A few months ago I wrote about using Google Voice and a dumbPhone to unplug from my iPhone during the evenings and on weekends. I started doing this in response to the types of distraction discussed recently in this great talk by Joe Kraus.
Lately, I’ve refined my techniques and also become pretty religious about ditching the smartphone outside of work hours when I don’t anticipate needing it. This has been great and I find that time spent with friends and family is a lot more focused and a lot less fragmented.
While this post focuses mainly on the technology I’m using, I’ve come to really value my “dumbPhone weekends” and the other time I spend without a smartphone. That said, it is difficult to go off the grid completely, so while my setup helps keep me from filling up every spare moment with some sort of distraction, it also keeps me reachable when I want to be. Here are the key features:
- I can receive calls on my dumbPhone no matter which one of my numbers the caller dials (Google Voice number or iPhone)
- I only have one voicemail box to keep track of
- I can receive text messages sent to either my iPhone or Google Voice number when I’m using my dumbPhone, but only when I want to
The components of my setup are:
- Google Voice
- My dumbPhone, a Motorola RAZR v3xx (prepaid on AT&T)
- My smartphone, an iPhone 4S (jailbroken)
- biteSMS, an iOS text messaging app
Google Voice is the central component and it does two main things for me. One, it gives me a number that directs calls to all my phones, including my iPhone and my dumbPhone. The other thing it does is consolidate my voicemail by replacing the standard carrier voicemail on both my iPhone and my dumbPhone. This second item is important because while I mainly give out my Google Voice number, plenty of people also have the number to my iPhone and they tend to call it. To avoid missing important calls when leaving the iPhone behind, I forward it to the dumbPhone and if a forwarded call goes unanswered it ends up in the same Google Voice mailbox as if the caller had dialed my GV number or reached my iPhone. Having one voicemail box is great, particularly given all of Google Voice’s features.
For my dumbPhone, I bought a 2006-era GSM Motorola RAZR v3xx on eBay. I selected this phone for several reasons. First off, I knew how to use it as I had used a v3i during the early 2000’s. Additionally, this v3xx is GSM and unlocked which gives me carrier flexibility and they also charge conveniently with a standard mini-USB cable (plus, I already have a car charger). The v3xx is also 3G, which is important now that AT&T is phasing out 2G coverage.
When I first got the v3xx, I used it with T-Mobile’s prepaid service but later switched to AT&T since the voicemail on T-Mobile prepaid accounts cannot be forwarded to Google Voice. This limitation created the hassle of either an additional voicemail box to keep track of when calls forwarded from the iPhone went unanswered or no voicemail box at all, which when I tried it confused and sometimes irritated callers. Using AT&T, this is a non-issue as AT&T voicemail can be forwarded to Google Voice. To avoid another opportunity for confusion, I also set the dumbPhone to block its number on outgoing caller ID. I rarely use it to place calls, but when I do, this prevents anyone from getting ahold of the dumbPhone’s number and then potentially getting frustrated when they try to reach me on it later and it’s not with me. I am generally very happy with the RAZR v3xx, though it did help reveal the depths of my smartphone distraction – sometimes when carrying it, I’ll take it out of my pocket, flip it open and check it, even though I know full well there is nothing on it to check.
My smartphone is an iPhone 4S. It’s a great phone and features all of the distractions this whole setup was devised to rid me of. It is also jailbroken, which means I can use, among other apps, biteSMS, which is a feature-rich replacement for iMessage. One of biteSMS’s features is SMS auto-forwarding. This is useful when I want to receive both forwarded calls and text messages on my dumbPhone. Google Voice can also be configured to forward text messages. Between biteSMS and Google Voice’s text messaging features I can opt-in or out of receiving texts on the dumbPhone depending on what I’m planning to do. Were I to reply to a biteSMS-forwarded text message from the dumbPhone, this might confuse the original sender as replying number would be unknown. So, I usually just call people back in response to texts. Replying to a text sent to my Google Voice number displays that number, so there’s no confusion.
The key refinement from my original setup is forwarding calls from the iPhone to the dumbPhone without any voicemail issues and also forwarding texts sent to the iPhone. So, while it has a more things to keep track of (mainly the forwarding toggles), this refined setup lets me switch seamlessly between my iPhone and my dumbPhone depending on my situation and needs with no impact on the people that might try to call or text me. And while that is great, the key benefit of the setup and the resulting dumbPhone weekends is being able to unplug and get out from under the many distractions of a smartphone, while still being easily reachable.
Update (December 8, 2012): I learned that I can have phone calls to my iPhone forwarded to my dumbPhone automatically simply by configuring Google Voice to “Ring my other phones before going to voicemail” for the dumbPhone under “Show advanced settings.” This eliminates the need to toggle call forwarding on the iPhone, instead I just turn it off (to lessen the number of rings before my dumbPhone starts ringing). Neat.