What do people really want? This sounds like a twist on Sigmund Freud’s last words, but we’re talking about cell phones here and he was gasping about something completely different.

The main thing people want in a smart phone is battery life, according to a survey of 1,894 U.S. users by market research firm Morning Consult. Over 95 percent of respondents said it was the most important feature, and after that they wanted “ease of use,” “memory and storage,” and “camera quality.”

Are we all wasting money on our phones?  Here’s an interesting report from, a site that buys old phones: The average selling price for a smartphone in North America is $567, with an average upgrade cycle of 32 months. If you bought your first smartphone at age 18 and upgraded every 32 months until age 78, you would buy 22 phones. Based on average pricing today, you would spend $12,474. Oops. Have to add in the wireless service cost.  Current unlimited plans run around $80 a month, or $57,600 over those same 60 years. If you make purchases inside apps, that averages $88 a year, which brings the grand total to $75,354. And we haven’t even gone into what economists call “lost opportunity costs.”

Let’s Hear It (so to speak) for Cheap Phones

A reader took exception to our view that cheap phones are disappointing. Here is his tale of search and success:

“My cheap cell phone experience began with Net10 flip phones purchased at the Dollar General store,” he writes. “They later came out with a cheap Alcatel phone with a $25 price on a Thanksgiving Day special, so I got my first smart phone, which had Android 4.0 at the time. A couple of years later Best Buy ran an Alcatel CameoX with Android 7.0 for $20, although it was for the AT&T network.  I simply purchased a SIM card from Net10 for a buck which allowed it to work on their network.  AT&T had an app that transferred all of the info from my old phone onto the new one—couldn’t have been much easier.

“I use the phone for calls and texts, which work fine.  It’s also my alarm clock and I check my weather app since I do a lot of driving for my job.  I can access the Internet when needed, though I do most of that and my e-mail on my home computer. So, for basic needs, I can’t see why people would spend $100 and more for a phone.”

And that’s his story.

Cheap Calls

PC Magazine did an article titled “The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You’ve Never Heard Of.” We’re glad they did it, because we would have become basket cases trying to rate cell phones. The cheapest ones, “Unreal Mobile” and “Red Pocket,” cost around $10 a month but got too many complaints to recommend.

Moving up to $20 a month, Republic Wireless got good reviews for customer support, Its $20-a-month plan came with unlimited talk and text and one gigabyte of data use on the Sprint or T-Mobile network. Consumer Cellular was also $20 a month and provides  250 minutes of talk, unlimited texts and 250 megabytes of data. PC Magazine says its readers consistently favor it because it’s easy-to-use and focused on seniors.

If you’re a heavy user of the Internet and favor AT&T, take a look at AirVoice which has a $30 a month, four-gigabyte data plan. Verizon fans should look at Walmart’s Total Wireless for around $33 a month, it offers five gigabytes of data.

App Happy

Woebot” is a free app for Android and iPhones that lets you talk to an artificial intelligence therapist. That’s someone who’s not real; can you tell the difference?

Text messages between you and the robot take place within the app. The Woebot app checks in with you every day and asks about your mood. It suggests ways to avoid woe.  The first conversation is about avoiding words like “always” when you say something like “You always make mistakes.” The second one is about avoiding black and white reasoning. Of course you tell the app your mood, which triggers the response you get.

This is interesting from several aspects. The famous Turing Test, named for British mathematician Alan Turing, basically says if you can’t tell the difference, than for all intents and purposes, there is no difference. But the early Apple computers had a psychiatrist program 30 years ago, and many people couldn’t tell whether it was a real person or not. It was always asking how you felt about your mother.

IBM’s Watson provided the correct diagnosis for lung cancer around 90 percent of the time; real doctors on the other hand, got it right only half the time. That doesn’t necessarily mean the computer is smarter than the doctor, because a key difference is the machine never forgets to ask about every possible symptom or test that would identify the exact problem, whereas a human can easily forget a point or two. And the IBM computer could read all the latest journal articles, which would have taken a human 160 hours of reading time per week, not counting all the older articles.


  • Chameleon: The Color Changing Stainless Steel Bottle” is a water bottle that tells you how cold and full it is, by changing color. It’s about $14 on pre-order at Update: This project did not get the necessary funding, but all backers, including us, got their money back.
  •   tells you which products have been recalled for safety or allergy concerns, such as the current fears about Romaine lettuce. Most chain stores do this. You can find your grocery store’s recall list by searching for the store name, along with “product recalls.”
  • has links to free online courses from hundreds of universities. We clicked on “humanities” and noticed that many of the courses had trailers, just like movies. Sample the prof first; some are beyond boring. We watched the trailer for “Magic in the Middle Ages,” offered by the University of Barcelona, in English. There were over a thousand courses just in humanities.
  • Review of A Random Walk on Wall Street.” The site has a great summary of stock market concepts from AsimpleDollar also has guides to the best credit cards, the best loans and the best articles on finance.


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