April 8, 2012

The Android Trilogy Part A): Smartphoning at $35/month. The Right Gear.

My Optimus V running Android 2.2.2, from Virgin Mobile, 
with my center page showing some favorite Aps. When 
I got that PhD diploma on the wall (left), the computers
 in the space shuttle were less powerful than this humble 
Android smartphone. 
How do I control "my universe" for $25/month (now $35, I was grandfathered in), have  a computer in my hand to email, tweet, maintain this blog, communicate with employees and friends, search for information, browse the Human genome, navigate (drive) to a destination, take pics and video, stream and play my own iTunes music collection, use WiFi when available and G3/4 when its not, read science journals, take part in video conferences, oh yes.. and sometimes talk on the phone?

By following my ABC's of Android:  A) The right gear, B) the right provider and data plan, and C) the right "Aps". Your key to Android Nirvana is knowledge. If you are not feeling productive with your current smartphone, or you have not dared to choose one yet....... read on.

 Do not fear the costs of moving into a smartphone. It does not need to cost any more than the "regular" cell phone you may have now. Depending on your service provider, you may already be using a non-smart phone on an unlimited or generous data plan now. In that case you can just get the smart phone and increase your productivity for just the cost of the phone. My way is not the only way, but if you like the KISS principal (Keep It Simple Stupid), here are my ABC's to get you started, cheap.

A) The right gear
B) The right provider and data plan
C) The right aps.

This posting will cover part A, and posts will follow for part B and C.

So, lets start with:

A) The Right Gear

- LG Optimus V ($99)
- 8 Gig microSD memory card ($12)

Why not an iPhone, since I use Macs for everything else, from writing to sifting genome data?  I did consider the iPhone. If you just want your computer to work like a magic box, and you want to spend more cash, then go get the iPhone. However, I wanted to spend much less than the cost of the iPhone and avoid feeling inadequate 6 months from now when the next iPhone arrives. Furthermore, I was not interested in a two-year phone contract. Also, as a scientist I must rebel against Apple's recent push to force me to use all Apple products through their new iCloud service. My iDisk is going away in June, to make room for Apple's new cloud, so I have already started using DropBox and Google Drive for file sharing and cross-platform access that iCloud will not provide (Mac, PCs, SmartPhones, Tablets). Like a million or more other users who have have hosted our websites on iDisk since 2001, for $99/year with email, I am also forced to move my websites and general file storage. iCloud only pushes files from iTunes, iPhoto and other Apple programs, except iWeb, of course. Thus, while my laptop will remain my trusty MacBook, and my desktops at work are lovely giant-screen iMacs, no iPhone for me.

Having a happy experience with Ubuntu, the free and easy to install Linux that let me convert a few 8 year old pentium computers into internet-cruising audio stations, I could not help favoring Android. Android is basically Linux on your smartphone. There are plenty of Aps for the Android system, and its development is currently driven by Google and thousands of eager open-source savvy programmers. Furthermore, there are many tools that I use for my University work that are already Google powered. My University's email provider is Gmail, I like my personal Gmail, then there is this blog you are reading now, adsense, adwords, YouTube. All Google's services. So, I decided to make my gear Android powered and then found a way to be easy on my wallet, just $99 at Walmart for the LG Optimus V.

The Optimus V is not a SmartPhone with gobs of internal memory, but it did come with an additional 2 Gig microSD card included, for more storage (Virgin Mobile version). However, I also purchased an 8 Gig microSD card from Walmart, on sale, and gave the 2 Gig card to my Daughter for her camera. The microSD card came with a handy standard SD adaptor cassette, which lets you use the microSD card in larger sized SD slot readers on other Macs, cameras or printers. That is the gear. Cheap, simple, powerful enough. Walmart also sold me their electronic insurance for $19. If my smartphone gets lost, stolen, damaged, eaten by your dog (I do no have a dog, has to be yours), it gets replaced. So in the end, I am no where near the cost of an iPhone or another more expensive SmartPhone.

I briefly tested a different LG smartphone with a physical QWRTY keyboard, which ran a pre-android all JAVA system, but most service providers (including Virgin Mobile) no longer support the non-Android Aps loaded on such phones for pic sharing, Twitter, Facebook and more. These pre-installed Aps are usually locked files in the phone's memory, take up substantial space, but no longer work. That is why these phones have dropped to $50-$60. Thus, I took the first LG back to Walmart, got a refund and moved up to the LG Optimus V. Thus, I won't sacrifice functionality to save money at any cost; it has to work.

I recommend that you avoid the pre-Android smartphones that are now on sale for $50-60, with various providers, for you will have many functions listed on the packaging that no longer function. As of the writing of this blog, Virgin Mobile still lists the LG Rumor Touch as if its dedicated Aps to access photosharing, Twitter and Facebook still work, but they do not. You can technically access those things on the Rumor Touch, but only using the web-browser, which is somewhat clunky. The Rumor Touch is not an Android smartphone. The LG Optimus V from Virgin Mobile uses Android version 2.2.2, a respectable and stable version of Android, that can run hundreds of thousands of Aps now available in Google-Play. Google-Play is the new name of the Android Aps site, where you obtain most of the free and useful Aps I will tell you about in part C), of this Android Trilogy.

In my next blog post, we will talk about how to get unlimited data and avoid long term phone contracts in Part B) The right provider and data plan.

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