Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. -- Carl Sandburg
There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

May 18, 2014

Computers and Comms in 2014

I thought I would do an update on my choices and experiences for computers and connectivity on the road.  Over the last year, I've made a lot of changes in this area.

Last year I did this:

Bought a tablet in January '13
Bought an ultralight laptop computer (Sony SVP132A1CL) in June
Bought a new phone (Nexus 5), unlocked in November
Dumped Sprint and got StraightTalk prepaid cell service in December
Got a Google Voice phone number
Got a 5GB/month cell LTE hotspot on AT&T in January

The tablet was a spectacular failure as it died an ignominious death in less than 6 months.  After the warranty expired, of course. I hate that. While it was working, it was nice for web browsing and was fine for typing emails and messages.  OK for blog updates and managing my photos. Good for games, what few I do. Good for email.  Touch screen is nice. But for serious work like using spreadsheets, the Android versions are just not up to snuff. I still wanted a full computer running Windows or Linux to run serious programs. And a real keyboard and mouse. To me, it was more like a toy. Hence, I didn't replace it with another tablet.

I replaced it with an ultralight 13" laptop running a 256 SSD. Fast, fast boot. Like a tablet. Running Windows 8 with a touch screen. Less than 3 pounds. I decided to get the slightly larger screen instead of the slightly smaller overall form.  I like it.  Better since getting the Windows 8.1 updates and a program called Classic Shell that gives me the Start popup panel. And it hasn't died. The only thing I really miss is a number keypad, which I just got since my old, old one (maybe 15 years old) won't work properly with Windows 8. I get a real computer that can run all my programs fully in a very portable and light package. This fits my needs better than the tablet. I like the touchscreen, it has a long battery life, and runs cooler than older chipsets. I've never been an Apple Fangirl. I look at the specs, the closed company software, the lack of interoperability, and paying more for that, and I go back to open systems every time. Guess it is the old geek in me.

My old cell phone was dropping a lot of calls and since it was more than 2 years old, I decided to replace it. I chose the Nexus 5 shortly after it was released, unlocked, as it was about as good a phone as one could buy and at $350, a decent price. I also looked into going for a prepaid service instead of the major carrier plan. The major carriers wanted a hundred dollars more for the same phone and they would lock it and put a bunch of bloatware on it. Nah. I wondered about the larger size (a 5" screen) but it is very comfortable to use and carry.  I really like this phone after using it for 6 months. It is also a nice Kindle reader with the larger screen.  Sprint has really fallen behind with slow networks and large swaths of the country uncovered. I like the unlocked aspect too. I can take another sim card and be on that in a jiffy and there are no garbage apps or feature lockdowns you pay more for from the subsidized carriers.

After looking at the options and finding on my unlocked new Nexus phone that it got a decent signal from AT&T, I decided to try StraightTalk unlimited plan for $45/month on the AT&T network. They do T-Mobile too but their networks are too small and too tied to major cities and freeways to meet my needs. In the pre-paid world, the phone/text offerings are excellent but the data is more limited. Many limit data to 2g or 3g speeds. StraightTalk gives 2.5 GB/month of LTE data and it is nice and fast. I have to limit my use and make sure I only update programs when I find a wi-fi hotspot to use. I use a program that tracks my data usage so I can manage it.  I like to read the news and interests on a reader, check facebook, read some blogs on the phone and the larger screen makes that nice. The mobile access also is more frugal on bandwidth so it has mostly worked out well. BUT, I just got a text from them telling me that now they give 3GB/month of LTE data. That will make it even easier to fit in the budget. Yay. So far, I'm quite happy with the service. And it saves me $30 a month.

When I went to pre-paid, I also signed up for a Google Voice phone number. I really hope Google doesn't kill this.  Since I have gmail accounts, I could get a number. Not a local number, but long distance doesn't really mean what it used to with nationwide calling available to most people. It allows me to connect all my phone numbers to the Google Voice number so I have a master number. That means I don't have to be tied to the cell phone number and I can answer a phone call on my land line or cell phone as I please.  It is the way phone numbers should be - tied to a person and easily tied to devices at will.

For straight Internet connectivity, I got the LTE hotspot from AT&T. Sprint is too slow these days and Verizon is stinky (ier ? than other carriers) plus coverage is dicey at my house.  The device works well and LTE is very fast.  5 GB should be ok for my needs as I don't stream video. BUT, in February, during a storm, I had a runaway data issue doing nothing that could account for the dump (5GB inside of 2 hours). Appeals to AT&T netted nothing but denials and excuses. March worked fine and I used about 3.5 of legitimate data. I throttled the data setting on the device to no LTE, just 4G which is still mostly fast enough.  Then in April, during another storm, I got the message that I had used 3.5GB of data suddenly and it was on my account. But this time, the device itself did not ever see that data as it said it had received less than a half GB.  I skimped carefully the rest of the month and when I got the bill, it said I used .8 GB the whole month. Nice going AT&T.  Now I see why there is so much hate for AT&T.  Now, I try not to use the hotspot during storms because it looks like AT&T's computers have issues and I end up paying the price for them. So this gets a so so rating. If it was reliable and didn't cheat me half the time, I'd be a lot happier with it.

I would get broadband on cable or something but that isn't an option for where my house is located (like for half of the country) and I'm just outside a rather major metropolitan area. The broadband options aren't great in this country. And with the imminent death of net neutrality, it won't get better.

I've thought about going the Millicom route but their prices jumped a lot thanks to Verizon and the Verizon network isn't a good choice for my house location. Maybe after I get free of the house ...


  1. I haven't seen an update for you until just now! Good information here and you went on a trip! yay Sprinter fest... what fun! glad you got your dog back!

    you are on facebook? ... send me a friend request ... I don't know your name except Mary and well, there are a thousand bazillion Marys ... nothing under tesaje or Arleth... hope to see you there! ;)

  2. It looks like you got a full gadget overhaul. I think tablets are really more for entertainment, rather than functionality. They don't look as sturdy too. That's probably why I broke mine in even less time, 3 months to be exact. Hahaha! I love netbooks better, like the 13 inches you got. I do hope you find a permanent solution to your connectivity problems. All the best!

    Gene Sullivan @ ETech STL

  3. Tesaje

    Hope everything is ok with you ? long time no posts from your end of the world. Dying to see how your Lithium batteries are working out. I have mine installed now, the new inverter is hooked up in test mode, the window a/c now can run off 100% solar with my large battery bank. I have discovered how to program the CC to charge my batteries. I'm in testing phase with small a/c and will work on installing mini split system next.Your welcome to check in on my progress.

    Cheers Jerry - OTTCT


  4. I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a glorious New Year, Mary! hope you're okay ... haven't heard from you in eons! .... !

    1. Happy holidays to you too, Carolyn. Yes you do hear from me all the time but mostly on facebook (the dog face mary). I've been spending all my time and energy on remodeling my house in hopes of being able to sell it soon so the blog has languished.


We love comments. Thanks for giving us your thoughts.