Re-Entering the 21st Century, Finally

One of the early highlights of my round-the-world trip that began in 2008 was when I left Austin, Texas for my first overnight bus ride to Mexico City. On the way to the bus station, I dropped my Blackberry cell phone into the mail back home.

I was free.

I’d been a lawyer for 10 years, absurdly glued to my cell phone in every waking moment. The annoying person who typed away email and text messages at dinner? That was me. Wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom? Check the phone on the bedside stand before solving the problem that awoke me. It took me approximately two and a half months to stop reflexively reaching into my pants pocket when I heard the tell-tale Blackberry sound for a text message or email. It was a Pavlov’s dog reflex that still makes me shudder when I think about it.

My travels from December of 2008 until September of 2012 took me to six continents and over fifty-five countries. All without ever using a cell phone. It was one of the things I was oddly most proud of and one of the things that mystified others in causal conversations on the road. 

You don’t have a phone??

galaxytraveler samsung galaxysiii phoneThat all changed a few months ago, when the folks at Samsung gave me a Samsung GalaxySIII to test out, use and review. I had to think about it for a few weeks, but in the end, I decided to dive back into the world of being connected, mainly because it looks like I am going to be making a career out of writing and traveling and frankly, I need to be in touch with the world a bit more.

I’m only half happy about that.

When I was telling someone the story about getting it, I pointed to the top of the phone and said “I don’t even know what this thing is for.” The person I was talking to pulled their phone out, put it up to their ear and said, “ummmm, that’s how you hear people talking to you.”

It had been a long time since I’d used a phone. 

All that being said, I still hate talking on the phone. After ten years of practicing law and having to talk to clients, judges, lawyers, witnesses and more on dozens upon dozens of phone calls every day, I will be happy if I make or get no more than a small handful of calls ever on this new phone. I have no desire to use it as a phone at all, but I must admit that the data capabilities now re-opened to me put me on the verge of giddiness on a much too frequent basis.

This phone has changed my life — perhaps not all for the better, but in terms of it being a tool for travel and work, I’m sold.

So here we are — I’m on board. I love my GalaxySIII. I’ve had a blast this month promoting it on Twitter and Instagram with the #GalaxyTraveler hashtag.

Pros:

Maps and Navigation: This is making me way, way too lazy, but the ability to just plug in your destination on Google Maps and then have step by step navigation to get you there… its nice. I love maps, but man, this is cool.

Email and Twitter on the move: I know this sounds absurdly basic, but bear with me, I haven’t had a phone in a while. The ability to plug a cheap SIM card into the phone and deal with some of the basics of social media while sitting at dinner or on a bus is truly revolutionary for me.

Smart Stay: This is partly creepy, but more just cool. The phone actually tracks your eye movement (via the facing you camera) and keeps the display bright as long as you are reading. No need to swip the screen every 10-15 seconds to keep the brightness up.

galaxySIII photo of train tracks

taken today and entirely edited on the phone

Pop-Up Play: Personally, I have the strong belief that multitasking is incredibly unproductive, but it is nice to be able to do things like reply to a quick text or email while still being able to watch the video you are on, without having to switch back and forth.

Panoramic shooting: I haven’t taken my Nikon D7000 out of my bag one time in the last two months. One thing that I haven’t figured out how to do properly on my DSLR is panoramic shots. GalaxySIII to the rescue. There is no special app required to shoot the super-wide, panoramic style — you just use the regular camera app on a different setting. Unbelievably easy.

wide view of alps villages and snow

My first effort with the panorama option — still learning

The screen: O’ my, the screen. The GalaxySIII comes with a 4.8in. 720-by-1,280-pixel Super AMOLED screen. Its big. Really big. And I’ve gotta say in this area — size does matter. The large screen and great resolution allows you to do some fantastic photo editing right on the phone (and my great readers, I am still looking for more suggestions for good Android phone apps to test out, so please suggest them in the comments). Its obviously also a great device to watch video on and in a development that I did not expect, I now use it instead of my Kindle to read on, using the free Kindle app you can find in the Google Play app store. I’ll be retiring my Kindle entirely when I get home in December, saving a good bit of room in my backpack.

Cons:

The worst interview question ever is “so, tell me your weaknesses as an employee.” The typical answers are in line with “I work way too hard and need to find more balance for my personal life.” Or perhaps “I’m much too detail oriented and insist that every work project I start has to be perfect.”

