Cell phones became real popular about ten years ago. It seemed that everyone was getting one. Those little cell phone antennas morphed out of the back windows on cars. Many people developed a permanent crook in the left arm as a result of the preferred method of talking while driving. Things were moving fast. I wasn’t.
What did I need a cell phone for? I had my ham radio license and there was always a 2-meter transceiver in my car. If there was an emergency I could get help easily. I remember the time my little Escort was slammed from the back at a stop light. The collision jetted the car some 25 feet forward, right in the middle of the intersection. I instantly got on the radio and broke into a conversation on a repeater. I asked if someone might call the police for me. They did. Within minutes patrol cars from Coventry and West Warwick were on the scene (there was a dispute as to which town I was in). Of course I did come to realize that it would not always be that easy to get help. But then there was still that high price for the phone and the service that dissuaded me from joining the crowd.
Then Virgin Mobile offered a cell phone for only $25.00 and $20.00 every 3 months thereafter. How could I refuse that much technology and safety for such a small price? That first phone was the Kyocera (who ever heard of them?) model K9 (Rave). It had a full keyboard like an ordinary telephone, a small antenna, and a miniscule display (1-1/4 x 3/4″). But it worked! Every call cost $0.25 per minute. If you spoke more than 10 minutes in one day, the cost per minute was reduced (I almost never reached the magic 10 minute number). All was good until the battery finally gave up. A new battery, including shipping, was $25.00. Or, I could upgrade to a new phone (battery included) for $15.00. That is when I purchased the Kyocera Marbl (K127). This was a flip phone with a slightly larger 1.5″ display. This one served me well until I found out about a cell phone company that did not charge on a call-by-call basis but allowed you to purchase time that you could roll over if you did not use it all. I made the switch to Tracfone.
My first Tracfone was a very cool LG800G. It has a design that is sometimes called the candy bar shape. It had three buttons at the bottom for dealing with telephone calls. It also has a touch sensitive screen for working with things like texting and playing MP3 music. The LG even has a low resolution camera that is there when you need it. Unfortunately there are no provisions for uploading images to social media. It did not have any voice dialing or voice recognition (something that my low tech Kyocera had). But, you could get on the Internet with this phone and run a very limited number of Java apps. I did pick up my email a couple of times. Usually it took 3-5 minutes to log on (if a really good signal was present). After a while I just gave up on that function. Also, this phone was not able to make calls from my home. The carrier signal (AT & T) was not strong enough. It would handle texts from home, though. Another plus was that it supported Bluetooth. Using Bluetooth I was able to make it hook up with an iKross Bluetooth speaker in the car. This allowed almost hands-free communication. My wife got one of these phones too and she uses it in her new Volkswagen. It hooked up with the Bluetooth there too and she can do voice dialing (I could not) because of extra features of the system that comes with the car.
The LG served well enough for a while. I kept searching for a true smart phone in the Tracfone stable. The LG800G was very limited in the smart phone area. It could not even support WiFi! Then I heard that Tracfone was offering two new phones that were true smart phones, the Samsung Galaxy Centura and the ZTE Valet (who ever heard of ZTE?).
I looked at the specifications for both phones. I looked at all the deals. I looked at the Valet that my friend Arthur purchased. I finally decided to accept the offer from Home Shopping Network (HSN). It was too good to pass up. I bought the ZTE Valet Model Z665C. This is a true Android (ver. 4.1) smart phone. It is also the same size as my son’s Apple iPhone 4. It was almost too good to be true!
Let’s get right to it. This is the best cell phone I have owned. It can do just about anything. The Valet is a full Android phone. That means that it can run just about any Android app as found on the Google Play Store. My friend Art has a Google Nexus (real nice tablet). He claims that the Valet runs just like the Nexus, only smaller.
I can tell you from experience that this phone is every bit as fast or faster than my iPad when it comes to running apps, checking e-mail, and watching videos. It’s resolution is far from that of an iPad or iPhone, but at $99.00 including shipping and 600 minutes of talk, 600 of texting, plus 600 of data, it is a steal! (some places sell the phone for $75, but you don’t get the 600 minutes, a $40 value; HSN rocks!).
Let’s just enumerate a few of the things I like about this phone:
- It makes calls from just about anywhere in my house, even if it indicates low signal strength. Verizon is the carrier.
- I can connect with my WiFi router from anywhere in the house or from outside on the deck.
- It integrates all of my email so I have instant access to my Yahoo and Google accounts.
- I can voice dial again! (a three-step process: hit the icon, speak the contact name, hit the call button).
- I can make a separate page with photos of all my contacts on it. By clicking on any photo I can then call the contact.
- The included camera (3 Megapixel) gives truly acceptable images. I can directly upload the images to social media (Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, etc.).
- I can now read bar codes! Although the camera is fixed focus, I found an app (pic2shop) that does a fair job of scanning and reading the codes for many items. It is tricky to work and not always successful but at least it is a start.
