Saturday, December 27, 2014

Gadget Goodies 31 - Anti-tech?

It's Christmas time, when we all seem to look forward to a boatload of tech goodies under the tree.  If you've been following our tech posts, you know how much I love tech. After all, I've done a variety of smartphones, from the old Windows Mobile, through several Blackberry models, to the Note 2 and the Sony Z Ultra.  My tablets have been a Blackberry Playbook, a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and a Nexus 7 2013.  And there's, at the moment, an LG G Watch R in the mix. Along with that, I've talked about Linux and the beta of the next version of Windows.

With all that, our title and that picture to the left don't seem to fit, do they? But they really do both fit in with my latest tech direction.  It's not really very different than it has been,  And, yes, I'll explain that one.

We'll start with the overall philosophy and go from there.  My thinking is that tech has to serve the user, not vice versa.  Personally, I'm a geek and what I like to call a "tweaker", tweaking and fine tuning my tech to work better or look better, maybe both.  And I can really get into it sometimes.

About a month or so ago, a friend of mine and I tried a new beta Google email app called Inbox.  At the same time, I was playing with Gmail 5.0, which handles email accounts other than just Gmail. For various reasons, I homed in on Gmail 5.0, while my friend John latched onto the notification customizing of Inbox.  And that started a conversation on productivity.  And got me thinking about how much tech can invade our lives, whether we want it to or not.

I blog, I write, and I make calls for my church, not necessarily in that order of priority.  When I'm working on a blog post or a book, there are times when I'm racking my brain for ideas or ways to say something.  That's usually when I suddenly find myself unconsciously seeking the lure of the blinking notification light, the ideal gained by one more tweak.  Anything to do and think something else.  That's me, not the fault of technology.  I'm an admitted tech and social media junkie.

If you recall, my previous experiment was to slim down from two Android devices to one.  So, am I saying that was a failure?  Absolutely, not!  I'm still in love with my Sony Xperia Z Ultra.  It does everything I could want.  But that's the problem for a tech junkie.  It gains priority attention, whether it should or not.  Think about a couple of situations:

  1. We're working and our device suddenly starts spewing notifications like a quiet stream where someone opened the upstream dam.  If you're like me, there are both important and unimportant social media notifications and emails.  Those nice beeps and icons don't sort that out for us.  So, if we're working for an employer, paying attention to the notifications will partly rob our employer of our time.  If we're self employed, we're possibly robbing ourselves of our own productivity.  In either case, being addicted to those notifications isn't helping.
  2. We're working on a blog post or a book and the muse seems to have taken a vacation. Suddenly that notification light starts flashing.  And it's like the ancient legends of the sirens luring sailing ships onto the rocks.  Like those sailors, somehow our mind wants to follow the light instead of fighting the storm of idealessness.
  3. We're at home, watching Premier League Soccer, an NFL game, or the local baseball team. And those notifications go off.  And maybe we miss an important goal, touchdown, or home run.  How often are those notifications that important?  Not very often.
  4. We're out for a bite with friends, a nice personal interaction.  Except there's the lure of the blinking notification light.  Deep down, we know it's unlikely that the messages absolutely have to be seen immediately.  But the true tech junkie would rather risk being rude than miss the immediacy of some piece of information.
All of that got me thinking.that it was time for a change..  And the change, at least as I originally envisioned it, meant going low tech with the flip phone pictured at the top of the post, a partial return to two devices with a tablet besides the phone, and high tech by adding a VOIP phone number. Plus changing my calling plan.

My previous cellular plan was a very low cost 100 talk minutes and unlimited text and data (throttled after 5 gig).  I had thought I needed data more than the talk minutes.  As it turns out, I have several friends who cover a lot of territory in their conversations.  Enough to go beyond the 3.25 to 3.5 minutes a day that a 100 minute limit allowed.  At $.10 a minute for the overage, that could start getting expensive.  So, since I mostly work from home, I got them in the habit of calling my landline.  That saved money and left my cell minutes for higher priority stuff -- like conversations making plans or helping someone through a tough time.  But that could sometimes be inconvenient. And I also discovered that, thanks to being around wifi much of the time, my data usage was nowhere near what I had envisioned.

Right about the time I thought of making the change, CBS This Morning ran a story about how flip phones were now "in" with celebrities.  They're more secure (no hacking) and they're a lot smaller than our smartphones.  That was the kind of nudge I needed.  Not that celebrities liked the idea, but that I wasn't alone in that thinking.  But what of all the Android apps and data stuff I'd gotten used to relying on?

I had owned a Nexus 7 tablet, along with an Android phone.  Each duplicated the other.with apps. That duplication was what drove me toward the Xperia Z Ultra -- one device that could double as both phone and tablet.  But we were now thinking dumb or feature phone, so a tablet would fill the app need without duplication and the need to clear notifications on two devices.  Despite Steve Jobs thoughts on smaller tablets, the Nexus 7 is about the most ideal size for portability.  It still isn't really behind on hardware.  And with two radios less (no cell data or call radios), battery life should be better than a smartphone.  So, that part of the equation was taken care of.  But what about the phone?

I'm big on checking out tech sites, user reviews, tech forums, etc., before buying electronics. Which is when I made a huge discovery.  Everyone was comparing flip and candy bar phones to smartphones.  Most of the discussion was about features and the comparison was always heavily weighted in favor of smartphones.  People didn't seem to be thinking of flip phones as a way to make calls and send texts, getting away from the higher tech.  So, it took a lot of weeding through reviews and comments to figure out which was easier to use and had best call quality.

We'd already decided on the Nexus 7 for the tablet.  After a ton of research, we kept finding the comments about call quality and reception favored getting an unlocked Samsung GT-C3520.  So, I ordered both from Amazon, along with a sim card holder, so I could get a micro-sim which could go in a more modern phone without having to buy another sim card, but would work in a flip phone (all of which use a mini sim, slightly larger).

Part of my plan was that I would sell the Z Ultra, since it was being replaced by the tablet.  Right now, I'm settling into the new mode of operating.  We're about three weeks into the planned limits and we've already had a few surprises.  Some are good, others not so much.  We'll continue talking about that, in the new year.  Already my plan is evolving into something that wasn't 100% what I expected when I started making the change.  How happy would I be?  We'll find out next Saturday. In the meantime, I hope you had an amazing Christmas and wish you the best New Year, yet.

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