Do you think smartphones are worth the extra money?

10 Oct

Published: Saturday, August 27, 2011, 8:00 AM     Updated: Saturday, August 27, 2011, 4:54 PM

Devout cheapskates would be aghast at the suggestion, but could buying a smartphone be a moneywise purchase?

With the price of phones, calling plans and data service, the total cost of a smartphone could be about $1,500 in its first year for a device like the popular iPhone. But smartphones are also very versatile jack-of-all-trades devices that, potentially, could substitute for other gadgets you might buy, thereby saving you money.

Rationalizing purchases, which usually means coming up with lame reasons to buy the object of affection, is among the greatest skills of the overshopper. So it’s not something in which you want to build proficiency. But, sometimes, spending rationalizations, however contrived and self-deluding, at root have some logic and merit.

To that end, here is a sampling of fun rationalizations for buying a smartphone, such as an iPhone or one using the Android operating system. Savings totaling more than $2,000 come from rough estimates.

smartphones.jpgReutersA Samsung S II, right, and Samsung Ace, center, smartphones are seen next to an Apple iPhone 4.

We had help from Andy Abramson, chief executive of marketing firm Comunicano of Del Mar, Calif., a technology blogger and confessed early adopter of tech gadgets. Because of spotty service coverage, what he calls “cellphone coverage roulette,” the frequent traveler carries three smartphones: an iPhone 4 with AT&T service, an HTC ThunderBolt with Verizon Wireless service and a BlackBerry Bold with T-Mobile service.

–Land-line phone: The most obvious feature of a smartphone is the ability to place telephone calls. Like any wireless phone, a smartphone could replace your land-line phone service, assuming you have decent reception around your house. If you pay $30 a month for land-line service, you could save $360 annually.

–Clocks: Smartphones, like the most rudimentary wireless phones, will tell you what time it is, never needing to be set and adjusted for time zones. They have alarms and keep you on time, whether replacing a nightstand clock radio or wristwatch. Also, like most phones, it will have a calculator. Savings: $75.

–Digital camera/video recorder: Cameras on the newest smartphones are of pretty good quality, even equipped with digital zoom and flash. Like many stand-alone pocket cameras, they can shoot stills and video. Although not the quality of a professional-grade camera, they rival some compact point-and-shoots. Some phones capture high-definition video. Perhaps the greater benefit is that you probably have this camera on you all the time to capture candids. You’ll also skip the cost of accessories, such as a data-storage card. Smartphones are also voice recorders, good for meetings or classroom lectures. Savings: $150.

–Music player: Smartphones can easily replace your digital music player, such as an iPod Nano. With a free application like Pandora, you can discover new music to suit your tastes. Smartphones also have apps to play radio stations and podcasts. Savings: $150.

GPS: A smartphone has apps that, with a dashboard mount, can turn it into a GPS navigator, providing turn-by-turn driving directions. Some apps are free, but even the pricey ones are likely to save you big bucks over a stand-alone GPS. Frequent travelers can skip renting a navigator from the car-rental company. “I found going on the smartphone was faster and just as accurate,” Abramson said. Savings: $100.

–Hand-held game machine: Game players have plenty of choices with a smartphone, potentially eliminating the desire for a hand-held gaming device. Savings: $170.

–E-reader: Smartphone owners can read books, newspapers and magazines for free or greatly reduced prices compared with printed versions. It might dissuade you from buying an e-reader. Savings will vary depending on what you read and how much, but call it $100 per year.

–Day planner: It wasn’t long ago that professionals spent good money on their day planners. Under such names as Day-Timer and Day Runner, these binders held paper calendar, contacts and to-do lists. They require annual refills of pages and occasional replacement of the organizer itself. A leather planner with pages could easily cost $100. Smartphones have built-in calendars and contact lists that synchronize with desktop applications. Even the Day-Timer iPhone app costs only $8. Savings: $100.

–Mobile video player: You can watch TV programs, movies and other video material on your phone, including material from Netflix on some phones. Whether you would want to watch video on a small screen is another matter. But it probably eliminates the need for a separate, on-the-go video player. The tech-savvy can burn DVDs into a digital format suitable for watching on a smartphone. “It’s a poor man’s TV,” Abramson said. Savings: $100.

–Netbook computer: It’s too much of a stretch to say a smartphone could replace a computer. But if you were going to buy an additional mini-laptop — for commuting, for example — a smartphone might suffice. It has the ability to check and send email, surf the Web and type documents. Some are usable with an external keyboard. “In some cases, it removes the dependency to always carry a laptop,” Abramson said. Savings: $200.

–Internet access: Some people have replaced home Internet service with their phone’s data plan. Many phones can become a Wi-Fi hot spot, allowing other devices to get online, including a computer. But many wireless carriers have started capping data usage, so it’s not a replacement for a household that uses a lot of data, such as streaming audio or video. Prices for Internet access vary, but call it $25 per month for a basic DSL Internet connection. Savings: $300.

–Flashlight: Smartphones will provide some illumination in the dark. Some have flashlight apps. Again, more important than the cost savings is having it with you all the time. Savings: $10.

–Golf range finder: Granted, this is a niche use, but an ingenious one. Smartphone apps, some free, can be used on the golf course for yardage to the green or hazards. Reviewers claim some apps are as accurate as the best golf range finders. Range finder prices vary widely, but let’s say it replaces a low-end one. Savings: $200.

–Reality check: The problem with a jack-of-all-trades is he is master of none. Stand-alone devices are likely to be superior in quality and features. And you could certainly quibble with savings amounts on any of these. Many were made by eyeballing offerings from electronics retailers. But if you really wanted to rationalize a smartphone purchase, this is one way.

“Anything that’s purpose-built will probably be better,” Abramson said. “But when you add it all up, the cost of the apps and smartphone are likely to be cheaper than … buying all these devices separately, and they take up a lot less room in your bag.”


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