Monday, December 30, 2013

Upgrade impressions: iPhone 5S vs iPod Touch 5 + dumbphone

Between early 2011 and November 2013, I carried an Apple iPod Touch (first a 4th gen., and later a 5th gen.) as my primary “pocket device,” along with an old pre-paid “dumbphone” flip phone for making the occasional phone call.  As I’ve blogged previously, my reason for doing this was cost: The iPod Touch had no monthly fee, and the pre-paid phone cost only $7.50/month for about an hour’s worth of talk time, versus about $80/month (about $1,000/year!) for a smartphone with a data plan, accounting for taxes and fees.

For me, the math basically boiled down to trading loss of GPS capability and the ability to access the Internet from non-WiFi locations for keeping an additional $900/year or so in my pocket.  I was more than willing to accept that deal!

However, my job just recently adopted a new policy of providing partial reimbursement to developers with on-call responsibilities for their smartphones, which changed the math quite a bit!  Based on that, I sold my iPod Touch 5th gen on eBay (recovering around $210 of the original $300 purchase price, after shipping and fees – not bad!), and purchased a new iPhone 5S with service from Verizon.

Here are my thoughts on the advantages – and disadvantages – of swapping out my iPod Touch and dumbphone for a new iPhone, after the first month or so of having made the swap.


Internet Anywhere

I was a bit startled the first time I was driving down the road and heard the phone “ding” with a new incoming notification – the iPod Touch only ever did that when I was “stationary” (typically at home or at work)!

The ability to look things up while on-the-go has already helped me out once: While en route to an appointment at a new doctor’s office, I didn’t remember the specific cross-streets of the office location, but I was able to pull out the phone (after pulling the car off the road) and get those looked up with no problem.


I could sort of do texting previously, using a combination of approaches: iMessage on the iPod Touch to connect with other Apple device owners; various email-to-SMS gateways and/or Google Voice to initiate text message conversations with others and receive replies; and (in a pinch) the 10-digit keyboard on the old prepaid dumbphone. It was difficult, however, to make it easy for others to contact me via text message, and also to contact non-Apple folks while out and about.

Now I’ve joined the ranks of people for whom texting is easy! I just give out my phone number, and anyone can text me, and I can receive the message and reply easily wherever I am (except while driving, of course!).


I’ve had a GPS on my wish list for a long time; now I’ve been able to cross that off!  My wife has carried a smartphone for a few years now, so whenever we went on a trip together, she had mapping covered. 

The few times a year I would go on a long trip alone, though, I would be obliged to do things as we did it back in the olden days: To print a hard copy of directions off the Internet ahead of time.  (It’s certainly odd that we’ve reached a point where the phrases “back in the olden days” and “the Internet” can legitimately be used together in the same thought!)

Unlimited Calling

I previously avoided using my prepaid mobile phone for phone calls lasting more than a couple of minutes, since with my prepaid plan I only got a very small allotment of minutes per month; I’d use my home or office phone instead.  Now, though, I no longer have to worry about using up minutes, so I have the freedom to use the mobile phone for longer calls.

Pants Pockets

For years, I’ve walked around everywhere on a daily basis with my pants pockets pretty full of stuff: At first a Moleskine notebook, and later the iPod Touch, in my left pocket; phone and keys and mini-pen in my right pocket.  Now, with the single iPhone serving as both note-taking device and phone in my left pocket, I no longer need to stuff the dumbphone into my right pocket along with my keys.  Luxurious!

Vibration Alerting

The iPod Touch 5th gen. didn’t have a vibration feature, so now I can be alerted to new incoming messages even when my phone is on silent mode and in my pocket.

Firewall Circumvention Device (!)

My office has a long-standing policy of no use of streaming music sites permitted on the company network.  I’ve been somewhat envious for a while now of smartphone owners sitting near me who were able to use their phone’s data capability to listen to streaming music over the Internet, while I was limited to only my collection of mp3s on my local PC.  Now, I too am able to enjoy the variety of listening to Pandora while at my desk!  However, that does bring us to…


Bandwidth Cap

I decided to go with Verizon as the carrier for my new iPhone for several reasons: (1) They allowed me to transfer my accumulated Alltel/Verizon prepaid account balance of $100+ as a credit on the new smartphone bill; (2) I get a corporate discount on Verizon services; (3) My wife is already on Verizon, I didn’t really want to have her switch, and it was cheaper to have us both on the same carrier.

However, Verizon does impose a bandwidth cap on data usage.  For the first time, I am having to consider questions such as just how much data does it use to stream Pandora for 8 hours?

Form Factor

The iPod Touch 5th gen. is very thin – even thinner than the iPhone.  More than once, I had the slim iPod out and had someone notice the minimal width of the device and ask “What kind of phone is that?!” (I’d been tempted to answer that it was a prototype next-generation iPhone – mostly due to the irony that the device in question was actually less capable than a current-gen iPhone!)

In practice, though, I’m finding that the additional bulkiness of the iPhone isn’t something I really notice, as compared to the iPod Touch.

Monthly Fee

The biggest con, obviously is that the substantial monthly cost of the iPhone (even when subsidized) doesn’t exactly compare favorably with the $0/month cost of the iPod Touch.  After I’ve had the chance to use the iPhone for a longer period, I may do a follow-up on this post to comment on whether the advantages of the iPhone relative to the old iPod + dumbphone solution seem to have been worth the price.