Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter — Issue #1030

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Gene Steinberg

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Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter
January 17, 2022


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As most of you know, Apple — make that Steve Jobs — first demonstrated the iPhone 15 years ago at a Macworld Expo. While the company had long been rumored to be working on a cellphone, the exact configuration was expected to be something in line with existing gear, except for the integration with iTunes. Apple had tried to have its embedded in a Motorola device, the ROKR, which ended up being a perfectly dreadful product for which ease of use was a dirty word.

In any case, before the iPhone arrived, the common form factor for a smartphone was best typified by the Blackberry, featuring a tiny physical keyboard, with a small display above it. I tried them once or twice, but decided that I’d rather use such a device for making and receiving phone calls, not for text or suffering though a dreadful mobile app. Or just stick with my deep red Motorola RAZR.

Until the iPhone arrived.

I got my first from Apple as a review sample in 2008. It was the second generation device, and the best way to summarize its value was to describe my usual evening work routine. I would usually bring my MacBook Pro into the bedroom to check email and briefly visit my usual online haunts. Then return it to my home office (another bedroom) and plug it into the charger.

Until that iPhone arrived. Once I got used to typing on glass, which didn’t take long despite the limits for long text passages, I just placed it on the end table, and managed most of what I did on the laptop without much inconvenience. By the time the review sample needed to be returned to Apple, I ended up buying one.

For a long time, I ended up acquiring a new one every two years. This continued through the few years where I worked for the two ride share companies, Lyft and Uber. I also had to have a plan with lots of bandwidth to sustain the constant GPS accesses via their navigation apps. It also burned out batteries fairly quickly since the unit had to run at full bore for hours at a time.

By the time the pandemic hit, I had realized the dirty secret of ride sharing. Unless you’re prepared to work 10-12 hour days — and I was just doing it part-time for some extra cash — you’ll soon be overwhelmed by the increased maintenance costs for your car. So the effort wasn’t terribly profitable, even though I heard lots of life stories and met some fascinating characters, including someone who was once a notorious cybercriminal until he reformed.

Without the need to upgrade regularly, I ended up keeping my iPhones for an extended period rather than lease/purchase the new model. This sensible approach has worked fine, well until Barbara’s iPhone 6s, gave up the ghost when the charging port failed. Yes, I tried all the usual folk remedies, such as blowing it out with compressed air and using a toothpick to gently pry the dust loose.

I found a great deal with a refurbished newer model, but it would take several days to arrive. But Barbara needs a phone in her hands at all times, since we have a handicapped nephew whose mother is a senior citizen who needs constant help and calls us often. So I checked out the very cheapest mobile phone I could find as a temporary replacement. We’d return it soon as the iPhone arrives.

Barbara’s service is provided by one of the cheaper prepaid providers, Consumer Cellular, a Florida based company that receives stellar reviews from the likes of PCMAG and Consumer Reports magazine. In the latter, its reader surveys listed it as the second best carrier. With our AARP discount, we can get a decent 3GB plan for just over $20. Such a deal!

Now the very cheapest device we could find for immediate pickup at a nearby Target store was a Consumer Cellular Avid 589. The specs seemed decent enough for an entry-level model, and it features 32GB storage. It was equipped with Android 11, also known by the codename Red Velvet Cake, first released in 2020.

It’s been a few years since I have had any regular exposure to Android. At the time, Samsung was only too happy to provide a couple of generations of its Galaxy smartphones for evaluation.

While I understand the appeal of Android for people who just want something cheap, or something infinitely configurable, I find the interface by and large overly convoluted to perform simple operations without lots of tweaking.

The Avid 589 is cheesy enough, so I suppose Android suits.

Out of the box, you have to perform multiple steps to perform simple functions, such as placing a call to someone not in your Contact list. I’ve gone through the setups to see how much I can simplify matters. To me, it’s like using a Windows PC. The concept that a device should just work is alien.

I will be going through the settings to see if I can make it function more efficiently, but I grant that we really don’t plan on keeping this device permanently. When the iPhone arrives — and the Martin Luther King holiday delayed shipments — this one will be promptly returned. I briefly thought that we’d keep it in case of a future emergency, but I don’t think I need the aggravation.

For example, shortly before I wrote this column, I contacted Consumer Cellular via chat to find out why the voicemail setup routine appeared o be broken. It normally requires the old fashioned cell phone scheme of calling 1 and going through the prompts. But in this case, all I’d get was a message that voicemail hadn’t been set up.

The provider’s first solution is standard issue, to reset voicemail to allow me to set it up properly. It required restarting the phone, which I did without any change. With no change, they reset voicemail a second time. We both concluded that there must have been a glitch in the unit’s original setup process, so I ended up resetting to factory specs.

Which means starting over.

Contrast that to the initial setup of the iPhone 6s, which had been purchased refurbished from a different carrier (Walmart Family Mobile, which has the worst technical support on the planet in my estimation). It essentially just worked after we went through the initial carrier setup routine.

I am not complaining about Consumer Cellular. Their chat person was helpful and informative, and my encounters with phone support — after long waiting periods — was an equally friendly experience. But you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The Avid phone is just a piece of junk, barely justifying its low purchase price, and the Android OS is just not my cup of tea. I suppose I wouldn’t mind if I just used it to make phone calls, same as that Motorola RAZR I had years ago, and that’s pretty much how Barbara plans to use it until the replacement iPhone arrives.

Now a brief word about buying refurbished (sometimes called renewed). What this means is that the device should function as new, though it’s possible the case might have some slight blemishes. Unless you truly need the latest and greatest, something that just emerged brand new from the factory, this is, in my estimation, a smart way to deal with the high cost of mobile gear.

Of course, you can always lease/purchase for a small amount each month until it’s paid off. But even then, if the total price is lower, the monthly payment becomes less of a drain.

When it comes to an iPhone, Apple supports the operating system for several years. Any recent model is quite fast enough for regular use. Sure, the newer iPhones have better cameras, and a few other fancy features you might find useful. The larger OLED-based displays look great, but they aren’t significantly better under normal use than LCD. Take it from me, I’ve spent time with different iPhones owned by friends — or via visits to the Apple Store — and the casual user can do just fine with an older model.

So Barbara’s now-failed iPhone 6s was first released in 2015. While iOS 15 operates just fine with it, the betting is that it won’t work with iOS 16. But that’s no catastrophe. I can see where just running the unit till it drops is the right choice for most of you. Apple charges just $49 to replace the battery, and if nothing else fails, it can last indefinitely.

OK, that’s my practical point of view for 2022.

But when it comes to using an Android device to save cash, I just don’t think it’s worth the bother unless it’s a real hardship financially to buy something better, and any purchase at this point in our lives is a major decision.


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