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

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, as 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.

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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