For those of you who follow my blog (all both of you), you know that I am very interested in how technology can be used in the ministry of Lutheran Bible Translators. So far I have been working primarily with Apple and Microsoft devices, but I am now jumping into the world of Android.
As I have written previously, I like to look at two types of new technology. (1) Some new developments may be beneficial to our work and so I want to try it out and see if this is a direction that I should recommend for others to use. (2) Some types of technology are already used all around me and I need to better understand it so that we can make better use of it (one of my points for why missionaries should have a smart phone).
You could say that the Galaxy S4 fits in both categories. (1) It is a high end device that provides a lot of capabilities for a mobile platform. That supports a many interesting possibilities for our work. (2) When I first started seeing smart phones and tablets in Ghana they are were mostly Apple devices. That was because it was mostly the rich who could afford them and Apple was the premium option. More recently I am seeing a LOT of Android devices. Samsung owns the high end of the market, but many cheap devices from Rlg and TECNO are becoming prevalent.
Western economies are living with BYOD (bring your own device) for work, but in Africa we very well may be seeing BYOD for scripture engagement. For many years the primary product of Bible Translation has been a printed Bible. To prepare for this we work on other printed materials from literacy primers to short stories and Bible excerpts. Audio scripture from organizations like Faith Comes by Hearing are done after the printed Bible is available. If people already have a smart phone, that opens up a lot of possibilities for audio, video, text, and interactivity.
Almost a year ago I came to the realization that it was time to replace my second hand abused old iPhone 3G with an Android phone. Over time I came up with a list of requirements:
- MicroSD: Most phones in Africa have MicroSD card slots from the cheap Nokia dumb phones to high end smart phones. Internet is expensive and not always available so MicroSD has become a preferred means of sharing audio and video material.
- Upgradeable OS: One of the things that has kept me away from Android in the past is the fragmentation of the market. Each device has a version of Android setup specifically for it for an “optimal” user experience. The problem is that when a new version of Android is released it can be months before your phone is upgraded, if ever. I wanted to make sure that I always had the latest version without too much trouble. Vanilla Android would be a bonus because I wouldn’t be depending on features that were unique to my phone. Whatever I tried out should be transferable to any Android phone.
- High-end: I really struggled over this requirement. The point of the phone was so that I would know what was possible and practical for those around me to be able to do. That seemed counter intuitive if they have low-end phones and I have a high-end phone. In the end it came down to three things. (1) I needed to love my phone and use it a lot so that I really could think of better ways to use it for scripture engagement. This point was really driven home earlier this year when I had a colleague who used their phone for everything and I noticed that I was using mine for only a few basic things. I also noticed that I have had a lot of ideas for how to use mobile devices mainly because I love using my iPad and now the Surface. (2) New ideas take time to implement. If I have an idea of how we could better use the technology, by the time that everything is worked out to do it the low-end phones around me may actually be good enough to do the new thing. But I need to be able to test it out now. So I need a phone that can handle whatever I want to try. (3) I don’t want to upgrade very often, so the phone has to last me a long time.
- Replaceable battery: There is something about West Africa that just kills batteries, a problem I have had with all kinds of devices. When I received my hand-me-down iPhone I had to replace the battery and went through the annoying and terrifying experience of cracking open the device and hoping I wasn’t breaking anything.
- Locally Common: This was not so much a requirement as a hope. I wanted a phone that was not uncommon in my area. That would make a little easier to transfer the knowledge of what I was doing with my device to somebody else. It hopefully would not stand out too much, and it would be easier to buy accessories like a spare battery or to replace my case.
I would love to say that I made my list of requirements and then started my search, but that is usually not the way that things happen. It is during the search process that you refine your list. I was initially very interested in the Nexus 4. It met my top two requirements at the time (2 & 3 now) and was at a very nice price point. Then Samsung announced the Galaxy S4 which was well advertised all over Ghana. I even got my hands on one to play with it in a store in Accra a few days before it was supposed to be available globally. By that time my list of requirements was what you see above and it met all of them except for number 2.
While I was having an inner battle deciding between the Nexus 4 and the Galaxy S4, Google announced the S4 Google Edition. All 5 requirements met…decision made!
As I write this post I have now had the S4 Google Edition for about 48 hours. Within two hours of turning the phone on I was on Android 4.3, the latest version which very few other phones have available (even the Moto X which Motorola/Google just released). The screen is amazing and I am already doing way more with it than I ever did with my iPhone 3G (some of that may be because I had to be within 6 inches of my router, totally not exaggerating, for the wireless to work, so anything online was out). The one slight bummer is that since it is stock Android I do not get some of the cool new features that the official S4 has like waving my hand in front of it and special camera features. That being said, that was part of the reason that I chose this phone and so have already been finding alternatives.
I am sure that I will be posting more about how this experiment goes. In the mean time, are you in the market for a smart phone? Do any of my requirements ring true for you? What did you decide and why? Post in the comments below.