Low-Fi

Have you noticed how much better the Friday cat pictures have looked in the past couple of months? No, I haven’t magically improved my photographic skills.

It’s been said that a bad workman blames his tools. Does that mean that a good workman gives the credit to his? Well, regardless of whether it makes me a good workman or not, I give my tools full credit for the improvement.

In mid-April, I got a new cell phone. The logic went something like this: “I’m paying for a metric buttload of data that I never use. I’m out of contract. Can I move to a new plan?”

To make a long story short, not really.

I was paying Sprint $90 a month for unlimited data, but both their tools and my phone showed I was using less than half a gigabyte. They do offer a one-gig package for $20/month, but that’s on top of a $45/month “access charge” (i.e. basic connectivity, voice service, and anything else that isn’t “data”.) The website wasn’t totally clear, but I was pretty sure I’d have to get a new phone as well in installments. Add another $15-20. Gosh, I might save a whole ten bucks a month. Whoopie.

Other carriers were similar. I was about to trash the idea when I heard that Project Fi was offering a one-gig plan for $30/month–including access, voice, and everything else. Not bad at all. But who the heck is Project Fi?

Project Fi is Google.

No, Google isn’t stringing lines and building cell towers. Instead, they lease service from multiple carriers–as of this writing, Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. The phone automatically switches from one carrier to another, using whichever one has the strongest signal. And, to keep their costs down, the phones will aggressively switch to Wi-Fi. Yes, including doing voice over Wi-Fi.

Even better: if you don’t use your full gigabyte, the unused bandwidth is credited against your next month’s bill. (Data is $10/gig, so if you only use half a gig, you get a five dollar credit; if you use 1.5 gigs, you pay $40–but get that same five bucks back the next month.)

I had to buy a new phone–which brings us back to where this post started; more on that in a moment–but Google is keeping the price of their Nexus phones down. That’s the potential catch: the only phones you can use with Project Fi are the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P. If you’ve got to have a keyboard, iOS, or Samsung’s stylus optimizations, you’re out of luck. On the other hand, since Google is the carrier, there’s no nonsense about getting carrier approval for OS upgrades, including the monthly security updates. That’s not to be sneered at.

I went with the 5X, and since I knew I would be taking lots of cat pictures, I went with the 32GB model. Total price including tax, shipping, and all, $270.16. (You can buy the phone over 24 months, if you prefer time payments. That would have been a bit under $11/month.)

Financially, the move is working out well. I’ve paid for three months of service so far at a total cost of $87.09–less than one month’s payment to Sprint. That means I’ve saved enough to cover two-thirds of the cost of the phone. Even with the trip to Sedalia, which kept me away from my home Wi-Fi, I still used less than half a gigabyte–between the hotel’s wireless and the occasional public network, the phone was able to keep most of its activity off cellular.

Clearly, if I was a heavy data user, streaming music and video around the clock, Project Fi wouldn’t be as good a deal–but at $10/gigabyte, the break-even point may not be as high as one might think.

As for the phone, I’m very happy with it. As I implied, the pictures are much better than what my old Nexus 5 could do. Not so much because the resolution is higher, but because the low-light performance is significantly better. The white balance is greatly improved–I’m not seeing the orange tint that mars many of the pre-April cat pictures.

And yes, it’s better in its non-camera functionality too. The screen is brighter and seems sharper–though it is the same resolution and roughly the same size as the old one, so that may be a function of the difference in the screens’ ages. Calls are clearer–the speakerphone is about the same, but voices are less muddy when not on speaker.

The big difference, though, is the fingerprint reader. It’s…interesting. When it works, it’s great. I pick up the phone, my finger falls naturally on the sensor, and the phone unlocks before my other hand gets into screen-tapping range. However. Around a quarter of the time, the phone insists that I unlock it with my PIN, “For extra security.” It’s not just me–there’s speculation online that it happens after too many failed attempts to read a fingerprint; attempts that are triggered by the back of the phone bumping against the inside of a pocket or holster. I’m inclined to believe the speculation: I’ve had fewer “extra security” requests since I put the phone in a case. That keeps the fingerprint reader a little further away from the wall of the case. Perhaps Android N will make the reader a bit less sensitive. That would be a change I could support.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my phone and I need to go hunting. We need some pictures for tomorrow’s post.

One thought on “Low-Fi

  1. Pingback: WQTS 11 | Koi Scribblings

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