Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Frugal Attorney Reviews the Motorola i1

A Smartphone For the Cheapskate Lawyer.

As a kid, I remember the thrill of that glorious day my father bought home a used Cadillac complete with a carphone. The tethered plastic brick was located in the floorboard between the driver and front passenger seats. For a small fortune per minute, you could call anyone your heart desired.  My father had become James Bond.  As cool as it was,however,  it was really more for show.  My sister and I were not allowed to touch it.  I promised myself,  I would have a car phone too someday.

As a teenager, I decided to make my own version of the car phone.  I enjoyed pulling up to pay phones* and calling my friends while leaning out the window. The joke "Hey, Guess what? I'm calling from my car" never got old for me. 
It's OK.  My friends didn't think it was funny either.  (*Editor's note: A pay phone was a device used by early man for communication. Found in booth like structures, payphones were often accompanied by ancient writings giving insight to the reader on who to call "for a good time").

Since those days, technology has advanced into the stratosphere. And as usual, I was behind in the times. At a family gathering, my wife's eight year old niece asked if my cell phone had any games on it. When I produced my phone, little Becky snorted "Uncle Adrian, you have a baby's phone." She then proceeded to show me up with her smart phone complete with the latest movies, internet access, music, built in GPS, and video camera. It even talked.   I couldn't let this smug brat have a better phone than me. Not only was I an adult, I was a lawyer for Pete's sake. I needed to knock her down a peg or two.  I would buy my own smart phone.  But first, I needed to teach Becky a lesson.  I planted some Lucky Strikes in her Hannah Montana backpack.  Let's see her smartphone talk her out of that one.

Joking aside, a smart phone can be an excellent tool in an attorney's arsenal.  I use mine to check my schedule, court dockets, edit documents, check rules of procedure, take photos.....the list is endless.  I have even been known to make a phone call or two. It's a great luxury that has become a necessity for many.  But when you're a solo practitioner that has to pay for utilities, supplies and a secretary, unnecessary gadgets can be costly for the budget conscious. Most smart phones require contracts and an additional data plan for internet access.  That extra $100 plus per month might be better served going into an advertisement, a copier lease or a host of other necessities.  But what if your part of the "me" generation?  What if you need the instant gratification?  Screw the kid's piano lessons, you want an i Phone.  Let's be honest. Your sausage fingered kid is no Beethoven.

Recently, I tried out a friend's i Phone.  I was hooked instantly. The amazing little device could practically run your life.  Despite this, my friend complained endlessly about the monthly cost of maintaining the device. He had purchased the 32 GB i Phone for about four hundred dollars.  He lamented that it required a two year commitment to AT&T and an additional data plan.  He had just entered into the longest committed relationship of his life. His plan broke down roughly like this:
AT&T Unlimited plan: $69.99 per month.

2GB Data Plan with Tethering: $45.00 per month.

Unlimited Messaging: $20.00 per month.

Voice Dial: $4.99 per month.

GPS $9.99 per month

Road Side Assistance $2.99 per month
My colleague was paying about $150 a month or $1800 a year. With the required two year contract, he was in for about $4000 when you factor in the cost of the phone. In fairness, you can get an i-Phone with less GB. You can limit your minutes to 450 and your data plan to 200 MB. You can also forgo text messaging. If you do that, your monthly cost will dwindle down to about 55 bucks a month. Just keep your phone conversations to grunts and yes-no answers. And forget about downloading that picture of your kids.  Mental pictures take up less gigabytes.

Trimming the Fat
After reviewing our firm's budget, we decided to trim the fat. Did we really need Starbucks coffee in our cappuccino machine? Could we order our office supplies from a cheaper source? Did we really need a full time portrait painter on staff? Before the advent of unlimited plans, our office was wasting hundreds of dollars a month on the cell phone bills.  Did it really make sense to make a two year commitment for $150 a month?  The cheaper plan with less minutes wouldn't work for me.  I knew my cell phone use would exceed 450 minutes a month.  I used that amount daily. I was constantly calling my office asking if the coast was clear of any lurking angry clients. Although the i Phone seemed really cool, I decided it was really more of a luxury and not a necessity. I needed to be a grownup. I could put that extra hundred a month towards my mortgage, car payment, even my Roth IRA.  I would seek an alternative.

Prepaid Phone Services.  It's Not Just for Criminals.
During court recess, I noticed a fellow barrister talking on his Boost mobile phone.  "What are you a drug dealer?"  I cracked.  "I save 50% on my cell phone bill was the reply. With no long term contracts, Boost Mobile was a perfect fit for me. For $50 a month, I could get unlimited talk, text, internet, 411 and email.  If I was really stingy, I could even switch to the "$1 a day" or the "pay as you go" plan.   No longer limited to choosing sub par phones, Boost users now had the opportunity to purchase a smart phone; the Motorola i1.  Truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised.  So now without further adieu, here is the Nutmeg Review.  (Editor's note: All rhyming unintentional.)