- It has GPS and thus can track you, even offline, so you can use mapping software (free).
- It is a full-featured MP3 player.
- I can watch You Tube or Netflix on it
- I can read my Kindle books or other e-books on it (the display really is nice for reading).
- It comes with a 4GB microSDHC card and can support up to a 32GB card. That’s a huge number of photographs, MP3′s, instruction manuals, movies, etc. I just love room to expand!
- It has a dedicated camera release button
This phone is super-cool. The activation process can be a bit daunting, though. I activated it easily enough. I got all the 600 minutes of airtime promised (all airtime cards you purchase are tripled, by the way). I also got the 811 minutes that were on my old LG transferred. It took about 20 hours for the old telephone number to port over. At that time I was able to make calls easily. I did have a couple of problems. HSN gave me a PIN number to use for applying the 600 minutes (200 minute card tripled). I went online and logged into my Tracfone account. There was my old LG800G phone (deactivated). The new phone did not show up on my account! I had no way of putting the PIN for the minutes in. How did I get around this? I just loaded the Tracfone app, My Account, onto the phone. I was able to add the PIN through the app which did recognize my phone. Later I called Tracfone about the problem. It seems that the new phone was accidentally put on a new account. The very polite operator (Jonathan) transferred the new phone to my old account and all was well. It appeared where it belonged and was ready to accept the PIN for any cards I might purchase. The service was very fast and courteous! If you need help from Tracfone just call the special number, 800-876-5753. It works like a charm. The link brings you to a listing of good numbers to call.
What apps am I running? Here is a short list. Some of these I purchased (cheap, $1-$3 each). Others were included with the phone.
- Camera, Gallery, Instagram, Flickr
- Email, Gmail, Notepad, Play Store
- Echofon (Twitter app), ebay, YouTube, Dropbox
- Amazon, Amazon Kindle, Tunein Radio, C-SPAN Radio
- QST, Morse Trainer (the best Morse code program around!)
Prior to purchasing this phone I posted a message on one of the boards that reviews cell phones. I asked some questions. Nobody answered. I had other questions too. I bought the phone anyways. So here are the questions and the answers:
Q Is it possible to place dialing shortcuts consisting of contact photographs on the phone display? A: Yes
Q Can you voice dial with this phone? A: Yes
Q When texting, can you enter text by just talking into the phone while the phone writes what you say? A: Yes! It works great. I speak and it writes. It gets some things wrong but it is about 90% right on. You can make edits with the keyboard before sending. A text that took me 3 minutes or more to write on the LG now takes about 20 seconds!
Q What do the photographs that this thing takes look like? I can’t find any examples on the Internet. A: I uploaded my own examples (3 of them so far) on Flickr. Just click the link and look at them. The picture of the wheelbarrow you see here was taken with the Valet. The pictures look pretty good to me.
Q Is it possible to take screen shots and if so how? A: Yes. Press the ‘down volume’ and ‘power’ buttons at the same time. That easy.
Q Is it possible to turn off the mobile data mode so the phone only connects with the G3 system when you want it to? A: Yes. This is an easy button push from the Settings app. This way you don’t ending up wasting away your online time when the apps try to do automatic updating or a button is pushed by accident.
Q How fast is this thing and how much do they charge for online access? A: Very fast and I am used to using an iPad daily. The screen is also very sensitive, way better than the clunky LG800G. Online costs? I activated the online mobile G3 while a passenger in my wife’s car. I retrieved all of my Yahoo email. I then downloaded 9 photographs into the phone from attachment files on one of the emails. Then I logged off. I did all this in about 3 minutes or so. My data account was reduced by 0.8 points (I have over 1,400 in there). I have not experimented further. That was good enough for me.
So, I think this phone is great (did you notice that?). I have most of the features of my son’s iPhone 4 (including a large 3.5″ screen) that he pays about $89 per month for. You can buy the phone outright for about $450 but if you don’t buy a monthly plan, what good is it? At any rate, if his phone was free he would still pay over $1,070.00 per year.
How does iPhone pricing comare with the ZTE Valet? The initial purchase price from HSN is $99.00 including shipping and 600 minutes of phone, text, and data. It has triple minutes for life (Pay As You Go plan). Buy a 60 minute card for $20 and you get 180 minutes, and 90 days activation. You must purchase at least one 60 minute card every 3 months. That comes out to a minimum yearly outlay of about $88.00 (there are some taxes on top of the $20.00). If you are a low data user and caller (as I am) your expenses are very low. I pay less in one year than my son pays in one month. I have the option of paying more at any time I feel short. I have had Tracfones for several years now and have never needed to purchase excess time. That is my usage style. Your style may be different. The ZTE Valet is worth a try!
Does the phone have any shortcomings? Sure it does. But they are easily overshadowed by its advantages. For more details about what it can do I suggest you download the manual and check it out. Also feel free to ask me questions by way of this blog and I will respond here.
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