I Finally Got Smart

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My regular readers know that I jumped on the bandwagon late — I’ve only been using a cell phone for about ten years.

Over the past decade, I’ve used 4 or 5 different cell phones — all of them were pay-as-you-go Tracfones.

And all of them were dumb phones.

Then, more than a year-and-a-half ago, my ministry suddenly expanded exponentially, when I began spending up to 80 hours each week, free of charge, helping a couple that I know raise their great-granddaughter — a task that continues to this day.

At first, I did it to help out my friends, out of obedience to what I believed was the leading of the Holy Spirit, but that sense of obedience soon turned to joyful love, as I quickly grew to love her as if she were my own daughter, so I was very happy to become a surrogate father to her.

I used to carry my camera with me, and used it to shoot dozens of high-quality videos of that sweet baby — but it turned out to be too much trouble to carry it and try to use it while also carrying and looking out for a small child.

So I started using my dumb phone’s built-in camera instead.

In fact, as of this writing, I’ve shot 135 videos of her on my cell phone.

Unfortunately, the maximum video resolution on that phone is only 320×240 pixels. So videos look decent on the phone’s tiny screen, but they look blurry and grainy when I enlarge them to any “normal” size on a computer screen.

And, when I checked, I discovered that the only cell phones that Tracfone offered that shot video in higher resolution were Android smartphones.

So I did several nights worth of research on Android smartphones — looking for the smallest one that would have decent video resolution.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I finally became a smartphone owner, when I bought a Tracfone Android smartphone, on the Tracfone Web site.

It’s a refurbished LG Optimus Fuel (L34C) running Android 4.4 (KitKat). It looks brand new, but it cost me only $10. It’s only about 1/2-inch longer than my dumb phone, but it allows me to shoot videos of my now-2-year-old protegee at 800×480 resolution.

Of course, because it’s an Android phone, and Google owns Android, as soon as I turned it on, it displayed a registration form and asked me to set up an account with Google.

But, being a user-privacy advocate, and having “broken up” with Google a few years ago, I didn’t want to share any of my personal information with that company. So I just left all of those registration boxes empty and clicked on “Submit” — and my new phone started right up without any Google registration!

As soon as I powered it up, I went into its settings and disabled its GPS and Location services.

After using it to shoot nice, sharp videos for a few days, I figured out how to securely enable Wi-Fi on my home’s router. Then I configured my new phone to use Wi-Fi to securely connect to my router. From that point on, I could access the Internet on my smartphone for free, for as long as I wanted, using only Wi-Fi — both at my home, and by using the Wi-Fi connections in the homes of trusted friends.

Using only Wi-Fi, I installed an app called Disable Manager, and used it to completely disable 31 of my phone’s Google apps and services (and both of its built-in GNSS services). Then I hid all of their icons.

Then, using only free app sites like F-Droid and Fossdroid — but completely avoiding the Google Store, Google Play, Google Market, or whatever else they call it — I installed and tested several different types of completely free apps, to find the best ones for me to use. I ended up choosing an extremely accurate, easy to use, musical instrument tuner called DaTuner Lite — it’s excellent for tuning my Taylor 12-string guitar; a 6-voice, vocal looper (LoopStation); a file manager (ES File Explorer); and an offline, searchable street map of the entire state of Florida (Map.Me).

I also went into my phone’s language and input settings, and disabled its autocorrect/autocomplete features, because I was tired of them constantly, automatically, and incorrectly changing almost everything that I typed — including URLs and search terms.

I also installed Firefox for Android (Web browser), but I uninstalled it when I saw that it’s very big, it doesn’t have a “home page” feature, and many of its other features work very differently than they do in desktop Firefox. So I’m using my phone’s built-in AOSP (Android Open Source Project) browser (called “Browser”), instead of the also-built-in Google Chrome browser, which I disabled.

You haven’t really lived until you’ve seen the full glory of this site’s home page reduced to fit onto a 3.8-inch screen.

I also copied dozens of children’s songs (mp3 files) from my old phone to my new one. My little surrogate daughter loves singing along with every word of every song, and my smartphone has a better sounding speaker than my old phone.

One of these days, I’m going to call Tracfone and have them activate my new smartphone’s telephone service — and transfer my existing cell phone number and all of my existing Tracfone minutes to it from my dumb phone.

But, in the meantime, I’m having a ball with my new smartphone every day! It’s really a cool, fun little computer, even without any Google stuff running on it — and even before I ever activate it as a telephone!

Update, December 24, 2015: A few days ago, I installed the Pale Moon Web browser (a fork of Firefox) and UBlock Origin (an ad-blocker). The combination of those two really sped up the small amount of Web browsing that I do on my phone (always through Wi-Fi, so far).

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