The Amateur Amateur: Phone versus Radio

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
April 2021

New and old phones
New phone (left) and disintegratihng phone (right)

Just so you don't get the wrong idea, I am not going to discuss the merits of Amateur Radio transceivers over mobile phones or vice versa. They each have their own individual functions, only occasionally crossing paths. No, what I am going to talk about is usage, specifically the ease and difficulty in using these two means of communication.

What is Gary raving about now, you are asking yourself. Comparing the two is pointless. Mobile phones are made for the masses, ham radios aren't. It's obvious which is easier to use.

Well, at one time I would have agreed with you. Amateur Radio transceivers required entering frequencies, offsets, tones and so forth. Mobile phones only required you to punch in some numbers or just say, “Hello?”

Ah, but that was before they started marketing smartphones.

“So?” you say. “Everyone has a smartphone. They can't be all that difficult to use.”

Forgive me, but they may be easy to use once they are properly configured, but getting there is unbelievably complicated.

Or is it just me?

Let me go back to the beginning.

I started with a simple cell phone. It was a “slider” (that is, you activated it by sliding it open, unlike the flip-open Star Trek communicator types). I had this model because that's what my wife wanted. We both got the same model and the same phone service provider. My phone was so small that it could easily hide in my fist. Generally speaking, it did everything I wanted.


It didn't have good coverage.

I didn't mind all that much, until I almost missed a vital medical appointment. The doctor's office sent me a text message, which took a week to make its way to my phone.

After that I decided that I really needed a better phone and a better service provider. And that's when I discovered that the world had moved on and everyone else had a smartphone. So I asked around and found out what kind of phones and services my friends were using. I settled on a provider and ordered Motorola Moto X models for my wife and myself.

I do have a vague recollection of setting up the phones, but it is an extremely hazy memory. And curiously, I have only bare-bones notes from when I did it.

Let me explain. I am a compulsive note-taker. I log everything, especially when it comes to electronic things. I have numerous logs about what I've done with Amateur Radio. In fact, I have a log showing where to find my other ham radio logs (I'm not kidding). So, why did I have barely a scribble about setting up the Moto X phones? It was a mystery.

Settings menu
Whatever you're supposed to click, it won't be in this menu.

In any case, my Moto X served me reasonably well for a while. I didn't miss any appointments with my doctor, and I even added a few apps to the phone.

And then the phone fell apart.

By “fell apart”, I mean the blasted thing fell apart. Literally. As in parts separating. As if the whole thing had been held together with cheap glue. (I think maybe it had been.)

My wife had passed away in the meantime, but I still had her Moto X. I decided to transfer the phone number and all of the functions from my dying unit to hers, but while doing so, it fell apart as well.

Honestly. I can't make this stuff up.

Okay, I needed to get a new phone. They didn't make the Moto X model any more (small wonder), so I got a Moto Z. That was about two years ago.

A week ago it fell apart.

No, I am not kidding.

And no, I don't play kickball with my phones. I don't leave them in hot, cold, or humid places. I don't abuse them. I don't dip them in acid or torture them.

Sigh... okay, time for yet another phone. And this time, not one from Motorola.

I checked out what Consumer Reports had to say, and they tended to favor Samsung models. Not needing one that could control cargo container ships or trek across the surface of Mars (and cost as much as a new car), I went with a mid-range model.

And that's when I discovered just how incredibly complicated setting up a smartphone can be. Or, I should say rediscovered. I'd been through it before, but somehow those memories had vanished.

First of all, there were no instructions, at least none that came with the phone itself. That sort of implied that the process would be easy. Ha!

I knew that I had to remove the SIM card from my Moto Z and place it in my new Samsung Galaxy A50. At least remnants of that memory still existed in my mind. And wow, the new phone knew exactly what the correct phone number was, adding to my false sense of security.

But things quickly went wrong. I couldn't dial in or out. I couldn't access my contacts or any other data from my Google account. Basically, I couldn't do much of anything, nor could I figure out how to get things working. The phone itself kept offering me opportunities to install useless apps (I don't really need to make my image look like a Barbie Doll) and guided me to dead end after dead end when I asked for help. This was not a friendly phone. Or, to be more precise, it was very friendly, but in a moronic sort of way.

Google Play apps
An infinite number of apps that I don't need

Bit by bit, however, I was able to sort things out and get them working. And I must stress that this is an ongoing process. There are still plenty of mines out there waiting for me to step on them. I found that I needed to set up an account with Samsung. At least, the phone implied that it was necessary. And then I needed to let my service provider know that I'd switched to a new phone. I had to open a service ticket with them before they sent me instructions on what to do. You know how that goes. They give you very detail step-by-step instructions, the third of which can't be done.

Step 3: Open SETTINGS and click on SERVICE PROVIDER.

There's no such entry in SETTINGS, of course. It doesn't matter what you're looking for or where you get the instructions, at least 80% of the time they contain a “gotcha!” line like that somewhere in them.

Meanwhile, the phone was continually complaining that I hadn't set up (fill in the blank) yet, and that it couldn't proceed until I'd completed that task. And if I started that task, it couldn't be completed until I first took care of another task. And so forth.

I began to understand why my notes from previous smartphone preparations were so sparse. I'd gotten lost in a maze and had to concentrate on how to get out. By the time I did, I couldn't remember the sequence of events, and hence never wrote it down.

Somehow, though, the process of informing my phone service provider was completed. I don't know how, as it certainly wasn't anything that I did. Maybe the phone fairies took care of it while I was downing some aspirin.

Likewise, Google started downloading all of my stored data, more or less on its own. I never did figure out how any of this happened, as I couldn't get the phone to accept any of my account names, email addresses, or passwords.

And then suddenly, it did.

I couldn't possibly duplicate the process again.

As for why I couldn't remember what it had been like to set up my previous smartphones, I figure there are two possibilities:

  1. Setting up the earlier phones had been so traumatic that my mind blocked the memories.
  2. The smartphones themselves have an app that automatically expunges those memories.

In any case, if you are considering buying a new phone, I wish you luck.

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

Back to The Amateur Amateur home page Back to Past Columns page