[This is a bit long because it’s several posts that I’ve been meaning to write for a while all rolled into one. Don’t fell you have to read all…or any of it!]
What that in your pocket?
I know that many posts have started with these words but here they are again: I am a technical person. I work in IT and I have a degree in Software Engineering. But I like to think that I break the mould slightly. I don’t fit the stereotype of software developer or IT operations, and part of that that is that I claim no real close affinity with any particular technology. I use what works for me and that’s not always the thing that the stereotypical “techie” would use.
And so, you might ask, what sort of mobile device does a person like me have?
A bit of history
Well. I loved, I dearly loved, my little Sony Ericsson mobile that I used up until about January. I’d had several and they’d always been good phones: quick, reliable, easy to use. I confess that I hold a bit of a grudge against Nokia because, though they were at the heart of the cheap mobile phone revolution 10 or 12 years ago, their user interfaces became shockingly bad at one point, and I’ve not gone back.
But times have changed. Technology relentlessly advances. I (sort of) won an iPod Touch in a competition. I thought it was pretty good, but being tethered to WiFi, and not having a camera or microphone or GPS limited its capability. And as a social media user, blogger, and now fledgling part-time freelancer, a smart phone was looking more and more like the thing that I needed.
A friend of mine told me at the time that “An iPod Touch is just training wheels for an iPhone”. But I’ve always been put off by the cost of iPhones. Yes, the iPod Touch is BRILLIANT, but I can buy a decent laptop for the cost of an iPhone. The value – the ratio of usefulness and quality to cost – of an iPhone has always been too low.
Taking the Pulse
I then saw this review of a T-Mobile’s first pay-as-you-go Android phone, the Pulse. Coming in at around £150 it looked like good value and after my lovely wife’s not-so-lovely experience of a semi-smart phone with a resistive touchscreen, and my very good experience of the iPod, one of the key things I was looking for was a capacitive screen1, which the Pulse had!
At the time (January this year), Pulse’s were like hotcakes and the cheapest way to buy one was on eBay, and I got a good deal on a hardly-used second-hand one.
And, to be honest, it was a little disappointing. It ran an older version of Android (v1.5) and was slow and unresponsive at times. The phone had a very small amount of built-in memory and Android, without hacking it, doesn’t let you store applications on the memory card, so I was limited in how much useful stuff I could do with it.
Don’t get me wrong, this device was one third of the cost of an iPhone, but has 3G, WiFi, a camera, GPS, an electronic compass, a capacitive screen, all the things I wanted, and is incredibly useful. But the hardware just doesn’t have the power to cope with all it can do. The usefulness and quality to cost ratio is kept low by the quality and, specifically, it’s a nightmare using it as a phone!
I don’t really want to hack or “Jailbreak” my phone, for fear of breaking something that’s incredibly useful to me, but T-Mobile did eventually release an Android update to version 2.1. This has vastly improved the Pulse, but it’s still slow, and the upgrade took up MORE space in the phone’s memory so I have even LESS space for applications and data.
T-Mobile or Not T-Mobile
I’ve been wanting to write a separate blog post, just so I can use this title, but never got around to it.
There was a bit of faffing with the phone being locked, no one being able to unlock it apart from T-Mobile and T-Mobile refusing to do it for me, which resulted in me switching to a pay-as-you-go T-Mobile tariff. This was actually a really good move as I get unlimited texts and internet for topping up £10/month. I don’t make many voice calls so this is incredible value and, OK, T-Mobile’s coverage isn’t great, but it’s good enough for me!
So what to do…?
So I ended up with two “smart” devices. The iPod touch, which was dependant on WiFi for many things and never realised its full potential by not having things like a camera and GPS. And the Pulse, which is a good device, but poor enough quality to be frustrating to use.
And I had the double frustration of spending most of the time charging, carrying around, and interchangeably using two different devices – a situation which reached maximum annoying-ness at Greenbelt Festival, and while on holiday earlier this month.
The techie bit
In the meantime, my lovely wife got an HTC Desire on a very good tariff (also from T-Mobile). This is a top-spec Android phone that works, and works really very nicely. As a techie I should love the open-source nature of Android, the ease with which you can develop for it, the openness of the Android Application Market, and, well, the fact that it’s nothing to do with Microsoft or Apple.
But you know what. Android just doesn’t cut it for me. I see my lovely wife using a task killer and, well, you shouldn’t need to use a task killer to save battery on a consumer electronics device. You should have reliable performance. You shouldn’t have to think about “mounting” an SD memory card, what processes are running, using apps that seem to permanently be in “Beta”, or which launcher app to use. Applications should have consistent interfaces and be easy to use. And poor-quality, slow Android devices shouldn’t exist – the user experience should be dependable, and it’s not! Experience varies wildly between hardware platforms. I even think multi-tasking is over-rated – the speed with which I can switch apps on my iPod means I don’t need multi-tasking!!
Now, I’m not going to say that iPhones and iPods do all of that, but I am going to defend Apple’s policies because I think they are good! Apple deliver a known OS on a known hardware specification and release vetted apps that meet certain requirements for usability and usefulness and that use a given set of API’s. I know why people don’t like this, but the fact is that these are the things that enable the experience of using an iPod Touch or an iPhone to be so good and so consistent.
Apple’s smart devices aren’t perfect, but I’ve actually come to the conclusion that the sum of their usefulness and quality is pretty high.
But does that make the value of an iPhone higher than that of a good Android device – especially given the cost?
I confess that a certain something (a good thing) has happened that has meant that I have a little more money than I had before, to the extent that I can “subsidise” the cost of a new smart phone. Yes, actually, I do still think that iPhones are overpriced and that they’re not good value, but – heck – I’ve ordered one anyway. It’s a BIG treat and I feel slightly bad about it, but when I got back from holiday and got WiFi connectivity for my iPod Touch again I realised how much better the experience of the Apple device is. It’s intangible…I can’t pin it down. I want a device that I use every day to just work, to do what I need it to do, and to be good quality. And I desperately hope that that’s what will be winging its way to my postbox in a couple of weeks.