My phone is smarter than I am

I finally did it: walked into a Verizon store and picked out a smart phone. I’d been dragging my feet for a variety of reasons, ranging from a dislike of the slab-like form factor to just plain laziness. But oh my, was I missing out! Things have changed since my last phone purchase in 2006!

I’m not an impulse buyer. I was just going to see what the latest offerings were. And if or when I did get a smart phone, I vaguely assumed it’d be an iPhone, which is the only one I’ve played with before. But the Verizon employee who met me as I walked in immediately steered me to the Android side of the store. “That’s what we all use,” he confided. And here I’d thought Verizon was over the moon to be offering the iPhone, which is selling so fast that you can’t get it in black anymore online (or at this particular store), only white.

I handled a bunch of these phones and gradually narrowed it down to two that were the least chunky and slippery. I was persuaded that I might as well opt for a 4G phone, since although only 3G is available here in Corvallis, I’ll be moving back to L.A. soon where it seems 4G is all the rage, and 10 times faster. I really liked the Verizon guy who was helping me; he was extremely knowledgable, fielded every single one of my questions, and was up front about what was a useful attribute and what was a buzzword. I later learned that he was the store owner.

I converged on the Pantech Breakout, a phone I otherwise knew nothing about, but it felt the best and since they all had the same OS, form factor apparently was the deciding angle. It was just a bit smaller than the other 4G phones, with a slightly grippy back, and felt better in my hand. The thing has a 1-GHz processor, weighs less than 5 ounces, and has about a billion features I won’t need but came along for the ride (like how it can act as a “hotspot” and relay net access to other devices). I was going to go home and think it over, per usual with large purchases, when I realized that at $50, what exactly was I going to deliberate?

Verizon guy: “I guess you probably don’t want the phone insurance option. After all, you managed to hold onto that phone for FIVE YEARS.”

He threw in a car charger and a screen protector with a nice discount, and I was on my way. A whole new way! I’ve got the future in my pocket!

Here are some of the awesome things I’ve discovered this “phone” can do:

  • Voice translation. Like, you speak in English, it turns that into text, translates it into French, and then speaks the French aloud. Your French friend can then do this in reverse and suddenly, you’re communicating across the language barrier. I sat in the Verizon store entranced, having a conversation with myself in two languages, and it WORKED! I imagine you could also use this to learn the foreign language, at least to some initial rudimentary level.
  • Voice dictation. You can dictate text messages, emails, search queries, memos, etc. The accuracy of its dictation (relayed to a server, not local to the phone) is startling. I can say “wikipedia oregon trail” and google does the right thing! I can say “post office” when I’m looking at google maps and it pops up pointers at all the right places! The pain of typing texts is gone! (As a bonus, the “swype” method for entering texts on the keyboard is a nice advance in itself, and good for settings in which you don’t want to speak your texts out loud.)
  • Yelp. Google docs. Geocaching. Disc golf maps and scoring. My ravelry knitting projects. An exoplanet counter. Angband.
  • Amusingly gratuitous: animated desktop wallpaper, such as little flowers that sway and bob when you swipe left or right, or ponds that ripple when you touch them. Amusing for about 30 seconds, then deemed not worth the battery life they require and deactivated.

At the store’s recommendation, I attended their “smart phone training session” which took place the next day. It was me and six octogenarians. Another Verizon employee led the class. He began with a glowing paean to all things google, which concluded with “It’s okay to share all of your data with google, because their motto is ‘do no evil.'” I did get more familiar with the OS and was able to ask some questions. So far, so good.

Any favorite Android apps you’d like to suggest?