Every parentís dream, every studentís nightmare; itís time to start thinking about going back to school. But letís forget about pencils, notebooks and Kleenex boxes for a bit and focus on whatís truly important: cell phones! This is your back to school guide...HoFo style.
Can You Hear Me Now?
If your school is anything like mine, itís a windowless, cement shrine whose sole purpose (other than to educate the future leaders of the world, duh) is to destroy any amount of cell phone reception attempting to enter the premises. Never before have I seen people go to such lengths in an attempt to send a text message. Students (and teachers) crowd around the few windows we do have, usually on the second floor to boost their already insignificant chance to get a signal, simply so they can do something that the Handbook specifically tells them not to do: use their phone during school hours.
I actually think the construction of our building is a conspiracy. Let me explain. You see, the places that have the most windows happen to be the entryways to the school. Those areas also just happen to be where we have surveillance cameras installed. Putting two and two together (I am a math teacher after all), the administrators now have a net of sorts to catch all the students attempting to use their phones in close proximity to the windows. Smile, youíre on camera!
But I digress, this is supposed to be a guide after all, not the ramblings of an educator. So when it comes to reception, my advice is to test whatever phone you are using, or plan to buy, in the location where youíll (illegally) be using it. Your mobile carrier most likely gives you some sort of return period when you purchase a new phone, so why not actually take advantage of this policy? It may mean setting foot on school grounds, wait for it, BEFORE the first day of school, *insert overly dramatic gasp here*, in order to find out if your device will actually function properly in the surrounding area.
Additionally, it is a known fact that lower frequency cell signals, such as AT&Tís 850 MHz GSM or AT&T and Verizonís 700 MHz LTE bands (vs 1900 or 2100 MHz freqs), are better at penetrating buildings. So sticking to carriers/phones that use those lower frequencies could potentially help keep your mind off history class as you make weekend plans with your pal <enter name here>.
Itís a Matter of Battery Life or Death
Obviously, sitting in a building with little to no cell reception is going to destroy your battery, especially if you have a 4G phone (and Iím talking, the real 4G, as in LTE). LTE eats milliamps like thatís its job, and you need a battery that can handle it. Thereís nothing worse than going to text your BFF after a long day of school just to discover that your phone is completely and utterly lifeless. Here are a few tips to getting as much out of those precious mA as you can.
First, if youíre using a 4G phone, turn off the 4G radio if possible. This option, if available, is usually sitting in the Settings/Network menu somewhere. Personally, I hate doing this because I feel like I paid extra moolah for that super fast data service and darn it Iím going to use it! But on the flip side, if battery is what you crave, 3G will help you save (letís pretend I didnít rhyme that on purpose). In general, 3G phones will have significantly better battery life than 4G phones despite their archaic data speeds. A lot of phones that get awful battery life on 4G will have plenty of juice on 3G. We just arenít quite there yet with 4G technology.
Itís especially important to turn off 4G if you live in a fringe reception area. The only thing potentially worse for your battery than constantly sucking on the 4G teat is making a repeated switcheroo from 3G to 4G and back. If you typically get great signal in your frequently visited locations, yet you experience a fleeting 4G icon, your phone may be a dud; seek medical attention. If youíre all too familiar with seeing one, or worse, no bars of reception, keep it on 3G only and spare your battery. Or stick with 4G and buy a spare battery.
Second, using WiFi for data should help as well, and youíd be surprised how much free WiFi is available in public areas. And then thereís always your 93-year-old neighborís open network, void of anything resembling a password...not that Iíve ever done that before or anything. Another plus to good olí Wireless Fidelity is that it will almost always be faster than your average 3G connection and may only differ slightly from your 4G speeds, depending on location, carrier and phone, of course. Along with keeping Wi-Fi turned on, it canít hurt to turn off bluetooth and GPS, especially if you donít frequently put them to use.