The Motorola i1
At $350-$400 at press time, the Motorola i1 is not exactly the "frugal choice."  It can be, however, a cost effective alternative for curmudgeonly attorneys who want to upgrade their current phone but can't stand the thought of paying those ridiculous fees.  When you take into account the monthly savings in cellular fees, the cost of the phone is minimal (At least that's how I explained it to the wife.)  

First the basics, the Motorola i1 boasts a sleek look with a large 3.1-inch touch screen,  an Opera Mini 5 browser, access to thousands of Droid apps and push-to-talk features.  Built to military specs the rugged phone is great for short tempered attorneys who occasionally feel the urge to throw their phone.   The i1 runs on the Android 1.5 OS and can support up to a 32GB card.  It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Microsoft's Document Viewer software and a Swype on-screen text input system.

So What's So Cool About It?
I found this phone easy to use.  Most applications can be run with the touch of a finger.  The touch screen is smooth and responsive. I was surprised to find several helpful features including a 5 mega pixel camera with built in flash and a video recorder.  It automatically syncs and integrates emails, calendar appointments and contacts.  I love being able to check my court calendar as I wait for a case to be called.   I can input new dates from the courthouse which I can then access from my desktop computer.  My secretary can schedule appointments in the office that I can check from anywhere.  I can jump on legal research websites for some last minute help.  This phone has really made my life easier. 

Using Microsoft Document viewer, checking attorney work product on the go is a breeze.   Of course, the greatest advantage to this phone is access to the Droid application market.  My phone currently has a multitude of apps including Black's Law Dictionary, Skype and a syncing program that let's me upload my i Tunes playlists. You'll even be surprised to find a decent speaker on the phone.  It is much louder than the one on my i Pod.

One of my favorite applications is the key ring app.  Using the phone's camera feature, I was able to scan the barcodes of all those annoying discount cards you might find on your keychain. The next time  a grocery clerk asks me for my Stop & Shop savings card, I can simply call it up on my phone for scanning. Another application allows me to scan barcodes of items.  During a recent trip to an office store, I was able to scan the barcode of a printer.  The application listed stores where I could find the same item at a lower price.   The Google Map and GPS feature integrates a street view feature.  You are able to see a photo of your intended destination.  Typing in my parents' address, I could actually see a photo of dear old mom raking leaves in the front yard.  Through the application, I can check our law firm's operating expense account.  I imagine I have only skimmed the surface of applications that are available.

So What's Bad About It?
The phone runs on older technology, the Android 1.5 O.S.  Motorola makes up for this by using the Opera Mini 5 Web browser which uses fewer phone resources.  When you are near a wi-fi network, the phone's browsing capabilities are fine.  Otherwise, it can take a moment or two downloading pages.   It bares noting that Apple offers more applications on its service.   Some might also consider the Boost Mobile network a problem.  It is not as strong as the Verizon or AT&T network.  I have had poor signal quality in some areas and do experience an occasional dropped call.  Although it will get you through the day, you may also find the battery life limited.   If your a tech junkie, the slower data speeds might not be a good fit for you.  When not using a wi connection,  the slower download speeds might annoy you. I imagine that is why they built it to military specs.  You might want to throw it at something.  Motorola might as well just add that old screeching internet connection noise from the good old days before DSL.


Nevertheless, coupling almost a third off my cell phone bill while still being able to get unlimited internet and phone service, I think most people can deal with some of the phone's limitations.  To be frank, while it's not exactly an i Phone or a high end Droid, it exceeded my expectations.   Is it a Bentley?  Well, no.  More like a nice used BMW.  Overall, the Motorola i1 is a decent alternative smartphone with a huge savings potential.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Editor's note:  For readers who are more discerning with their technology, may I suggest:
  • Attorney Ryan McKeen's review of Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G.  
  • Attorney Finis Price post on security issues with Droid smartphones at the Technoesq Blog
  • Attorney Eliza Sarasohn's review of the Blackberry Torch at the Technolawyer Blog
You may also enjoy this post about frugal billionaires over at the Hedgehogs blog.

1 comment:

Jimmy said...

This has to be the best review of a phone I have seen in my life. I couldn't stop laughing. Loved the part where you planted cigarettes on the kid for having a better phone.

Keep up the good work. The law profession is stressful. It's nice to laugh once in awhile.