re: Smartphone Theft: What Is Best Defense?
I think the solution here, with the ubiquity of cloud computing (storage, in this instance) and higher bandwidth capable networks and handhelds, would be to put all of the user's data in the cloud - preferably at the service provider. In that instance, if you have a device stolen, your personal information isn't on it - kind of going back to the terminal/mainframe paradigm. The loss of personal information and the threat of identity theft can seriously outweigh the cost of replacing the device.
Additionally, just how much does it cost to produce these devices? Maybe someone should look at it from that perspective - do I honestly think it costs Google, Apple or anyone else $650 (or more) to produce a handheld? Let's take a look at incidences instead of overall replacement costs.
And finally, if you want to stop these sorts of things, let's take a look at where someone would sell a stolen phone. There's a major on-line auction site out there (you're probably familiar) that has a bunch of interesting results if you search for "bad ESN". Now, I'm no expert in how carriers operate, but I believe the chief way of turning a good ESN into a bad ESN would be to report it stolen or lost. Now, granted, there are occasions where someone could have a phone with a bad ESN - lose your new device in the couch with the battery near dead and not be able to find it then report it as lost, but how many of those devices are stolen?
@Certifiable - the service provider has the IMEI number already, I believe it's used in the provisioning process in order to make sure that your device is allowed to access the service. All you'd need to do is call to report it lost/stolen and they have that information already.
@Doug - Not sure if this is really an option in your case, but you could get a used Android device that's WiFi enabled and with the right combination of applications, use it to make/receive phone calls when it's on the WiFi. You'd need to carry a hotspot of some sort, but there are deals out there where they're free and then $50/month plus you'd have the capability of hanging other devices (like a laptop or a tablet) off of the same hotspot. I currently have an older Droid that I use as a remote control for our TV service (Verizon FiOS) and can use it as a handset for my Google Voice number as well.