Last, cell phone screens are getting larger and larger and are usually the main culprit when it comes to swallowing your phoneís battery nectar. Minimizing your screen-on time can go a loooong way in keeping your phone alive. This can be an extremely daunting task with a new, shiny cell phone, but if itís battery life you want, youíll have to deal with the daunt (last one, I swear). Additionally, something as simple as lowering your screenís brightness can have a lasting affect on the battery. Keep in mind that a low brightness setting is often better than leaving it at ďautomatic.Ē
Now, I know what youíre thinking, ďWhat if Iím one of those poor, unfortunate souls stuck with a feature phone?Ē Well, youíre in luck! Your lack of 4G (in most cases), WiFi, large screen, data plan, entertaining games, video-watching capabilities and pretty much anything else that makes modern-day cell phones fun should keep your phone on for hours upon hours without a charge. Feel free to have an epic text session with your friends about that thing WhatísHisFace said to SoAndSo and about that one unfairishly long assignment that one teacher gave to that one class that one time. You might even have some juice left over to get your Angry Birds on; oh wait, you canít. Thatís alright, it just eats battery anyway.
Size Does Matter
Youíre in the middle of class, texting your friend across the hall when all of a sudden you notice a shadow - thatís not your own - spilling onto your desk. You donít know how to explain it, but the shadow actually appears angry; you can just feel that something is wrong. 4.7 seconds later, your cell phone is in your teacherís possession and you get the pleasure of elongating your school day by about 30 minutes to give you time to ďthink about what youíve done.Ē
Weíve all gotten caught using our cell phones at inappropriate times, whether in the classroom or elsewhere (I wonít mention my funeral incident). Something to take into account as you head back to school is how easily your phone fits in your pocket (or your binder, or your textbook, or the hood of the sweatshirt of the kid sitting in front of you) and how quickly you can put it there. There are plenty of phones out there that fit the bill of being discreet, but itís important to consider all three dimensions when purchasing a new phone. Just because itís really thin doesnít mean itís height and width are up to par. I would suggest that you try pocketing phones at your local mobile phone shop to get an idea of how theyíll fit, but that might land you in jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. You could always bring an easily pocketable object to the store (like a deck of cards, for example) for comparisonís sake and determine an acceptable phone size from that.
Time after time I see cracked screens on my studentsí phones. Whether itís the result of an unnatural fit of rage or carelessness as you scramble to put the device in your aforementioned peerís hood due to the teacherís looming presence, glass destruction may be in your near future. I find that phones may actually be designed to fall right on one of their four corners - despite simple surface area and probability calculations telling us that is highly unlikely - which will undoubtedly leave you with a wicked collection of cracks in the glass covering the screen of your phone.
I, myself am not a fan of putting anything over the screen of my phone, but I also tend to treat my electronic goodies with utmost care, scarily similar to how Iíd handle a newborn. I also put a lot of faith in the Gorilla Glass that covers the LCD on most phones I use, what with its unworldly scratch resistant powers. Most smartphones nowadays have some sort of uber protective glass as an outer layer, which may lead the majority of you (as it does me) to believe you have no need for extra screen protection. But as you learned in that awkward sex ed. class you were mercilessly forced to take as an adolescent, always use protection! While Gorilla Glass, or similar glasses, are often great at keeping the surface of your phone void of scratches, what they donít tell you is that the anti-oil and reflective coatings packaged with the glass are far less than permanent. Unless youíre fond of an unhealthy dose of face juice constantly covering your screen after those long, arduous phone convos, itíd be best to pop a protector on there. Now, before going out and buying the most expensive one you can find, consider purchasing some cheap ones, Iím talking dollar store cheap, and give yourself some practice time. Have you ever experienced how frustratingly difficult it is to properly apply one of those things? Iím awful at it and have come to the conclusion that I will never be good at it, so Iíve stopped wasting my money on them. But YMMV (thatís ďyour mileage may vary,Ē for the older folk). If youíre feeling extra adventurous, give the new tempered glass screen protectors a try. Theyíll add a comparatively large amount of bulk to the phone, but should offer increased protection.
One last bit of advice on the subject: if you want to prevent scratching your phoneís screen, just be very aware of what is in your pocket, purse, man-purse or bag before throwing your device in there. Something as small as the remaining change from your stolen lunch money - or the paperclip you had used to attach the note to your backpack reminding you to stand up to that bully who stole your lunch money - are enough to leave those annoying, light streaks on your beautiful, previously unscathed screen. Or apply a screen protector and tell those pocket daemons to shove it.
Cases come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from thin, rubbery, form-fitting silicone ones to ginormous, plastic/silicone hybrid cases that could probably survive whatever it was that ended the dinosaurs. The best part about cell phone cases is that you should be able to find one to suit your needs, regardless of your price range. Itís up to you to decide which one best fits your lifestyle, but donít forget about the necessary swiftness of making your phone disappear mid-math class so your teacher, or worse...principal, doesnít end up with it.
