2012 : one year — seven phones

To know me, is to know how much I love tech­nol­ogy. I have been a sucker for elec­tron­ics ever since I was a kid, loi­ter­ing for hours in the stereo sec­tion High­land Appli­ance store on South West­nedge in Portage, MI, or in Shack Elec­tron­ics in down­town Kala­ma­zoo. I will skip over the part about tak­ing apart tele­vi­sions and try­ing to rebuild them. That didn’t work out so well. I dis­cov­ered that I am a much bet­ter con­nois­seur than tech­ni­cian. As com­put­ers evolved, I fell in love with them, too. Again, my focus was equally, if not more, on the design, fit & fin­ish, mate­ri­als, and build qual­ity, than what the device could actu­ally do when you hit the power but­ton. I loved Marantz and Denon receivers because they looked just as good as they per­formed. Aes­thet­ics are important.

Per­haps I am say­ing all this to pro­vide some con­text, or lay a back story, for the the changes I expe­ri­ence with my mobile phone in 2012.

Phone #1

I entered 2012 with the tank-like, and fre­quently glitchy, Motorola Droid X.

droidx

As I men­tioned above, I am inter­ested in tech­nol­ogy, and even learn­ing how things work. I am not, how­ever, all that inter­ested in get­ting my full geek on and learn­ing pro­gram­ming code. Most Android phones are “rootable,” mean­ing that you can fid­dle with the code and install var­i­ous oper­at­ing sys­tems (ROMs). If you have the time and patience, you can cre­ate a highly cus­tomized device that suits your needs. As com­pelling as the end result may be, I am just not that dude. I feel like mak­ing a com­pelling user expe­ri­ence should fall on the hands of the man­u­fac­turer. My only “job” should be to learn about all of the var­i­ous fea­tures, and take good care of the device. This is one area where I dif­fer greatly with most Android enthusiasts.

Mov­ing on.

After suf­fer­ing through a num­ber of prob­lems with the Droid X, the device received a not-so-accidental beat down from a quartz countertop.

androidicide01

Phone #2

I thought that it might have been time to take a break from smart­phones, so I thought about try­ing an old, but slim, LG flip phone that I had in my house.

lg8700

That non-data exper­i­ment only lasted a cou­ple of days.

Phone #3

I was not quite sure that I was going to do about a “new” phone, but know­ing that I wanted access to email, at least, I decided to acti­vate my wife’s old Black­Berry 8830.

blackberry8830

I could only stand using that Black­Berry for an evening.

Phone #4

I jumped on Craigslist and found some­one sell­ing a very clean Droid Incred­i­ble for $90. Some­how, I was back where I started with smart­phones. The Droid Incred­i­ble was my first, non-work smartphone.

droidincredible

Inter­est­ingly, after using the bulky Droid X for nearly 18 months, the Droid Incred­i­ble seems small. Con­sid­er­ing that I don’t like stuff in my pock­ets, this is not a bad thing.

Phone #5

As much as I liked the small foot­print (or pocket print — get your mind out of the gut­ter), I missed the larger 4.3″ screen of the Droid X. (The Droid Incredible’s screen is 3.7″) I went on Craigslist and eBay, and even­tu­ally came across some­one sell­ing a Droid Incred­i­ble 2.

droidincredible2

Though it looks nearly iden­ti­cal to the orig­i­nal Incred­i­ble, the Droid Incred­i­ble 2 has a 4″ screen and a front-facing cam­era. This change was purely incre­men­tal, and I knew that the Incred­i­ble 2 would the last used device that I would pick up before decid­ing on what would be my next major smart­phone upgrade.

This is where my quandary began. I have been using Android devices for three full years, and I was fully pre­pared to stay in the Android ecosys­tem. For as lit­tle as I am drawn to the nerdy, tin­ker­ing side of Android, I appre­ci­ate the many things that oper­at­ing sys­tem offers. Even with out root­ing, Android devices are highly cus­tomiz­able, allow­ing users to make devices uniquely their own. Con­trary to what some peo­ple (iPhone users that have never touched an Android device) may say, cus­tomiz­ing an Android device is not rocket science.

