"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Monday, April 30, 2012

I Is Smart Now!

Well, probably not, but at least my phone is.  In my quest to cut down on expenses whenever I can, I recently made a major change in my wireless carrier and my phone.  From my research on the internet, it seems a lot of people are doing the same thing and there's a lot of confusing and conflicting information.  I spent about two or three months on this whole process, so I'll share how I worked it out and maybe it will help someone else who is also looking to simplify and save money, while retaining some modern perks.

I started with a 'Go Phone' account from At&T.  I much prefer the month by month system to the contract system, even though I had to buy a phone, rather than get one "free" for signing the contract.  $60.00/month for unlimited talk and text was a bargain at the time I was dumping my old contract.  It's also a nice way to keep personal information personal; instead of having an account and paying by check or debit card, I simply picked up the refill card at Kmart or where ever I happened to be, and used the PIN to recharge my minutes.  So things were going alright, until my phone started to have battery issues, and I realized that AT&T was advertising unlimited talk, text and data for $50.00/month.  Would have been nice if they had notified me about the price change, but no, each  month I loaded $60.00 on the phone and each month they took it all.  Plus they would not honor the unlimited data for anyone using a smartphone; it applies only to dumb phones.  The phone I was using, an LG Xenon, was a nice enough phone but consistently stalled out when trying to use the web and was basically useless for that service.  I'm not into facebook or you tube or minute by minute stock reports, but I did want a phone that was web capable as a back up for checking email and such while traveling.

So I started doing research.  Since I live basically out in nowhere, wireless options are limited, so there was an awful lot of checking and double checking to see what services were available.  Did you know that each carrier has two coverage maps on their websites?  The dark map that shows everywhere plus the moon with great signal is only for contract phones, and the second map (usually hidden) shows much less coverage for pay as you go phones.  I never did figure out why the difference.

Anyways, for sheer price it came down to Straight Talk, which is a fairly new offering from an old company, TracFone, which has partnered up with Wal Mart.  I'm not a big Wal Mart fan, but the price of $45.00/month for unlimited talk, text, and web is hard to beat.  There are only two other carriers that would serve my area, and neither of them could come close to that price.

I watched auctions on eBay and eventually bought an older model iPhone that used the proper frequencies for the Straight Talk system.  The option to use your own phone on the Straight Talk system is very recent, so it took a lot of research and hours of searching the web to figure out how to do it, especially since iPhones were mostly locked to the AT&T system, though it turns out that with some modifications, the AT&T locked phones are compatible with ST.  I finally muddled my way through by following these steps:

Purchased the iPhone 3gs through eBay.
Purchased the larger SIM card  and an airtime card from the Straight Talk website at www.straighttalksim.com.
Called AT&T and obtained my account number and established a PIN.  (But did not turn off my service as I wanted to keep my phone number.)
Put the SIM card in the iPhone, went to the Straight Talk website and activated it; by using the ST airtime card I did not have to give them any credit card information.
My old phone number was activated on the iPhone in about an hour.  I could talk and text right away, but could not access the internet off the cell towers or through my router. 
I emailed ST and they made some changes and instructed me to shut the phone off and then back on.  I was then able to use my home wi-fi.  This model of iPhone  does not allow access to the APN settings so I could not follow Straight Talk's instructions for accessing data.
To fix this, I used the iPhone connection to my wi-fi to go to www.unlockit.co.nz/, downloaded and installed the Straight Talk APN profile.

So now almost everything is up and working, and I have to say I'm enthralled by the whole 'app' world.  There are many that are free, and I found two wonderful programs that I highly recommend:  Plantets 3.2 by Dana Peters has wonderful star charts that are specific to your location and time, including 2-D and 3-D versions, and close ups of all the planets.  The second one is My Radar, a live, location and time specific basic radar that lets me know how much rain is coming in.  Upgrades are available to get National Weather Service warnings as they're issued.  I can see this app coming in handy when I'm planning to get in my kayak. 

The only thing not working is picture messaging, which for some obscure reason is called MMS.  It appears that I will have to 'jailbreak' my phone and install other programs to get it working, but that can wait for another time.

My overall investment for this whole process is tons of time and $205.00 for the phone, SIM card, air time card, shipping, and taxes.  My monthly phone bill (which is not tied to a social security number, physical address, or credit card number) will be just $45.00 plus tax for unlimited talking, texting, and some basic internet use, like checking for thunderstorms.  Not bad considering it's $375.00 for just the iPhone 3g at Apple - and that's the one with half the storage capacity of the one I bought.  I could get a new iPhone for much less by signing up for a two year contract with a service provider, however that involves a credit check and release of personal information, not to mention the commitment to an expensive two year plan.

It's been a couple of weeks now, and so far, so good. Here's hoping the phone keeps working and ST doesn't hike the monthly price!!

I hope my experience helps someone who's been struggling with the same questions.

1 comment:

  1. I agree you is one smart cookie. Congrats on the new smart fone, Jason has me on his cell fone plan and he got me a new smart fone(my first too)aa couple weeks ago and I love it. I also can log in to hot spots or home internet and GPS and dang its jus cool lol enjoy