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Why turn your iPod Touch into an iPhone?
There are many reasons why a consumer may want to turn an iPod Touch into an iPhone. The iPhone may be too expensive, they may not want to switch carriers or they may think they will not use everything the phone has to offer. The iPod Touch is a cheaper alternative to the iPhone.
However, it does not come with a carrier plan that allows it to make or receive phone calls, texts or stay connected to the Internet. This means with a bit of ingenuity, an iPod Touch user can do just about all of the above.
How to use WiFi to stay connected (just about) all the time:
The Apple iPod Touch utilizes WiFi to connect to the Internet. Anytime a user is within a range of a wireless network, they can connect to it and use the Internet, check e-mail, download music and more. Once they are out of range of that network, they will be dropped from it and unable to take advantage of any application that uses it.
The trick to staying connected to the Internet most of the time on the iTouch is to learn how to WiFi hop. WiFi hopping is when a user has a good idea of what hot spots are in a neighborhood. They go from one to the other as they go about the day and stay connected as much as they can. It takes some time, practice and frustration to learn just where WiFi hot spots are in an area. Once an iPod Touch user does, they can stay connected to the Internet almost anytime they leave the house.
Since more and more locations are offering free WiFi hot spots, such as McDonalds, Denny’s and Starbucks, users can stay connected even when passing by. While some of these hot spots will require a username and password, many are free to the public. The easiest way to find hot spots is to use a web service like Jiwire.
Jiwire allows you to search by location and narrow down results. Whenever you are looking for WiFi hotspots, you want to make sure you are looking for free ones. From there, you want to narrow your search to ones within a half mile radius of where you are going.Any further out and you may as well avoid the Internet on a trip.
Jiwire will display your results, and you can weed through them for completely free WiFi, a map of the location and nearby other nearby Wi-Fi hotspots. You can also download an application for your iTouch from Jiwire that will do the same thing.
Maintaining Constant Connectivity
If you’re only using your iPod touch as a home phone, your home Wi-Fi network is really sufficient for handling any incoming calls. If you want to use your iPod touch as a phone outside of your house, however, you really only have two options. The first is accepting that you’re at the mercy of free Wi-Fi and that phone calls are only going to come in when you’re connected. On the plus side, pretty much everywhere you would want to receive a phone call has free Wi-Fi these days (at least in the US, anyway). On the downside, chances are your car isn’t Wi-Fi-enabled. If you need to be able to make and receive calls from your car, a deserted parking lot, when you’re out camping, or any location where Wi-Fi signals won’t reach, you’re going to need some sort of cellular data plan.
If you need constant connectivity, the easiest option is to subscribe for a data plan with a mobile hotspot, which will run you about $60 a month for 5GB (or unlimited, depending on the carrier) of data. Sprint offers the Overdrive, which (in some areas) can provide you with a 4G signal, and Verizon has their very popular MiFi (which only offers 3G). We’re going to look at using the Verizon MiFi with the iPod touch in some real-world situations to see how it stacks up to true iPhone service.
Wait, why is this better?
$10 a month seems pretty reasonable for just Line2 phone service, but if you want constant connectivity, throwing in $70/month for the Verizon MiFi is a lot. How exactly is this better than just buying an iPhone? Well, if you get the cheapest, most limited plan the iPhone offers it’s not—you’d actually be spending $10 more by getting a MiFi and using Line2 on your iPod touch. If you get AT&T’s unlimited plan for iPhone, however, you’d save $45 per month by using a MiFi and Line2 on your iPod touch. Here’s the breakdown:
(Click to enlarge.)
(Click to enlarge.)
If you don’t use your iPhone that much and can stick to the bare minimum, this might not be worth it for you. If you need all the power of an unlimited plan but don’t want to spend $115, pairing a cellular data hotspot with your iPod touch and using Line2 could be a great alternative. Let’s take a look how this configuration worked in real-world scenarios.
Line2 was our app of choice for making 3G VoIP calls on the iPod touch. As a test, I drove from Pasadena to Hollywood, covering areas with both little and heavy traffic (which is about a 90 minute drive for those of you who aren’t familiar with a standard Los Angeles Sunday afternoon). While not a scientific test, this provided a bunch of different situations to gauge how the MiFi handled making a VoIP call while moving long distances at various speeds. I spent some time on the highway, some time on the street, some time not moving at all, and ended up walking around outside for a few blocks as well. Basically, I tested out a variety of situations in which you’d enlist the MiFi for calls.
How did it perform? Both better and worse than an iPhone on AT&T.
The first two things I noticed about making VoIP calls over 3G: the call quality was much better than an iPhone call (it’s really a beautiful thing), but call lag was a little more prominent than it would be if the call was placed on a real iPhone. Dropped calls happened about as much as you’d expect from an iPhone, although they weren’t quite as graceful. Where the iPhone notifies you (with three beeps) when a call is dropped, the iPod touch (using Line2) just pretended the call was still active even though the call had been lost. This isn’t great when you’re in a car because it requires that you look at the screen. On the other hand, the signal was only ever lost on the highway (whereas with an iPhone, in Los Angeles, it can happen virtually anywhere). When I wasn’t roaming around as much, there were times where I couldn’t hear the friend I was talking to and he couldn’t hear me, but unlike an iPhone, the iPod touch (using Line2 and the Verizon MiFi) recovered in a few seconds and continued to work just fine.
