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Smarter Phones Leave No Escape From the Web

Over a few weekends this month, I've conducted a little experiment on my own time to answer one question: How well can I keep up with my usual online pursuits using just an Internet-connected smartphone instead of a laptop or desktop computer?

I can sum up my findings in three words: all too well.

The weekends in question featured short, personal trips out of town -- for example, a wedding in Chicago and a baptism in Boston -- that provided zero reason to tote a laptop. But it was no problem to make room in my luggage for two phones I'd recently reviewed: Apple's iPhone 3G, and T-Mobile's G1, running Google's Android software.

I knew going in that the Web browsers on each phone could reproduce the "real" Web quite effectively, and I also had plenty of practice keeping up with my e-mail on the iPhone (on reflection, the G1's mail program isn't nearly as polished or effective). I'd also grown accustomed to using my own, less capable smartphone (an increasingly scuffed-up Palm Centro on Sprint's network), to stay on top of things like Facebook and Twitter, courtesy of those sites' mobile-phone editions.

But what I didn't realize was how easy it would be to break out either the iPhone or the G1 in any and every idle moment -- in line at an airport, while my wife was getting a cup of tea, in a taxi -- for a quick scan of my mail and the Web.

As a result, I came home from each trip not having missed much of anything online. There wasn't a real backlog of unread e-mail, I'd kept up with the headlines at all of my usual sites, and I'd read or marked-as-read enough of my RSS newsfeed subscriptions to leave only a few dozen items waiting for my attention at home. The only things I felt deprived of were Flash animations at some Web sites, which neither the iPhone nor the G1 could display. (Note to restaurants: When you put an all-Flash front-end on your site, you shut out potential customers who could be only a few blocks away.)

I used to think that an airplane in flight was one of the last refuges from the Internet -- but over this month, I also caught myself leaving the iPhone and G1 browsers open to longer articles that I would read offline after takeoff. (On some airlines, I don't even have to engage in that workaround... at least in-flight connectivity still costs extra, so there's some motivation to give the Web a rest and read a book instead.)

If you've got a smartphone that provides reasonably full Web access, how do you keep your Internet dependence in check? Do you set rules for yourself on how often you jump online or where you go? Do you take a technology Sabbath every week?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 27, 2008; 1:25 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Gadgets , The Web  
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Comments

Finally got the sign-in turned on here I see.

On-topic: I see no reason to get a phone that is useful for anything other than making phone calls.

Posted by: wiredog | October 27, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

It's impossible to take a technology Sabbath this fall between football scores and campaign news. With my iphone, college football scores are practically instant -- no more waiting for the network crawl. Of course, sports sites on the iphone like SportsTap are occasionally clobbered by traffic. Information on the latest polls and analysis are also too easy to get. I may be able to enjoy a Technology Sabbath after New Years when there's only NFL playoffs and no election news.

Posted by: Potter3 | October 27, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse

We went on a trip to the Veneto, the region around Venice, last month. For the first time in a long time, I didn't take my laptop. Just my iPhone and found it liberating. I stored my photos on memory cards and kept up with the NYT and the Post as well as my RSSs and email.

I DID purchase 50 MB of data transfer from A&T and used it very sparingly. I limited myself to about 7.5 MB per day. Although I used up nearly all of my allotment (48.5 MB!), they prorated it according to the time during the month that the subscription was in force. So it cost about $36 for eight days of data.

If you do this, check back with AT&T to see that all the charges have been entered, otherwise they will charge you at a rate of $0.195/KB!

Posted by: doshea | October 27, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Actually I find my G1 to be a little less convenient than browsing on my computer because it's not as fast (at least not in the DC area with only 2.5G connectivity, but I don't think it's just bandwidth that's slowing me down). I'd rather do serious work on the computer and use the phone's internet connection either for things that come up in conversation that someone wants to see or for new mobile uses that don't have an equivalent on a computer.

Posted by: divestoclimb | October 27, 2008 5:08 PM | Report abuse

I can be comfortably laptopless with the iPhone 3G. The App Store has made it possible to download applications that provide news, polls, video, etc., both on and offline. That is much better than browsing with Safari since one can move through material faster and without using up battery life with Wi-Fi. Even though I have a delightfully easy to tote MacBook Air, I sometimes opt to take only my iPhone with me.

Posted by: query0 | November 1, 2008 7:36 AM | Report abuse

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