Digital Toolbox

Genealogy in your hand – Android phones

The smart phone market has become a lot more affordable now that pay-as-you-go services like Virgin Mobile have introduced affordable data plans. Virgin Mobile offers phone service with unlimited data plans beginning at $35 a month. They operate on the Sprint backbone so anywhere Sprint functions, so does Virgin Mobile. They offer phones from Blackberry, LG, Motorola, HTC and more. Since there is no contract, you can change phones at any time and you aren’t restricted to buying your phone just from Virgin Mobile. You’ll find them in many big-box stores and on Amazon – at significantly discounted prices. When the LG Optimus V was first offered at Virgin Mobile, they wanted $199 for it. A quick check found it on Amazon for $109. They have three Beyond Talk plans – all offering unlimited web, email and messaging at 3G speed – based on the amount of phone time you need. The basic [$35/mo] option includes 300 minutes of talk time per month and works fine for me. For 600 minutes, you’ll pay $45/mo and unlimited minutes are $55/mo.

All of these phones run the Android operating system so you can add apps from the Android Marketplace as well as Amazon’s Android App store. Amazon offers fewer apps, but they review each app before it’s added to the store. And, by keeping an eye on their free app of the day, you can carry some amazing functionality with you without busting your budget.

How does one of these “cheapie” smart phones help your research efforts? With the BillionGraves [free] app you can photograph grave markers and upload the photo – with geo location information attached – to the BillionGraves site. CamScanner [$4.99] turns your phone into a scanner. With it you can capture, crop, enhance, save and store any document you find in a library or archive. Do you use Evernote to manage your online research? Now you have access to your notes from anywhere.

Take advantage of the built-in maps, voice search and navigation apps to help you get where you’re going. Although I haven’t seen any of the “mainstream” genealogy software as Android apps yet, there are a number of genealogy-related apps in the Android Marketplace [none so far at Amazon]. I find trying to wade through a large database can be a challenge on a big screen – and a nightmare on a little one – so I don’t even try to keep my database on my phone. I tend to post notes on Evernote so they’ll be there for me no matter which device I’m using at the time.

One of my favorite apps has nothing to do with genealogy.  TuneIn Radio Pro [$0.99], delivers radio from stations that stream their programming via the Internet. This and the Line In jack on my car’s radio means that I can listen to my favorite radio station just about anywhere.

As you can see, there’s a growing number of affordable phones and services giving you most the functionality of their more expensive cousins. And, with pay-as-you-go plans like Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk, you can get started without committing to a contract. Take a look at your options. You may well find one you can afford. And, you’ll be surprised at how quickly these phones become an invaluable everyday tool – that also happens to do research.

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