay it down on a charging pad and the phone charges with no wiring tether.

Re pocketability the latest non-XL phones (with protective case) will just fit into a man’s shirt and pants pockets. If they get bigger you will have to start redesigning clothes.

If you’re looking for a sweet spot of compact size, affordability, decent performance and quite a good screen even though I carry a Samsung Galaxy S5 I have a soft spot in my heart for the Moto-G offered in the prepaid Verizon plans. It’s not cutting edge horsepower but it does everything necessary in an elegant package and you can get the whole package for $ 50 a month all in with 1 gig of data. See below.

Take a look at T-Mobile’s (prepaid) $80 a month plan. It is unlimited calls, texts, and unlimited 4G LTE data with 7 Gb allowed to be tethered to another device.

I’m not sure where “the land of Cleves” is (Cleveland?) but if you’re in a big city the data speed is very fast. I routinely get 45-50 Mbps down and 20 or more up.

If you can get by with 7 Gb a month tethered this may work for you. (By the way, T-Mobile is cracking down on people who use unauthorized apps to get around the tethering limits so I wouldn’t advise trying that.)

What’s your attitude toward technology? If you are in the camp of “I don’t want to screw around with it, I just want it to WORK!” then get an iPhone. If you are more of the “Hey, look at all the customization and cool geeky things I can do with it!” then get an Android.

I’m sort of in a middle ground: I don’t have the patience to tinker directly myself, but I very much appreciate the results of creative tinkering done by others. This was already inclining me in the direction of Android, and if the price difference is that great, that’s enough to decide me.

And I’ll need to check out my monthly usage-- 7 gigs would probably do it for me, but that T-Mobile plan would be right on the edge of economical even so.

if you’re already accustomed to an iPod Touch, then an iPhone seems like the obvious choice. I’d take one (or a Windows Phone) over an Android POS any day.

Chances are it would be terrible. For one, there’s a reason those cheap Android handsets are so cheap. Not enough battery, no Gorilla Glass, etc. Android also is way too permissive and lets apps run roughshod; the battery life on my Nexus 5 (one of Google’s supposed “flagships”) was miserable, and there were frequent occasions where I’d find some random app I hadn’t used in a while drained half of my battery.

Not anymore. The phone companies realized that unlimited Netflix streaming would break them.

You say that now, but at some point you’ll be sitting on the couch watching a Sex and the City rerun and wondering what else that actor has been in, or you’ll be in your rumpus room installing a dimmer switch and in need of a how-to video, or you’ll be on the toilet and wondering why your stool looks like that, and in all these cases you’ll realize that the answer is right there in your pocket.

The screen is often what uses the most power, so solid internet use or game play will drain it in a few hours. If you’re talking on the phone and just dabbling with apps and the internet, charging once a day will suffice.

You might like Google’s Sky Map, unless that’s too much like taking your work home with you. I use Google Keep as a to-do list.

Your local mass transit may have an app for tracking schedules and planning trips. Your supermarket may give you extra discounts via its app. There are food-tracking apps if you’re dieting.

I always sleep with my white-noise generator and wake up to my alarm app (which has so many more options than my old bedside clock). My flashlight app is useful in lots of situations.

The phone can be used to control your TV, both as a remote and as a conduit for streaming services.

Your spouse can put a tracking app on there to see where all you go each day; mine raves about how much my behavior has improved.

I wouldn’t get an iPhone unless you are generally an Apple user, and have a Mac for computing.

why not? I have an iPhone, and my PCs run Windows and Ubuntu.

I’m an App minimalist, so this is going to be very basic:

  • Carpenter Calculator. It’s often handy to be able to quickly do math in feet and inches and fractions of both.

  • Altimeter. Tells me what altitude I’m at. I just think that’s cool, but then I live near mountains.

  • Radio streaming Apps. On road-trips, sometimes it’s nice to be able to stream your favorite radio station wherever you are.

  • Uber. I don’t use it much, but when you need it, it’s a life saver.

Just as a data point: I’m on Verizon No-Contract and I pay $48.60 (tax and fees included) per month for unlimited talk and text and 1GB of data. IIRC, the 2GB plan is $60 per month (not including tax and fees). But after that, I think data gets a little more reasonable.

Well one of the reasons that the Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 have similar battery lives even though the Galaxy S6 has a bigger battery is that the Galaxy S6’s screen is far superior with a PPI (pixels per inch) almost double that of the iPhone 6. The screen is a huge determiner of battery drain.

Anyway, I’ll echo John Mace. Go for an iPhone if you are in the Mac ecosystem. Otherwise get an Android phone which will likely be cheaper (and personally I strongly prefer Android’s open operating system to iOS’s closed operating system - I own a Nexus 6P smartphone and a Nexus 7 tablet as well as an a iPad Air 2 tablet).