Feature Phones

For most of college, my phone was a Samsung x495 on a pay-as-you-go T-Mobile plan. This little phone was was everything I needed at the time and nothing more. I once dropped it out of a second story window and watched it bounce off the asphalt parking lot below. It picked up some scuffs, but continued to function normally until I upgraded (by choice) to another phone. Its battery life would last for days — seriously, like an entire workweek. It got great reception, and people never complained about the call quality. My text message usage was low enough that the keypad-style of entering letters never bothered me, nor ate up my prepaid minutes.

This Samsung and a first generation 512MB iPod shuffle were once the only gadgets brought along on a long-weekend vacation, and I remember finding these constraints refreshing. I had my favorite songs with me on a device that was easy to take anywhere, and a phone that—whether for financial concern or otherwise—I never felt compelled to check or answer. I discovered on that trip that the pathetic TZones WAP internet service, through some loophole, was provided for free and I could actually get news headlines and sports scores from anywhere there was a GPRS signal. This in itself was a restraint because one was limited to the few content providers T-Mobile had selected, but I remember the aha moment where I realized that I could easily get lost in having the Internet anywhere I was.

Today, I have an iPhone 4, which does way more than that little Samsung and holds much more music than that iPod shuffle. I read Twitter and RSS feeds and saved articles wherever I am (obligatory asterisk to a smarmy footnote about AT&T reception). I have playlists and every MP3 I own stored on it, so I can either listen to my favorites as usual or pull up a specific song on demand. It has a camera that compares with the 3MP point-and-shoot I owned at the same time as my old phone. Even with all this usage, its battery still lasts about two days, which is more than satisfactory to me. On top of it all, the user experience (led by the crisp display) is perfect. My expectations and requirements for mobile devices have changed, and this again is the device that provides everything I need right now (but probably a little more too).

Though sometimes I wonder what it would be like to disconnect in a way and go back to that simple flip-phone with barely a data plan and a separate music player with no display and limited storage, and whether the constraints would be refreshing again, or frustrating.