Luxury vs. Necessity: Do You Need A Smartphone?

by Elizabeth on April 3, 2012

More than a third of Americans – 35 percent of adults – own a smartphone.

I am not one of them.

My name is Elizabeth, and I am a self-confirmed Luddite.

It’s not that I hate technology, or am diametrically opposed to advanced electronics. I think certain gadgets have a rightful place in my life. I enjoy watching television, but have managed to eschew cable or satellite TV service multiple times over the years. I own a computer but, like my Luddite-loving father, I used dial-up service for my Internet connection until my work-at-home status made a faster downloading speed necessary.

A large part of my anti-technology persona comes from being a frugal feminina. Technology costs money, and I’d rather save my dimes and nickels for a rainy day rather than splurge on a device that’s going to be obsolete before I even plug it in.

But smartphones appear to be the way of the future. A 2011 study by In-Stat found that more than 200 million Americans – roughly 2/3 of us – will have a smartphone or tablet (or both) within the next three years. The ebbs and flows of the marketplace back this up. Smartphones dominated the sales charts last year, with all five of the top-selling cell phones falling into the smartphone category. Smartphone sales are expected to overtake traditional handset figures in Western Europe within the next two years, and carriers are taking notice, with many contemplating moves away from standard minutes-based plans in favor of flat-fee data plans.

Does that mean my days of sticking with my old, basic “dumbphone” are numbered?

The Case For Necessity

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in a restaurant/grocery store checkout line/church with a fussy child (note: I do have children, and they get fussy as well, so I’m not making judgments here). As soon as the child starts wailing, the frustrated parent whips out his or her iPhone, handing it to their child who – despite her nubile age – instantaneously accesses an app that lets her listen to  music/watch a movie/play Angry Birds.

I don’t care if this tactic to appease a whiny child works – so do binkies, cookies, and my keychain. In other words, a smartphone is hardly a necessity.

A few months ago, I came across an article that outlined exactly what gadgets smartphones will replace over the coming years. Among the items on the list were:

  • Digital cameras and video recorders
  • Alarm clocks
  • MP3 players
  • GPS units
  • Wristwatches

Sure, a top of the line smartphone can do just about everything. They can take pictures, play music, get you wherever you need to go, and let you access the Internet at any place, any time. But you know what?

I already own a camera.

I already own an alarm clock.

I already own an iPod (which I never use).

I already own a watch.

What I don’t own is a smartphone. So why would I spend a couple hundred dollars on a flashy new phone and the expensive data plan that goes with it to replace something I already own, something that works just fine?

Aside from my frugal objections, however, my biggest single gripe with smartphones is the convenience factor. Yes, I know convenience is supposed to be a good thing. But my cell phone has already made me accessible to people in places I don’t want to be accessible. I don’t need to be able to update my Facebook status in the grocery store. I don’t need to post a Tweet in church. I don’t need to check my email while I’m at the park with my children. Smartphones allow people to check out of the present, even when they shouldn’t. I know that, given the opportunity, I would probably be guilty of checking out in order to check in online. And that is why I think smartphones are a luxury I don’t need.

The Case For Luxury

Now that I work from home, however, I see the allure of smartphones. It’s an admission I don’t like to make. After all, I’m the last bastion of antiquity in America. Heck, even my grandmother owns a smartphone (she uses the GPS feature to avoid getting lost on errands around town; my mom uses it to track her every move remotely).

But there are days that I’m waiting in the pickup line at my daughter’s preschool, my infant son sleeping in his car seat, when it would be so helpful to be able to go through my work emails instead of flipping through radio stations.

There are times when I could knock out a small task while waiting in the check out line at the store.

There are instances when having a smartphone – and, in many respects, the ability to multitask – could help me check off the items on my to do list (both personal and professional) with greater ease and speed. In fact, one of my contractors is considering sending me a company iPhone – data plan included – in order to make me a more efficient worker. In their eyes, having a smartphone is a necessity.

The Verdict

I still have a hard time convincing myself that a smartphone is – or ever will be – a necessity. Maybe, if my watch, camera, and iPod were all to break on the same day, I’d see things differently. Maybe, if my laptop stopped working, I’d reconsider. But right now, I have gadgets that do all the things a smartphone promises to do. Why would I need to change?

Do you think a smartphone is a luxury or a necessity? Why or why not?


