30 days without voice.

Apr 03


“Can you also make phonecalls with it ?”  The half snickering question hovers in the air, the person who asked it looks at me expectantly, although he already knows the answer. “No” I answer. Before I get a chance to explain he holds the device up to his ear, its over-sided dimensions making it look awkward and clumsy. “Hello… Hello” he mocks as he imitates making a phone call. He hands the device back to me, snickering.

I walk away from the conversation and notice a sweaty earmark on the glas of my Ipad. “Of course you can’t make phone calls with it”. I mumble “Why should I want to'”.  

A scene like the one mentioned above has, without a shadow of a doubt, happened to many geeks and tablet-device owners out there, when in the futile process of educating the proto-newbies about what a “tablet” actually is. Its a classic case of people who don’t realy understand its form factor and still try to “compare” it to a laptop, a net-book, or in this case, a cellphone. Yes, the device comes with a 3G sim slot, and yes, that sim card is hooked up to the cellular network, but there is (at least in apple’s case) no option to make a “cellular non-voip phonecall”. But the question is : Do we still need to ?

I’m amazed when I see people take out expensive phone contracts with a bucketload of “call minutes” for an insane ammount of money. If not in the process of “talking” over an outdated medium with the bandwith of 300hz and the sound quality of a Skype call with the International space station, they spend their time crunching out text messages for which they have to pay by the message.

All of it made me wonder : If our our phones are acquiring the abilities of our computers, why not use our computers (or computer alike devices) to take over our communications completely. To be honest : I don’t hate phones, but I do hate phonecalls. I hate the low quality, the high latency that makes me look like an awkward dork and I detest the fact that I can just feel money slide away as i’m on the phone “chatting” to somebody for over a minute. I’m a DIGITAL guy. I use email, twitter, facebook and even Skype to talk to the world and pay my connections not by the minute, but by the amount of data spent.

So I put my money where my mouth was and, with the help of a very geeky belgian phone provider (thank you Mobile Vikins) , put a “Data only” sim card into my Ipad. No voice minutes, just 2 gigs of data for the entire month. Next up, I left my cellphone at home and walked out the door for a few days.. just to see what happened.

Slide in a sim. See what happens.
Its convenient to have your tablet device (Ipad or whatever you own) hooked up to your wifi at home. You surf, play, chat, mail, tweet from the comfort of your lounge chair as you watch old reruns of “Saved by the bell”. Your tablet is largely a “domestic appliance” that you use in the safe area of your wifi coverage. However : plop in the data sim and your tablet device gets its “wings”. It was pretty strange hearing the Ipad do “pings and pongs” while I had it tucked away in my backpack. The difference with using a “standard” smartphone is that you can’t just “whip it out of your pants” (that sounds wrong) and take a quick peek. The Ipad was in my backpack. So when it comes to “quickly” checking stuff, the larger form factor of the Ipad was not extremely handy. What DID occur was that I did not get “distracted” that much when I was walking / driving around. I would “save up” all the incoming communications until I found a spot to pop out the Ipad. In a way it was quite liberating and gave me a bit of “peace” when out and about. (I must say I DID have to resist the temptation to immediately check every tweet or email, but I managed)

Instant on.
The Ipad (or any tablet device) shines when it comes to 2 things : Form Factor and “instant on” capability. When I plopped down for coffee and pie, I pulled out the Ipad and (with the cool zoogue case) set it up on the table before me. What was striking is that I suddenly had a “laptop sized” interface, but did not have to “wait” for it to come on. Many times I leave my Macbook air in my bag, because I don’t have the “time” to boot it up (or wake it from sleep, i know). Other times I hate to reply on a long email on my cellphone because the interface feels cramped. With the Ipad (and its 3G connection) I suddenly got both. A “smartphone like” instant on experience and a “laptop like” interface. Before I knew it I was rattling out Emails, Quickly checking tweets, browsing, copying, pasting and had managed to do get “things done” before my coffee got cold.

Voice communications.
When it comes down to voice communications I am not a roll model. I hardly call people on the phone anyhow. I do however use Skype a lot, and even through the limited EDGE coverage I had at the moment, I was able to have a good conversation with a friend in Australia, without any noticable latency. Skyping out to landlines over an EDGE connection proved to be difficult with the high amount of latency involved. I was unable to receive any “incoming” phone calls, but that was not a real big issue for me since I hardly get any. I had setup my voicemail to explain the “experiment” and instructed people to send me Emails instead.

3g vs Wifi only.
One of the favorite features I have on my Android Cellphone (and since update 4.3 its also on the IOS devices) is the “personal hotspot feature” where you in essence get to use your phone as a wireless router. This works great, but the fact is that a “dedicated simcard” in your tablet is a preferable solution. For one : With the “personal hotspot” feature your tablet is not “constantly connected”. Unless you run a plutonium battery extention pack, having your phone constantly on ” hotspot mode” will drain the battery. Thus you only activate it when you need it. This requires “manual labor” where as a dedicated sim just “works”.  On the argument of “hotspot-ing” your phone vs a dedicated sim in your tablet, I would go for the latter if it doesn’t cost you extra.  ( Suggestion to the mobile vikings guys : Do a dual-sim option where both sim cards are tied to the same data plan and you can “choose” to use your Ipad or Phone at the same time).

Did I manage to survive 30 days in the “non voice” valley ? Yes. Was it a fun experience ? Yes ! Does it have downsides ? Yes ! The “larger” form factor of the ipad makes it hard to “pull out” like you would do with your cellphone. Battery is also an issue. You have to be carefull not to run down your battery half way through the day and with a media rich device like the IPAD that is something that can happen. Intensive use (both in the communication and the entertainment section) does drain down your juice, so be prepared to “top up” when you get the chance. Is the Ipad (or any tablet device) ready to replace my cellphone ? Almost… the ability to make outgoing phone calls (in an emergency) without using skype would be welcome. This is of course an “apple only” restriction since most of the android tablets out there manage to preform this task quite fine. But for those of you on the cutting edge of progress, who want to geek out and go for it .. i challenge you to give it a try.. you’ll never look at your “phone” the same way again.


www.mobilevikings.be ( 12 euro / month for 2 gig Data only)


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