About 11 months ago, I embarked on a cellularless voyage:

  • October 9, 2012: I cancelled my AT&T cellular plan (~$80 a month) in favor of a free WiFi-only existence ($0 a month).
  • October 31, 2012: I wrote about the first few weeks of this experiment in Living without a Cell Phone.  
  • Shortly after that post, I broke the iPhone 4 that I was planning to use as my primary device. Having been impressed with Apple's refresh of the iPod Touch that year (5th gen), I decided to give it a try.
  • Early November 2012: We moved to Austin, Texas. I led a WiFi-only lifestyle for a couple months. Being in a new city, I quickly learned that the most difficult aspect of such an endeavor is not having access to mobile navigation.
  • January 2013: I almost missed an interview (that landed me a job), because I couldn't figure out the directions I wrote on a piece of paper. Around that time, I purchased a FreedomPop Photon hotspot, settling for the 1GB / $10 a month plan.
  • Present day (end of September 2013): Still rocking the FreedomPop and iPod Touch (5th gen). Still relying on Talkatone and Apple's communication suite: iMessage, FaceTime, and now with iOS7, FaceTime Audio.

It's been 355 days since I cancelled my phone service. Although I ultimately buckled from my WiFi-only aspirations, at $10 a month (plus a $99 deposit for the hotspot) FreedomPop's solution is cheap and fits my needs perfectly.

While it works great for me, it's not for everyone...at least not right now. If the main reason you own a cell phone is to make and receive calls, and your livelihood depends on that functionality, I can't recommend this type of solution with today's technology. While I make or receive the occasional call, the audio is prone to cut out or sound garbled with these apps on my iPod via this hotspot, especially when using some form of transportation. I was hoping that iOS7 and FaceTime Audio would push the experience forward, but in the field it works about the same as Talkatone (somewhere between pretty good and pretty terrible, the determining factor being whether or not you are using some form of transportation).

The main driver of getting the hotspot was to help me navigate the maniacal roadways of Austin. The Maps app is a substandard experience on the iPod (it's always been that way).  It works but you have to manually swipe through directions. Couple that with a hotspot connection that drops when moving, and what you get is something that is not particularly safe to use while driving.  Even if you're just navigating as a passenger, it's frustrating. I know my way around Austin, so I don't use Maps on a daily basis.  Just like making calls, if you rely on Maps to get you through the day, I can't recommend this solution.

It's important to note that a contributing factor of these experiences is the iPod. While it's a great device all around, VoIP calls and maps/location services suffer because it's not a phone.  I'd be interested to try my experiment with a new iPhone, or a Moto X, or any other top-tier Android phone, and see if using that type of hardware improves the experience over the iPod.

These apps and devices will improve, the experience will too.

So what about people that don't rely on making calls?  Like an increasing number of us, I find myself talking less and less on my mobile device, instead relying on text, image, or video-based communication methods. Making a phone call is my least preferred method of communication, so not having a bonafide "phone" isn't a big deal.  If this sounds like you, I urge you to consider this experiment.  It's fun to orchestrate and put into use.  It feels like having a treasure map and a compass.  And it's cheap.

When people ask me what phone I have, and I say, "I don't have a phone," they're like..."Huh?"  Everyone is entranced in the smart phone market and their next upgrade. No one seems to consider these totally viable alternatives.  For a lot of these people, those that find themselves using less "minutes" or making fewer calls, it's more than just an alternative, it can be an exciting lifestyle change.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to reach out or leave something in the comments section.

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