A Tale of Four Smart Phones

A Tale of Four Smart Phones

I’m a Mac, and I freely admit it.  I’m an Apple fan boy, I own an iPhone 4 and a MacBook Pro, I drool over all of Apple’s newest creations, and I hunger and thirst to obtain the Apple products that I don’t already own.  It’s been that way for years, and for most of that time, it’s felt comfortable and secure… It’s just felt right.  Over the last year or so, however, I noticed a certain disturbance in the force: I was becoming a hater.  I was quarreling with Android’s high priests, guffawing at Windows Phone 7 and it’s “pitiful” followers, and had somehow formed it in my mind that the BlackBerry had been gruesomely murdered by a gang of competing smart phones.

I did not like this trend that had formed within me, so after some deliberation, I forced myself to learn more about my so-called enemies.  I obtained one device in each major category (BlackBerry, Android, and Windows Phone 7), set my iPhone 4 aside, and spent a few weeks (away from my iPhone) getting to know each of them better.  And guess what?  I didn’t hate them.  Read on for my thoughts on each of the platforms, and for what impressed me with each.

BlackBerry

My first device to show up for testing was a BlackBerry Torch 9800.  My initial reaction to the device was that it wasn’t my style, being to large and boxy for my tastes, however, once I got my hands dirty and messed around in the software for a while, I noticed that it had some features that I later grew to appreciate.  Although the Torch had a touch screen, I didn’t really take to it on the device, instead tending to favor the built-in scrolling device, which was very sensitive and touch-controlled.

I also really enjoyed the web experience on the Torch – it rendered web pages very quickly, and although the screen was no Retina display, I found the picture fairly good.  I also appreciated the Torch’s seemlessness – I could go from web, to YouTube, to Facebook quite fluidly, with little if any interruption.

Android

Samsung was kind enough to send along their premier Android phone – the Nexus S – for our project.  I’m somewhat ashamed to admit this, but my first impressions of the Nexus S running Android 2.3 were that it was almost magical.  I found the interface beautifully designed and compelling, and was able to get the device set up with my email, contacts, and calendars in a matter of moments.  The device boasted a battery life nearly as good as my iPhone 4, and, with it’s OLED screen, handled video like a dream.

I have formed a new respect of Android in my two weeks with the Droid – it really is much better than I gave it credit for.  I still don’t like how it manages apps, or the home screen layouts it has adopted, but my general experience with the internet, video, and the actual phone features proved pleasant.  I also loved the deep Google Voice integration that is possible with the Android platform, and will probably deeply miss that particular feature in the future.

Windows Phone 7

My final device – and the one I initially harbored the greatest degree of negativity towards, was the HTC Surround with Windows Phone 7.  Windows Phone 7 struck me as immediately counter-intuitive.  I didn’t like the “tiled” home screen, and I didn’t care for the look and feel of the device.  However, once I got my home screen customized, I began to appreciate the beauty of the design – the home screen, while minimalist, is graphically rich, and very easy to navigate.  It also includes a list view that shows all your main content in one scrollable list.

I appreciated Windows Phone 7’s ease of use, but it reached a point at which it was too simplistic for me, and I longed for more.  The media experience on Windows Phone 7, being powered by Microsoft’s Zune platform, was rich, intuitive, and very simple to use.  I can really see the target group for Windows Phone 7 – less technical users who just want a simple phone that “just works.”

Some Thoughts

So, why did I take on this crazy project?  And what did I learn?  Well, for one, I learned that the iPhone, despite my patriotism, is not the only phone out there that’s worth something.  Each of these platforms has specific strengths, and appeals to a specific group of people that the iPhone may not easily satisfy.  I also learned some interesting elements of each platform that could perhaps apply very well to Apple an it’s iOS platform.

Features such as Google Voice integration (Android), free and easy contact syncing (AT&T Address Book via BlackBerry, Google Accounts via Android), and seamless FaceBook integration (Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry) without the need for an app are notably missing from the iPhone, and while I love my iPhone 4 anyway, I’d love it even more if it learned some of these neat features from it’s competitors.

  1. Joe says:

    its not fair that you got a nexus s. there are 0 other phones currently running 2.3 (Gingerbread) and almost all of the other phones have some sort of custom UI from the manufacturer that almost all the hardcore users absolutely hate.

    1. @Joe to be fair, the differences between 2.2 and 2.3 are mostly minor cosmetic changes and bug fixes. It's very much the same system.

      Though I agree re: manufacturer's custom UI's which are often aggressively bolted on top of the (in my opinion) much nicer and cleaner stock Android interface. One of the biggest problems being how it messes with the update cycle.

      I used HTC's Sense UI (one of the better ones) on my Desire for the first few months and while I liked it fine, it wasn't until I got stuck in and started to *really* customize things with a community built ROM and original Android UI that I ended up really loving the device.

      For me, that's fine. I like tinkering with gadgets and spending an evening or two changing this and hacking that is all good fun. But it would have me at least considering iPhone or others if I were buying a phone for someone less technically minded. Certainly annoying that you can read a glowing review of "Android" (*Nexus S) and then pick up a HTC, Samsung, Motorolla, whatever, and think "eh, wtf?".

  2. @CavinSays says:

    I always say I hate my Android phone, and to an extent, I REALLY do. But I have to say, that over Blackberry, I definitely prefer it. I haven't tried Windows Phone 7, and I am also someone who hates Microsoft in general. But from what I've seen, it kind of looks awesome.

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