The biggest weakness of this phone?

The magnificant screen is too big

Well, its actually not too big. I quite love it. But there is a serious downside to the large screen size — and no, not the “its too big to fit in my pocket” complaint I have heard a few times. If you are traveling and wearing pants with pockets that small… you have a bigger travel problem than your cell phone. You need to learn the value of comfortable clothing.

Its time for an embarrassing admission. I broke my phone before I ever used it. Yep, you read that right.

I picked up my phone from the PR company’s office in London that Navigate Media Group is working with on this particular project. We went over some of the concepts wanted to work on this month. They showed me my phone and some basic features. I joked with that about it being my first phone since 2008. I threw it in my electronics backpack, got on a plane to Portugal, checked in at my hostel and pulled it out to use it the first time.

And the screen was broken.

Let me be clear about this — I am an idiot. Its not the first time I’ve been an idiot with expensive electronics — you might recall that I dropped my camera out a three story window earlier this year.

I’d just gotten a very expensive piece of electronics (an unlocked GalaxySIII retails for about $650 or so) and then didn’t even bother to put the protective cover on it before throwing it into my backpack. Looking back, I’m not remotely sure what I was thinking. I’d like to blame it on the fact I was way under the weather, or perhaps even just blame it on the weather, since the cold had gotten be depressed. But there really is no excuse at all. I was just a moron.

One big thing to know about this wonderful phone is that is it not cheap to replace the screen. I priced it at a couple places in Portugal and Spain and it was close to $200 to get a new screen (Samsung was kind enough to replace my entire phone a few weeks later in London). Bottom line — you’ve just spent a good deal of money for this phone, take care of it. Its a piece of electronics and although no fragile by any means, its not bulletproof. Aside from the phone, the best money you are going to spend is the money to buy the best protective case you can find for it.

The downside to the huge screen size is basic physics. The larger screen size means there is more surface area and surface tension in the screen and that means there is more possibility for breakage. Looking at the pattern of the cracks on my phone, it looked like the initial cracks occured when the side of the phone banged into something in my bag.

In my case, the broken phone was entirely my fault. I simply didn’t take enough care of it and respect the fact that it is not indestructable. But it is also a cautionary tale that I want everything to think about, if they are considering this phone. It isn’t a cheap investment — protect it.

______________________________________________

Thanks to Samsung for sponsoring a few of my activities recently in South Tyrol, Italy (which you will be reading about soon) and gifting me a Samsung Galaxy SIII. All views expressed here are my own honest opinions, and do not reflect the views of Samsung.

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I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all. Read more by Michael Hodson and connect on Google Plus.

31 Responses to “Re-Entering the 21st Century, Finally” Subscribe

  1. Stephanie - The Travel Chica November 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    I was happy to ditch mine for over a year, but now I need to get one and have been looking into options. I just need to not give many people my phone number :-)

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 1:56 am #

      That’s pretty much how I operate now. In fact, because I am moving around so much with different SIM cards in each country, I almost never know my number to give it out anyway.

  2. Sam December 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    They are tremendously useful. I’ve had a Galaxy S I for ages now, been really good to me but the GPS doesn’t seem to work any longer which is kind of a pain for travelling. Happy travels, and try not to get too addicted to the new gadget.

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 2:00 am #

      SI??!!! Time for you to upgrade. I was an idiot with the GPS on this phone. I accidentally turned it off on the settings screen. Then bitched for days when Google Maps wouldn’t work well.

      #usererror

  3. Jennifer December 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    My iPhone is probably one of my favorite travel accessories. It allows me to take pretty good photos and post them instantaneously while traveling. I don’t know what I ever did without it!

  4. Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com December 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    I didn’t have a smartphone when I went to Europe this year (wish somebody had given me one! haha) and I regretted not buying one before I left. I could have used the Google Maps, plus the apps that would keep me connected during my travels!

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 2:01 am #

      The map feature has been great, but I’m actually writing a post now about how I need to use it less and get my sense of direction back working properly. LOL.

  5. Lauren December 2, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    I spent my first couple of years of business travel without a cell phone and I was always very uneasy since I had no convenient way of contacting the US in case of emergency. For the past two years, I traveled with a Blackberry. This was a big upgrade from no mobile device, but it did not provide a full smart phone experience. In July of this year, I upgraded to an iPhone and it has completely changed my travel experience. From the maps feature that I literally hold up when I am walking through a city looking for the office, tracking my location dot against the hi-lighted route, to checking flight status in real time on the United app, to taking photos and instantly uploading them to Facebook. I think the iPhone has spoiled me to the point that I will never want to travel without a smart phone again!

