How to digitally detox & cut the costs to live a truly connected 2020!

Hi, I’m Dave Mathews – The Gadget Guy, and this is Tech Talkback number 4 where we unwind the expenses that we built up through the end of the decade. Tech Talkback on Anchor Free and Spotify Podcasts 

While most bloggers and podcasts are talking about the end of the decade and what pivotal changes we had, I’m going to talk about how you can make the most of the next decade by saving money and cleaning up your digital life.

The year 2020 was supposed to provide us flying cars, and we only have limited self-driving versions of that from Google spinoff Waymo and Elon’s controversial and sometimes suicidal auto-pilot of the Tesla.

Bell helicopter and several startups, even Uber (can we still call them a startup after their IPO-failure?) are working on VTOL that means Vertical Take off and Landing drone-like helicopters but those will either be flown by an in-cockpit or remote control positioned pilot.  I’m not sure how I feel about the lack of (is compassion the word for this?) with the pilot not in the same “situation” as I am as a traveler, should things go awry.

I just saw a RadioShack advertisement from the 90’s and 90% of the items on the front page, which is it’s prime real-estate, were replaced by one – your smart phone.  Gone are the camcorders and cameras, cassette and CD players.  But those early brick phones became $1,000 pocket computers that have made some entrepreneurs who designed applications millionaires….  So the justification of this single expensive device, could outweigh the dozens of others you needed to buy in the past.

How can we make the most of smart-phone without the financial subsidies that the carriers removed with the last three generations of iPhones?

What I mean by the term subsidy is this: phone carriers used to pay $325 per new user activation that a company like RadioShack (remember them? I used to work as one of their inventors in the early 2000’s) would get paid for your year contract of service.  Remember phone contracts?  How about limitations on call minutes, texts and rollovers?

Cellular phones were very inexpensive in these days, even with small color screens, low-resolution cameras and tiny batteries that would last an entire week – Remember charging once or twice a week? The tiny CPUs within these phones were meant for taking calls and sending text messages.  Your phone dies today because you are keeping multiple apps which probably use GPS connected to high-speed links throughout the course of a long work and social day.

There were dozens of manufactures of these devices as well, so there were a lot of tiny components being bought by competitive players like Ericsson, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and the like.  These phones would cost retailers and carriers a couple hundred dollars and would be in-turn sold to you for $0 to $200 and retailers could still make a nice profit on you from the carrier kickback.

But RadioShack, who had 7,200 stores within 5 minutes or 5 miles of 95% of US homes (or so they told me during new employee orientation) were making millions of dollars in carrier “subsidies” (that’s the term for it) from 1997 through 2002, around the time that they hired me.  RadioShack was beginning to lose that revenue stream as the gig was up.  

The carriers like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon began building their own retail stores, so they could control the messaging, service, take payments and up-sell the customer on complicated plans and devices which would hopefully bring more utilization called ARPU (average revenue per user) to their pocketbooks.
And as the phones got larger and more expensive, pixel-dense OLED (which means organic light-emitting diode) screens, massive batteries which far out-scale in mass of the CPU and memory boards inside the phone the cost of making them got expensive.  For instance, the latest iPhone 11 PRO, which adds more cameras on top of the already ridiculous amount and an even larger battery for a half-day of full operation adds to the cost of the already capable iPhone X.

But you don’t need to buy a new camera, wait, I mean smart phone every year.  In fact, the upgrade cycle is moving to three years, as am I.  Yes, the early adopter is pulling back from spending $1k a year to something more manageable.  And since my iPhone X had a $300 trade in from my iPhone 6 and is now paid off from 2-years of cellular-add-ons, I am moving to a carrier which was formerly a MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator.  In fact, the main four carriers are themselves becoming virtual operators as companies like Ericsson are running managed networks as a service for them.  Carriers spent billions on the LTE 4G and upcoming 5G radio frequency licenses, and do not need the capital expenditure to build and run the network.  It’s like a cloud computer service for them, for their radio waves.

The #2 U.S. carrier AT&T has even bought their MVNO partners like GoPhone and Cricket Wireless, which got rolled into AT&T pre-paid wireless.  That’s the network that I am on, and I paid $300 for a year of service with 8GB of bandwidth a month, which was the same that I paid for a mere quarter of cellular service on my last carrier, oh, of where I was only using 8GB of my unlimited plan.

Details on phone plans:
Are you a single human on a cellular plan?  Do you want to save 80% on your phone bill a month? You can get rid of your cell phone provider and go with a MVNO.
1.     This stands for Mobile Network Virtual Operator, and they are just a marketing brand for the big four carriers.
2.     Visible runs on Verizon’s network, and will run you $40 a month.  You get support through email and the app, but calling a cellular company is the worst idea anyone could have.  Many users have good (read high-speed) success with it, and they will probably be bought by Verizon and speeds will improve further.
3.     AT&T Prepaid once was called GoPhone network, but it’s now their own pre-paid network and is as fast as the AT&T network, offers visual voicemail on the iPhone and even has a pre-paid $300 for the year plan that gives you 8GB a month data and unlimited phone calls and text messages.
4.     If you’re a family or have friends that act like one, the pre-paid networks have group plans that you can team up on, for further savings.

