My week without a smartphone

When contemplating whether to upgrade my iPhone, it hit me: Maybe I don't really need one at all

If you use a smartphone, you probably believe you can't live without it. But having a smartphone is expensive. Depending on your carrier, you can easily spend $50 to $100 per month for the service, with half that cost going to the data plan -- that is, the "smart" part. That's real money.

My current smartphone contracts expires this week, and with the recent releases of the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III, I've been wondering whether I wanted to replace my iPhone 4 -- and either lock myself into a new two-year contract or switch to a pay-as-you-go provider whose underlying network (Sprint in most cases, Verizon in a few) is limited to major cities and for which calls to family members will no longer be covered in a family plan.

[ High price of data plans got you down? See which smartphone carriers cost least and whether pay-as-you-go plans are a better deal. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]

Plus, I have a cellular iPad, whose service I turn on when I travel. If I gave up my smartphone for a regular cellphone, I'd still have online access on the go. It's true that the iPad is not as portable as the iPhone. I bring my iPad on trips and on my commute, but not when running errands around town or visiting friends; I always have my iPhone. But is that convenience worth the extra $30 per month it now costs me?

Before making a decision about a new smartphone, I decided to test whether I really needed to keep spending all that money. I turned off the cellular data on my iPhone so that it acted like a regular cellphone. Yes, I still had the Wi-Fi data connections and could use it for "smart" purposes when at home or at the office. I justified that by remembering that before I got an iPhone, I used an iPod Touch on Wi-Fi at both locations and as my music player during my commute.

Thus, my iPhone without cellular data became the equivalent of the regular cellphone and an iPod Touch I used to carry. (I never said I wanted to become a Luddite!)

To ease into the loss of always-available data service, I turned off the iPhone's cellular data on a Friday evening. On Saturday, when we run our regular errands such as grocery shopping, I found myself twitching a bit as I couldn't tweet while waiting for my coffee order or standing in the checkout line. I also couldn't connect to the grocery store's app to see what unadvertised specials were available.

Instead, I talked to my partner and lived without the secret specials, which is fine, as we do most of our shopping at the farmer's market and Trader Joe's, not the big grocery chain that dominates the area. And those tweets are for work, so not tweeting during personal hours was a healthy change, especially as it's also on a device and service I don't get reimbursed for. In all, they were beneficial shifts.

On Sunday, we ran some nonstandard errands, so I missed the ability to get directions through my iPhone (using Navigon, not Apple Maps!). Bit we had something called a printed map that kept us largely on track. In one case, there was a place we needed to find that we forget to map out ahead of time. Here's where my iPhone-in-iPod-Touch mode saved the day: The hardware store we parked across from happened to have public Wi-Fi access, as did the café we visited later, so we could look up the directions for the place we missed. Remember when printed maps were the norm and finding Wi-Fi was an unexpected surprise? That Sunday, it became the norm again.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2