Even with three years invested on Android, I was always open to mov­ing to another device. I was par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in the release of the iPhone 5. There was spec­u­la­tion that the phys­i­cal shape would change a bit, and Apple is one of the best when it comes to design of con­sumer elec­tron­ics and com­put­ers. When the veil was finally lifted on the iPhone 5, I was under­whelmed.

Not really wowed by Apple, I turned my sights back to Android — with a slight side-eye on Win­dows Phone 8. Rumors has been fly­ing around all sum­mer about a new Nexus (Google’s des­ig­nated flag­ship device). The release was expected in the fall, and sure enough the Nexus 4 was announced. It is made by LG (chor­tle). It has glass on the front and the back (sound famil­iar?). It lacked 4G/LTE. Screeeeeeeeeeeeeech!

To refresh a dying expres­sion — Oh…hell to the nah!

Feel­ing let down by Google and the Nexus 4, I thought about get­ting a Sam­sung Galaxy SIII. My wife has one, and has been pretty happy. How­ever, I read some rumors about a new phone by HTC that was headed to Ver­i­zon. I was to be called the Droid DNA. After quite a bit of hand-wringing, and talk­ing to my friend Francis…

Phone #6

droiddna

This phone is pretty amaz­ing. It has a 5″ screen, with an insade 1080p res­o­lu­tion. Think of hav­ing an HD, 1080p flat-screen tele­vi­sion in your pocket. The screen is amaz­ing. Sur­pris­ingly, the Droid DNA is quite light for its size. It has a fast proces­sor, 4G/LTE, a great cam­era, and is run­ning the lat­est (well…sorta) ver­sion of Android. There was a lot of con­cern about the phone not hav­ing great bat­tery life, but in two weeks, I never had a prob­lem mak­ing it through an entire day on a charge. Note: It has induc­tive wire­less charg­ing capa­bil­ity built in, so if you have a Qi charg­ing mat, all you have to do is set the phone down on the mat and boom, it’s charg­ing. Pretty cool stuff.

Of course, if you remem­ber the title of the post, you know that there is one more device to go. So you’re likely won­der­ing what was wrong with the DNA. It is a sim­ple as this — it was just too big (dimen­sions). Again, the phone is incred­i­bly light and quite sleek. I just found that the dimen­sions of the phone didn’t work with the way that I nor­mally carry my phone, and that is in my front pocket. I don’t like hav­ing any­thing bulky in my pock­ets, so I have a super thin wal­let, and I want a phone that I don’t really feel. As much as I loved the Droid DNA, it just didn’t fit with my phys­i­cal needs/requirements. Let me just add this…if you take or view a lot of pic­tures, watch videos or movies, or need to read eas­ily on your smart­phone, you really can’t do bet­ter than the Droid DNA. The only hitch is that you have to be com­fort­able with a tall phone. It’s quite thin and very light, but just know going in that it will take up your entire pocket.

Just as my two weeks exchange period was com­ing to an end, I walked into the Ver­i­zon store with the Droid DNA neatly repack­aged. Was this my change to try another oper­at­ing sys­tem? HTC also make a Win­dows Phone 8 device for Ver­i­zon. The oper­at­ing sys­tem is a bit of a dark horse, but it looks inter­est­ing. Nope.

Phone #7

Lucky phone num­ber seven is a device that I had no inten­tion of buy­ing just a few months prior.

iphone5black

You know, I was going to title this post “I finally gave in,” but that wouldn’t be accu­rate. I have been using Android devices for three full years and I don’t see the iPhone or iOS oper­at­ing sys­tem as supe­rior to the Android oper­at­ing sys­tem and some Android devices. My thought of “giv­ing in” was resist­ing the idea of pick­ing up an iPhone because so many user are com­pletely biased and inca­pable of objec­tiv­ity. I didn’t, and still don’t, want to become “one of them!” Fun­nily enough, I had the same resis­tance before buy­ing two Apple com­put­ers. My wife help me com­pletely the com­plete Apple ring of fire by giv­ing me an iPad for Christ­mas. Am I becom­ing hap­pily encamped or naïvely enslaved? That remains to be seen. After nearly a month with the iPhone 5, here’s my experience.

