When I go back to America, I don’t want to buy an iPhone. I want a phone that’s small—the size of Microsoft’s Kin 1. I don’t want to buy a bunch of voice minutes I’ll never use. I don’t want to be locked into a contract. I want a Wi-Fi hotspot for all my gadgets. And mostly, I don’t want to pay for a phone overloaded with features just so I can have an interface that works.
A year ago, when it came time for me to buy a phone in Japan, the obvious choice was an iPhone. Sure, it came with a two year contract, but in exchange, I paid nothing upfront, and have gotten steady service for around $60 a month. I hardly ever use voice minutes, which is good, because I have to pay for any I use. My data is unlimited, and ratchets down if I use less than a certain (admittedly confusing) number of packets, which I occasionally do. This is working out pretty well. So why do I want to change things up when I go to the States?
The main answer is that I purchased an iPad. When it was all I had, the iPhone was a fantastic touch device. I could surf the web, use applications, take photos, and, oh yeah, occasionally make phone calls. But now, web surfing feels slow. Applications feel tiny. I use my digicam and the camera connection kit for photos. And when I actually want to make a phone call, I have to find the app amongst an array of others. The main use for my iPhone these days? Tweeting, when I’m feeling too lazy to pull my iPad out of its bag.
What I really need is a phone that does only what I need it to do. When I want to make a call, I want to make it easily. When it sits in my pocket, I don’t want it taking up a bunch of space. I want it to feel speedy. I want its battery to last all day. And I want it to serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot when I’m not at home or the office.
This theoretical phone would probably be a slider. The iPhone feels big in my pocket, even though it’s rather thin. I like the size of Microsoft’s Kin 1, but I don’t like the UI. It’s trying to be more of a phone than it really can be. I don’t need all the Facebook integration, I just want to make phone calls, and maybe send a text or two. I think QWERTY is a little more than I need, too. Just give me a ten-key numpad with nice big squishy keys. I can take it from there.
And because the point of a phone is to connect to a 3G network, I want to be able to rely on it for all my data needs, no matter what device I’m using. There’s no reason to pay an extra $130 for the 3G iPad for a radio that I have to carry with me anyway. The same is true of those adorable MiFi (compact wireless router) devices, which want me to pay an extra $60 a month and give me yet another device to carry around. Just put a Wi-Fi antenna in my phone. My jail-broken Japanese iPhone can do it—just don’t tell SoftBank. One switch, and I’ve got a 30-foot circle of 3G-powered Wi-Fi.
Price is an issue, but not as much as you might think. I don’t mind paying for my data, as long as I’m not paying over and over again for the same data. AT&T’s new data pricing makes sense to me. They’re charging $25 for 2GB per month, and then $10 for each gig after that. If I’m using more than 2GB per month, I just need to stop downloading so much video. What guts me is the $20 charge to tether. And then, they don’t even allow Wi-Fi tethering to several devices, but only single-device USB or Bluetooth tethering. That’s just silly. I want a MiFi that works as a phone, with a sensible data plan. Is that too much to ask?
And I don’t want a contract, either. It makes sense when I’m buying an iPhone, which has an expensive screen, gobs of flash storage, a powerful processor, and a camera. I’m stuck with AT&T for two uninterrupted years, in exchange for getting a $599 phone subsidized down to $199. But what I want isn’t $599, it’s at most $199, and better yet $99. It sits in my pocket, and is barely thought of, except when I need to make a phone call, or I briefly forget why my iPad is always connected to the Internet.
Is there hope for me? I see that Google’s new mobile OS, Froyo, has tethering built in, but I don’t want to buy an expensive, top-of-the-line Android phone like the Evo 4G or the Incredible just to have it be ignored. But consumer devices like the Kin also leave me cold, overcharging for data and voice, not offering tethering, and including a bunch of social networking features I don’t need or want.
Faced with the prospect of overpaying, I’m just going to buy a pay-as-you go burner phone, relying on Wi-Fi where I can find it. But I’ll be on the lookout for a phone that doesn’t get bogged down with extra features, remembers it’s just a glorified 3G radio, and simply fulfills a phone’s core purpose: to connect me with the rest of the world.