I’ve never been an early adopter of cell phones; I don’t want to be a beta-tester and I really can’t afford to get the latest and greatest phone every few months. It took me a long time to make the decision to get my first Android smartphone, and I spent several months considering my latest smartphone purchase—the iPhone 4s.
My first mobile phone was a prepaid Nokia TracFone back in 2002. It was a solid phone that had good battery life and excellent signal. I mainly used it for impulse plan-making while I was out with friends. At the time it was pretty cool. I swapped out the front cover and even the buttons with different colors to personalize it, and it had the game where you “steer” a snake to eat numbers and it keeps getting longer and moving faster until you run into the edge of the screen.
Eventually, I broke the TracFone and upgraded to a “real” cell phone plan and a basic Motorola flip-phone about a year later. This was another great phone with solid build quality, good battery life, and great signal. I kept it for about another year, until I switched over to a family plan when my mom and sister got cell phones; in the process I upgraded to a new Audiovox flip-phone.
The Audiovox phone was a pretty nice upgrade. It had a color LCD screen on the outside of the phone! Battery life was around 5 or 6 days if I didn’t use it much, and signal strength was excellent. I kept that phone until it was barely usable after a trip through the washing machine in 2007.
For my next phone, I went with the Motorola Razr. The original Razr had been out for a while, so it was relatively inexpensive by the time I got one. Even so, that was a cool phone! It was super-thin, had good signal strength, and I could put mp3s on a micro-SD card and listen to them on my phone! The battery life wasn’t as great as my previous phones, and I could only get a couple of days out of a full charge (remember when standby time was measure in weeks, not hours?). I kept that phone until 2010, when I finally made the leap to a smartphone.
Enter the Droid Incredible
It was summer 2010, and I finally decided to get a smartphone. I didn’t want an iPhone because, well, they were too limiting in what you could do with them on the current hardware and iOS version. Blackberry and Windows Mobile weren’t even a consideration at the time. However, I loved the idea of Android’s more open operating system, the wider variety of phone options, and the pace at which it had been improving. I was making this purchase right as the Motorola Droid X came to the market, and I almost went with that option, but I decided to get the Droid Incredible by HTC due to the sleeker touch-sensitive buttons and the Sense user interface. This was a phone that could do all (well, most) of the things I thought a smartphone should be able to do.
The Droid Incredible was great! It worked well right out of the box, and even better after the 2.2 Froyo update. Eventually I rooted it so I could use WiFi tethering while I was traveling, which turned out to be extremely useful. I also purchased the Tasker app and set up several automated functions for my phone. My personal favorite was setting it up to enter silent mode whenever I was within 5 kilometers of work; I never had to remember to silence my phone when I got to work in the mornings. Overall, I was very pleased with the way the phone was working.
After a while, however, I started getting error messages saying that I was out of disk space. This was ludicrous, of course, because I had a 32GB micro-SD card that wasn’t even 25% full and 8GB of internal memory that had barely been touched. As it turns out this is a common issue due to the way the phone handles application data. Unfortunately, this made apps like Facebook and Twitter stop syncing until I manually deleted the app cache or uninstalled some apps that I was no longer using. I still can’t understand why the phone would be released with such an annoying issue; it was just not acceptable.
Being a technology geek, eventually installed a custom ROM to get past this issue. After reading up on the subject, I went with CyanogenMod. Initially I was very happy with the new OS. I was running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), and there were some nice touches like the home screen working in portrait and landscape mode. This also fixed the error messages for low disk space.
CyanogenMod wasn’t all sunshine and roses, however. I didn’t have my cool clock/weather widget anymore because that was an HTC Sense widget. I really liked having that widget on my home screen, so I bought one that looked almost identical for a few bucks from the Android Market. I also had an issue with Exchange email; it stopped syncing when I switched between WiFi and 3G service. This was very annoying because I frequently go to meetings on other floors and in other buildings for work, and my phone switched between the Wi-Fi network and 3G service quite a bit. The only way to get things working again was to force close the email app and then restart it. On top of that, several of my other apps force closed on a regular basis. The overall experience wasn’t what I had hoped for.
After some additional reading I decided to switch ROMs and go with a flavor of MIUI. Now this was a slick ROM! Every app had an icon on the home screen instead of using the app drawer (see how I’m slowly transitioning to a more iPhone-like experience?). Apps could also be put into folders to save space and organize. The lock screen was gorgeous, and the whole interface was very clean and easy to use. The settings menu was very iPhone-like in appearance, and there were a lot of small tweaks to the interface that made the phone easier and more fun to use. Exchange email wasn’t a problem, I didn’t get any out-of-space error messages, and in nearly 4 months of use, I only had 2 or 3 app crashes/force closes. Everything just worked!
My Droid Incredible was finally working without any issues, and I was loving it! I had it configured exactly the way I wanted.
Then I dropped it.
OK, I know this is a very superficial problem, but one corner of the back cover just wouldn’t stay snapped shut anymore, and it bothered me. I ordered a new back cover, but that didn’t fix the issue. The plastic tabs on the phone’s chassis were worn just enough so that the back cover wouldn’t stay secure. I tried using a knife to reshape them, but that didn’t work. So I lived with the issue for a couple months.
I would have been perfectly content to hang onto the phone even longer, but the power button was getting stuck due the back cover being out of position. As a habit, whenever I was done using the phone, I would press the power button to shut off the display and “lock” it. This saved battery power, prevented accidental touches, and kept the phone secure if I happened to leave it somewhere. I didn’t even think about it; when my eyes refocused on something that wasn’t my phone, my index finger reached up and pressed that power button.
