Getting a Smartphone? Get a data plan too.

One of the things I was concerned about (before splurging on an Android Phone) was the fact that I didn’t have a data plan. I got my first cell phone from AT&T in 2004 and after dabbling with the awful pay-per-use data plan, I opted out of their data packages. Back then, their data plans were ‘pricey’ to my still-broke self. Now (around the coming of the iPhone), most carriers require data plans so you won’t suffer this problem. These days, you should tack an extra $15 – $30 a month to your cellphone bill with data plans from the popular carriers. ๐Ÿ™‚
In any case, I am still without a data plan and missing out on a bunch of cool applications.

I have since discovered that the *really* fun applications (barring games) require an internet connection. Yes, WiFi is good, but when you’re on the road, you’re out of luck. Without further ado, here are the “things” I (meaning you) am missing out on without a data plan:

Free Google Maps navigation

If you aren’t ready for paid Android navigation apps like Ndrive, Navdroyd, Copilot, the free Google Maps app is your next best bet. To use Google’s free turn-by-turn directions, you need a constant internet connection. However, you may be forced to use an offline maps utility which consumes space on your microSD card. I’ve currently got an 8GB Transcend microSD card in my G1 phone and planning an upgrade to a 16GB Transcend microSD card in order to take advantage of offline maps like Ndrive (North America maps for Ndrive consume nearly 6gbs of space which leaves me little room to install apps on my current 8gb microsd card). I’ve got a license to Ndrive navigation software that is begging to be used!

Social Services

Geo-location is the rage these days (see: FourSquare, Yelp, Gowalla, Whrrl, etc). It’s not my cup of tea so I won’t be telling the world where I am or where I’m not (unless I want to send a not-so-subtle message about how quickly I’m climbing a non-existent social ladder). That said, unless the restaurant/club you’re in has free WiFi, no checking in for you. The same goes for the Twitter/Facebook apps for Android. Unless you’re at home (in which case, I would be using my laptop), you can’t use these apps without an internet connection. Without WiFi, you’re out of luck. I wouldn’t be writing this post if there was free WiFi was as pervasive as cell phone towers.

Data Syncing

As you know, the Android phone is tied really closely to your Google account. I mean, contacts + calendars are all synced from your Google online account to your phone. This means, changes made to your contacts + calendars made from your phone won’t show up instantly on your online Google account if you aren’t connected to WiFi at the moment. If you’d had a data plan, you wouldn’t be worrying about when the carrier pigeons will ferry your data from your phone to your Google account. ๐Ÿ˜€ It’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve obviously survived thus far. It’s a pain, but workable.

That said, I’ve found my Android phone to be useful even without a data plan. In the Android Market, there’s no shortage of apps that don’t need an internet connection. For those old school people without a data plan (raise your hands in the air/ wave ’em like you just don’t care … actually, it hurts.), here are some recommended apps to pass time with until your next WiFi connection:

You can do … anything (almost)

Take your pick. On my G1, I’ve got the following apps that contain things I can consume until my next WiFi connection.

  1. Note-taking:Writers/BloggersArtists are incurable note-takers so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I swear by the Android app from Snaptic called 3banana notes. Even though I haven’t used any other because I can’t imagine anything that is simpler than this app, I love it. You can jot down anything that comes to mind, append images/location data & your notes are stored on your microSD card or phone to be synced to your Snaptic account or Google account!
  2. Factbook: Support the Android developers It’s a paid app and it is pretty much a copy of the freely available (online) CIA Factbook which has been ported to the Android phone. It comes in a pretty GUI and should keep you full of random trivia.
  3. The Holy Book (Bible, etc): The free bibles out there are mostly the King James’ version of the bible which is freely available on Project Gutenberg. The others are just fancy versions like NIV, etc. Simply read the reviews or test out the Bible apps to find “the One”.
  4. The Dictionary: I used to read dictionaries as a hobby when I was younger. I don’t do that enough these days, but with the ColorDict app, I can fill my head with more highfalutin’ words than necessary.
  5. Fresh of a recent reformat to install Cyanogenmod v. 6 (a.k.a. Froyo), I’m on the hunt for a good Android app to let me save articles from my browser to read them later. Basically, an Instapaper-like app for Android. I’m still looking so feel free to chime in with recommendations although I’m not sure this would work as I hope because it would require some syncing to go on from my browser to my phone and thus require an internet connection.
  6. Books: Pick your favorite eBook reader (I’ve settled on FBreader which has a simple eBook application for the Windows platform) and download hundreds of free eBooks from publishers around the world e.g. Smashwords, Feedbooks, etc. FBReader offers an easy way to browse and download quality reading material. When browsing the catalogs, FBReader offers more options for searching for books by authors, subject, languages, popularity, etc. , it’ll offer you a more ‘animated’ list of options.
    Feedbooks and Smashwords Catalog on FBreader
    FBReader for Android
  7. Medical ‘trivia’: I’m a fan of filling my head with largely useless tidbits of medical information (not a fan of the Michael Quach style of trivia apps polluting the Android marketplace). I’ve spent well over $100 on medical apps from Skyscape. Sidenote: Skyscape rocks for allowing me to transfer my apps from device to device. Then again, the Skyscape apps aren’t just $2 – $10 apps and if the previous phone is truly retired/dead, transferring is the least they can do. BUT Skyscape didn’t give me the run-around and that says a lot about their company.
  8. Have Fun with Exercise/GPS: With apps like RunKeeper and CardioTrainer, you can track more than just calories burned with your exercise routine. If you’re just curious to see what your daily route looks like on the computer, there is the My Tracks apps that can track and create an easily shareable file (i.e. gpx, kml or csv formats). Be warned that should you attempt to multi-task while recording a track, you’ll loose your spot on the map and have to restart. I can not wait for GPSed to be available on the Android market. I loved the GPSed app (I upgraded to the GPSed Pro version) on the Windows Mobile system and it rocked my world by making my commute less lonely. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sidenote: The GPSed App is available as a .jar file and this can be apparently converted to Android package (.apk) file although I didn’t get that site to work and there might be another option for converting .jar files to .apk files.
  9. Fun with Pictures: I’ve got the paid PicSayPro application on my phone and it’s been a great app to edit the 3 megapixel photos I’ve taken with the G1. There are other photo editing apps available such as Adobe’s Photoshop Express, Urbian Inc’s Retro Camera, etc.

I’m sure I’m missing out on other things I can do even without a constant data connection (listening to music is blindingly obvious) so expect another post with me belaboring the point that I probably am better off getting a data plan soon. ๐Ÿ™‚ Cheers!

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Jane Ullah

I wear many hats. In no particular order, I am a: wife, geeky blogger, a twitter-happy aspiring photographer, and passionate about things I believe in.