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Life with a smartphone

In 2005 I got my first cell phone, inspired by moving (thus needing a new phone arrangement) and my father's illness (meaning more time in Chicago, competing with my mother's dial-up, and being a different # for friends right when I'd be stressed out.) I was commitment-phobic, so I got a $50 Cingular GoPhone (pay as you go) from Target. A Nokia 6010. By 1995 standards probably rather advanced -- web access! games! apps! -- but even by 2005, rather clunky and brick-like. Still, it served. Battery life without much use was like a week or two, and last summer my other niece attested that hers was indestructible, until she deliberately smashed it into a puddle.

Battery life's been decreasing, I think, and with my upcoming travel plans a new, more advanced phone has seemed desirable. My usual frugality would point toward getting a modern $50 phone, or maybe a $150 one, for the sweet spot of value per price. (Buying one or two generations behind the cutting edge seems best value for one's money.) But I decided to splurge all the way, and get a full smartphone, in particular a Nokia N900. Quad-band GSM, so should work almost anywhere in the civilized world outside Japan. Hoped for the ability to easily access the web, play music, and read e-books, an all-in-one always-on entertainment and communication device. As opposed to my netbook eee, which is way more portable than my 6.5 pound laptop, but not whip-it-out convenient. For the specific model, I'm avoiding Apple on general principles of control. Android's probably good, but word is getting root is still warranty-voiding and jailbreaking. The N900 comes with a distribution of Linux, not just a kernel, and only phone-specific code is proprietary; it even comes with an "X Terminal" (there's probably nothing X Windows about it). As someone who put OpenBSD on his first adult computer, I went with that.

Results of the past five days: getting it working has definitely been quirky, though I've overcome most obstacles. I'm not sure reading PDFs will be a happy experience; reading HTML e-books should be nicer, given Firefox word-wrap. I've been able to SSH to static IP machines, but not to my laptop and netbook on my Wi-Fi, even though they're able to ssh to each other. I was able to scp in from static IP, but scp out didn't seem to work, until I added the -vvvv (very verbose) option, at which point it did. Yay, heisenbugs. Also, Nokia made some odd design choices: there's only a Silent and General profile, whereas the 6010 took several (including my custom Alarm Only one, which meant no one could wake me up), and the alarm clock requires scrolling through a list of numbers -- which doesn't wrap around -- whereas the 6010 let you enter numbers. Biggest obstacle is not working with IU's "secure" (aggravatingly paranoid and hoop-jumping) Wi-Fi.

OTOH (On the other hand) I installed a free app which hacks a way to have multiple profiles, there are alarm apps I haven't downloaded yet, and to be fair, the default alarm stores multiple alarms, which is something the 6010 didn't.

The potential game list is kind of scary. Doom, Quake II, Freeciv, and the Ur-Quan Masters. I guess the phone probably is more powerful than the 486s that Doom impressed me on, back in the early-mid 1990s. And in RAM and especialy storage, it outclasses my 1999 desktop.

So, actual use: Thursday Doctor Who night involved me being squished between two cute girls on a couch, without much elbow room. Even using an eee to look stuff up would have been awkward, and probably not worth the trouble of turning it on, but the phone was fine. Earlier, I got to take pictures without having to dig a camera out of my backpack -- pocket-readiness really is nice. The photos of the stuff I was giving away were taken with it, and uploaded easily to my new Flickr account, vs. the shuffle from camera to laptop via USB, and laptop to private server via scp. GPS hasn't done much (and doesn't even receive in my apartment) but certainly could come in handy, and I could record all my locations a la lifelogging (Total Recall, by Gordon Bell). Today, I went to return a library book, and impulsively went to the Runcible Spoon for coffee. I didn't have my backpack or anything with me... except my phone, with which I checked mail (via ssh!), read wikipedia, then studied some kanji via an app. It's a lot easier to send long and proper text messages now, with something more like a real keyboard, and it puts new text messages in context with previous ones to and from that source. It can be an audio recorder and videocam. And it can automatically record my phone calls, for later playback. I've gotten two different flashlight apps -- one puts the screen on, for a dim glow, one abuses the camera flash LEDs, for a rather brighter experience. It's got two cameras, with a crappy one by the screen, for use as a videophone or crude mirror. It can be an FM radio, though reception wasn't great the one time I tried. (It uses headphones as an antenna.)

Youtube works fine, given a decent connection.

Of course, for all this, judging by the battery icon the life would be two days tops. Though that was with a fair bit of wi-fi use today, and letting it look unnecessarily for wi-fi the rest of the time, plus an hour long conversation.

Haven't figured out yet how to best transfer files to it. It has a micro-SD slot, but nothing else does, and a micro-USB port, so I guess I could get a USB-micro USB cable. Or explore the world of Bluetooth, which in theory should let it and the eee work well together. Traveling will probably involve taking the phone, and the eee for more sit-down use; the 6.5 pound laptop that's showing its age can go into storage.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 26th, 2010 05:18 am (UTC)
I bet you could get it to work with IU Secure if you had someone who works for UITS register its MAC address. Call UITS and someone could do it.
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:39 pm (UTC)
Good luck with that - my Nokia E72 still does not work with IU Secure...
Jul. 28th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
That's a LOT of work to get a phone to run.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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