Entering the 21st Century on a Budget

I work out of the house, rarely travel, use email over phone/text, and am almost never caught without WiFi access. There was simply no reason to justify an expensive smartphone plan, so I’d been using an ancient Motorola flip phone on Tracfone’s service until March 2016. It was then that I received an e-mail informing me that an upgrade was required. Their contract-free (but relatively feature-free) phone service basically ran me a little under $100 every year. A steal compared to what the big carriers charge. I wondered if, now in 2016, I could make the switch to a smartphone without breaking the wallet.

There’s a blindingly large amount of options on the market, but the short answer is yes! I was able to keep all of my minutes and time to transfer over to my Microsoft Lumia 640. This nifty little thing was a mere $30 at Walmart (trapped behind impossible packaging), and Tracfone’s activation kit is only another 5 bucks. I really just picked a Microsoft phone because I like to buck trends and because of its camera, but it seems like you can pick up an Android device on the cheap as well. In fact, if I’d been willing to dish out $120 or so I could have had one of the best phones on the market while still paying less than $10 per year on average. The era of the contract titans is obviously over, and while Tracfone’s customer service is pretty awful, I’m thankful that their service (and similar ones I haven’t had the patience to research) exists. I am the ideal customer. I make maybe 100 calls and ~350 texts a year.

So what do I think of the phone itself? Weeks after purchasing it, I’m still marveling at how far we’ve come that we can pack so much power into such a small, inexpensive device. I have no complaints about the hardware — I’m not exactly stress-testing the phone, but it has handled its duties beautifully. I haven’t played any games on it, but if you’re buying a Windows Phone you probably aren’t in it for the games. The battery life is swell — the charger and USB connector are both laughably short, the former of which isn’t a problem for me and the latter which I solved via the use of Easy Transfer (mentioned again at the end). The camera feels like it itself should be worth more than the cost of the phone. See my tests below (for the picture, you may have to do some tinkering to see the full-size image since WordPress likes to resize them):

WP_20160426_12_34_39_Pro

“What about the lack of apps?” you say? That may have been a problem for Windows mobile at one time, but it is no longer. Web browser, alarm clock, calculator, calendar, FM radio, camera (including video), GPS, Office, Netflix, remote desktop, cloud storage, language apps, weather apps, fitness apps, flashlight, dating apps, two factor authentication — exactly what is missing again? You should be able to do anything in Windows 8 or 10 mobile that you can do on iOS or Android, except perhaps access specific content providers’ apps. And all of the big ones are there, I think… HBO Go, Netflix, Roku, Hulu, etc.

I may do more on individual apps later, but here are my preferred ones so far:

Remote Desktop – Splashtop Personal (only one I could get to transmit sound from desktop to phone)
Web browser – UC Browser
GPS – HERE+ Drive (downloadable maps for offline navigating)
File transfer – Easy Transfer (not secure for public use, but painless and fast wireless file transfer)
Language (Japanese) – Tango Master

Netflix, FaceBook and YouTube’s official apps seem fine, and I have yet to explore camera alternatives but the default app is adequate.

Meanwhile, this guy predicts doom and gloom: http://www.pcworld.com/article/3060875/windows/microsoft-launches-lumia-bogo-deal-to-boost-fading-windows-phone-sales.html Considering that this device is slated to receive a free upgrade to Windows 10, something they are still actively working on apparently, I think it will be supported for a while yet.

UPDATE 04/28/2016: I forgot to mention that one of my main concerns was battery life — it’s great and I’ve only had to charge the phone a couple times since getting it (fairly light use). Also, you can opt into a preview build of Windows 10 by downloading the app Windows Insider, which I just might do.

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