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.
Disclaimer: This post is written purely from the perspective of a self-professed nerd that follows technology rather closely.
There are just too many smartphones hitting the market — specifically Android devices.
My problem is not so much that there are so-called “entry level” or “mid-range” smartphones. (Though this range of devices does create an issue of overall improvement/advancement of the Android operating system.) My issue is that there are so many of these devices that they nearly indiscernable. This issue, however, is not limited to affordable smartphones. A good deal of annoyance with the glut of Android devices comes in the high-end segment of the smartphone market. As someone who follows tech pretty closely, I can tell you that a high-end smartphone seems to be released just about every two or three weeks. Given that iPhones are only released on an annual basis, I’m clearly talking about Android devices. Each new iteration is only slightly different than the latest and greatest released just weeks prior.
As I thought about this situation, I was reminded of a funny scene from one of my favorite movies, Amadeus.
Raising Microsoft’s name is relevant here. Not because the market is flooded with Windows Phone 7 devices. To the contrary. What’s interesting is that Android has seemingly taken the place of the older ubiquitous Windows Phone. Before the current operating system updated, Windows Phones featured a decent operating system, but did not drive innovation. Google’s Android is innovating, for sure, but the saturation of basic devices with older versions of the operating system have, in my opinion, led to the issues of fragmentation and ambivalence by some developers from creating applications for the platform.
Ok. Instead of just posting a rant, here are a couple ideas on how to change, or improve, this issue of smartphone saturation.
Consumers have a role to play, too. In my opinion, having a smartphone is a luxury. If people are willing to drop $25+ for a data package, on top of the underlying minutes plan, they should at least be willing to drop more than 40 bucks for the phone. Stop being cheap! I hear a lot of “Well, that’s more phone phone that I need.” Why even get a smartphone, then? Just get a feature phone with messaging. Additionally, far too many of us have come to accept the terrible battery life associated with these phones. I have yet to meet anyone with a smartphone, other than a BlackBerry … and I won’t even get into that … that can get more than a day from their phone. With the introduction of 4G phones, battery life is taken an even greater hit.
Note: I have been sitting on this post for a while — Sept. 26. In the time since my draft, Motorola introduced the Bionic, only to outdo itself by introducing the Razr, which is, essentially, the same device — just thinner. Meanwhile, Apple lifted the veil on the iPhone 4S. Though many were disappointed, including me, that there was not a new form factor; Apple focused on making an industry-leading device better. The final nudge to hit publish on this post was seeing an article last night on the tech site Phone Dog.
What do you think? Are there too many phones available, or do you like having a lot of choices?
I have come to the realization that I am the nerd amongst my set of friends. I shot out a status update last night on Twitter and Facebook asking who else would be watching the big Google/Samsung event. The resounding response, to quote my good friend Jeniene, was “**crickets.** I had to laugh. Nevertheless, I soldiered on, joined on GoogleTalk by my tech partner-in-crime, Francis. In a nutshell, last night Google rolled out it’s latest version of the Android Operating System, known as Ice Cream Sandwich. In tandem with that announcement, Samsung revealed the not-so-secret Galaxy Nexus. The Galaxy Nexus, though a bit larger, looks like a beautiful piece of hardware. The focus, however, really was on the improvements to the operating system. I titled this piece “Good Gets Better” because I feel that Android, at this point, is good, but needs improvement. What I saw in the presentation last night has thoroughly intrigued me, and may just keep me from a possible move to the iPhone. Though I am prone to, sometimes exhaustive, long-form posts, I’ll let the folks at Google explain the what’s new.
If you really want to get your hands dirty, and get an insider’s perspective on the direction Google is taking Android, check out this great interview of Matias Duarte by Joshua Topolsky for This Is My Next (soon to be The Verge).
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Apple’s presentation of the improved, though not entirely new, iPhone 4S
Kudos to Apple. They truly know how to do a slick presentation.
On an aside, I wonder if Apple’s people know that their keynotes would be just as successful without so many superlatives. Apple is quite fond of the word “amazing!”
I, along with many others, was disappointed that a completely new iPhone 5 was not introduced. All the rumors and speculation about a new body had me going. It should be noted that my friend Brian nailed nearly every feature of the iPhone 4S several weeks before the announcement. Irrespective of my let down over a new shiny body, the iPhone form factor is still very attractive. There are a number of interesting enhancements coming with iOS 5 that really don’t have anything to do with the new 4S itself, but if I were going to move to the iPhone, I would get the 4S over the 4. The improvements to the camera, which was already a solid performer, look really impressive. Several of my friends who are photographers have been raving about the camera. For what it’s worth, Siri, the personal assistant software, is cute but not something that blows me away. In all candor, all the post-announcement blather and giggles about how “neat” Siri is causes a slight amount of gastric juice to bubble up into my mouth. Look..I have a sense of humor, but come on!
The iPhone 4S has risen near the top of the list, right behind the Galaxy Nesus, as a replacement for my Droid X. I haven’t given up on Windows Phone 7…yet. If only Nokia would release that beautiful N9 here in the States with the Windows Phone 7 operating system.
I don’t know if is the intermittent bugginess of my Droid X, or just my interest in design, that led me to be much more open to all mobile operating systems. I’ve been taking a look at the iPhone more now since it’s available on Verizon. While no knock on iPhones, generally, the UI feels a little stale to me. (Don’t get me wrong. At this point, stability of a platform is equally, if not more, important.) If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I have also had more than a passing interest in Windows Phone 7. My interest started with a simple desire to see competition in the mobile device market. Competition pushes all of the players to be innovative, or, at the very least, perfect an existing product. Competition is great, but, in all honesty, it is the new Windows user interface that really piqued my interest. A few days ago, Engadget posted the following video from Microsoft’s annual MIX developer conference.
I am much more impressed with the user interface than I was just a few months ago. Maybe it’s the mix of my love for design and minimalism, but the WP7 layout really appeals to me. Though not liked by all, I am a fan of the panoramic layout. I like the way developers have designed apps to work within the WP7 operating system. I also like the black background with the clean light font on top. It all looks very clean, and something that won’t look dated in a year or two. I have been very critical of Microsoft’s slower than snails’ pace development of Windows Phone 7, but I think the company deserves credit for completely overhauling the user experience on Windows-run mobile devices. It’s a daring departure from Windows Mobile as we knew it, and unlike anything else on the market.
I still have yet to know even one person with a Windows Phone 7 device. (Read, I don’t know anyone that I can beg to play with their phone.) I really don’t like trying devices in carrier stores, because you can’t get a feel for how the phone really operates in everyday situations. I guess that will have to be the case, until I am recognized as a reviewer by the OEMs and am sent review devices. One can dream, right?
What is your take on Windows Phone 7? Interesting or irrelevant?
The folks at TmoNews, a great site for news about products on T-Mobile, are reporting that HTC will likely reveal the HD3, which will serve as a Windows Phone 7 upgrade from HD2 (running Windows Mobile 6.5), at a press event next Wednesday in London. The expected launch date is Wednesday, November 17th.
Reported specs for HD3 include:
If I had to guess, pricing on the HD3 will be around $249.
I originally thought devices with screens over four inches would be too big for comfortable daily use–as a phone. After having some hands-on time with the EVO4G and owning the Droid X — both with a 4.3″ screens – my thinking has shifted. Though too big for some, the EVO4G and the Droid X are not as big as one might think, and are quite comfortable for every day use. I don’t think the .2″ increase on the HD3 will be too significant. Whereas the Dell Streak’s 5″ screen pushes it into tablet territory. We’ll see.