Let us now praise the un-smartphone

The history of telecommunications technology goes something like this: drum beats, smoke signals, flags, the telegraph, landlines, car phones, cell phones, smartphones. (That’s the Twitter version.)

Of course, the smartphone begat the even smarter tablet. And why did Steve Jobs and his team of winged-monkey minions create the revolutionary, world-changing iPad? Because the iPhone’s screen was too damned small to do anything useful. Now, of course, the iPad is too big to carry around without a bag, which means iPad acolytes must carry around both a smart tablet and a lousy phone.

A few weeks back I asked the question: Instead of a great portable computer that’s a crappy cell phone, why not carry a great portable computer and a dumb cell phone that actually lets you make calls? Two devices for about the price of one, minimal sacrifices. Howzaboutit?

Apparently this is not an original concept. I got more email on this idea than any in recent Cringeville history. Here are a few of the representative ones.

Let’s start with D.W., who describes himself as an “old, cranky, retired computer repair consultant.” He rants thusly:

I have been following the whole smartphone meshuggas and I can’t come up with a single reason to own one. A netbook, maybe, but with Linux, because they seem to have better battery life than the laptops when WiFi is turned on. Perhaps some of your commenters can explain WHY I, or most other people need an iPhone, an iPad, or just about any other smartphone. Any of the new tablets get you into the deathly embrace of the cell phone carriers, and I refuse to engage in that game.

Cringester C. A. says he’s been a two-device guy for years:

I still use my old “candy bar” Sony Ericsson 610 for phone calls. Works great, simple to use and I have gone through 3 smartphones, iPhone, HTC and Slide. All the so called smartphone are dumb as they never do what they are supposed to do. I went back to my old iPhone to store videos, music and my favorite Color Time App.

Reader R. P., a senior engineer at a major defense contractor, gets it.

I am so thrilled by your column which recognizes that for many of us the prime function of the cell phone is talking!

With the proliferation of smartphones and broadband apps geared for kids, the number of dropped calls has increased dramatically. Furthermore, is there any reason why I shouldn’t be able to hear what callers are telling me on my cell phone as well as I can on a landline?

Hey guys, don’t forget the fundamentals. We’re not all socially challenged geeks who would rather text than talk.

(Sharp-eyed readers may remember R. P. from this blog post a few weeks back. Hey, it was so nice I quoted it twice.)

Cringeville resident T. T. claims she has “the dumbest smartphone ever” — the BlackBerry Storm — and is now debating whether to get a Droid X or a Verizon iPhone.

I absolutely hate my phone. I’ve had about a half a dozen over the course of 18 months. Can’t wait to ditch it. It is … impossible to make a call or do anything for that matter, causing me to ultimately re boot my phone by pulling the battery. Heaven forbid I have an emergency and need to dial 911 when its in stupid mode…. I’m so afraid of getting yet another stupid smartphone so I just can’t decide which of the two (Droid or iPhone) to get next. Help please!!!!!!!!

(Also, she’s used up her entire allotment of exclamation points for 2011. So if you’ve got any to spare, please send them to me and I’ll forward them.)

To be fair, reader D. N. just adores his BlackBerry:

Have used Verizon BlackBerry for 4 years. Does everything I need it to do including phone calls, reliably, clearly, stays on for weeks at a time before ever having to pull the battery for a reboot. Every device upgrade works flawlessly and better than the previous device. I see and hear all the problems people have with their devices and I just smile.

T. T., meet D. N. Now you two fight it out.

Cringester F. W. says he currently lives in Korea, where his Android smartphone is rendered mute by its inability to make calls over there. So he carries both a smartphone that doesn’t make calls and a simpler Korean phone that does. But he’d rather just have one device that does both:

I love my Droid Incredible and I look forward to HTC’s most recent smartphone by the time I get back to the states. Perhaps the HTC Thunderbolt will still be the best option, who knows. With the slightly larger screen the Thunderbolt has – 4.3 in. I’m sure you know – I think it would be the perfect solution for someone like me who wants a smartphone and would love to have a tablet. I’d hate to see smartphones disappear in favor of dumb phones alongside a tablet. Too much to carry around.

A. A. is also grappling with the smartphone/dumb phone conundrum:

These days, Apple just has me paranoid. I feel like I need to upgrade to an iPhone 3GS or 4 model, but when I upgraded from my generic cell phone to a new iPhone 3G only to see better models come out in the next six months, I felt pretty burned. … Will someone else ever make a phone that no longer makes me decide between poor network service and the Internet?

That is the $64 gazillion question. Anyone got an answer? Write to me; I might even quote you.

What’s your cell phone plan, man? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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