Friday, October 21, 2011

Smart connections

Oct.20, 2011— I love my smartphone. It is indispensible.
On our last trip, which took us from Florida to California and back, I had a semi-smartphone. It was only 2G, but it could access the web, e-mail, and text. But it was slow, and it couldn’t use apps. (I guess there were a few, which I had to buy and for which I could see no need.) I actually didn’t see any need for ANY apps, so I was content. For a while.
As we traveled, to look up the price of diesel and to find information on camp sites, I turned on my computer and accessed the web via my Virgin Mobile Broadband2go, a very economical way to stay connected. The Virgin Mobile plan is a pay-as-you go. I had bought unlimited 3G access for one month at a cost of $50. The nice thing about this plan is that there is no contract; so, in the months we don’t travel, I don’t have to buy any access. However, when the computer is sleeping, it disconnects from the Internet. Every time I wanted to look something up, I had to reboot, which took time. I also had to get up from my seat and take out the computer. Not always convenient.
My smartphone has changed all of that.
We expect to be gone about two weeks this trip. I bought 20 MB of broadband time (good for up to one month). I expect that will be plenty to check e-mail and do assorted other tasks, such as posting this blog. A lot of what I would have looked up on the computer, however, I can now do on my phone—and do it quickly.
I round three apps for the Droid—Gas Buddy, Trucker Services, and Trucker Tools. All of them are free, and all of them are quite indispensable.
Gas Buddy is especially good. I can look up gas stations (and choose a default to show diesel prices) by location, according to where I am currently, or I can plug in a zip code or a city/state and find prices there. The app even allows me to look at these prices on a map. When we were leaving Jacksonville, I wanted to determine if it would be less expensive to fill up in Jacksonville or wait until we reached our usual fill-up places in Georgia, where gas is usually cheaper. I pulled up the map, scrolled along I95, and found the prices for diesel. I re-employed this technique when we were in South Carolina. Thanks to Gas Buddy, we filled up in Dillon, S.C., near the North Carolina border.
The app isn’t infallible. The price on the web site for the station in Dillon was listed at $3.59. All of the prices are reported by users, and this one was 24 hours old. Well, you know how fuel prices are. When we got to the station, the price of diesel was $3.65. (I updated the information!) Although it was more than we hoped, it was less than other stations, and at least 10 cents a gallon less than diesel was selling for in North Carolina.
The Trucker Services app is also good. It offers a lot of information on truck stops. It also provides information on the nearest WalMarts and rest stops. This was very helpful last night. After dinner in Walterboro, S.C., I looked up how far away the rest stops were, and we calculated how much farther we would travel (about another hour). We boondocked at a rest stop on the other side of Santee, S.C.
I still need my computer, but I don’t want to give up my smartphone. Incidentally, I have a very economical plan for it, too. I purchased the smartphone from StraightTalk (a division of TracPhone, sold only through WalMart). It is 3G, cost $149, and for less than $45/month (because I bought several months at one time), I get unlimited talk, text, and data (web). Any limitations? Yes, users cannot download movies or tether their computers to the phone, but other than that, no. So, for us, it is a good deal.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
P.S. I will be posting this sometime on Oct. 21. We are in a remote area of North Carolina where there is no cell phone coverage. Unbelievable. In this area of N.C. there is one cell-phone company, and apparently it has no reciprocal agreements with any of the other companies, not even Sprint or Verizon.

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