Why One Globetrotter Dumped the iPhone and Learned to Love the Droid (With Google Voice)

The author using her Android in Barcelona

I wondered: did I make a mistake? Did I walk out too soon? But sometimes you have to make a break. Despite years of togetherness, new-and-improved wasn’t good enough. So describes a fraught goodbye, and with glimpses of no. 5 appearing above the horizon, I made the switch.

It was a tough decision to leave iPhone for Android. I’d been a long-time loyalist—ever grateful to the unflinching attention given to sensibility in product design, not to mention user experience. But I finally abandoned superior detailing and materiality for something more basic: the freedom of the open road.

Since April 2011, I have divided my time between Barcelona and New York City. It started as an experiment to figure out a formula for international living, fueled by a fledgling entrepreneurial impulse and bolstered by a consulting contract with an American company. As I embarked on the migrant life in the age of pervasive computing, I had my concerns. Why was I heading straight into the Eurozone crisis with an idea to start a small, international organization that supports research in design?  Macroeconomics aside, I faced a more quotidian dilemma: “What do I do about phone service?”

There was no simple answer. But I knew using my U.S.-activated iPhone abroad could be expensive. I had flashbacks to returning from a month spent in Spain in 2009 and getting a $700 AT&T phone bill, even though I had purchased an international roaming plan.

The most viable solution on my bootstrapped budget was to jailbreak my iPhone 3G—a device past its warranty, prime, and preciousness—slip in a Spanish SIM card upon landing, and put my U.S. number on “hold.” I would have to pay $10 a month for the mere privilege of keeping my number (no services, no voicemail). From a U.S. perspective, I would effectively go dark. It was not ideal, but I could not justify—let alone afford—$120 a month just to keep voicemail for my U.S. calls.

On the day of my departure, I was in a cellphone store on Manhattan’s St. Mark’s Place, tight for time and paying to get my mobile unlocked. The other patron was a Scandinavian woman, also keen on fixing an on-again-off-again mobile relationship with New York. It struck me then, at this hole-in-the-wall phone shop, that the human network could equip me with that which my service provider could not: a workaround.

Though I had started my research online, it was this personal exchange that refined my plan; I was problem-solving on the fly. There was an inventor’s thrill to my animated discussion with the clerk on how to jerry-rig, customize, spit-and-gum-it together.

In an hour, my phone was once again in my hands. When I arrived in Barcelona the next day, I was live with a pay-as-you-go SIM card powering a new Spanish number on my beloved iPhone.

But my solution had a shelf life…

On my most recent New York visit in June, I finally conceded that my iPhone had had it. But now, more experienced in transcontinental migrations, I had a better handle on my needs. After a year-plus, I had to face the glaring flaw in my system: going dark when abroad. I also now liked being contract-free. I wanted state-of-the-art, out-of-the-box unlocked.

I took the leap and bought a Samsung Galaxy Nexus—the once-ignored Android. I dusted off my Google Voice number, bought a U.S. pay-as-you-go SIM from AT&T’s GoPhone plan, and ported that number to it. It felt like going to the dark side.

Now, back in Spain, I discover it is not so dark. Before going back to Barcelona, I took a trip to the Canary Islands. It was the first stop in Spain with my new mobile and I wanted to test drive immediately.

In my service provider’s shop in a small town on Tenerife, I switched out my SIM card and placed my U.S. card on leave (removing the card from the phone doesn’t disconnect service). Because I have a pay-as-you-go plan that allows me to select features based on my usage habits, I can affordably keep my U.S. number active all the time.

Using Google Voice gives me a consistent face globally, not to mention that voicemails arrive via e-mail. The voice-to-text transcription can be humorously inaccurate, but the audio is there. The other day, I saw a message from my doctor’s office.  I called back, free, through Gmail, using the voice and video chat plug-in that allows me to place free calls to any U.S. phone. On her caller ID, my doctor saw  my Google Voice number. I feel my life is becoming truly seamless, that my geographical choices are not impeding my ability to stay connected. At present, the only negative is that I can’t port my Spanish number to ring Google Voice.

I spend time internationally but am otherwise a typical user. My phone dilemma forced me into creative thinking. And today I don’t miss my iPhone at all.

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2 Responses to “Why One Globetrotter Dumped the iPhone and Learned to Love the Droid (With Google Voice)”

  1. One of many fine Android stories… I look forward to the day when we don’t have mobile plans at all, don’t need “minutes”, and all we have is beautiful unlocked devices to do with what we please (at little to no cost).

  2. Richard Walkes says:

    I remember when Google acquired Grand Central and rebranded it Google Voice. I was using Grand Central with a Palm smart phone at the time. Thankfully Google kept its features platform independent and I now use it with my iPhone.

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