Chile Economy Reporting slider — 12 January 2012

I have almost every electronic gadget you can buy for my expatriate life here in Chile. I have the Amazon Kindle. I have an iPad. I have a Samsung Galaxy Android cell phone, a Sony Vaio, and an iPod shuffle.  Let me tell you how happy I am with the Samsung Galaxy SII Skyrocket.

Over Christmas I went to the USA to see my kids and my mom’s family. It was wonderful to eat some South Carolina–rather North Carolina–style barbecue in Greenville, South Carolina, and enjoy a good old fashioned hotdog with chili. Here in “Chile” people don’t even know what the word “chili” means. Down here, what they call “hotdogs” are simply inedible in my view. Imagine rolling into a truck stop on I-85 in South Carolina in your tiny Kia sedan or Peugeot import, and asking some redneck fast food chef to put avocado on your hot dog–and perhaps worse, replace the meat with mayonnaise. They would put you and your Kia into the back of their Ford 150 pickup, and drive you out of town.

Foreigners are fascinated by how cheap everything is in the US. Crass commercialism has not only filled every high-way exit ramp with the same litany of fast-food restaurants (McDonalds, KFC, Taco Bell), it’s also brought rock bottom prices from retailers like WalMart and Staples. Big retailers keep pushing prices down, and in order to survive, competing companies also shrink profit margins and decrease prices, or shrivel up and die like the Woolworth of yesteryear–remember them?

So it was that I went to the Best Buy and picked up a Samsung Galaxy S2 for $688 USD–it costs $917 USD in Chile, sort of, since that particular model is not available here. I paid the full retail price because–no thank you–I did not want a two year contract with AT&T. Then I went onto the Internet and bought the code that would unlock the phone and allow me use my EntelPCS chip.

Everyone has gone nutty over the iPhone, but Google and Samsung have made the point that not all things need be Apple. More smart phones worldwide now ship with the Android operating system than the iPhone. Thank goodness the notion that only one company can make smart phones has been shattered.

I picked the Android in part because I know the Java computer programming language. It is an open and free computer language studied by zillions–many, many Indian and Chinese–and of course me. The iPhone has its own programming language, so like all things Apple it is proprietary. That does not seem very democratic, but as a marketing tactic it has worked well for those guys.

The Samsung is not perfect but let me tell you some of the delights I have found upon returning to Chile. First, the download speed is 1.8 MBPS which is 7 times as fast as the Motorola smart phone I had previously. I have no technical explanation for this. While the Samsung phone I have supports 4G and LTE, those technologies are not yet available in Chile–there is only 3G here. Still this speed makes all the difference in the world. I can watch Netflix, make phone calls on Skype, and watch CNN political coverage of the US election. Moreover, Google maps works in real time. My old Motorola smart phone was so slow that with Google maps you could have arrived, and then surpassed your destination without having even seen the street location show up on your phone. That is hardly useful. In fact it is hardly workable.

Second, the Samsung Galaxy is not just a phone–it is a tablet computer. This first became clear when I felt the device heating up in my pocket. Wherever you go with your phone you need to carry a usb power cable or charger because the battery only lasts 8 hours. I have read posts on the Internet that blame this on the Gingerbread operating system (i.e. the name of the version of Android), and say Google is readying a fix. We will see.

The phone has two cameras–one in front and one in the rear. Somehow this is supposed to facilitate video conferencing with Skype, but I have yet to figure out the function of the second camera. It seems pretty useless, unless of course you are trying to simultaneously broadcast your face–and your reactions–to say, a soccer game or a menage a trois. The main camera on the back is 8 mega pixels which takes gorgeous photos in supposedly HD video quality.

I find new uses for my phone daily, and cannot imagine how I lived without it. I even read my Amazon Kindle books on it because the screen is so large, and Amazon has kindly made their programming “Android-friendly”. My friend at work is so enamored with his iPhone 4 that I accused him of sleeping with it. I wondered which he kept closer–the device or his wife.

I practically sleep with my phone now too. I even wrote a program that informs me where the sun is in the sky. The program draws the Cartesian plane on the screen, and shows the sun’s declination and ascension given my GPS-acquired position and the time of day. I have to say, I find it more thrilling than looking out the window.

We have certainly come a long way from the simple telephone of my childhood. I remember we rented our telephone from AT&T, and all it did was make phone calls.


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