No Sugar Added
If youíre like me, you want your phone to be thin. Thereís no point in buying that new pair of hipster skinny jeans if you canít fit your cell in the pockets. And donít even start with the back pocket method; Iím convinced thatís just some crazy form of insurance fraud. You know itís going to get cracked or become toilet bowl fodder when you put it there. Anywho, those of you thickness-conscious people yearning for protection will want to look for cases like the Case-Mate Barely There series or pick up a thin, silicone case that are readily available nearly everywhere, it seems. Bear in mind though, keeping your phone fit and trim has a price: these cases are definitely lacking in protection. They will do a great job preventing scratches, but most likely wonít do much good for any sizable drops.
Perhaps some of you are looking for cases that offer decent protection without making your phone cringe when it looks in the mirror. These cases are the jack of all trades but master of none, the Mario character in Mario Kart. An example of a case that falls in this category is the Otterbox Commuter. It will definitely protect your baby (there I go with the newborn references again) against scratches, bumps, bruises and potentially even some decent-size drops, but what it gains in protection, it also gains in weight, resulting in a hit to your phoneís self-esteem...and the comfort level of your pockets.
Who Needs Jenny Craig?
These are the cases that should make you embarrassed to use your phone in public, but because you now have the ability to chuck it at a cement wall without a care, the size is of little importance. They are as big as they come, but will put your mind at ease when it comes to protecting your mobile device. Some of them will even give your phone the opportunity to go for a leisurely swim free of harm as you get thrown jump by your own volition into the schoolís pool. Be prepared though; these cases are HUGE! Guys, get ready to disappoint the girls by telling them that while you are genuinely happy to see them, it actually is a cell phone in your pocket. Girls, you may need to head to the nearest Coach outlet and upgrade to a larger wristlet to fit your beast of a phone/case combo. Examples of these monstrosities are the Otterbox Defender, cases made by LifeProof and the Case-Mate Tank. If you need all the protection money can buy, and you donít mind if your phone is picked last in gym class, then spring for one of these gigantasaur cases.
Apps, AKA applications, AKA the whole purpose of owning a smartphone in the first place. These are the life of your smartphone. Without apps, your phone is like a Ferrari never being pushed beyond 35 mph or 56.327 km/h (thank you Google search) for the non-American readers. There are smartphone programs out there to do nearly anything you could possibly dream of. Some are extremely useful, some are entertaining, some are just downright annoying, but they all have one thing in common: they make our lives whole.
Alright, in hindsight that last statement may be a tad creepy, but apps are pretty awesome, especially the ones that make your life easier. Believe it or not, there are plenty of them available that might actually help cure the back to school blues, or at the very least alleviate a portion of the back to school pain associated with Back-to-Schoolitis. Here are a few categories of applications that should make your return to academia a most enjoyable experience.
- Notes - note-taking and organization of said notes taken
- Voice-recorder - if taking notes just ainít your thang. I immediately regret typing that.
- Alarms - extra motivation (like you need any) to get up for every joyous day of school
- Graphing calculator - these apps may not replace your TI-84 Plus or Nspire, but youíll make your math teacher so proud!
- eBooks - wonít ever have to worry about leaving your textbook at home; we all know youíd never forget your cell phone...
- Most, if not all of the books youíll end up reading - I use that term loosely - in English class are available (psst, plus their CliffsNotes)
- More and more textbook publishers are jumping on the digital bandwagon, but for now itís really only applicable to college texts
- Automation - automatically adjusts your phone; the ultimate app for those of us that are slightly lazy forgetful
- turn ringer off when arriving at school and back on when leaving (YOUR TEACHERS WILL THANK YOU, BELIEVE ME!!)
- activate WiFi as soon as you get home
- decrease screen brightness when battery is low
- etcetera x 1,000,000 - the possibilities are endless (well, not technically...we could actually calculate the exact number of possibilities, but Iíll save that for another day)
There you have it. You are now 100% ready for the new school year, after a quick, insignificant trip to the local office supplies retailer, that is. Once you pick up the pieces of the phone you just hurled at the wall because you ran into a tree with 999,997 points in Temple Run, head over to the nearest cell phone emporium and make all the important preparations for the imminent first day of school. Good luck this year, and pay attention in math class!!