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My backup and emergency phone strategy for the car

Yesterday at about midday I’d just finished a conference call when I got a Whatsapp from my wife.

“Blown a tire,” it said.


She was apparently meant to be on the way to see some friends with both our young (3.5 & 2 years) boys. 

“Blown,” didn’t sound good at all. Not like a flat tyre. “Blown” suggests some serious action. 

The next message will strike fear into the heart of any mobile-fanatic-father/husband/partner:

“Battery low.”

Shit. Ultra shit. What the hell is she supposed to do with zero battery? Is your partner like mine? She’s that connected that despite charging her iPhone 5S overnight (so it’s 100% at 6am), it’s routinely heading towards red by about 3pm. Yesterday morning was a pretty heavy morning from a communications standpoint I suspect so by midday she was already heading toward the low 20 percents.

As any “wall hugger” [CEO of BlackBerry’s description for battery starved iPhone users — read more] knows, the moment you’re into the low 20s, you’re screwed. It won’t be low before you get your first battery low warning. And once you’re at 19, 18, 17% it’s basically game over if you get a phone call or get involved in an instant message discussion. 

I immediately replied telling her to switch off her bluetooth and wifi and to set her brightness to ultra low. First step. Then I phoned the breakdown people for her. She didn’t have the details. Arrrgh. And she was managing the two frustrated children wondering why the car had stopped. 

If you think our generation is intolerant to failure or poor service, you need to meet Archie and Freddie who are significantly unimpressed at being made to wait 10 seconds at a red light. Woe betide any corporation that fails to satisfy them instantly 10-15 years in the future. 

Anyway. I started kicking myself. We do have an emergency phone in the car. I bought one of those tenner Samsungs with, I think, a tenner credit from Virgin Mobile and stuck it in the glove box. Turns out the Virgin Mobile credit lapses pretty quickly — something my wife escalated to me a few weeks ago when she left the house without her iPhone. Imagine her utter annoyance at discovering ‘no signal’ on the device. 

And me apparently a mobile industry chap. How embarrassing.

Well, like a Gardener with a rubbish gardener, I haven’t taken the time to sort out my own patch. 

So I resolved to get the tyre-change-fixer chap out to my wife and then fix the emergency phone situation.

I’ve dumped the Samsung. That can go to charity thanks to envirofone. I think I’ll get £0.63 for the device. Or maybe they’ll just take it off my hands for free. 

And I’ve dusted off the Xperia T. It’s now upgraded to the latest Android version. I’ve setup a dedicated Google account for it. I’ve got all the critical family phone numbers added on the Google account, which have all synched automatically to the device. I’ve also added Evernote (with a PIN) and downloaded the offline notebooks that are likely to be required in a similar situation. 

Further, I’ve sorted out the connectivity issue with a new account. I walked into the Three store in Islington this evening and got a £6.90/month (12-month contract) sim that comes with 200 minutes, 5,000 texts and 500mb of data per month. Ideal. 

So the phone has got a sim that won’t expire. 

The mophie juice pack arrived this morning:

This is perhaps slightly over-egging things. But it’ll charge an iPad and an iPhone at the same time. I carry one in my bag all the time and regularly rely on it. 

There’s a micro-USB cable included with the Mophie and I’ve got an iPhone lightning cable ready too.

Tomorrow it’s all going into the glove compartment. I’ll keep the phone off, obviously. But I’ll set an appointment with Remember The Milk to take the phone out, charge it, switch it on, sync it, once a month. 

That’s my plan to make sure that neither my wife or I are caught short on-the-go. With the added advantage of being able to charge iPhones/iPads on-the-go if necessary thanks to the Mophie.

Wotcha reckon? 

What’s your emergency car phone strategy?

[And in case you were wondering, the AA arrived promptly, sorted the wheel temporarily, the local garage sorted both tyres, all is good, everyone is well.]


  1. Sorry Ewan, but I agree with Mike42. This seems like complete overkill. I spend hours in the car, driving up and down the country for work and feel absolutely no need for anything like this. I simply keep a USB charger in the car. The other half has one as well. £6.50 a month, seems like a waste of money to me. However, each to their own, and if £6.50 a month gives you the sense of security you need, then it’s worth it for you. All I would add, is that worst case scenario there are emergency boxes every mile or so on motorways and you could always ask someone for help, or have we got so entrenched in the ‘I cannot survive without my mobile phone’ mantra, that we have forgotten the basics of face to face communication. We did, after all, manage fine in these scenarios before the invention of the mobile phone.

  2. Ahhh fair point. However she was stuck on a country lane miles from any call box. I’m only pleased she had battery and signal.

  3. No-one forgets their phone. She’d be more likely to forget her car keys. Actually, forget a cable – where’s your in-car dock to also integrate Spotify et al with the stereo? Hmmmm?

  4. Wireless battery charger on my desk and wireless battery holder in the car ensures that my phone is always fully charged, while still being convenient to use. Battery saver also automatically turns off all non-essential services if battery should get near low, which being Windows Phone is unlikely anyway. Fully offline maps to ensure I can pinpoint location anywhere in the country, even with no 3G signal.

    So my emergency backup plan? Owning a Nokia Lumia.

  5. Just a different thought here. Seeing as the iphone is heading towards empty by 15:00. Is everything on Manual Sync? like account/app settings. sync settings within the apps themselves. and leaving WiFi/auto connect WiFi off. bluetooth off when not needed. power saver on. all stuff like that helps. But then I know how much of a let down the iphone [5] battery is anyway.

  6. James good point! I’ll need to investigate that and check. I think she might be on auto-download of apps. WiFi is usually on all the time as she’s typically at home. I’ll go and check that!

  7. For a mobile that will be used primarily for phone calls in emergency situations I think choosing Three is a mistake. In terms of coverage, especially in rural areas where an emergency mobile will most likely be needed, nothing can beat 2G.

  8. Adrian I did think on that issue. We don’t live in the darkest parts of the country — I’m actually rather impressed by the breadth of the Three signal. I also reasoned that if it was a real emergency then the handset would be able to connect with 999 services.

    I think I was mostly drawn to the £6.90 call plan!

  9. Three does fall back to 2G where there is no signal. It uses O2s network if I recall correctly. There is a lot of network equipment sharing between operators going on these days. It is a common misconception that Three still has poor coverage. It is as good as the others due to the above fact. I spent considerable time investigating the cost-benefits of all the UK networks mid-last year before ditching Vodafone after a lifetime with them, due to appalling service and terrible 3G connectivity/coverage that hadn’t increased in years. I didn’t choose Three in the end, but it was a close second place to EE. I do not have firsthand experience of Three, but I know that the old myth with coverage no longer applies.

  10. Three switched from o2 to orange for 2g fallback many years ago. Unfortunately, they have been switching this fallback off in many areas as of 2009(ish).

    For 3g coverage, I am a huge fan of Three and would (have in the past) use it for my day to day phone.

    However 3g still comes no where near 2g coverage.


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