{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Shaun @ Smart Family Finance April 4, 2012 at 3:43 am

I don’t know if it’s that I’m getting old and becoming a luddite or I’m wise, but I do not have a smart phone and no intention on getting one. Not because I wouldn’t pay for a phone, but because I think the cost of telecom services I have is already more than I want to pay and can’t imagine adding an extra $35 data plan to the heap.

Think about the historic changes in spending we are witnessing. Twenty years ago, you might have a phone bill and a modest cable bill. Today, people have at least two phone bills, whick are about three times more expensive, a massive cable bill, a massive internet bill. I don’t know how the average american fits it into their budget. It’s practically a car payment.


Emily @ evolvingPF April 7, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I think smartphones are still a luxury here – obviously they aren’t a necessity if 65% of Americans don’t have one. And I agree with you – I already have a camera, a phone, a laptop, etc. so why do I need to duplicate all that functionality (more poorly) in one device? But I think that as our gadgets evolve smartphones/tablets will become the most economic way of accomplishing a lot of tasks while on the go and more and more people will opt in until even though it’s not a necessity, it’s a pretty normal part of life. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, and I might hold out on getting a smartphone until I see that tide turn.


MyMoneyDesign April 11, 2012 at 8:04 pm

I just posted this comment using my Smartphone – OK, not really, but I could have! I use to think they were dumb and too expensive as well. But once I got one, it’s like thinking back to before you had the Internet or email – you can’t remember your life before. There is a silver lining to all this – if you just wait about two years, something else will replace the Smartphone and then you’ll be able to get one really cheap for sure!


American Debt Project April 20, 2012 at 9:51 am

My personal phone is still a normal phone, but I got an iPhone for work which I was excited about. But I am one of those who doesn’t like feeling addicted to technology or information, so I try not to check messages obsessively or play any of those social games like Words with Friends. But some stuff has been helpful like getting numbers, looking up maps, etc. But I could definitely live without it and I like that.


Sam June 20, 2012 at 11:16 pm

I have owned the same dumbphone for the last 5 years (a Nokia 1600) and it still serves me well but most of my workmates and friends who own smartphones think I am crazy.

Anyway, most people who own smartphones, 99% of the time use them for Facebooking and Tweeting, again social sites that I have never joined and have no present or future intention of joining.

I do own a laptop and so don’t miss anything much from not owning a smartphone.


Karen August 20, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I work from home and am the primary parent for two children. For yrs I’ve had a flip phone, a Palm Pilot PDA and a digital camera. I’ve carried all of them around in my mini-backpack/purse. But my PDA is dying, the PC sync no longer works (and Palm doesn’t support it), and my flip phone hinge is cracked. (Digital camera is still going strong, though!) I’m considering a smartphone to combine my PDA and phone in one, but I don’t want data (or music or text or GPS) and so I don’t want to pay for data. Not sure what I will do, which is why I read your article. If I can find a feature phone that has good PDA features, I’d like to stay away from a smartphone.


Elizabeth August 26, 2012 at 9:07 am

Karen, you sound just like me! Let me know if you di find a phone that meets that criteria – it seems like all they’re offering these days are smartphones, and that the carriers are really pushing for everyone to get a data plan.


D October 4, 2012 at 9:30 am

The problem with switching to a prepaid (for me) is coverage area. I’m currently with Sprint. I don’t get a good enough signal in my house (1 bar) so they’ve hooked me up with an airwave box. It allows my cell phone to use the internet vs the cell towers while in my home. Everywhere else I go I get a great signal.

When I check the coverage area of the prepaid phones, it stinks. So I imagine it would be even worse in my house.

I’m a stay-at-home mom and work part time from home creating/maintaining the website for our church/school. I really don’t have the need for a smart phone.

And I think I’m becoming a rare bird here, but I actually like planners and writing in them!


Jimbo September 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

Get a cheap prepaid plan (e.g., Virgin Mobile or Platinumtel), off-contract, along with a cheap Android phone.


lars September 22, 2012 at 8:36 am

well, I don’t have a smart phone and I don’t see getting one soon either. I see lots of people in college, theater, who actully PAID for ther class or ticket, and using the smart phone for FACEBOOK? what’s wrong with the people? I personal think, they are too expensive and the contracts are just a rip-off.


Anne September 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm

I stumbled on this when I was researching flip phones vs. smart phones. I still have the same Sprint flip phone that I got from my parents when I graduated high school in 2003. Yes, my phone is nearly ten years old. My parents and sister have been nagging me to upgrade for years, but I see no reason why I should. I only use the phone to make/receive calls. I rarely receive a text, and I NEVER send texts. While my sister struggles to pay for her iPhone every month just for the sake of looking chic, I have a phone that gets the job done for $30 a month.


