phone

Tracfone MOTOGO EX431G: thin & pocket-sized

Tracfone MOTOGO EX431G: Cool phone! (har har)

Last year at this time (see previous post Revisiting cheap phone deals in Tulsa), I had re-upped with Tracfone at an average cost of $7.85/mo rather than try the minimal T-Mobile deal mentioned to me by Sir Paul’s cousin.

Once again today, inertia won out and I renewed with Tracfone.

But I lowered my cost a good bit by renewing for two more years instead of one.

Tracfone offered an 800-minute talk, 365 days of service deal for $100, with an online discount of $15, making it $85, same as last year.

But adding this to the cart elicited a further offer of 365 days and 0 minutes for an additional $50.

Since I run out of service days, not talk minutes, I jumped on it.

Total cost with taxes and government fees was $144.16. That works out to $6/month. Not bad!

While I am probably not quite as laconic of phone and text speech as Sir Paul’s cousin, I am lazier, and didn’t want to start over with T-Mobile. though their Pay-As-You-Go deal is still the same as last year.

As mentioned numerous times previously, I use a wifi-only smartphone to do unlimited texting with Google Voice for free when at home, or near a wifi hotspot.

We just got back from a Caribbean cruise. The hotel we stayed at for a day before sailing from Ft. Lauderdale provided free wifi. Both Ft. Lauderdale and Atlanta airports have it. I availed myself in those places.

Our cruise ship offered an onerous internet plan of $40 for 24 hours, or $20/day if you buy for all days of the cruise. No thanks! I was happy to go incommunicado.

A nice thing about having no wifi is that you can concentrate on reading books.

I had a cruise e-reading setup similar to last year’s (What I did on vacation without home theater): an original Nook ‘E Ink’ reader and a Galaxy Note II “phablet” inherited from my wife after she switched to iPhone this year.

This year’s reading list (all checked out from the Tulsa library):

Echo Burning and Never Go Back (Jack Reacher novels) by Lee Child
Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen
Amped by Daniel H. Wilson (a Tulsa-born roboticist, turned novelist)
High Profile and Stone Cold (Jesse Stone novels) by Robert B. Parker
Bossypants by Tina Fey

The kitchen counter

The kitchen counter, sans phone and answering machine clutter.

My wife got tired of having a wireless phone and an old answering machine in the kitchen, since she uses only her iPhone.

That’s really my thing. I still like having wireless phones available in several rooms. But I could see her point, and moved them out.

Undeniably, the counter looks better without them, and there is more food preparation area that is easier to clean. The new 24″ flat TV and TiVo Mini (both bought with our cord-cutting savings) take up only a small corner of space that wouldn’t be used much anyway. Cord clutter behind the set is down to an absolute minimum. But where do I put the phone and answering machine now?

As told in an early post, Cord-cutting: Hold the phone!, my first big cord-cutting salvo was to get rid of the cable company’s phone service and replace it with an Ooma Telo internet phone device.

It costs a measly $4/month in government fees (part of it covers 911 service), which is well worth it to still be able to use all those phones around the house. I kept our old phone number for a one-time $40 charge.

However, the Ooma device has been stuck back in our office where it could have the requisite Ethernet connection to the router. So we weren’t taking advantage of its ability to be a slick modern answering machine. Instead, we had an old Radio Shack machine on the kitchen counter (See previous post Lightning, round #3).

This morning, I ran across an item on Amazon: Ooma Wireless Plus Bluetooth Adapter, a little USB dongle that plugs into the Telo. It connects with your wifi network, allowing you to place the Telo in a location more convenient than adjacent to your router/modem. (It also lets your smartphone make a Bluetooth connection.)

I considered buying one, but two of the Amazon comments put me off.

One said the dongle runs hot. The other said, “When it loses its signal, the Ooma has to be completely reset. Frustrating. Put in a Powerline next to the Ooma and hardwired Ethernet to Powerline. Works much better.”

Well, there was my answer. We already use Powerline to get internet and home network to our theater room and den (see Powerline vs. Ethernet wiring). I had an extra Powerline adapter on hand. Duh.

Ooma in the Tiki room

Ooma Telo, wireless phone, X10 remote, LED light remote. Click to enlarge.

The Ooma Telo was moved to the next-best place for an answering machine: our “Tiki lounge“, a highly-trafficked area adjacent to both the theater room and the den. That turned a desk clutter item into an active, useful one.

While signed into my dashboard at my.ooma.com, I set the number of rings before voicemail answers to 4.

I can also review incoming, outgoing, and missed calls on the dashboard call log. Very handy to check out some of those bogus numbers we occasionally get calls from.

Just discovered a free Ooma app that lets me make outgoing calls on my wifi-only smartphone. If I subscribed to Ooma Premier for an extra $10/month, I could receive incoming calls on it as well. But the main objective of the cord-cutting exercise is to save money.

I would rarely if ever need to get my messages while away from home, but it can be done very easily with Ooma by calling your own number, entering your PIN, then following the spoken menu. (Or by using the free Ooma app.)