The problem was that now the button was getting stuck, which caused my phone to prompt me to restart/shut-down instead of just turning off the screen. On top of that I realized that I had gone through a lot of troubleshooting, tweaking, and spending to get my phone setup just right. I wasn’t even using widgets or the Tasker app anymore (two of the biggest benefits of Android in my opinion). Android had simply lost a lot of its appeal to me.
Enter the iPhone
At this point, I’d been eligible for a phone upgrade for about 4 months (see, I really didn’t upgrade right away just for the sake of getting the latest and greatest thing!), so I started looking at my options. Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) looked promising, but the available hardware was all cheap-feeling plastic. Blackberry was still not a consideration, and Windows Phones had the same hardware deficiencies that Android phones suffered from. Now I started looking at the iPhone 4s and iOS5 in earnest. I was already somewhat familiar with them because several of my friends and coworkers had iPhones, but I had never done a detailed comparison.
One big selling point for me was the fact that I could get a 64GB model, which would be able to handle my entire music library. There weren’t any Android phones that had 64GB of contiguous disk space on them, so I’d still need my iPod to keep my entire library with me if I went for a new Android phone.
I figured there would be a few apps I’d miss that weren’t available for iPhone, and of course I’d lose out on the money I spent on Android apps, but overall I knew I’d be fine. If I really couldn’t live without my Android apps, I could always switch back and sell the iPhone. I also knew I could jailbreak the iPhone to get access to apps on Cydia.
After thinking it over for a bit, I settled on an iPhone 4s 64GB in black.
My Experiences so Far
With the 64GB model, I no longer need my iPod classic. As it turns out, the iPod classic is still fairly popular, so I was able to sell it for more than enough to cover the cost of the extra 32GB of storage space that the iPhone 4s offered over the current crop of Android phones!
In terms of hardware, the iPhone has been much more enjoyable. It’s sleeker and it has almost the exact same screen size as my Droid Incredible. It also “feels” like a better piece of technology that’s solidly built. The only significant functional difference is the iPhone’s lack of physical buttons. The Droid Incredible had the usual home, menu, search, and back buttons for Android, while the iPhone only has the home button. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to it, but now that my habits have shifted, I don’t miss the hardware buttons from my Droid Incredible.
As for the software, there were a couple of things that I initially missed. Google Maps Navigation for Android was a big one. Having free turn-by-turn navigation was very handy, and I used it quite a bit on my Droid Incredible. The iPhone doesn’t have a similar offering out of the box (the Maps app doesn’t even come close). However, I don’t notice the absence anymore. Frankly, I think I was a bit too dependent on navigation instead of just looking at an address or a map and figuring out how to get there on my own. I just don’t feel the need to have turn-by-turn navigation now that it’s gone.
WiFi tethering was something I thought I’d miss as well, but I haven’t had a need for it since getting the iPhone. I’m sure I’ll try jailbreaking my iPhone and installing a WiFi tethering app before my next trip to fill the gap, but until then the lack of WiFi tethering is a non-issue.
The last few updates to iOS have brought some really great features to the iPhone. For example, the “multitasking” feature (really more of a recent-app list) is great for switching quickly between apps. One of my favorite uses for this is when signing into websites and services. I can open LastPass to copy the appropriate username/password, then switch to the app that I’m signing into with just a double-tap of the home button to paste them. Android has had a feature like this for longer than iOS, but the point is that iOS now has this feature (and others like pull-down notifications) that give it parity with some of Android’s best features.
I Didn’t Know what I was Missing
With my rooted Droid Incredible, I noticed that it ran more smoothly and felt more responsive overall than the default HTC Sense implementation. However, it still doesn’t compare to my iPhone 4s with iOS5. Everything animates smoother and faster; it runs at a near-constant 60fps, whereas my rooted Droid Incredible always seemed to run between 20 and 40fps.
The new iMessage function is also really nice. It seamlessly integrates with other iPhone users as a replacement for SMS texting. I love the fact that I can see if someone is in the process of typing a response to my message (just like most IM clients), and if for some reason the iMessage feature isn’t working, it falls back to standard SMS.
Siri is one of the most-talked-about features of the iPhone 4s, and it’s definitely cool. Android’s voice recognition on the Droid Incredible was good for text input, but it didn’t function well for other types of commands. With Siri, I can quickly set reminders for myself, send text messages, and look up information. I’ve found myself using it mostly to set reminders (I can perform most other tasks more quickly using touch inputs, but setting a reminder is a bit of a tedious process). Android does have a few apps that provide similar functionality, but they lack the polish of Siri.
Finally, as much as I dislike using iTunes on my computer (I prefer MediaMonkey), the syncing and integration between it and my iPhone is much better than what I had on my Droid Incredible. I can use Genius to auto-generate playlists on-the-fly, my song ratings sync between my phone and iTunes without any issues, and I can update my podcast subscriptions right on my phone without having to download them first on my PC.
I’m sure many will disagree with my conclusions, but the point of this post is to share my personal experiences, not convince others that the iPhone is somehow “better” than Android. Until getting my iPhone, I was a big Android fan and I generally did not care for the iPhone philosophy of simplicity over flexibility. However, I think the iPhone and iOS have evolved to the point where they offer the right balance of simplicity and flexibility for most people. If you’re a die-hard Android fan, take another look at the iPhone and iOS. I think you’ll be surprised at what they offer.