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Stephen Hackett's weblog about Apple, Apple history, technology, journalism and design.

On Using a Dumbphone in 2010

On last week’s DadCast, I was asked how my Motorola Droid was treating me.

I gave an answer the guys probably weren’t expecting.

Background

I was an Apple employee in 2007 when the iPhone launched. As such, I was an early user. I remember it being uncomfortable to pull it out in public for months, as it always drew a crowd.

Fast forward two years. At the end of 2009, I was carrying an iPhone 3GS (in white, naturally), and was growing tired of the iPhone experience.

So I switched to the Motorola Droid in January of this year. And after a brief stint with a Palm Pre, went back to the Droid.

The Droid is a great phone. As the last phone that offered a truly vanilla Android experience, it runs like a dream. Not to mention the hardware is awesome. Battery life is great, Android is stable and the entire thing just feels good.

I loved it, right up until the moment I sold it.

Moving On

So, why did I sell a device I really liked?

Well, in a word — iPad.

The iPad has become my secondary device. Before the tablet, I had a computer and I had a phone. Clear, distinct products for clear and distinct things.

The iPad obviously lives in the gray area between notebooks and smartphones. And for me, it marginalized the smartphone.[1. I think the same thing would have happened if I was using the iPhone. This isn’t a commentary on Android.]

In a former life as the Service Manager of a busy Apple-Authorized Service Provider, I lived on my phone, working out of my car most days. 3G was literally my lifeline back to the office and to my customers. Now, however, I really don’t need 3G because I’m not really out and about that much. Wi-Fi is anywhere I am these days, and my Wi-Fi iPad serves my needs much better[2. To read about how I use my iPad, check out my interview over at The Brooks Review.]

In short, most of the time, I was using my expensive, fancy smartphone for non-smartphone things.

So I bought a Motorola RAZR V3m. In silver, naturally.

The RAZR V3m

The V3m was Motorola’s version of their legendary device for Verizon. Sadly, Big Red stripped many of the phone’s features from the firmware. Happily, it’s pretty easy to re-flash the phone’s firmware to gain these features back using a Motorola utility in Windows.

The phone itself is tiny. Battery life is great. The ringer, earpiece and speaker are all loud and crystal-clear, in true Motorola fashion. There’s a reason this phone ruled the roost for so long.

Thanks to the magical technology that is Bluetooth, the V3m syncs with Address Book on Snow Leopard (via iSync) with no problems. Calendar data, however doesn’t sync. Which while a bummer, isn’t a deal-breaker, since my iPad is pretty much always with me.

Motorola’s custom predictive text system — named iTap — is pretty great. It’s not super smart, but it makes texting on the RAZR bearable. I can even send and receive MMS messages. I have Twitter setup to send DMs right to my phone as well.

The camera is a joke, however. And people give me funny looks if I pull it out of my pocket during meetings.

Side Effects

  • At the beginning of the year, I had a strong urge to simplify things in my life. This is the single biggest step I’ve taken in this direction. I also find myself with empty time sitting in traffic or waiting for an appointment, since I don’t have the option to check Twitter or Google Reader. It’s really freeing, actually.
  • Finding apps I can use is a lot simpler, since I just have an iPad and some Macs. Having Android in the mix makes finding decent apps a little harder.
  • Instead of snapping sub-par photos with my phone, my Canon PowerShot G9 is getting a lot more use. Which is a good thing.
  • By removing data from our cell phone plan, my wife and I are saving almost $80/month. (She gave up the Palm Pre Plus.)
  • I gave up MobileMe when I moved to Android. Now that I’m back to all-Apple gear, it looks appealing again.