Eric Stewart: Running Off At The Mouth

Cell Phones: Data Plans, Text Messaging, Twitter

by Eric Stewart on Jun.05, 2009, under Cell Phones & Providers, Technology, The Internet

One of my Tweeps, @SusieTheGeek, who has this podcast (I swear I’ll listen to it some day – I don’t get much in the way of podcast listening time since my commute is 10 minutes if I hit all the lights) called How To Grow Your Geek, sent a tweet out today: “Ok, noob question here – if I want to get a new phone to Twitter on, do I need to just be able to text or do I need full internet access?”  I’m sure several of her Tweeps replied with very insightful messages, but I figured I’d do a quick (haha! we all know I can babble on for hours about tech and SCUBA stuff) blog about the different parts of the variety of answers that can be used for her query.

First, the disclaimers:

Look – I’ve been known to talk out of my ass.  It’s just that my accuracy when I do so tends to be quite high.  So, I’m going to admit there’s a possibility that anything I say in this post could be flat out factually wrong (and possibly dated, even if it’s not wrong).  Also, when it’s an opinion, it’s likely to differ from someone else’s.  Also be aware of the following:

  • I’ve been a … “loyal” … Sprint user for what could be termed decades I think
  • One of my FB Friends works for Sprint
  • I’ve been a Blackberry user for some time
  • one of my friend friends works/worked for Blackberry
  • If you’ve got a phone with a data plan (IE, a Blackberry, iPhone, or Treo), you probably don’t need this blog post

So from this point on, I’m assuming you’re coming from where I think @SusieTheGeek is coming from: You’ve got a “joe normal” cell phone and want to know what it would take to do Twitter, possibly with a new phone or data plan.

I’m going to do my best to make this independent of cell provider, and try to answer the question(s) as if you’re someone on a budget.  In other words, if you’re someone who doesn’t want to spend monthly the amount of money required if you buy a Blackberry (or, if you’re on AT&T, an iPhone would be another option), or someone who doesn’t want to switch providers just to get an iPhone.

So, let’s talk about Twitter via texting.

From what I understand (meaning I don’t do it this way but this is what I’ve gleaned), you can send and recieve tweets via text messaging on your cell phone.  Supposedly there are ways to choose what tweets will get texted to your phone.  As this is possible, then you have to start thinking of what this might mean to a cell phone bill.  Text additions to plans cost money, and depending on the provider, you can be charged either for just outgoing, or both incoming and outgoing, text messages.  Think about how many you might rack up.  Then think about how much extra each individual text message over your limit might cost.  This can get expensive quick.  In addition, it is also possible that your chosen provider might actually be blocking Twitter based text messages (I can’t swear by this but I seem to remember running across this while Googling about my girlfriend’s LG Rumor and Twitter).

The other way to go is to get a data plan.

I really want this to be provider and phone independent, but I can only relate to you my experiences with Sprint and Blackberry.  When I was switching from a Treo to my Blackberry, there was the “unlimited” plan, and then there was the “Blackberry” plan.  I can only surmise that the way Blackberry phones use the data portion of Sprint’s network so much more than any other phone might triggered Sprint’s $20/month price difference between the “unlimited” data plan and the “Blackberry” plan.

Data plans can also be of use to you if you’d like to start getting email on your phone and do quick web lookups on the go.  Here’s the thing – most phones (and I will say, to a large extent, even the Blackberry) positively suck for regular web surfing (never having used an iPhone outside of the Apple Store, would guess that the one thing they absolutely have over any other phone is an “actual” web browser – but I personally don’t want to switch providers yet, and I can use my Blackberry as a Bluetooth modem with any Bluetooth computer, like the MacBook Pro work provides me … this has actually quite useful for me, especially for work purposes).  Downloading the page, even on fast data networks, can take a long time.  Most phones probably can’t display pages that use common web design tools like java apps or Flash (in other words, you won’t be browsing YouTube on these things).  Finally, most pages these days are not formatted for tiny, low resolution screens.

So, with this stuff in mind, the next thing to think about is how much data you’ll be pulling per month.  You might be able to save a couple of bucks on your bill if you don’t go with an unlimited plan (although in this day and age I would be somewhat surprised if any cell provider with a data plan had anything other than “unlimited” as a choice).  Be aware though that, much as they will with texting plans, you will get charged (overly so, in many folks opinions) for overages to your data usage.  So, you either need to track it (however your provider would allow you to do so) or just spend the money on an unlimited plan.

Also, how a phone uses the data network can vary from phone to phone.  Blackberry phones tend to be on the data network constantly, with the email systems using push technology to deliver the email to the phone.  I would guess that with most phones, though, you’re still limited to “pulling” your data, so your phone isn’t going to be out there constantly pulling data down (unless you configure an app on it to do so) driving up your data usage.  So this shouldn’t be a big concern.

Finally: If you’ve decided to go the “data” route, make sure the phone you choose can get Twitter on it.  I would strongly advise against relying on using the phone’s built in web browser to get to Twitter (my girlfriend’s 1st gen LG Rumor wouldn’t bring it up).  Instead, look for a phone that can either download a Twitter application onto it (her LG Rumor could not EDIT: I was wrong; we got TinyTwitter on it), or one that has built in Twitter functionality.

You’re probably going to spend some time on Google while you’re figuring all this out for yourself.  Research your phone, particularly in regards to the use you want to get out of it, and review your provider’s plans (either text or data) to ensure you’re getting what you need but won’t suffer a hit to the pocketbook if you suffer regular overages.

I hope this has been of use to at least someone.  I doubt I’ve helped much beyond making sure you’ve covered all your bases before making certain decisions.  Good luck!

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