Not long ago I stared glumly down at the shattered screen of my Samsung Galaxy S3. I was standing in a parking lot and the phone had somehow slipped out of the car as I opened the door. When I got out I heard a crunch as I set my boot firmly down upon the phone. A quick glance was more than enough to demonstrate that the phone was beyond meaningful repair.
As Sebastian Junger wrote in his novel "The Perfect Storm," I felt immediately cast back to the 19th century. Yes, we all suffer an overreliance on technology at times, but when you work in IT and write about mobility, a smartphone is more than a toy to play Candy Crush on while waiting in the supermarket checkout line.
I tried to categorize what I had lost and would have to replace, from an app/data perspective. The phone had my email accounts, my contacts, my Dropbox and social media programs, an e-book reader program, GPS and an SD card full of data such as PDFs and MP3 files. However, it had no data on it which wasn't backed up elsewhere; everything was synchronized to the cloud or to my file storage accounts. I had turned on Dropbox's Camera Upload feature meaning even recent pictures were safely kept in my Dropbox account.
Just about any American high school student (present or former) knows the phrase "The king is dead. Long live the king." Those are the words that echoed in my head as I began thinking not of the disaster behind me but the opportunities ahead.
The Galaxy S3 had been provided by my employer via a Verizon Wireless business account that offered unlimited data. However, it was outdated and slow and had I opted to change employers I would have had to surrender the phone. I had never been crazy about the idea of using someone else's phone, when I preferred my own I could take with me regardless of circumstances. Not many employers are handing out phones these days, so I decided not to have my company issue a new one, but instead to buy my own phone through my wife's Sprint contract. I reasoned that perhaps we could save some money on a family plan. Best of all, my company offers a monthly stipend for on-call staff who use their own phones to handle emergency pages, and this applies to me.
The next morning I headed over to the Sprint store, but not without a few concerns. The Verizon Wireless account used by my company had always provided business-level service and I was worried the Sprint account might be more consumer-level, not to mention expensive. However, I found the representatives very professional and the price of the plan acceptable. The cost of adding me to the account would be about $70 per month (after the usual bevy of activation fees and so forth). The plan included unlimited voice and text and a shared 4 Gb data plan. It meant my wife and I would have to monitor our data usage lest we go over and pay an additional fee, but I didn't feel that would be a problem.
I got a new phone number after debating whether to port my old company-issued number to the new Sprint phone. I didn't see changing phone numbers to be a big deal and in fact had been receiving some spam-related calls and wrong numbers so I felt a switch was for the best... or at least would pose no real headache.
Then came the fun part: picking out the phone. I chose the Samsung Galaxy S5.
I felt sticking with the Galaxy product line made the most sense since I was familiar with it, and the S5 got excellent reviews on the sites I had visited for research.
Comparing the old phone to the new
Androidpit.com provides an excellent comparison of the S5 to the S3:
The operating system, CPU, battery, camera are all clearly more modern on the S5. Testing it out confirmed immediately that it was much faster and more responsive than the old S3 - and the touch screen capabilities much more usable. I sometimes had to double or triple tap on the S3 screen to get it to pay attention, but the S5 handles like the proverbial dream.
Cost and accessories
I opted to lease the phone for $20 per month, knowing the Galaxy S6 will be out within the next year. I added total equipment protection for $3.30 per month so the phone could be replaced without hassle if another "incident" occurred. I threw an Otterbox case and a Kenu vent-mounted smartphone holder for the car on the counter as well. I already had a suction-cup-based smartphone holder but it kept falling off, particularly in cold weather, so I was about done with that nuisance. My 64-Gb micro-SD card from the Galaxy S3 had survived the impact so I loaded it into the S5 and confirmed that it worked. My DeWalt smartphone holster also managed to fit the S5 - just barely.
Sprint threw some goodies in on the deal as well: I got a year's complimentary Netflix and Spotify usage, and best of all I walked out with an 8 Gb Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 tablet absolutely free. The only hitch is that the mobile data usage might tip us over the 4 Gb per month maximum, so I opted to just turn off mobile data on the tablet and use it on Wi-Fi networks only; I may in fact cancel the mobile data option since obviously I have a smartphone alternative and don't plan to stream audio or video via a mobile plan.
The only real issue was that the batteries from my S3 weren't compatible with the S5. I had a ZeroLemon extended battery plus a couple of regular spare batteries which were officially obsolete. Since my company is full of technology enthusiasts you can always give old equipment away via a donation box in our cafeteria and that's what I did.
Making the switch
Setting up new systems and devices has always been somehow cathartic for me, and this time was no exception. I got home and hooked my phone into my Wi-Fi network. Then I signed into my Google account so my contacts could begin synchronizing. I configured my email accounts, went to the Google Play store and installed Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Adobe Reader, LinkedIn, the excellent EBookDroid ebook reader, and a few games my son enjoys. I configured the VPN client and connection to my company so I can access the work network via my phone and turned on Dropbox's Camera Upload option. In fact, adding another device to Dropbox prompted them to give me 50 Gb of space for 2 years at no cost!
After rearranging the icons to my liking, setting the sound preferences and choosing the desktop/lock screen backgrounds I was finished with the device setup; Google apps I rely on like Maps and Google+ were already present. I sent my family and friends a series of emails to let them know the new phone number, and the bouncebacks assisted me in getting updated email addresses for those which were invalid.
The default 2800 mAh battery was better than the default 2100 mAh battery on the S3 - but the phone is still only good for about a day and a half of normal usage before the battery runs dry. Since I had an extended battery before I didn't worry too much about power, but already I've developed the habit of plugging my phone into a power source when I'm working on the computer or driving in the car. I ordered a couple of spare batteries from Amazon which included an AC/USB charger, for a cost of only $18.99. I may still opt for the extended battery down the road, but will see how it goes.
I found that the speakerphone volume on the S5 wasn't particularly impressive, but located an article on androidflagship.com which discusses a sound boost modification called "S5_Volume_Boost_Version_v4" which I was able to apply to my phone. This solved the problem quite nicely and the phone now works perfectly in speakerphone mode.
I filled out the paperwork at the office to receive a monthly stipend for on-call activity via my phone. The stipend will cover the additional cost of adding the phone to my wife's plan, so it's a push.
Finally, I kept the 4 Gb data plan limit firmly in mind as I went about using the device for normal operations. Sprint has a nice customer website which allows you to manage your device, monitor data usage, make changes to your account and so forth. I checked my wife's data usage, found that it consistently averaged at 1.28 Gb per month, then determined that in two weeks I'd only used 160 Mb of data (probably due to my heavy reliance on Wi-Fi at home and work). So far I see no need for concern that we'll surpass the 4 Gb data limit, though of course checking the stats on a weekly basis is a good idea.
Every single device or electronic appliance which has worn out on me (or died unexpectedly) has always led to bigger and better things. I suppose you could argue it's a sign of our disposable society but I choose to see it as a constant evolution in technology, whereby outdated models are being replaced with faster and better products. Overall I'm quite glad to have the lemonade that was provided to me when my old phone was accidentally ground underfoot, and look forward to seeing how the Galaxy S6 compares to my phone once it makes its debut.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.