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I’m Getting Another Mobile Phone…Again!

Sigh. I remember back in the early 90’s when the first truly portable mobiles came out in Thailand. Not the ones which looked like a side-slung version of a military backpack type thing with a handset, but the ones that looked like bricks. Now back then, a phone was a phone. And they worked reasonably well. As long as you were in range, that is. The problem was, they were just a little too large to fit comfortably in a pocket, but then again, that wasn’t really a problem. You see, for most part, the people who had them, wanted them to be seen. And the other people who had seen them, wanted them. There was just one problem at the time. They cost an arm and a leg…

When I first got here to Thailand in the late 80’s, only land lines were available, and they were only available through the Telephone Authority of Thailand. By the time I had got a house registration and applied for a line, they were almost fully subscribed for. The only way to have gotten one was to wait until someone cancelled their subscription; it also depended on how far down the waiting list you were. The average wait (wait for it!) was five years. Yes, five years. Then again, there was the black market. At those rates, however, a mobile phone started to look appealing.

Having been stuck with using a paging service, and with the nearest public phone about half a kilometre from my house, it wasn’t fun to receive a page in the middle of the night. Worse if it was raining. Long distance calls could only be made at the Post Office four kilometres away. During office hours. And this was in Bangkok!

Torn between necessity and the mindfulness of the size of the hole it would make in my pocket, I finally bit the bullet and got one.

My first phone was a Nokia 101 – real vintage by today’s standards, but it would eventually fit in a pocket if you tried hard enough. Not everyone wanted to do this, though, and I know some people who went for the more brick-like Motorola just so that it could be seen hanging on a belt or sticking half out of your back pocket.

But I digress.

That phone served me well for many years. (Considering how much it cost, it would bl***y well have to!) It did what it had to do – make and receive phone calls. Eventually the carriers changed over from the analogue system to digital, and all I had had replaced over the years were two battery packs and an antenna.

My next acquisition, for almost a quarter of the price of the first, was at the time considered one of the better models of the time, the Motorola StarTac. It folded into a really small package, and when unfolded felt just right. It also did not leave a great big bulge in your pocket. Even though it still only made and received calls, I was over the moon.

A side note. By this time I had already managed to get a land line for my home in Bangkok, but had decided to keep the mobile even though it was a lot costlier to run. The reason? Convenience. However, I was also beginning to have a growing disenchantment with the device as mobile phones began to proliferate. The main reason? People expected you to pick it up immediately if it rang. Instant gratification, if I may. It riled them no end if the phone kept ringing off the hook. ‘What took you so long to answer?’ became a common phrase.

This really riled me as I came from a generation where the (land-line) telephone was to come into common use.

There was something called ‘telephone etiquette’ where one would not call at certain times of the day, lunch and dinner being common. You also did not call after a certain time at night; most things could (and would) have to wait till morning. If it did ring at that time you would be almost certain there were dire circumstances that overrode these protocols. It seems that all this has now been thrown out the window.

Back to the (mobile) phones. The screens started to come in colour, then with graphic animations, and then programmable ringtones. They started getting smaller and cheaper. Phone messaging started becoming the rage, with a new phone ‘slanguage’ or SMS language designed to shorten the code and get as much info as you could into that short message. (Example: gr8 = great). Think sore thumbs, though.

I, for the most part, avoided the phones that had add-ons. As I pointed out to a friend, I could get both a phone and a decent camera for less than he had paid for his combo. It did, however, come to a point when one just could not avoid buying a phone with all these added extras because all the phones had them as a standard. But to me, a phone was, and still is, a phone.

I finally got a ‘smart’ phone quite by accident. I wanted one with GPS (Global positioning System plus maps) to supplement the one I had mounted in the car. (I am a bit of a gadget freak). The salesgirl got me one with GPRS (which is basically internet service, not maps). I didn’t find out till I had time to play with the phone, so I couldn’t return it. It did turn out to be a decent music player, and I could download maps on it, but that was as far as it went. In a fit of frustration, I swapped this at a second-hand phone shop and got me a mid-range Nokia N-series. The phone was a revelation.

I could now actually receive emails on this thing, and quite by accident found out that I could also open word documents and spreadsheets. Think raised eyebrows here. Here was an alternative to actually checking my mail on-the-go and not depend on the home or office computer or the trusty laptop with spotty wi-fi connections. Yesss!

The shortcomings were not long in showing up. It is difficult to read an email or document on a screen that is only slightly larger than a postage stamp, so for anything to be remotely legible, you have to zoom in. This had the effect of being able to view only a portion of the screen, so to read the rest you’d have to scroll. Left – right left – right down – left again… Arrrgh! It was the same with the internet. The final straw was when the phone bill showed up – HOW MUCH?!!! It turned out the email client was polling the service provider all the time and had racked up quite a bill. The settings that turned that off was buried a couple of sub-menus in. Downloaded widgets can be equally sneaky. Lesson learnt.

So it was back to the phone shop, where (I’m hooked, as you can see) I resell this one and get one near the top of the line that actually is the size of a standard phone but also has a full qwerty keyboard. It is a matter of personal preference as most of the smart phones on the market are just a little too wide for my liking. I also get an internet package SIM, but being the tight bastard I am refuse to fork out for the unlimited usage one. I get that at home, and the phone can get wi-fi too. The other problem with all of this is, the phone battery life is compromised.

So. I have bought another phone. This is a very basic one that just makes phone calls. This is the one I have put my existing SIM card into. This is the one that is not going to make sneaky forays and rack my phone bill up. And last, but not least, the battery lasts days.

The final word.

There are some nice phones on the market, the iPhone being one of them. I’ve tried it in Singapore, where with a cheap package and nationwide coverage, almost everyone has one. It is unfortunate that over here 3G is still in its infancy and I have no desire to purchase something at a ridiculous price and spotty coverage. I’m happy that what I have is suitable for what I want to do – there is no real all-round phone. I’m just a lot more careful of what little icons pop up on the screen as I’m suspicious that they will rack up my phone bill. I know someone who had an unlimited package but forgot to turn off the internet while overseas. He wasn’t pleased with that bill at all.

So if you want a smart phone, find one with the features you want and will use and not any more. You don’t want a smart phone that can outsmart you, do you?

Stickman's thoughts:

I am a mobile phone hater. I know that I have to have one, but I hate the mobile phone etiquette of today, especially the way many Westerners have adopted what I always considered to be the local Thais attitudes towards mobile phone usage. How dare anyone ever ask me why it took me to so long to answer the phone or why I actually chose not to answer! That's none of your God-damned business and how dare you ask me!

One of the things that used to really both me – although is easily fixed – is getting wrong number calls at 2, 3 or 4 AM. Who the hell calls others at that time?!