Americans love their cell phones (mobile phones to my British readers). At least I assume they must, or they wouldn't be prepared to lock themselves into 2-year contracts at $60-80 a month per phone in order to possess one. Bought without a 2-year contract attached, some phones cost up to $700.
Of course cell phones these days may also incorporate cameras (but not very good ones), MP3 players (but not very good ones), radios (but not very good ones), and GPS satellite navigation systems (but not very good ones), internet access (but not very good access). They may also include (or allow you to purchase) applications (apps) to do a myriad of other things from telling you the weather to translating into Spanish.
I don't require any those things in my phone as I already have a digital camera, iPod, radio, Garmin GPS, and broadband access (in the house). I just want to be able to talk and occasionally text, so my current phone is the cheapest lightest Pay-as-you-Go phone Beth could find for me. which I mostly use as a portable alarm clock.
I've owned four different mobile phones in my life. The first was a Philips, and I signed up with Orange (on my eldest brother's advice) as it was the only Pay-as-you-Go system that didn't steal my unused minutes at the end of each "billing" period. You bought minutes, and used them until you ran out, when you bought some more. In the UK then (and quite possibly now) you got charged less for calls on the same network, so I soon gave the Philips to my parents (they used it for years) and switched to a Nokia 3210, which was very nice but didn't ring very loudly and had no vibrate alarm, so I missed calls on the rare occasions I ever got one. You could write your own ringtone using Nokio shorthand, a feature I made great use of, and miss. I had that phone for years until I lost it (it turned up years later in the box of a boardgame), and replaced it with the closest thing I couild find, another Nokia, with vibrate and a louder ring. I used that until I left the UK, and I was still on only my second minutes top-up in years.
The phone and "non-contract" contract Beth found for me here is another Nokia, with service provided by T-Mobile. I paid $20 for the phone and an initial $100 for airtime, which gave me 1 year of service without further topping up and approximately 1000 minutes. Note that 1000 minutes is considered miserly by some users, and is the minimum offered by some non-contract providers for a month. A month. I used 300 minutes (combined talk and text charges) in a year.
I've just topped up my phone minutes, not because I needed more minutes but because my year's service was going to end, and added $10. That extends my coverage for another year, and leaves me $80 airtime (about 700 minutes)
On our arrival in Eugene just over a year ago Beth chose to get a Pay-as-you-Go through Fred Meyer, because when we first arrived we bought a lot of stuff there (including our kitchen table & chairs and our reclining chairs), and that gave her loads of free minutes. Unfortunately the service provider was Sprint, and their coverage didn't quite reach our Sweetwater house, limiting the usefulness of the phone, so Beth recently bought a new phone and switched to T-Mobil. That is the third phone she has ever owned.
I should also mention that in the US, in some mis-directed Victorian Throwback way that I still can't quite fathom, you are charged for both calls you make and calls you receive. In the UK it is a long established tradition that the person who intiates a call pays for it. Quite how the mighty US public (and the Govermnet that protects them against big business bullies) allowed the phone giants to inflict this scam is a mystery, but the result is that when you receive a "junk mail" phone call, it is using up your precious airtime, and families who call each other a lot (presumably because they don't meet at any time) use up their minutes at double the rate.
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