/ Technology

Opinion: even the biggest tech fan needs a back-up plan

Mobiles are great leisure devices, but we still need something to fall back on when we’re out and about, Do you have an analogue back-up plan?

‘Text me when you get to Kew Bridge and I’ll walk up and meet you.’ That was the last communication that I had with my friend Jess as I set out to see her for the first time in months.

This shouldn’t have been a problem – except that halfway there, my phone died. Not just out of battery, but dead. Not only could I not text her, I had no way of getting to her house if she had decided not to come and meet my train. I didn’t know her address, I couldn’t look it up on a map, I don’t know her phone number and I had no other way of letting her know what had happened.

And worse, as I pay for everything with Google Pay on my phone, I had no way of getting home again, either.

Stuffed without it

I suddenly realised just how much I rely on my phone. It’s a leisure device: I read books on it, I listen to music on it, I watch video on it, I chat to friends on it. It’s also a work device: I read Word documents on it, I can at a pinch even look at Which? Computing pages in progress. It’s a vital utility: I pay for everything with it, I find my way with it. I was stuffed without it.

It also made me realise just how important cash is. While the pandemic has pushed many of us into paying for things without cash, notes and coins are important to many – and you don’t need an internet connection to use them.

Fortunately, a frantic scrabble in my bag revealed that I had a debit card buried in its depths, so I could get home. And as it turned out, Jess did meet me at the station: she assumed that my phone had run out of battery. As for the phone itself, it turned out that its motherboard had died.

Analogue back-up plans

It was a wake-up call, though, and since this happened I make sure I always carry a contactless  card with me and a £20 note when I leave the house, plus a note of the phone number of the person I’m going to meet.

Even early adopter technophiles like me, it turns out, need an analogue back-up plan. Do you have one?

What do you rely on your phone most for?


I’d invest in a spare phone.

There is a grave danger in being so dependent upon one thing; a phone might be dropped, lost, stolen, as well as expiring.

When we are totally reliant on electricity – gas banned – we should keep a stock of logs, firelighters and matches.

Viv Hobbs says:
27 July 2021

I do not have a smart phone. I do not need a smartphone. However, I think I will soon be forced to buy one because apps seem to be needed for everything, whatever an app is. (Yes, I know, it’s an “application program.”) And I do not work in an office, and I do not know anyone who does. Why does Which? always refer to people “going to the office?” No, that is not a rhetorical question. I would like to know the answer.

Viv – I share your views.

Which? is a very metro-centric organisation and repeatedly refers to “going to the office” because it’s the only world it knows. Which? people have no conception of working in a field, or a factory, or a classroom or a shop, down a drain or up a ladder, on a train or in a laboratory, and so on and so forth. It is astonishing in this day and age that its sense of relevance can be so restricted.

People who live their lives on a mobile phone only communicate with others similarly limited in their horizons so think everyone is the same. I should be pleasantly surprised if you get a satisfactory explanation in answer to your question.

I have an old Nokia C2-01 basic mobile phone that lives in the car, in case I go out without my phone. I bought a PAYG SIM with £10 credit in 2014 and having just checked, £8.27 remains. To avoid losing the credit I make a brief call within the six month expiry period. I should update some of the phone numbers before putting the phone back in the car.

Perhaps phone numbers are just as important as having a phone. My iPhone is synchronised my computers via iCloud and I have a printout of the numbers and email addresses in my wallet.

I had a £20 note in my phone case but decided to replace it with two plastic £10 notes, together with a credit card. If I am going away I will add a second card in case there is a problem.

Sorry to hear about your problems, Kate. You ask what we rely on our phone for. Last Thursday my car became unwell in the evening and I realised that I was not going to be able to take charge of an outdoor society event the following morning. Fortunately I had phone numbers and eventually found someone who would take over for me. I was then able to call my breakdown cover company after looking at a map find my location. I have not really used a phone for leisure purposes but maybe one day.

I don’t have a back up plan for if my mobile phone dies or is no longer there. I use it so rarely that my mobile is my back-up plan for a landline failure or some other emergency. It is only ever switched on when I want to use it and I often don’t have it with me when we go out.

I keep a useful amount of cash on me and I carry my bank and credit cards with me. I also keep in my wallet a printed list of all the contact numbers and other coded information that is recorded in my mobile phone directory.

I tend to know my relatives’ and friends’ addresses and telephone numbers by heart; unsurprisingly, there are not too many to remember.

It’s not a bad idea to dial friends’ phone numbers rather than let the phone do it. Having that information in your head can break the ice at parties. “Are you still on FRObisher 7984?” “No, we’re on the MOUntview exchange now: 4642; HOWard’s in TUDor now and ARNold and DUNcan have split up. MARy is still at Forest Gate and MELville has moved in with her”.

