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Total smartphone noob, in need of phone selection assistance
Hey there, doods and doodettes -
First, a confession: I'm not a mobile phone person. I make 8-10 short calls a week, I live in the 'burbs north of Washington DC, I don't text (ever), and so for the past five years I've relied on a tiny, almost-free, pay-as-you-go Virgin Mobile flip phone. (Go ahead, laugh.)
I take a lot of crap from my friends and coworkers about my POS mobile device, but, hey, it works for me. (Did I also mention I'm a cheapskate?)
I just changed jobs and will be traveling to Iowa and Nebraska once or twice a month. On my first trip there I had no cell service on the road. This is a serious problem, as I need to reach coworkers, managers and the g/f on a regular basis. Some locals told me Verizon is the only carrier in Iowa with reliable service throughout the state. So it looks like I'm going to need a new phone.
I want to resolve this dilemma in the most inexpensive way possible. No $50-60/month data plans, as the job won't pay even a portion of the cost (Ugh!) and, again, I don't use the phone more than absolutely necessary. But I need internet connectivity to look up addresses and directions, receive email, etc. And I want something small enough to carry in my pants pocket, without looking like a deformed porn star.
So what I'm asking you kind and knowledgeable folks is this: How can I best handle this phone and service upgrade on the cheap? Do I buy my own Verizon-compatible phone? Brand/model suggestions would be greatly appreciated (think: basic feature set). Do I opt for prepaid, pay-as-you-go or contract service? I've also heard StraightTalk uses the Verizon towers and is less expensive, though some folks told me they had bad experiences with the company.
Please have pity on a smartphone noob and give me the benefit of your experience. Thank you.