The iPhone 5 is beau­ti­fully crafted. The design is not rev­o­lu­tion­ary, as Apple is prone to say­ing, but it is clean and indus­trial. I love min­i­mal­ist design, so the iPhone 5 is right on the money for my taste. For years, I have been nau­se­ated by the Apple mantra “It just works.” I actu­ally think that notion is bull­shit, because if you haven’t used an Apple com­puter or phone before, you won’t be able to pick it up and become a mas­ter. It takes time and prac­tice. I think the only rea­son so many peo­ple know how to use iPhones and IPads is because every com­mer­cial you see for them is a tuto­r­ial. Android is crit­i­cized, and some­times right­fully so, for hav­ing too many con­trols and options buried in menus. Since using the iPHone, com­ing from Android, I have been no less con­fused, ini­tially, about how to per­form cer­tain func­tions. Add to that, I find that Apple’s on-screen but­tons take up pre­cious screen real estate, while Android devices save that space for the apps. It is really a mat­ter of pref­er­ence. I don’t think one is inher­ently bet­ter than the other. How­ever, if you’re switch­ing to the iPhone from an Android device, there is def­i­nitely a learn­ing curve.

One thing that I absolutely love about the iPhone is how it works with just about every­thing else. Devices sync quite eas­ily with the iPhone. Android devices didn’t have a prob­lem sync­ing, nec­es­sar­ily, but it is clear that the bulk of third-party devices, includ­ing audio sys­tems in cars, were designed to play nice with the iPhone. Here’s an exam­ple. When I had phones 1, 4, 5 & 6, I could stream music to my wife’s Blue­tooth audio sys­tem in her car. When I synced the iPhone 5 to the car, all the track infor­ma­tion shows up on the screen. This may seem minor, but I really appre­ci­ate these lit­tle things.

Aside from the dif­fer­ence in the num­ber of apps avail­able for iPhones ver­sus Android devices, there are sub­tle dif­fer­ences in the apps on either oper­at­ing sys­tem. The dif­fer­ences ben­e­fit iPhone. It is pretty clear that devel­op­ers design apps for iPhones and iPads first, and then port them over to Android, if at all. Again, the dif­fer­ences are often minor aes­thet­ics, but it’s enough to notice and alter one’s experience.

A few quib­bles. I hope Apple changes about the oper­at­ing sys­tem include a bet­ter noti­fi­ca­tion panel. Android has this func­tion nailed, and it keeps get­ting bet­ter. Apple is clearly the novice in this arena. If any­thing, it would be nice to have some quick tog­gles for sounds, wifi, and blue­tooth. I also like that I could swipe the noti­fi­ca­tion panel down in the lock screen on Android. It pro­vides a quick way to check noti­fi­ca­tions with­out hav­ing to have the badges on the screen. Another thing that I hope gets improved in the next release of iOS is the shar­ing options. Cur­rently, Apple has the ecosys­tem so locked down that you can’t share things on your phone (pic­tures, web pages, etc) with apps of your chos­ing. This is wide open on Android, and cre­ates a much bet­ter shar­ing and pro­duc­tiv­ity expe­ri­ence. For instance. if I’m look­ing at some­thing on the browser on an Android device, I can long press on the URL and the option to share the link with apps pops up. From there, I have a laun­dry list of apps to send this link, includ­ing Spring­pad or Ever­note. You can­not do that on the iPhone with­out copy­ing the link, going to the other app and past­ing. That’s not an exam­ple of “It just works!” to me. One thing about the pack­ag­ing for the phone that just makes no sense to me are the white cords with a black device. I sup­pose it’s a brand recog­ni­tion issue, but I don’t want a white charge cable and ear­phones with a black phone.

So, there you have it. My odyssey with smart­phones in 2012. In spite of my reluc­tance to go all Apple, I’m in — for the time being. Google and Motorola are rumored to be work­ing on a really nice Android device that will be released some­time this year. I’ll stick with the iPhone for my two-year con­tract, and hope that Apple improves iOS. If not, I will have no reser­va­tions to mov­ing back to Android. For me, it’s more about usabil­ity than visibility.