My phone is important for calls and texts. I have spare phones, including at least one other mobile and a landline.

I usually carry two bank cards with me but both in the same wallet and I keep a small reserve of cash in the car.

Via smartphone and landline, I have two alternative Internet connections.

A few days ago, my main W10 PC powered down in the middle of a Teams call. No data was lost but the event triggered me into ensuring that an alternative W10 PC can be quickly brought into use if the fault recurs. I’ve also been doing more frequent disc backups since then.

John’s post reminded me that I do not remember numbers I store in my phones. This includes the numbers of people I must have called thousands of times. In contrast can remember phone numbers from the days when I had to enter each time I made a call, whether these are still in use or not.

I have now memorised the first of these numbers but realise that the easiest way to commit others to memory is by entering the numbers. Maybe this is a pointless exercise but as Kate has discovered there is always the possibility that a could let you down.

I fondly remember our home phone number when I was a child. It was 163.

I can remember all of our home phone numbers going back to childhood, as well as my mother’s dividend number with the London Cooperative Society – 461558, and pass code numbers to enter various secure rooms at work. I am hopeless at remembering vehicle numbers though.

It’s a good idea to remember a few telephone numbers in case it is necessary to use someone else’s phone in an emergency.

And I can remember all my father’s car VINs. Mind you, neither of us change that often so the sum total is… 2 in his case 😉 I still have one on a retention certificate!

I can remember my date of birth…… and, strangely, 41346, our Co Op number like John from when I was quite little. I used to buy our red milk tokens in a shop with an overhead wire railway where money was transported to the central office and the change returned in cylinders.

Mr Peter Mornington says:
21 July 2021

The old adage is: ” dont put all your eggs in one basket” . How true: be it money,or any other worldy goods. So alaways have 2-3 back up plans. Cynical- me?!

krell says:
21 July 2021

Why was it necessary to log in to my account just to read an opinion like this? For reviews, ok, I understand it, but not for something of this nature. Really, Which?, an explanation is needed.

Hi Krell, You do not need to log in to read posts here on the convos but you might have logged in to read an article somewhere else on Which? and followed a link here. Some Which? information is only available if you are logged in.

You were not logged in when you posted here and the way to tell is to hover over your name and avatar then hover over mine and you will see the difference. The log-in on the convos is separate to elsewhere on Which?

Logging in to post here means if you ask a question you will be able to find your answer again easily.

Similar problem. I found my way here from reading a review, then found that the comment page did not recognise my Which? credentials. Having re-entered my (unrecognised) email address and password, I gave up and used the ‘via Facebook’ route.

Sorry to hear it gave you a bit of runaround krell and David. At the moment your your Which? login (used on Which.co.uk) doesn’t work on Which? Conversation. This is because Which? Conversation runs on a different platform and login system to the rest of Which?, and is also open to everyone (not just Which? members). I appreciate this isn’t a great experience, and it’s something we’re aiming to change in the future.

Pamela says:
22 July 2021

I carry a small notebook and pen, and yes, I always (if I remember) make a note of the number of the person I am going to see

I used to have a sat nav that would occasionally (maybe once a year) fail to start up and the only solution I could find was to dismantle it and temporarily disconnect the battery. My current sat nav has not done this but if I am planning to drive a long distance I take along an old sat nav as a backup. I carry a road atlas as well, although it has been years since I have used it.

My Satnav back-up is Googlemaps.

Indeed, but that’s my backup backup. Sometimes I print a route plan too.

Agree about paper – I keep a road atlas in the car so I can get a good overview of a journey that I am not familiar with. Something a satnav is nowhere near as good at. But unless you have a national set of A-Zs there is no contest when it comes to arriving at the right address.
My backupbackupbackup is to ask someone the way.

I agree, Malcolm. Not only is it useful to have an overview of the journey but a map can help identify places to stop for a break or have a meal.

“My backupbackupbackup is to ask someone the way.”

Trouble is, as often as not, they either do not know or are not capable of explaining it.

Legal Al says:
22 July 2021

Of course we should all have a back up plan. My phone might be working perfectly but I have encountered delayed text messages, both rec’d and sent. This is quite common. Also drop off in signal quality, sometimes complete black out.
I never rely completely on my phone. It’s just common sense.

Peter Taylor says:
24 July 2021

Totally agree with the need for a backup, or indeed different backup plans. There is the short-term issue of being able to contact someone you are visiting or to be able to pay to get back home. There is also, and potentially more concerning, the longer-term issue of restoring access to all the data on your phone – names/address/phone numbers of friends and contacts, photographs, fitness/health app histories, birthday/MOT/appointment reminders, memos/messages/recordings etc. Fine if you synch with cloud storage but not everyone does. Finally, and I’m only just beginning to worry about this one, one’s ability to complete on-line banking transactions or purchases that require Two Factor Authentication which uses your only your mobile phone. Each of the above risks probably needs a different approach to be mitigated. It would be good to see a larger, more in-depth article from Which? that addresses each of these (and probably other) wider issues.

