How I live cellphone-free in a cellphone world

Some time back I went completely "cellphone free." There were a few key motivating factors for trying to do this:

  1. I didn't want to be locked into a contract – this is becoming less and less of an issue with more carriers offering month-to-month cell phone service.
  2. I didn't want to be locked into a single primary device for my communication. I wanted to be able to jump from device to device as easily as possible. Because I'm a nerd. And I like gadgets.

I've tried a few different combinations of devices, software and services to make this work, and I've become quite happy with the following setup:

  • Google Voice for my primary phone number. This has the benefit of allowing me to forward incoming calls to any other phone number I like.
  • Skype, with a subscription to make unlimited calls and a dedicated “Skype number.” My Google Voice number is typically auto-forwarded to Skype to make all of my phone calls. There are other services that provide this functionality if you don't want to/can't use Skype... I settled on this for the low total cost and unlimited calls to countries I tend to call most.

And, since I'm so happy with my setup, I figured I would share a few of the things I've learned along the way for those of you who have considered doing something similar.

You'll want mobile data. No matter how hard you try, there just won't be enough free Wi-Fi hotspots around. Plus, you're going to want to text/call/etc. while on the go (bus, car, walk, etc.). Luckily, there are some great, fairly inexpensive options for this. Virgin Mobile, AT&T and T-Mobile all offer no-contract mobile hotspot devices (that provide Wi-Fi access for all of your devices) that hover around the $40 to $60 per month range for roughly 5GB of 4G data. Worth noting: If you are making Skype audio calls over 3G/4G you'll be using, in my experience, a bit less than 1MB per minute, which means that 5GB of data will net you around 5,000 minutes of talk time.

You can spend more money on gadgets. A Nexus 5 phone will cost $350. An unlocked Samsung S5 will set you back $650. Compare that to a Nexus 7 ($230), Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 ($200), a Lenovo Miix 2 Windows tablet ($280) or a simple Apple iPod ($220). Think about that for a moment. You could either get a Samsung S5... or, for a similar price, you could buy a nice Android tablet, a Windows 8 tablet and an iOS-powered iPod. Sure, you could also just use one device and save a small boatload of moolah...but where's the fun in that?

Invest in a nice headset. You're not going to want to make all your calls on speakerphone, are you? Get a nice, generic Bluetooth headset that will work on all of your gadgets. This is going to make your life a lot nicer. A way that also works surprisingly well is to simply use the built-in microphones on all of your devices and just pick up a nice pair of wired headphones. This results in better audio quality (for you) and you don't need to mess with re-pairing your Bluetooth device to your various gadgets.

Camera troubles. If you're used to taking pictures with your smartphone, invest in either a) a dedicated small camera to tote around or b) something like an iPod (or a smartphone-sized Android device) to be your “carry around” camera. I started out using only a Nexus 7 tablet, and taking pictures with that thing is clumsy... and a bit goofy looking.

Get a gadget bag. Even if you just carry around one tablet and a small 4G hotspot... you're going to want a gadget bag (I prefer that term over “man purse”). A 7-inch tablet fits in most men’s pants pockets – but only just. And it's not terribly comfortable. Wearing a nice jacket with deep pockets works too. Unless it's warm outside, in which case you'll be sweltering in the heat just to keep your electronics safe. So get a bag, something with padding and multiple compartments to handle at least three gadgets.

When all is said and done, I have ended up spending almost exactly on my gadgets as I would have if I had just stayed with a dedicated smartphone. So there are no actual savings there. (If I had a bit more self-restraint and could keep myself from buying more gear, I'd save a few hundred smackers.)

And my maximum monthly cost (for mobile data and Skype) is around $58 per month. Months where I don't use the mobile data much (which seems to be every other month) I simply turn off my mobile hotspot, bringing my total monthly down to $8.

Which means that, on average, my total monthly cost (which includes unlimited calls and text plus data on whatever devices I want) is hovering right around $33.

And I'm not beholden to any cellphone company in any way. Which, to be honest, I'd be willing to pay a premium for.

If you're interested in doing something similar, feel free to ask me any questions about this approach in the comments. I'll try to answer them as best I can.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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