Saturday, October 5, 2013

Rethinking Devices

OK, I'm feeling better now about my overcommitment issues. And I've taken some modest measures to start mitigating them. But now another issue has arisin... electronic devices.

In the last three months, three of my "devices" have died ignoble deaths. First I killed my phone on a rainy afternoon in late August. It was a newish Android phone, a Galaxy Victory, that I thriftily used on Virgin Mobile. I dropped with my slippery wet hands on the hard brick steps of my house, resulting in a well-shattered screen. And we all know that the cost of replacing screens is... well, just not worth it unless your phone is very expensive... which mine was not.

So, a quick phone call to Virgin Mobile and I was back to my old stalwart Blackberry Curve. Their customer service really is quite good... I don't know where in the world the customer service reps were, but their English was excellent, and that's always a relief. I like my Blackberry, and truthfully, it is better than the Galaxy for e-mail, texting and GPS. Which is pretty much what I do with my phone 98% of the time. Thanks to Weather Underground's well-designed mobile site, I can check the weather, too. So I am pretty much over Android. Frankly, the Sprint data network used by Virgin, in my area anyway, is so oversubscribed and congested that I couldn't really do much with the internet anyway. A Youtube video had to be watched before 6:30 am or not at all, for instance.

So, minus one high-tech electronic device, two more failed this week. BOTH of my Kindles went belly-up. First, the old orignal e-ink one locked up, and there is no hard reset with this kind of Kindle except setting it on a shelf and letting the battery run down completely. So, we'll see in a month or two if there is hope there. It's quite old, though, so maybe not.

Then the charger port on my orignal Kindle Fire stopped working. Without ability to charge it, it's pretty much toast. And again, too old (going on 3 years) and not costly enough to warrant repair.

So the question is... which do I replace? I can really do without the e-ink Kindle, although it is handy for reading... lightweight and comfortable to hold. But you know, I really do prefer a regular book. I like the page designs, the attractive formatting, the heft. I especially like being able to quickly leaf through a book, or turn back a few pages to confirm a name or whatever. To stick little post-its on things I want to come back to. It's just not the same with an e-book. I can still get to my e-book collection via my computers, but I've paid for very few books.

Now the Kindle Fire had been a real workhorse lately. I listened to audio books, podcasts, and music while I was working on this humongous knitted afghan project I've got going. And read downloaded e-books, including the free ones borrowed through my library's Overdrive collection. And I read blogs and lots and lots of internet content. Above all, I watched a lot of video content - mostly TV shows on Amazon Prime. So, do I need a new tablet? And if so, another Kindle, or should I switch to an Android or I-Pad? Argh... what to do?

Well, after a few day's thought I'm not sure I'm going to do anything at the moment. I live close to a library, and in fact visit it 3 times a week, so availability of books and audiobook CDs is not an issue... and these are free, of course. Back issues of magazines are available for checkout, also. Books I want to keep on hand, such as cookbooks or the type of nonfiction tomes that take eons to read (although they are very worthwhile) can often be purchased for a pittance, used, on Amazon. Sometimes even for a dollar on my library's sale rack.

I actually prefer listening to downloaded MP3 files of audio books. With the library's CDs, somebody has always scratched them a bit or, annoyingly, left sticky fingerprints on the discs. But I can download and Overdrive audiobook files to my little SanDisk MP3 player, and listen to them either via earphones or via a cable to my radio speakers. And I still check out library CDs from time to time, to get the most recent books.

And finally, I discovered that my little, super-lightweight Samsung Chromebook is pretty good for streaming audio and video. Because of the solid state memory (no hard drive) it stays cool, even in the summer. Holding onto a hot laptop while sitting in an armchair, watching an episode of The West Wing, is not pleasant, especially in warm weather. All my Amazon Prime (free) streaming video works well, and I appreciate the good speaker volume, compared to the Kindle. All my music is on Google Play and streams nicely. And the Sketcher Chrome app streams most of the podcasts I was listening to on the Kindle. The only thing that doesn't stream is the stuff, and that, as mentioned already, can be put on my MP3 player. And it seems to have a very good battery life.

So... do I even need to replace the tablet? I'm thinking not, at least not at this time. Electronics are pricey, and they seem to have a rather short lifespan. Spending hundreds of dollars every year replacing broken electronics may not be the best use of your money, especially for those of us on limited incomes.

I think maybe the key is to decide what you want to do with your devices, and then determine how you can do all that with a minimum number of electronic items. For example, if you already have an Android phone, you can download a lot of music and audiobooks to it, including the free library Overdrive stuff. Or if you don't want to use your phone's battery when you're listening away from home, you can get a little MP3 player, like I have, and download to that. SanDisk is a reliable brand and has nice players with lots of memory for less than $50.

For streaming video, any old laptop will work well, and if it has a DVD player (my Chromebook does not, but my upstairs laptop does) you can also watch video borrowed on DVDs from your library. Most of us probably don't need a tablet for anything other than portability and convenience. A friend in my knitting group got a nice little Android tablet at a discount place (Big Lots, maybe) for around $50. It works well for her. She loaded the Kindle Android app and a bunch of free e-books, and is very happy with it. She's pretty broke and doesn't have internet or wifi at home, so she takes it to the library every week and loads up on new content while she's there, using the library's free wifi.

I know I certainly don't want to be a Luddite, eschewing all electronics. I know some people my age or older who do that... they don't have a computer, don't want to learn, and can do just fine with things as they have always done them. But most of us want to join the digital revolution... it's educational and fun and offers some amazing frugalities. The key is to do it thoughtfully, so you don't find yourself spending wagonloads of cash on electronics equipment, and then throwing more after it as items quickly break, or get lost or broken.

By the way... I'm typing this on my little Chromebook on my dining room table. I keep it there a lot of the time, but since the big Kindle fail, I've been carrying it over to my armchair in the evening, setting it on the sidetable, and using it to watch a TV show or two, and maybe straming a podcast or radio program while I knit. I also have a stack of books on the other side of the chair, handy for reading. Then, before bed, I carry the Chromebook back over to the table and put it on charge. Working well, and not missing the Kindles all that much.