If you don't have a smartphone yet, I won't hold it against you, but you're definitely part of a small and shrinking minority. While most of us don't really need our smartphones, we've grown dependent on them just the same and can't imagine what we'd do without them. Whether it's browsing the internet, texting friends, checking Facebook for the 20th time today... never mind, that one's probably just my fiancee.
But all that requires a connection. While some events that would definitely qualify as disasters may not knock down the Grid, we obviously want to prepare for the worst, so we have to assume no electricity, no internet. (And to be honest, even with a functioning Grid, there may soon be major advantages to being off of it.)
So let's look at the capabilities of a smartphone or tablet computer, shall we?
- Compass: Now, I really don't need to explain how this can be useful, do I? Sure, it won't (or shouldn't anyway) replace a good compass, for various reasons, but it does the job, and combined with the right app... but that's part 2.
- GPS: Whether or not this works depends on how far the grid is down, but if the satellites work and you're anonymous enough to use it without fear, this can be a huge asset.
- Step counter: Yup, my newest phone has a separate sensor built in to count steps. Get your pace count and the phone can help you keep track of distance even if GPS is down.
- Maps: Yes, there are myriad apps that allow you to download maps that are then stored on the device itself (or on removable media) and accessed offline.
- Camera: Maybe you want to take a screenshot from a map and draw a route or cache location on it to pass to someone else using NFC. Maybe you want to document how you built or fixed something so you can do it again. It's up to you.
- NFC reader/writer: Here's where I really get creative. You've heard of dead drops, right? Well, imagine slapping an NFC tag under a bench, with information which your friend or ally can then read at his leisure after swiping his phone past it. Whether you're part of some kind of resistance or just want to communicate without having to meet (for security from other bad actors such as gangs), the possibilities are endless here. But NFC tags can also be used to pass information directly from one device to another. Pictures, maps with routes drawn on (say, to caches or safe areas), directions, lists of people, places or things, instructions for canning, or a recipe for stored food, whatever. Use your imagination.
- Music/Movies: You haven't forgotten Evelyn's article on staying human, already, have you? A typical phone or tablet has at least 8GB of space, up to 64GB, and that's before you add expansion cards, which go up to 128GB right now and that doubles every so often. That's a helluva lot of good entertainment to keep you sane.
- Games: Same thing. There's a staggering number of games available for whatever platform you choose, and they can help pass the time too. That doesn't mean you should ignore the old non-electronic standbys, as they'll help build camaraderie. But the two can go together. I have, for example, Monopoly on my tablet. No pieces to lose.
- Books: There are many many free books available, including a lot on preparedness topics. No examples for now, but look at http://www.freebooksifter.com. Homestead Survival also does a weekly list of free prep-minded e-books that I highly recommend. And there are tons of PDF files you can download now and save to review later. Let's face it; in 2014 there's a lot of knowledge we no longer possess and it'd be really handy to have the information handy.
- Barometer: Yes, my newest phone has a barometer built in. Sure, all the high-tech weather apps will be useless with no internet connection, but that barometer can help predict bad weather.
So what about electricity? You obviously can't just plug your device into the wall when the electrons aren't flowing. Rather than give you specific options (since I've never used one) I'll just point you to this Amazon search for solar chargers.