iPad + dumbphone > smartphone

iPad 3GPeople see me with my iPad all the time, and often ask how I like it. Along with an inexpensive cellphone, the iPad 3G is now a critical component of my Cloud Living lifestyle, and in this post I’ll explore why.

I started off with the bottom of the line, wi-fi only, 8GB iPad, which I got right when they came out. At the time I was doing app development for iPhones and iPads, so it made sense to have one for testing purposes. I got the cheapest one available, $499 brand-new. I quickly realized how great it was, and how much better it would be to have 3G connectivity, so I sold it for retail price again and traded up to my current 16GB 3G iPad for another $130. It changed my life. No, I don’t have an iPad 2 yet, or an iPhone at all anymore. I’d be happy to have either, but instead I upgraded my laptop this year, and in truth I’m good with what I’ve got.

I downgraded from my iPhone almost a year ago. My cellphone is now anything BUT a smartphone. The model I use depends on which country I’m in, but I have a few Motorola RAZRs that I tend to prefer most of the time. This is my local, voice-only communications device, and my watch. Y’know, kinda like what cellphones used to be until things got all crazy a couple years ago? It’s enough, and in my experience it’s hard enough just to get any mobile device to hold calls and deliver messages well. Why ask it to do more when the basics have yet to improve? I don’t call anyplace but the country that I’m in with my mobile, though people in other countries can still reach me as needed by calling one of my numbers back home. I’ll detail how I pull this off and handle phonecalls globally in a future post. But yes, of course the cellphone is my only physical phone.

Trust me, traveling internationally with a smartphone is an expensive exercise in frustration due to the variety of ways that phones are regulated and billed in different countries. I found when I brought my iPhone 3G to Australia in 2009, that it would cost me $150/month to make it work…without even turning it on! Over and above that, it was something near $1/min to talk to the US, $1.25/min to make calls within Oz, and $.50/text. I spent about $35 in airtime with AT&T to figure this out once there, getting completely different answers than when I had done my research from the US. Thank you, but no friggin’ way! After shopping around to every single provider in the country, I found that there were no legal means to purchase a sim card that would make it work as an iPhone locally without signing up for a 2-year plan. Again, thank you, but I’d be crazy to do that with only a 6-month tourist visa. I could get a sim card to make it a simple dumbphone, or for less than that I could get a whole new local phone on a month-to-month or prepaid plan. That I agreed to, and kept my iPhone in airplane mode but with wifi on for the rest of my time in the country. I grew fond of using it as my mini-iPad, though of course this was before the iPad had been announced.

iPad with 3G sim cardWhat the iPad allows you to do is get around all the rules and regulations about cellphones and cut right to the chase with data plans. After a quick visit to a mobile provider and the equivalent of $15-25 dollars in local currency, you can get around 250MB of bandwidth in most countries, and up to 2GB for not much more. All you need is a prepaid microSim card and an iPad-supported plan. Make sure you install the card and verify that it works BEFORE paying however, as the average clerk at the checkout counter is clueless and will happily sell you the wrong thing. Rather than trying to figure it out show them how to do their job, I often resort to the “let’s figure out what fits in this sized hole!” mutual discovery approach. It’s way more fun 😉 Or, if you’re feeling lucky, you can always hack your own microSim out of a full-sized Sim card. Then you’re good to go.

So the basic concept is that your mobile data device stays the same where ever you go, but the local vocal device changes based on location to avoid complications inherent in international travel. You also have some inherent redundancy in that you can get by without the cellphone for limited durations, as when traveling somewhere you won’t be long enough to justify a prepaid phone plan.

Again, more will be detailed in forthcoming posts! But keep your questions/comments coming, as they do shape what I reveal next. Thanks!