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Smartphones & Plans in 2021

Spazz

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I'm on a moto e6 with Tracfone. I function without a google account by using f-droid for most of my apps and searching online with my favourite searx instance for a specific .apk in an emergency.

It's not ideal, but it is affordable and it works. As an old skool Gnu/Linux user and former activist, I am more comfortable using the browser to look up customer service numbers than downloading apps. I'm able to pay the bills this way and hold on to my self-esteem by living (more or less) up to my own ethics.

But I'm also a proud new Pinephone user! She cost me less than two hundred and is working just fine with tracfone for both calls/texts and data. It's definitely in beta and not intended for folks who don't have a background in Unix or Free Software, but it boots to sd card so you can try out different mobile distros and it's held together with screws, so hardware hackers can have fun too.

I thought we could do with a new smartphone thread for 2021. I am so not a google/apple person and would love to know what works for other travellers and what doesn't.

Thank you for your time.
 
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Matt Derrick

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i've played with calyxos and lineageos (current daily driver) with no google apps. much like moving 100% over to linux, im so close, but there's always something I need on google (mostly for my job).

i haven't looked at tracfone's rates lately, but historically their pricing has been awful. you'd be much better off going with a mint mobile plan or visible if youre a data hog (like me).
 

Spazz

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Much appreciated! I've been using the bank's "free" wifi for data, but that's too much drama too close to the Woodrose Cafe when I have to do voice calls from my jmp number; the locals don't like that and it's time to start pulling my own weight.

Hey, don't feel shy about hitting me up for anything to do with Linux, especially mobile Linux; I'm going to be asking some pretty stupid questions about smartphones and plans anyway and it's time for me to start pulling my own weight on STP too.
 

ali

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I also like the idea of a Google-free phone, but like Matt i tried a couple times and usually ended up needing some Google service for something-or-other. Now i just have a Google account that exists solely for my phone and nothing else. It doesn't have my real name or personal details on it, so i don't mind too much.

I use F-Droid and OSS apps as much as possible. Some really useful ones for traveling are OSMAnd~ (offline maps), BRouter (offline cycling directions where you can set very detailed rules about what kind of roads or trails you want to take), Forecastie ("offline" weather, including wind direction, only needs to download once and it will cache until next time you explicitly refresh), and TrailSense (compass, altitude, speedometer, sunrise/sunset, etc).

I would really like some tips on what prepaid eSIM to get in the US since i will be arriving there tomorrow and definitely need to have some phone access. I was looking at Airalo who do data-only eSIMs, all prepaid, 30 days at a time, but they don't have calling. I don't think i will need to call anybody, but sometimes businesses like campsites don't provide an email address and then you're screwed if you can't call.
 

ali

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Update on the voice problem... it seems that there aren't any eSIMs that provide you with a phone number that you can call from, or at least none that i can find. In the old days i used to just buy a new prepaid SIM in every country i visited and swap around the second SIM slot, but my current phone (Pixel 3a) doesn't have dual SIM unfortunately, so i would have to swap back to get text messages from Canada which would be annoying. However, i have just discovered that i can call American phone numbers from my Skype account over wifi/data, so i don't really need to have an American phone number and minutes of my own to do it. So my current plan is to get Airalo eSIM for data, keep my Canadian hard SIM for text messages and incoming calls, then Skype for outgoing calls.
 

ali

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Yeah the problem is finding an unlocked phone with dual SIM slots in North America. In Europe (and China) every phone i owned was dual SIM, it was very common because of how often people travel, but American phones, even premium ones from Apple and Google only have one SIM slot and maybe an eSIM capability.

Of course i screwed myself anyway because my Pixel 3a, despite what the documentation says, is refusing to operate in DSDS (Dual SIM Dual Standby) mode, so i have to manually switch back and forth between SIMs anyway. It's slightly less inconvenient than physically switching SIM cards, but it still takes a few seconds to get to the menu, and a few seconds to switch, and if i'm expecting a call on my Canadian SIM i have to stay switched to that one and can't use American eSIM for data, so gah.
 