Clutter reduction, improved answering machine, and boosted WAF (wife acceptance factor) at no additional cost. Can’t beat it.

iHome portable speaker and wifi-only smartphone with Plex app running.

iHome portable speaker and wifi-only smartphone with Plex app running.

Yesterday, I visited a friend with a swimming pool at his house. To provide musical entertainment, I took along my wifi-only Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone (formerly my wife’s), and a portable iHome rechargeable speaker.

All my music content is currently stored on my laptop at home.

As described previously, the laptop and a couple of other household computers are running the Plex server software. That allows stored music, TV shows and movies to be played by devices running Plex client software. Up until recently for me, those devices were the Roku boxes and the Raspberry Pi running PleXBMC software.

But other devices can be Plex clients, too, such as a browser, a smartphone or a tablet.

With the free Android Plex app on my smartphone, the phone can play my music in the workout room or out on the patio via our private wifi network.

However, it can also work at remote locations, like my friend’s pool.

To achieve this, you must enable remote access on the Plex server. Here are the directions: Enabling Remote Access for a Server, and if needed, Troubleshooting Remote Access. This can be tricky, depending on your router. With my old warhorse Linksys WRT54G, I had to do Manual Port Forwarding as described in the second link to make it work.

The result was delightful. My phone had internet access via my friend’s wifi. I had used my DIY radio recorder to capture “All This Jazz” from KWGS the night before (I could have selected any of my music content). At poolside, I started the show and it streamed from the laptop in our house, 3 miles away. It played until it was time to go.

Just for kicks, I kept the music going in the car to see how long it would last after losing wifi access. I got to 61st & Memorial, still going. 71st & Memorial, still going. Got home, still going! Checked the phone, and it had reestablished access to our wifi and continued to play on.

Evidently Plex buffered at least 10 minutes of the show. You may recall that I chop the three-hour program into twelve 15-minute segments for convenience with Roku, where you can’t “rewind”. (Reminds me of an 8-track player when it switches to the next track.) Did Plex buffer an entire segment, or more? I don’t know.

But it is a lot of fun to use. All of this fits into a sandwich bag for safe and cheap transport to and from poolside.

Tracfone MOTOGO EX431G: thin & pocket-sized

In a September post, Cheap & cheaper cell phone deals in Tulsa, I mentioned that Sir Paul’s cousin told me about a $3/month cell phone deal from T-Mobile (30 minutes of talk or 30 text messages — or any combination of the two, up to 30).

Since I have 9 service days left on my $7/mo Tracfone, it’s time to review my options.

I see that T-Mobile still offers the Pay-As-You-Go deal, and you can bring your own phone as long as it is unlocked, GSM-capable, and with a SIM card slot.

Sadly, both of my recent phones (Tracfone and Net10) are locked to their carrier. The lock is on a firmware level, so no software monkey business will let me liberate them.

I also see that the cheapest deal T-Mobile offers with a phone included is $74.99, which includes:

  • Samsung T199 phone: $29.99
  • Refill Card: +$30.00
  • SIM Starter Kit: +$15.00

That is all in addition to the $3/mo service fee, on which I would save only $4/mo, or $48/year on the service.

I would need to stay with the T-Mobile deal for 2 years to reach the break-even point.

So this year, I’ll stick with the cheapo Tracfone for my infrequent out-of-the-house usage. I didn’t feel like braving the mall anyway.

However, if you have on hand an unlocked, GSM-capable phone with SIM card slot, you might like the T-Mobile deal.

Of course, I still have my zero-cost, wifi-only smartphone to send unlimited texts via Google Voice, and control our home automation and home theater devices.

(PS, just re-upped with Tracfone with a 365-day, 800-minute, $85/year offer. With taxes and fees, that comes to 66 min/mo @ $7.85/mo. Should I receive the gift of gab for Xmas, I will be all set.)

While conversing with Sir Paul’s cousin the other day at KWGS, the topic of cheap cell phone plans came up.

I modestly mentioned my Tracfone deal that comes in at just under $7/month. But he topped me.

T-Mobile has a “Pay as you go” plan that costs $3/month. To even consider this plan, you should be highly reserved both of speech and text.

You get 30 minutes/month. Should you need extra time, you can buy a $10 refill card (good for 3 months) and use that credit at the rate of $0.10/min for calls or $0.10/text.

You may bring your own phone as long as it is unlocked, GSM-capable, and with a SIM card slot.

(Most if not all Tracfone-purchased phones, like mine, are locked to that carrier with no way to jailbreak them, due to custom firmware. TracFone may unlock the phone for you if it meets the somewhat stringent criteria on this page: Tracfone Wireless, Inc. Unlocking Policy.)

I also found a highly similar “Pay as you go” plan with PagePlus Cellular. Walgreen’s is one place to buy in Tulsa.

When my Tracfone time approaches expiration at the end of this year, I will look into the two deals a bit more.