I’m also going to eliminate the streaming media subscriptions that slowly “dripped” money out of my bank account.  For instance, I used to pay $3 a month to Apple for my iPhone and iPad backup plan, and now their $.99 a month plan gives me 50GB of storage, so I used the Image Capture application to remove those old photos from my phone, and had more than enough space.  Plus I want peace of mind with backups, in case I lose my phone when I’m taking photos for under $12 a year vs $35 for the next storage tier.
If you’re an Android human, the Google cloud, called One, has tiers around the same ballpark at $20 a year for a doubled amount of 100GB of storage.  You can count this against your Gmail, Photos and Drive files too.

Tips on what to do to get rid of the slow trickle of streaming accounts from your bank account:

1.     Music streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and the like have free levels of service.  They have ads, of which Pandora has the amazingly low price of $4.99 to remove them.  The free services now work on smart speakers like Google, Alexa and my favorite Sonos and their apps – something they didn’t offer for free before.  Spotify says incidentally that a little more than half of their users have the free tier.
a.     As a bonus, end of year specials of 3 months of service for $9.99 on Spotify and Apple and Tidal with 5 months for $5, but some people say that one is hard to cancel!  Use Paypal to cancel ongoing subscriptions easily.
2.     Cloud storage is expensive, and just like a physical storage unit, can go into runaway mode if you keep loading it up.  For example, Apple’s $.99 storage now gives you 50GB, so you may be able to downgrade to that plan and still have enough space for your stuff.  
a.     For your bonus, you can load the Image Capture application to download photos off your phone and quickly delete them in the same interface!
3.     If you want to store Photos in your Google world, even for iOS, you can download the photos app and store up to 16-Megapixel photos and videos in 1080p format for free.  In a “is it creepy or cool” element, you can use their machine learning to search for “white dog” or even ask your Google Nest/Home screens to “show me photos from Germany last year” and it will show your trip to Germany.  Or wherever you went.  They get that information from their parsing of meta-data within the photos.
a.     As a bonus, if you have one of the Google Home Nest screens, or a Chromecast on your TV, these will display your photos when you say something like “Show my favorite photos, or show the photos from my trip to Germany last year” which sure beats digging around in shoe boxes filled with printed photos.
4.     Many people share a Netflix account, which they haven’t policed or kicked people out of.  The technology exists to do this, so as soon as they need to increase numbers or revenue, they will.  But for now, families can share a single Netflix subscription and stream up to X times.
a.     As a bonus, other streaming companies limit to 2 or 3 streams at once, but you can pay a bit more to add extra streams within their apps.  OR, if you use your streaming provider login within the app of the content provider, you eliminate this encumbrance.
5.     If you have kids or love Simpsons and the Marvel series, Disney+ streaming is a nice alternative for $6.99 vs Netflix’s starting price of $8.99.  
a.     As a bonus, Verizon cellular subscribers get this for free for the year, so sign up for that.
6.     If you haven’t dropped your cable or satellite connection of $100+ a month, you must either love sports or not know any of the alternatives.  Throwing an antenna on your roof to watch local shows in un-compressed high definition will make you love even your non-4K TV.  Tableo or the HDHomerun tuners will let you use software DVRs on an old Windows or Mac computer.  
a.     As a bonus you can also download and donate to the Philo application which lets you watch TV on your smartphone or tablet without any hardware at home.
7.     My favorite on-demand app for TV is Hulu, which is a consortium of the TV networks.  You can find their $1 specials per month or $4.99 for their standard price with commercials.  
a.     As a bonus, they have a bundle with ESPN+, Disney+ and Hulu for a combined $12.99 a month. That’s a big savings…
8.     Check out PlutoTV, Philo and Tubi for their offerings as well.  They aren’t premium, but neither are their prices.
a.     As a bonus, you can use a donation service like Locast to stream your local channels.
9.     Many kids today use Youtube for videos, bypassing traditional channels altogether.  If you want to save the trigger finger on the “skip” button, then you can pay a $12 bucks a month for their Red service which eliminates advertisements and provides music streaming as well.
a.     As a bonus, you can make them press skip and save the subscription.
10.  I'm going back to the free versions of Dropbox to use it as "storage between friends" rather than a permanent backup.  I can use USB hard drives at home for that.

Finally, here’s what I’m doing for 2020 to get back into “real touch” with people in front of me, and not fall into the digital black-hole of these digital devices:

1.     Use Screen Time, which is built into iOS or am app for Android to show which applications are taking your time on-screen. Get it?  I’ve dropped Instagram use significantly thanks to this operating system awareness.
2.     Remove Facebook from your phone. For two reasons, first is they track your location, EVEN if you don’t allow the app GPS from settings, via the IP address you connect to their servers with.  They use this to market to you and be generally creepy.
3.     Reach out and touch someone.  If it’s to weird to talk to someone, send them a text message and ask if you can give them a call now, in 5 minutes or whatever.  They will probably appreciate it.

I’m Gadget Guy Dave Mathews and this is Tech Talkback – let us know how much you can save each month, or even year by dropping your vampire streaming charges and take a look at MVNOs - stay tuned to our next episode, in 2020!