6 Comments

  1. Reply
    Rod 5 January 2013

    Happy New Year! Android for LIFE! Lol! Just kid­ding. Great read. I think the wife is an iPhone/Apple con­vert. I look for­ward to see­ing what hap­pens in two years regard­ing your next purchase.

    • Reply
      matthew 7 January 2013

      Hey Rod. Happy New Year to you, too! My wife feels like I have aban­doned her on Android, but I’m still a fan of the plat­form. I still have both Incred­i­bles, and turn them on to check out new apps. The prob­lem is that they are both run­ning Gin­ger­bread, so some of the new apps only work on Jelly Bean. I can’t fig­ure out how to root either device, so I’m stuck or I check them out on Carla’s Galaxy S3.

      You never know what will hap­pen in two years, If some­thing earth-shattering comes along, I may even con­sider pay­ing full retail for a device.

  2. Reply
    Simon Sant Cassia 6 January 2013

    I’ve gone through 4 phones in 2012, and finally ended up with an iPhone 5 towards the end. I went through a ZTE Blade, a retro-tastic Nokia E71, and a Sony Xpe­ria U before giv­ing in with the iPhone 5. I read a lot of tech and keep up with every new “thing” out there. John Gru­ber of DaringFireball.net nailed the review of the iPhone 5. It’s sim­ply “nicer” than the 4s and oth­ers. It’s slim­mer, got a nicer design, nicer screen, nicer (low light) cam­era, nicer charger, nicer feel in the hand (partly because of the incred­i­ble light weight), and so on.

    The pho­tos don’t do it jus­tice. You need to see, feel, and use one in per­son. The size is per­fect, and I use my phone one handed a lot. I know iOS is called “bor­ing”, but there are so many fan­tas­tic apps, you are never really bored of it, and I’ve been using iOS since the first iPod touch back in 2008. I love the fan­tas­tic Safari, which is still bet­ter and more respon­sive than Android’s browsers. Oh, and Siri is excellent.

    • Reply
      matthew 7 January 2013

      Thanks for the com­ment, Simon. I’m glad that you’re enjoy­ing your iPhone 5. I have been pleased. I def­i­nitely like the size and build qual­ity. I do con­sider iOS pretty bor­ing, but the apps are really good. I must say that I miss the back but­ton on Android. So often, I want to go back a step, or back out of an app on the iPhone, but you’re forced to just hit the home but­ton. I do think that Android might be the bet­ter oper­at­ing sys­tem right now, but Apple has the loy­alty of devel­op­ers and the commercial/retail com­mu­nity. Hope­fully that will change in the near future. Android deserves just as much love as iOS.

      I don’t know about Safari being more respon­sive than Android browsers, par­tic­u­larly Chrome, but it is pretty good. Siri and Google Now are just about on par for my needs, but I like Siri’s abil­ity to add items to my cal­en­dar. I think Google Now is a lot more intu­itive and use­ful on a day-to-day level, though. All with­out prompts.

  3. Reply
    Brian Odom 8 August 2013

    Wow, I can’t believe you moved to Apple. Espe­cially con­sid­ered what you have invested in the Google ecosys­tem. That is what makes it tough for me to switch.

    I watch a youtube chan­nel from a user named mkbhd, who gives good reviews on (Android) smart­phones. He makes me want to get one. I would like to see an Oppo.

    But yes, there are some neg­a­tives with iOS and I guess I’ve got­ten used to them. iTunes is still a major has­sle for me and I don’t use it.

    • Reply
      matthew d lyons 10 August 2013

      Hey Brian. I have been using Apple com­put­ers for a while. Mov­ing to an iPhone was the sur­prise. I am a pretty big fan of Android, but as I men­tioned in the post, I went with what was the best for me at the time. Inter­est­ingly, my wife has a Galaxy S4, and I like it a lot. I may switch back over at some point, but I’m pretty happy right now.

      I am a fan of Marques’s YouTube chan­nel. I’ve been check­ing out his videos since Droid­Dog. He loves that Oppo Find 5. It’s a lit­tle big for my taste, though.

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