If you synchronise what is on your phone with computers etc. you will be well prepared if your phone dies or is lost. Even if you normally use mobile banking it would be wise to register for online banking so that you can log into your computer or another one if necessary. Your bank should provide an alternative way of authentication, for example via email. Sometime single-use passcodes can be sent to a landline number but that’s no use when you are away from home.

I love using technology but do get increasingly concerned as to how essential my smartphone is for day-to-day life.

I first realised this when my phone died when on holiday in Venice. Completely dead, and like Kate’s it was the motherboard that failed (fixed by removing it and placing it in the oven at 110C for 10 minutes….but that’s another story). Fortunately I did have a back-up plan in that I had hard copies of every ticket we needed.

But that was some 4 years ago. Now with the widespread use of 2FA (broadly a good thing but read on) I cannot access my Google account (no Gmail), do any banking (app is locked to my physical phone of course so just having a spare phone is not a fix); can’t buy off Amazon (2FA); use PayPal (2FA)….the list is worryingly long.

I do use an authenticator app wherever possible as this does mean I can change phones, install the app and carry on ‘authenticating’, but not many websites currently support authenticator apps.

The case my phone is in holds credit/debit cards and space for cash (notes) but increasingly not having access to credit/cash would be the least of my worries if my phone ever dies or is lost or stolen.

And I think this does need a solution; our ability to do day-to-day activities should not be so dependent on one device.

I read your article with interest. The questions you raise could be scaled to a national level. More and more of our activities, many of them vital, rely on access to the internet. Additionally, with the need to reduce our carbon footprint, on current plans we will be entirely reliant on electricity. As we have seen the internet and our major utilities are susceptible to cyber attack. I wonder what backups the government has for when the motherboard fails on our national infrastructure? Don’t put all you eggs in one basket.

One day, we shall realise that many technological ‘solutions’ to things are deployed simply ‘because we can’. The young are much more susceptible to this, because they are turned on by using technology. The right balance will be found, but only after we have suffered a great deal.

I don’t think many will stop buying technologically “new” (different, novel, improved, advanced) until they lack disposable income. It gives them an outlet.

I remember my Mk1 Ford Cortina quite fondly doing its job to my satisfaction, but such changes have taken place that my current 5 year old car is far superior in many beneficial respects. But I would not change it for the newest version as I see no substantial benefit and hope to keep it at least 5 more years. But others with the means change cars regularly for relatively minor benefits.

My 7 year old smart phone does what I need and I’ll probably only change it when it gives up the ghost. Others change them every one or two years for, possibly, little real advance other than novelty features that I can do without.

Smart devices – close your curtains, turn on the cooker, dim the lights without leaving the sofa, appeal more because they are novel than of real utility (unless you are disabled, perhaps).

But they keep the economy going and they give people something on which to spend excess income. When that ceases (some bleak reports suggest that will be a consequence of Covid) then we will find we can manage quite nicely with our antique possessions. But I think that outcome is unlikely. We like new, things that have not been done before, novelty.

Yes, Malcolm, these devices keep the economy going, but unfortunately not ours. We are not exporting anything to the Far East in exchange and now they don’t even want our waste paper and broken bottles.

By definition, novelty is not a sustainable concept.

SuzieSea says:
29 July 2021

As we have no mobile signal in the wilds where we live I rarely switch my phone on, although it is a smartphone and I always have it with me when I’m away. Even then I use it only to make calls, send texts (old-fashioned I know) and emails, and check the internet, mainly for news and weather forecasts, and maybe the occasional photo (never selfies – I did admit to being old-fashioned, didn’t I?) I never use it to pay for anything, or for any of the social media activities that seem to absorb younger folk to the point of not seeing anything else that’s going on around them.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t be without my mobile. One gripe however is the increasing insistence by finance companies to add an SMS to a mobile number to their security check when logging in to an account you hold with them. Three organisations that I use are happy to verify my identity using my landline so why are others so insistent on a mobile number? All very well if you live somewhere without mountains or distance rendering the signal useless, but what are people without coverage meant to do?

Depending on your mobile service provider, you can probably use ‘WiFi Calling’ to enable your mobile phone to make use of your broadband router. It’s a free service and all that is necessary to do is to select the option on your mobile phone to enable it.

As you say, some companies will send messages via your landline but that’s not a help if you are at work or on holiday at the time you need to use the service. Sending an automatic email would be a third option. We need these security checks but it would be helpful if the companies provided options and made it easy to select the option that is most convenient – which could differ from day to day.

I don’t have a back up phone but if I’m out for a long time, I carry a battery pack just in case.