Mark December 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Thanks for all the comments…I too stumbled across this when researching “why I need a smart phone”….I get grief from co workers but I can’t justify the cost vs. production. If the device cannot save me some time and $$, I don’t see the value. I’m sticking with my flip phone!


Samonella December 20, 2012 at 6:33 am

Thanks for posting this article! I thought I was the only one– I suppose I could afford to have a smartphone, and my whole family and group of friends have been urging me to get one for what seems like forever… but I can’t imagine why I would. I get calls and texts just fine on my flipphone, and additionally, I still know how to read a map, choose a restaurant, and enjoy the present moment… things I’d miss out on if I spent all my time messing around with that thing.

I recently got back from Hong Kong, where it seems like everybody owns a smartphone, and I’m more resolved than ever to never have one. The whole city abounds with people who are completely oblivious to their surroundings because they’re so stuck staring into their device. This holds up lines, leads to accidents, and amounts to unparalleled rudeness that I haven’t seen anywhere else (in the metro, I stood up to give an elderly lady my seat, and a woman tapping away on her phone promptly flopped right into it- cutting off the lady and making me wish I spoke better Chinese so I could have said something). it’s appalling!


huntly2 December 22, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I don’t have one, but if I could afford it easily I would. I’m retired and just can’t see spending the money when I don’t have a reason for using one. I am tech savoy, just don’t have the need or money to spend recreationally, I get by.


Anup December 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm

If you really value a smartphone, you can still get it without the carrier baggage and not pay huge monthly fees.
Buy a smartphone that will fit your lifestyle. Buy it contract free.
Get a prepaid plan. I was on AT&T for a long time. Now I have switched to H2O wireless. I can get the same services for half the price.
Whether you go with smartphone or a feature phone, the key to saving money is going prepaid. For the actual handset, what you pay is what you get.


mmjm January 9, 2013 at 5:39 am

I sell photos on stock agency sites–I have “serious” cameras; I make a good part of my living with my computer; I own a dictionary; I have an iPod, a watch, an alarm clock. I do not have a Day Timer, Franklin Planner or the like. Why do I have a smart phone? The convenience of having those “gadgets” in one place is worth the $30/month I pay for the data pack. I don’t sit still all day. Texting beats phone tag when all I want is a simple, one-syllable answer to a question. I don’t play games on it, watch the NFL, bank…plus–if I go back to a basic phone then want a smart(er) phone some day, my unlimited data plan will no longer be available. Hideously expensive? Yes. Worth the price, probably not, but backing up would, for me, cost more in the long run.


Dave January 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm

I dunno, my verizon contract is up and yes I am bombarded with
e-mails “you are ready to upgrade Mr. Dave” blah blah blah. I’m torn however because talking on my phone is embarassing because when I got the thing 2 years ago it was already pretty much obsolete and now I try and avoid people when I pull the thing out to call someone…. that’s right CALL someone, aparently calling was lost in translation over the years with these new phones. But looking “In The Now” comes with a price, and everywhere I go I always see “just download the App” or “just pull out your smartphone” as if they are saying..”DAVE GET WITH THE TIMES.” lol I dunno…Anyone have a myspace account? No?


Irsh February 14, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I’m 22 but i never ever wanted a smartphone cz although it gt features it’s battery die out soon (Eg; iphone5 my brother uses it ),so I for one totally agree with the writer and i will not be needing any cz major reason is financially living in 3rd world country like sri lanka it cost a lot to get a smartphone the price almost $800 with that money my family can live happily for 6 months. Why people need to access network through smartphones when they have laptops and have megapixel cam when they have a cam. and frankly every 1 might say i gt nthing to do with technology well i am a professional in that field so i know wat im talking about. (Msc in Cyber Security and cyber forensics)


Irsh February 14, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Also for people who uses social networking on public places please do it at home cz people surrounds you might be a hacker and finally u complain some 1 hacked my accounts.. evry1 shuld take precaution when accessing your accounts in public this a advice for all my people. cz wat im talking about is a subject called social engineering so dnt let people hurt you as ther is a old saying prevention is better than cure”


Fred July 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Smart phones are a luxury and a waste. Foolish people buy them because they need to have the cool thing to justify their existence. A lot of people just need to have a gimmick, and it’s a lot easier to just go along with the consumerist crowd.

Beyond that, smart phones don’t make you smart. Despite what all these trendy hipsters would like you to believe.


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