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Why no smartphone?

I have twice almost bought an iPhone. I have never almost bought any other smartphone. In fact, I haven’t bought a new phone since 2006, as I explained in an earlier post.

It is not simply a desire not to do the same as everyone else. I can definitely understand the attraction of having such a versatile portable computer, camera, music player and phone in one’s pocket at all times.

My general philosophy (if it deserves such a grand title) is to carefully evaluate any non-essential purchase with a long term view. I’ve gradually come to the realisation that everything is a compromise, and that is true of mobile phones as much as any technology.

The advantages of owning a smartphone for me are fairly obvious to anyone who sees the collection of equipment that one could replace. I will write in terms of the iPhone here because that is the product which I have spent the most time considering. When I visited York last weekend, I had a MiFi supplying fast wireless Internet for my iPod Touch and iPad. I also carried my current mobile phone, which continually frustrates me with its slow reaction times, small memory and lack of Internet, apps and so forth. Whilst I am a keen photographer, I did not bring my camera as it is simply not practical for me to carry. Having an iPhone I would be able to do away with the iPod touch, terrible phone and would not miss a camera. I would not spend so much time looking up mobile numbers on the iPod and typing them in to the sync-less phone. I would be able to share Internet with the iPad and not need the MiFi. I would gain GPS navigation and never again miss the ability to tweet or take an opportunist photo.

Whilst these advantages are attractive, do they justify the cost? It is worth considering alternative devices when cost is of importance. Unfortunately the gap in pricing between Apple’s latest model and the rival Android devices is not that great. I don’t find the larger screens necessary, if they are accompanied by an inferior software experience (hopefully someone will eventually prove to me that there are high quality equivalents to my most used iOS apps). No smartphone camera is as good as my current camera except in portability. This is the matter on which I feel most likely to be swayed in the future. Inevitably I desire to take photos when I don’t have a camera available and this frustrates me, but I would get far more enjoyment and use from a camera costing significantly less than a smart phone.

What annoys me about the iPhone 4S is that I would fairly swiftly run out of space and regret not spending more on a larger capacity model. Here is one point I concede to the myriad of Android and other non-iPhones with their expandable memory. This helped justify not buying the iPhone when I was teetering a few weeks ago. I could buy a perfectly good iPod Touch with 32GB storage for less than half the cost of the 32GB iPhone, and while it doesn’t do as much it does enough to satisfy my needs.

Here is my real reason for not buying any smartphone yet: I don’t want to be permanently attached to the Internet. I don’t want to be always available, ready to respond to any email, constantly up to date with news. I find life more interesting when I have my head up, observing. I get more time to think when I am not absorbed by a little touch screen. I can actually have a conversation with someone next to me, and not waste time playing a silly little game. If I want to take photographs, I can plan ahead and bring the real deal. I still have my iPod touch to play music and apps when I feel the need.

This freedom from digital communication is becoming rarer, and it’s something I want to cherish. I am never more than a few hours from the web, so I don’t see the need to be 10 seconds from my inbox. When I eventually earn enough that an iPhone would cost me a relatively small amount, I will probably own one and enjoy it. But for now, a device that I cannot afford to replace and the costs of replenishing mobile Internet bandwidth every month, are not something I feel are worth the financial burden. I am about to begin a masters degree funded by my own savings, and for now I’d rather have great experiences and nice food than be able to check my email wherever I am.