Sep. 14th, 2018

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September 14th, 2018 12:49 pm - How to have a Smartphone with No Data Plan and Still Do All The Things
Last week I had the opportunity to tell two entirely different people who had no idea that actually, Google Maps works just fine on a phone with no service, and you don't need to burn data to navigate. And it occurred to me that I may actually have useful experience to share about conserving/avoiding data, after five years of having a smartphone with no data plan on it.
    There are a few situations where this might be useful:
  1. You have limited data, and you’re burning it faster than you’d like.

  2. You have voice and texts, but no data.

  3. You have no service at all.

  4. You’re going out of area for your plan, or into an area with limited service.

So my situation is that I have a smartphone with voice and text only, no data. It’s a fairly old Android that was cheap when new, and my experience is based on the US east of the Mississippi and Iceland, but most of this probably can be extended to other areas with good internet availability and other phones. I’ve also got an elderly iphone with no service that I’ve been using as a backup phone, and I’ve also done several extended overseas/backcountry trips without local cell service.

(My specific situation is that I could probably get a plan with very limited data for about the same price, but the problem is that I know I would just burn it up on Pokego immediately, so there’s no point unless I move to a very large data plan, and at this point, I can do nearly everything I want to do other than Pokego, endlessly scrolling tumblr, ending arguments in the car, and getting texts with pics of friends’ cats without needing data at all, and the only one of those that’s good for me is the cat pics. So it’s hard to justify that for myself. Especially since I’m probably actively happier without 24-7 social media access.)

So here, for anyone who’s facing having to cut down their data use or go without service for awhile, are things I have learned after about five years of this.

Most of the below will apply to any of the situations, but in particular:
  1. If you have data but want to conserve it, go through all your apps and if they have a “wifi only” option in settings, turn it on. Similarly, disable automatic updates/set them to wifi only. (If you have no data, you don't need to do this, they'll fall back to that mode automatically.)

  2. If you have texting but not data, note that group texts, multimedia texts and similar will only work under wifi, and they may not work quite as expected even then.

  3. If you have no service at all, remember that you can still call 911/emergency services. You should also look into getting a texting/VoIP app that works over wifi - I've only used whatsapp, but there are others that do a better job of mimicking a phone.

  4. If you’re going out of your service area, make sure you know how to turn off just data/cellular or just wifi, one at a time - searching for service uses a lot of battery fast. Also, especially if you’re in backcountry, have a backup plan in case you can’t connect at all, even if it’s just checking in with people in person at specific times, or providing an accurate itinerary in advance. And bring paper maps.


The rest of this should apply pretty much the same regardless of which situation.

No-data basics )

About public wifi )

How to do things while offline )

Pokemon GO gets its own section )

So playing without data is a very different experience, but it’s still absolutely doable. Most things that you “need data” for are like that. Remember you lived just fine without data ten years ago, and there was a lot less public wifi around then!

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