The bottom line? For me, the iPod touch with a cellular data hot spot works about as well as an iPhone, and even better when you’re not driving over large distances.
There are three other things to worry about when using a cellular data hotspot as your means of connecting and calling: how data performs, battery life, and pocket-ability.
When connected to the MiFi, data performance on the iPod touch was excellent. It provided speeds that were as fast or faster than AT&T’s network. More importantly, decent speed and connectivity was much more consistent. AT&T’s network didn’t always respond in some areas, but the MiFi performed admirably anywhere it went.
Battery life, however, is a bit of a problem. The iPod touch will last you all day and then some, but the MiFi will not. If you’re lucky, you’ll get four hours out of the MiFi before it quits on you, and a little over three is more likely. On the plus side, you can purchase an extended battery to give you a day’s worth of use, but that’ll set you back an extra $100 and add a bit of bulk to the wonderfully slim MiFi. If you primarily use the MiFi in your car, however, you can always charge it with a USB adapter for your car’s power port.
Another downside to using a MiFi for your connectivity is that you have to carry around and charge two devices. The advantage of having your connection separated from the iPod touch is that you can leave the iPod touch in your pocket and place the MiFi elsewhere, allowing you to get a better signal without having to adjust your position. The MiFi (with the standard battery) is also ridiculously slim. Combined with an iPod touch, they’re about as thick as an iPhone in a case. This isn’t necessarily the most elegant solution, and it’s not without it’s problems, but all of these sacrifices can save you a lot of money on your monthly cellphone bill, so they’re worth some consideration.
The Line2 App is another free app to download and try. After you use it for 30 days, however, you will have to pay $10.00 per month. Using Line2, you have unlimited calling in the US and Canada, as well as unlimited text messages, so paying $10.00 per month is a lot cheaper than any iPhone plan you can find. The SMS app you get with Line2 looks nicer than the iPhone’s message app, too.
Line2 has to run in the background so it can notify you of incoming calls, but you will not even know it is there. When you sign up, they will give you a number that is available in your area code. You also have the option to use an existing number if you want to change completely from your cell phone to your iPod Touch. You can forward calls to other phone numbers if you are not available to take a call, and actually have the option of hitting the Forward button any time someone calls you.
If you plan on using your iPod Touch as a phone for a long while, Line2 is probably your best bet. The low monthly cost does not even compare to what your cell phone bill would be with the iPhone plan added to it.
As you can see, you have many options for turning your iPod Touch into a phone. All of the above apps work great, and it comes down to personal preference as to which one you like best.
Is It Worth It? Pros and Cons
Now that you know your options, the question is really this: is it worth it? Let’s break it down:
- You save a ton of money over paying for an iPhone (or any newer smartphone, really), whether you get a 3G data plan or not.
- Dropped calls are about as frequent as they are on an iPhone.
- Headset features work exactly the same as they do on the iPhone, so the experience feels very similar.
- The high-end iPod touch offers twice the storage as the high-end iPhone (64GB vs. 32GB).
- The iPod touch, bereft of a 3G radio, gets better battery life.
- If you get a cellular data hotspot (like the Verizon MiFi), you can keep your iPod touch in your pocket while placing the MiFi elsewhere for a better signal.
- A lack of cellular reception in your home is completely irrelevant since you can place your calls over Wi-Fi.
- Despite being pretty close, phone features are not quite as seamless on the iPod touch as they are on the iPhone.
- Dropped calls are not as obvious as they are on an iPhone, so it’s not very easy to tell when you’ve lost someone without looking at the screen (bad for the car).
- The iPod touch isn’t built with the intention you’ll use it as a phone, so you need to purchase a headset for it to really shine.
- The iPod touch doesn’t provide a GPS, so you will need to purchase an external GPS unit at an addition cost if you want to use it as a navigation device in your car (although you could try relying on Wi-Fi signal triangulation).
- The iPod touch’s camera isn’t nearly as good as the iPhone 4’s.
- If you want to make calls using a cellular data hotspot (like the Verizon MiFi), you have to carry around two devices.
- If you use a cellular data hotspot, its battery life is pretty poor (only up to four hours). While you can get an extended battery for your hotspot that’ll last the day, it’ll cost you around $100.
Whether or not you’re ready to turn your iPod touch into an iPhone, it’s encouraging to see how far our options have come. What used to be a pretty in-depth process is now as simple as making good use of the right apps. If you can’t afford an iPhone contract or just don’t want to, your iPod touch is now a worthy contender.
Have you turned your iPod touch into an iPhone and have some great tips to share? Let’s hear ’em in the comments!