The Long Path to a New Phone

I tried not to jump up and down like Navin Johnson when the day arrived, but it was time to get a new phonebook! I love my technological toys, and I love getting new ones even more. The role of the phone itself has evolved into something much more important in my life. It is probably the second most used piece of electronics I own, just behind my computer, so it needs to be a good one.

My old phone was the iPhone 3G. It was easily the neatest, and most frustrating phone I have ever used. At certain times, I wanted to kiss it for being awesome, but at others wanted to chuck it out a window. I don’t need to spout out more words why the iPhone is nifty; others have done so already. And don’t get me wrong, I really did like it, but its shortcomings were just too great. 
For starters, it was slow. Like, really, excrutiatingly slow. I had unlocked it to run on the T-Mobile network, so I was stuck on Edge for data access, but it wasn’t just internet speeds that were slow; being on wifi didn’t help much. Apps took ages to open up, especially data intensive ones. If I wanted to plot a route in the maps app, I had to plan well in advance of actually heading out. One time when I was picking up a rental car, I wanted to find the best way out of the labyrinth of service roads surrounding the rental center. I popped open the app just after receiving the keys from the attendant. By the time I tracked down my car, stowed my luggage, turned the car on, and headed towards the exit, the app was still not done loading and finding my location. I could go on, but it would just be the same verse with different lyrics.

The question you’re probably asking now is “if you liked the iPhone OS, why not get a 3GS?” Well, for a couple of reasons. I suspect that the iPhone experience is kind of a big, long treadmill of upgrades. When the 3G was released, people weren’t complaining about how slow it was. I suspect it became an issue over time, more updates added a few more things to the OS until it became slow. My worry is that the 3GS will end up being the same thing once version 4 comes out.

The other is more basic: cost. My wife wanted in on the smartphone bandwagon, so we were looking at family plans. A decent AT&T plan including minutes + messaging + data would have been somewhere around $150/month1. Ouch. That’s just too much for us right now. And my last interaction with AT&T didn’t exactly end all happily like an episode of The Waltons, so I wasn’t quivering with delight to give them my money again.

That left us a couple options. I strongly considered a Palm Pre, up until I made my final decision. I played with one at a Sprint store, and I liked the OS, for the most part. While fiddling with a few apps though, I could tell that in some instances the hardware was struggling to keep up with the pretty software it was displaying. Lastly, I’m not convinced that Palm will even be around for the next two years to provide updates. Palm strikes me as the mobile equivalent of BeOS. Remember those guys? A very strong design aesthetic with some Mac like influences, but ultimately couldn’t get enough traction and folded.

That left Android, or Windows Mob- (ha ha ha ha, sorry couldn’t finish, WinMo is… not attractive)2. Ahem, that left us Android. 

The Nexus One is the newest kid on the block with some mighty impressive juice under the hood. And I was already a T-Mobile customer, so it made sense, right? Well, to actually get a Nexus One required jumping through a few annoying hoops. First, you had to order it from Google, and associate it with your T-Mobile account. And since we were originally on separate T-Mobile accounts, you had to somehow merge the accounts- a process that a T-Mobile rep was never able to adequately explain to me. And in doing so, there was an additional $50 fee for some reason. And while T-Mobile’s costs were better than AT&T’s, they were still a little high: $130ish.

We ended up going with Sprint, and a pair HTC Heroes. The Hero is not the most up to date Android phone, but it still has a nice hunk of memory and reasonably quick processor. The rumor on the street is that the latest OS release will be pushed out within a week too. The original Android phone, the G1, is still in fairly wide use, despite its age. One other interesting thing is that Android updates have improved performance with subsequent releases. 

And regarding the cost of the plan, Sprint gave us a wicked awesome deal. The $130 “Everything Data Family” plan on their website was already pretty good, but we got an additional 17% off thanks to my wife’s employer, so it ended up at about $107/month. That’s a shade over $1000 savings compared to the AT&T plan factored over the life of the contract3.

My first impression of the phone and of Android is that I like it. It is definitely different from the iPhone, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Is it better? I haven’t used it long enough to have an informed opinion yet. My gut tells me that it does some things better, and some things worse.

So, there we are. It took somewhere around 4 or 5 months to get to this point, and included much flip-flopping along the way. I hope to be able to write a little more regarding Android as I become more familiar with it, and provide the viewpoint of someone who ditched an iPhone in favor of it, since I imagine there are not too many of us.


1. 1400 minutes + 1500 messages (200 is too low and no in between) + (2x) iPhone data plans.
2. Ok, the new Windows Phone 7 Series stuff looks pretty interesting, but they are still at least a half year off from a 1.0 release. If MS sticks with it, I’ll give it a serious look next time around
3. Now if I could just convince her to let me take the $1000 and put it towards a lovely camera lens…

 

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