Colinleath

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For the US, if you don't mind Google, Google voice works well. You've just got to get an access code texted or called to some US number to set it up. Then any time you've got a data connection you can send and receive texts and calls from that US number.

Good to be reminded that the esims don't give you an actual phone number just a data connection. . . I was curious how they work.
 

ali

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Sadly Google Voice needs a US number to set up in the first place, so i wasn't able to get it sorted. I remember years ago i had a Twilio number or something that i could use to text from, but i don't remember how i did it or know if it's still possible

Right now my bigger problem is getting coverage in the US, period. It's really surprising how many small towns only have coverage from one or two of the carriers, it makes it really tough to stay connected when you're outside a major city. I'll write some more on that when i get time to do my next bike tour entry.
 

Matt Derrick

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Right now my bigger problem is getting coverage in the US, period. It's really surprising how many small towns only have coverage from one or two of the carriers, it makes it really tough to stay connected when you're outside a major city. I'll write some more on that when i get time to do my next bike tour entry.
I really don't think this is that difficult, but you're going to have to commit to switching your sim card over.
 

ali

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Do people in the US really carry SIM cards from every major carrier and switch them each time they get to a new town? That makes it even weirder that there aren't more dual SIM phones on the market.
 

Matt Derrick

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Do people in the US really carry SIM cards from every major carrier and switch them each time they get to a new town? That makes it even weirder that there aren't more dual SIM phones on the market.
For the most part, dual Sims are not a thing in the United States. Not saying they don't exist, but most Americans about 90% use phones at only have a single SIM card slot.

You don't need to change your SIM card in every town, I'm not sure where you're getting that idea. If you don't have reception then well you just don't have reception in that area. If you go with one of the major carriers you should have reception in most places.

Again, I recommend getting a SIM card from either mint Mobile (a reseller for T-Mobile) or visible (which is a reseller for Verizon).

Visible/verizon will have better reception in more parts of the country, while mint mobile/T-Mobile will have decent reception in most places except for rural areas. Visible / Verizon is typically a little more expensive per month though.

Mint mobile can be insanely cheap if you don't need much data.

Overall though, the phone companies in America really have their consumers by the balls. I'm think we're the one of the only countries that really requires ridiculous things like contracts and charging insane fees for breaking those contracts. It's pretty shitty.
 

ali

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Yeah, the contract thing is nuts in the US. Most countries i've lived the default is prepaid, you just buy a SIM and either get a monthly package (that you can cancel or change any time) or just pay for what you use and fill it up when you need more.

I have to say Canada has its own problems. I think coverage in smaller communities is better, at least in the southern part of Canada, but data is spectacularly expensive. The US has much better prices for data. Although, i am still missing China where i could get the 1GB = 1元 (15 cents) deal, pay-as-you-go. But the China problem is your ID (passport) is associated with your SIM card and the government tracks everything you do online. Each country has its quirks, i guess.
 

MetalBryan

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Not to interrupt the discussion of breaking free of Google, but I wanted to add that like @Spazz I use the Moto e6. While not indestructable, I dropped it many times over the course of a year and a half until it became unusable. They had some kind of a sale a while back, so I bought 2 and swapped to my new one last month. I will likely buy another one, they are cheap and great.

At the suggestion of @Matt Derrick I got Mint when I bought the e6 and they were really great about free data during the early stages of the pandemic. That saved my ass, so I renewed with them purchasing the yearly plan of unlimited data (up to 35gb then it's throttled) and paying in advanced worked out to be about $30/mo. If you can't pay in advance Mint may not be the least expensive carrier. Their cheapest data plan (4gb) is $15/mo if paid 1yr in advance and you still get unlimited throttled data which works fine for email but anything image-based is going to be pretty slow. Don't expect to view any video.
 

Matt Derrick

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So, I just found an awesome little trick for getting Visible's (an MVNO for Verizon) service down to $25/mo from $40/mo. If it works, this could be huge since Visible has extremely generous data limits (60gb+). If it works out, I'll make a post about it here when I get my next bill.
 

