How I used my smartphone during a trip to D.C.

I have traveled occasionally to larger cities — namely New York City and D.C. — since I was a kid. But earlier this week, for the first time in my life, I traveled to a big city with a smartphone (specifically, a Droid Incredible). And I couldn’t have been more satisfied.

Having a smartphone during an adventure to a large, relatively unknown city can be a life-saver or, at the very least, a trip-saver. For example, I used my phone in a few different ways during my two-day trip.

Kevin and I at the Washington Monument in D.C.

1. Looked up the Metro map (and other important maps).

This one is obvious. Having ridden the NYC subway on multiple occasions, the London Underground a few times and the DC. Metro once or twice before the trip, I consider myself familiar with how they operate, although certainly not an expert. But those initial moments in the Metro when we couldn’t find directors or a map are stressful. Luckily, my trusty smartphone was there to help Kevin and I find our way to downtown DC from Arlington!

2. Found addresses for local attractions.

The National Mall is a wonderful place to visit. It’s chock full of history, and visitors can easily access more than 10 intriguing museums for free. However, finding a place to eat in this tourist-y area can pose a challenge. It’s not quite the same as places like Times Square or Buckingham Palace, where there tends to be at least 10 places to eat on each block (or so it feels). So what’s a hungry tourist to do when feet grow tired and stomachs grow ornery? I used FourSquare and Google to find places. That’s not to say we didn’t use a little exploration of our own to find a refreshment stand with hot dogs, but FourSquare’s explore feature made it fairly easy to find restaurants within walking distance.

3. Took quality photos.

Now that it’s all said and done, Kevin and I probably have three sets of pictures: a set he was taking on my point-and-shoot camera, a set I took on my phone and a set he took on his phone. Naturally, we each had common photos we wanted, for which we used the camera. However, photos he wanted he used his camera and photos I wanted I used mine. Then, we uploaded our photos to Facebook and tagged each other. Voila – no way we will forget this trip!

4. Stayed in touch with friends and family.

Sharing photos with folks back home is not enough; smartphones allow you to actually engage with friends and family while on your trip. This

means Kevin’s mom could easily let us know that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial had just opened to the public so we could be among the first to see the newly carved monument. It also meant nearby family I had forgotten to inform of our visit could give me a shout to say, “Hey, what’s the big idea, not calling me when you’re so close?” Whoops!

5. Engaged with local advertisements to receive discounts.

Finally, anyone who has ridden the D.C. Metro has likely seen advertisements for the International Spy Museum. The first  couple times I saw them, I thought, “Oh, that’s kind of neat.” The ads asked passersby to figure out codes and text the clues.  Toward the end of the last day, I caved and texted my answer to them. I had to play with the spacing to get it right, but eventually I received $5 off admission to the Museum. And if we had been there just one more day, we would have used it! Next time Kevin and I venture to the Capital, I’m sure we’ll visit the Museum not because of the $5 off, but because of the impression the interactive advertising left on both of us (me a marketer and he an accountant).

So, I ask: How have you used your smartphone on a recent vacation? Or do you prefer to leave your phone at home and have a true adventure?

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Smart Shopping for a Smart Phone: Part 2

First of all, sorry for being so slow on getting this post up. Those few days between Christmas and the New Year can really get to you quickly!

For the second part of my three-part smart shopping plan, I’ll discuss researching options.  Once you have an idea of what you want it’s time to start shopping around at different locations. The research phase can be separated into two distinct parts: primary methods and secondary methods.

Secondary Research Methods

As you probably know, secondary research means using information others have gathered about something — smartphones, in this case. Here are a few places to start researching smartphones online:

Carriers, Operating Systems & Specific Phones


Once you’ve done the research and matched your desired features with that of a few top choices, it’s time to delve into more specific research. For example, I narrowed my choices down to three: the Droid X, Droid Pro and Droid Incredible.

Primary Research Methods

I would suggest two main primary research actions: Talk to people and test devices.

Talk to People

This one may seem obvious, but communicate your interest and request feedback on as many channels as possible. For example, if you ask your Facebook friends, “What kind of smartphone do you have and do you like it?,” ask your Twitter followers (and friends on other networks) the same question or something similar. This will make it more likely you’ll get feedback.

Also, don’t forget about good ol’ face-to-face or telephone conversation. Ask tech- and/or mobile-savvy friends and family members what they think. Mentally compile all these opinions to help with your own decision.

Test Devices

I’m a big believer in seeing is believing, or, in this case, touching is liking (or disliking). Feeling a phone’s buttons and seeing what you can do with your own eyes will prove more helpful than any other research tactic.

Also, if you visit the carrier’s store or a tech-based store like Best Buy, you can talk with the sales people. Best Buy is a good place because they don’t really have any official ties with a specific phone or carrier besides perhaps the one they have.  Also, don’t feel pressured to buy right when you’re shopping around. Ask any questions to sales people and have them “pitch” certain phones to you, then think about it for a day or two.

During your device-testing phase, you can also compare prices, but don’t forget to look online, too. For example, when I was looking to buy a smartphone from Verizon, I first went to the Verizon store, where my choice phone cost $149.99 after a $100-mail-in rebate. When I came home, I looked up the phone at Walmart and Best Buy, both of which had the exact same phone for free with the purchase of a two-year contract, something I planned to get anyways.

I ended up buying my phone through Best Buy (over Walmart) because of Best Buy’s Walk Out Working service, meaning they helped me set up my phone through my carrier and everything, so I walked out texting my friends and checking my email.

Bonus tip

When shopping around and testing devices, be sure to ask sales people or friends about extra charges you may receive so you can prepare accordingly. There’s nothing worse for having to pay for something you thought was free or that you didn’t know you would be charged for.

Stay tuned for Smartphone Shopping Part 3: Purchasing and Following Up with Your Decision

Smart Shopping for a Smartphone: Part 1

Before you can even begin to look at what smartphone options are available, you have to have at least a general idea of what you want.

To do this, ponder two main points:

  1. Identify your reason for buying a smartphone versus a feature phone. How could owning a smartphone benefit you and your life?
  2. Decide what you need your smartphone to do for you.

Then, ask yourself what features are most important for you to have. Some question examples include:

  • Am I or do I plan to be heavily involved in social media tools through my smartphone?
  • How important is the camera aspect of the smartphone to me?
  • How often do I plan to charge my smartphone battery?
  • How much do I plan to talk per day on my smartphone?
  • How much do I plan to text per day?
  • How much do I plan to surf the web or check e-mail through my smartphone?
  • Do I need something ultra-thin?
  • Do I need a slide-out keyboard or would something virtual work?
  • Would I use a GPS feature from my phone?
  • Would I benefit from having a phone that is also a personal WiFi hotspot?
  • How important are apps to me?
  • Would I use my smartphone frequently for work-related purposes?

Continue reading “Smart Shopping for a Smartphone: Part 1”

Smart Shopping for a Smartphone: Introduction

While about 70 percent of American cell phone owners still have feature phones, smartphone ownership is expected to rise and perhaps even overtake features phone ownership by 2011’s Q3.

After two years of owning and having few qualms with my LG Chocolate 3, I am more than ready to join the age of the smartphone. Continue reading “Smart Shopping for a Smartphone: Introduction”