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.
I entered 2012 with the tank-like, and frequently glitchy, Motorola Droid X.
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.
After suffering through a number of problems with the Droid X, the device received a not-so-accidental beat down from a quartz countertop.
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.
That non-data experiment only lasted a couple of days.
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.
I could only stand using that BlackBerry for an evening.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Lucky phone number seven is a device that I had no intention of buying just a few months prior.
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.