Colinleath

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If you have an address at some point, order a bunch of the following sims: T-Mobile sim unlimited <$27/mo . I've tried mint mobile plans and at busy times I get lags. I've used the SIM cards from that eBay seller for many months. I use Google voice for my main number so it doesn't matter if i switch sims every month.

I've never had a phone that I could use with visible or I would have tried them! Not sure how they decide which phones they will support.

Below are the codes for T-Mobile to setup call forwarding (replace 9999999999 with your Google voice number). These are useful so if you don't answer, callers get sent to Google voice voicemail instead of T-Mobile voicemail.

**61*19999999999#
Turn on forwarding if no reply (CF NRY) to a number (unanswered calls ring to alternate number)

##61#
Turn off forwarding if no reply

**62*19999999999#
Turn on when not reachable (CF NRC) (unanswered calls ring to another number when device is off or out of signal range)

##62#Turn off call forwarding when not reachable
 
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Spazz

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Well that solves my immediate newbie issues! I doubt if anyone here still uses TracFone, but it's more or less the same only 72 to turn forwarding on and 73 to turn it off.

Mint looks the most promising since it's only a three month contract and you can buy $10 worth of data if you run out, same as TracFone. You don't need to install an app, which I obviously can't do on a Linux phone.

Ideally, I'd like to be able to switch a single sim card back and forth between my phones. Is it possible to do this or am I off in lala land again?

This shit is expensive, but I'll probably pick up another moto e6 before this one dies. Otherwise I'm going to need a separate portable hotspot for my laptop, which is now also running not-ready-for beta software, lol.
 

Colinleath

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Absolutely, you can switch sims between phones. Also If you don't mind being on or can get on EBT (food stamps) / medicaid (Obamacare) you can get a lifeline sim card/ phone (but again you need an address or a friend who will let you pretend that you're living at their place). In the US I had life wireless (T-Mobile/ us cellular) and it worked well across the US. In recent months they had 30gb/ of data. Incredible. One of my friends got a phone off the shelf in a Ralphs grocery store in California and she uses that thing as an unlimited data hotspot for her computer. She's been traveling around (with a car) California and Nevada doing her customer service job (answering phone and emails) with just that phone for her internet. Maybe it was simple mobile? I don't think she was using TracFone. And she or her work is paying $50-some month for it. So not super cheap but incredible what she's been able to do with it.
 

MetalBryan

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Absolutely, you can switch sims between phones. Also If you don't mind being on or can get on EBT (food stamps) / medicaid (Obamacare) you can get a lifeline sim card/ phone (but again you need an address or a friend who will let you pretend that you're living at their place). In the US I had life wireless (T-Mobile/ us cellular) and it worked well across the US. In recent months they had 30gb/ of data. Incredible. One of my friends got a phone off the shelf in a Ralphs grocery store in California and she uses that thing as an unlimited data hotspot for her computer. She's been traveling around (with a car) California and Nevada doing her customer service job (answering phone and emails) with just that phone for her internet. Maybe it was simple mobile? I don't think she was using TracFone. And she or her work is paying $50-some month for it. So not super cheap but incredible what she's been able to do with it.

$50/mo for an unlimted hot spot is a great deal. With my 35gb/mo data plan only 5gb of that can be used for hotspots. I would like to know what company they use if you can find out.
 

Colinleath

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I'll let you know if i get a better answer.

At the moment I'm guessing it was straight talk, which she tethers. Or simple mobile.

Ralphs seems to sell simple mobile phones from an online search.

She may be paying closer to $70. It's hard to imagine she's doing all the voip stuff plus whatever other internet things she does (YouTube music videos) with only 10gb/ mo.

And on a T-Mobile reseller no less (the connection should lag during busy times relative to that of actual T-Mobile customers). But her hours are such that she avoids the main busy time of post work and evening hours.

Btw, i used 70gb one month on those T-Mobile sims i mentioned earlier. I subscribed to a bunch of streaming services and was watching old movies I'd been curious about for a while.

But that plan severely throttles when used as a hotspot. I could use it to update a Kindle but even that was slow.

The life wireless sim gave full speed hotspot data on the other hand.
 

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