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 2:07 am #

      I have to finally admit that these phones really are a travel lifesaver. I really don’t worry at all about the emergency use — not having a phone for years made me self-sufficient on that score. But with all the apps available now… these things are great.

  6. Callie December 3, 2012 at 12:03 am #

    I don’t have a cell phone on the road. I like being a bit disconnected, but get jealous every time my friends pull out their smartphones to figure out where we are! GPS rocks…

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 2:55 am #

      I think if I was doing short-term travel (e.g. a week or two here or there) it might be different, but as I’m on the road about 11 months out of 12, the ability to do things like read books and my RSS feed on it, listen to podcasts, and snap photos with it are really lifesavers.

  7. Ian December 3, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    I can think of a lot more weaknesses with Android devices. But then again, maybe things were improved with the software on the SIII.

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 2:56 am #

      I’ve enjoyed it so far. No major glitches on my end. I had more software screwups with my iPod Touch, frankly.

  8. Ayngelina December 3, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    Traveling without a phone is fine as long as you don’t have someone in the area to talk to but once you start to make friends and those friends want to make plans it can be frustrating if you can’t connect with them.

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 2:56 am #

      Are you saying its tough to get in touch with me??!! :P

  9. Jess @UsedYorkCity December 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    I love that you were able to live without a phone for so long, amazing! Like you, I also hate chatting on the telly. I do, however, love my phone for Twitter and email purposes…basically a must-have for writers!

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 2:57 am #

      That’s exactly where I am at this point. If I wasn’t blogging and doing all this online work, frankly I likely wouldn’t carry on. I do miss my almost-non-connected travel years, but that’s so long ago now, I can barely remember them.

  10. The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) December 3, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    Those are some pretty impressive photos coming from a phone. I can’t believe how much technology has advanced. I’ve never had a smart phone … as of now, I’m still refusing to for much of the same reason you abandoned yours. I don’t want to spend my life glued to it or dependent upon it. But I feel like I’m just as addicted to the computer, so I’m really not shunning technology that much, am I?

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 2:58 am #

      I think the photos off it are going to get even better, as I learn more. I uploaded larger size photos on my latest post. Take a look and see what you think. Thanks!

  11. Puerto de Mogan Apartments December 3, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

    First hats off to you. You could really spend years withour a phone?!! That is a BIG achievement in todays world. Seriously! You know I was all “Iphone is the King of all phones” until I finally joined the Android bandwagon a few months ago & I am loving it.

    P.S You ahve already started clicking some great pictures! I would suggest PhotoID, Camera 360 & Pro Point Camera. I am just a novice but these are good ones.

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 2:59 am #

      Thanks for the tips. I tried Camera360, but found other apps I liked better. Will check out the other two.

  12. John December 4, 2012 at 6:14 am #

    I was given a mobile phone (cellphone) by my employer in 1993. If it rang it usually meant that there was a big problem. I still associate mobile phones with trouble. However, I did get myself a second hand Android Smartphone to be connected to the internet in the wild and consider it to be a hand-held internet connected computer. I often forget I can make calls with it.

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 3:05 am #

      I think I’ve made 3 calls with it. I do occasionally text with it though. Italy has this annoying thing where they have free wifi in places, but you HAVE to have a cell phone number to access it.

  13. Pete December 4, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    It has been an adjustment having a mobile again for us as well. Although being in rural Wisconsin and not having any service means that our phone has not been ringing at all :) Welcome back to the 21st century, great photos!

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 3:22 am #

      I need some rural soon.

  14. Wends of Journeys and Travels December 4, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    great review of this smart phone. Whoa, i am impressed too that before diving back to the world’s connectivity, you were on the road without a phone. That is a rare feat as for me, my connectivity is second to none as a priority haha. I salute you sir for making it back and a great read this is.

    • Michael Hodson December 11, 2012 at 3:23 am #

      No phone actually wasn’t much of a problem, frankly. Until I started working a lot more online, it was quite pleasant.

  15. Ali December 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    The Smart Stay feature does sound a little creepy. It’s nice that the screen won’t go black if you’re in the middle of reading something, but it’s like the phone is spying on you! ;-)

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