Friday, August 20, 2010

What Does a Smartphone Do?

It's been about a month since I received my HTC Droid Incredible. I'm extremely pleased. Recently I've been thinking about the various ways this phone has changed my life.

I have a history of limited success with my cellphone choices. The phones I've had thus far were... okay. Most of them got the job done and that was about it. So, it's been somewhat revelatory having a true smartphone for the last month.

A quick rundown of my previous phones: The first was a Kyocera stick phone that pulled little more than basic phone duty, I had phone numbers stored in it but that's about it. Next was a Samsung flip phone, and with that phone I added alarm clock duties that are now requisite on all my phones. After that was an LG flip phone, which I started using for light camera work and text messaging. Then I made a big jump from Verizon to AT&T and I got a Blackberry Pearl, which also marked the shift from texting to email, a little more contact management, occasional searches, and infrequent GPS duties.

I was terribly disappointed in AT&T's service, though. So as soon as we had the chance we jumped ship back to Verizon. I splurged and for the first time bought the phone I really wanted, the Incredible. Of course it's picked up the duties of the previous phone, but it's so much more capable. Here's a list of what this phone is to me, with a brief review of the features.

  • It's a phone! Well, duh. It is a decent phone with good call quality. I've used the speakerphone a lot with great success. I like to use it so Kevin can talk to his grandmother without having to hand the phone over to him. My only gripe is that I instinctively hit the "Phone" button but all that's available from there is a numeric keypad. If you hit the numbers it will then select contacts based on the old-school phone key mappings, but it's difficult to call those contacts secondary numbers. I want an alpha keypad so I can search contacts and then easily select which of their numbers to call. The solution is to put the People shortcut within easy reach and teach yourself to use that instead.
  • It's the Internet! The Internet capabilities of this phone are pretty great. It has some Flash support, but that's not the strength. The browser on this is really great. Navigation and zoom is every bit as good as the iPhone, but it's a bit quicker. Actually, the zoom functionality is better because not only can you easily zoom in on your text but the browser then changes the flow of the text to match the width of the screen. It does this with tables and some other elements, too. For instance, if I browse the forum I frequent using my phone then I can zoom in on the thread titles column, it will then resize that column of the table to match the width of the screen so that I no longer have to scroll horizontally to read the entire title. Maybe that sounds minor, but it's huge for readability. Counter point: Navigation between tabs takes a few actions more than iOS.
  • It's an email client! That sounds like a non-issue, doesn't it? However, Android phones have the advantage of fantastic GMail integration. Basically, the GMail client on this phone is a native-running version of the web interface. Sure, there's a few differences, but it's a phone. It supports conversations, labels, and all that GMail goodness. The way other clients handle some of GMail's features really annoys me. For instance, my Blackberry would treat my Google Reader shared items as new messages when they hit Buzz. It would also treat every message sent as a message received because of the way conversations work. Android doesn't do that. It easily handles both of my accounts. On top of that I also have an IMAP account and my Yahoo! account. The Blackberry had some great shortcuts that I miss, but the pros far outweigh the cons here.
  • It's a camera! The camera on this thing is simply amazing. I turned the capture resolution down to 5MP, because I just don't need the extra detail that the max 8MP resolution offers. The flash works okay, especially for a phone. It's not too slow, either. It's great because I finally have a camera on my person that takes passable pictures and doesn't require 2 minutes to warm up. (The Blackberry was terrible about opening the camera app, and then it took grainy low res pictures.) There's no downside here.
  • It's an IM client! Maybe this falls under the Internet, but I think it warrants its own bullet. I no longer send SMS "text" messages. Instead, I use IM over my phone. Why pay the outrageous rates for SMS messages/plans when I'm already paying for a data plan? There's no need at all. Plus, I'm more highly available via IM because I can have it open on my computer or my phone. I did this a bit with the Blackberry, but I found it to be annoying. This phone handles the conversations a bit better and I like the onscreen keyboard better than the Pearl's keyboard. It helps that this device is so much more responsive, so I can reply very quickly. The downside is that some people still think SMS is a good idea, I've started telling them to use my Google Voice number.
  • It's an iPod! Well, it's at least an MP3 player. I don't think the music players available on this thing quite stack up to the iPod, but they're close enough to render my iPod Touch a paperweight. Between the music stored on my phone and Pandora, I probably use this thing 30 hours a week for just that. I need to get a bigger MicroSD card, but otherwise it's completely replaced my old music player. It also has some features that the iPod lacks, like an FM tuner. If my commute ever changes back to one that relies on public transit then I will use this more, but I've already used it a few times if there's something interesting on NPR and I have to get out of my car.
  • It's an alarm! I mentioned this one before, I use my phone as my alarm. The alarm on this is much better than my Blackberry's was. It's almost the same as my iPod's alarm, but the iPod's weak external speaker rendered that useless. I suspect any iPhone would be equally good. The last time I had a phone with this good of an alarm system was the LG. I'll add in here that it's also my watch. I haven't worn a watch more than a handful of times since I started carrying a cellphone.
  • It's my planner! I generally have no clue what the date is. Actually, there's a lot of times where I can't pinpoint the day of the week. I have to try very hard to remember what's planned. The phone syncs nicely with Google Calendar and I've started putting things directly in via the phone. As I get more used to this I may even stop relying so heavily on my wife to remember what the hell I'm doing on a given day.
  • It's got the traffic and weather! When it's quick and easy to pull up this information on your phone there's that much more incentive to take a second to check this info. I can glance at the weather in the morning, and I normally check the traffic before I leave the parking lot after work.
  • It's a GPS Navigator! I have a Garmin that I use on the weekends, so I haven't had too much of a chance to use the GPS. I did use it a few times, once as a test on my way to work. Another time to find a restaurant in Passaic. Both times I found the turn by turn directions to be on par with Garmin's, though the text to speech system isn't as good. I'm a big fan of GPS navigation and I'd always planned to eventually get a second unit for my truck, but I've scrapped that now. The navigator on my phone is good enough for lighter duty use and I can use the Garmin for longer trips.
  • It's a time killer! Like the iPod/iPhone, this device is great for little hand held games. I have a few on it already. These are perfect for taking a break or in the waiting room. Yesterday I managed to play a game of Minesweeper while my boss took a call. [Don't tell her that.] Of course, I can also play most YouTube videos on it if I want. Or I can pull up Google Reader and churn through my RSS feeds.
  • It's going to be my 3G modem! I did root my phone but I've yet to get the tethering to work correctly. I will, though, and I'm sure it will come in handy eventually.
I could go on into minutia but I'll stop there. I think the point is clear, this is a very useful device. Some of the uses are limited and others are trivial, but overall it's great to have around.

I will temper my enthusiasm, though. By now you've heard that the battery life on Android phones is terrible, and I won't dispute that claim. Depending on what I'm doing I've gone anywhere from 12 hours to 2 days between charges. It helps to put the phone into airplane mode at night, something akin to the sleep mode that Blackberry phones have. There's also something to be said for the sheer volume of my personal data that I've entrusted to Google, which is a topic I could write an entire post on.

There's also the iPhone comparison issue. It is inescapable to compare the Incredible, or really any Android phone, to the iPhone. For me the Incredible wins hands down. When others mention they're in the market for another phone I tell them that the iPhone will serve them well. This is akin to my advice with portable music players, I prefer not to go the Apple route* but I point almost everyone else in that direction if they're looking for such a device. I actually don't point people away from Android, but I recommend they go to the store and try out the different offerings.

*I have an iPod Touch because I won it, I still have my iAudio player from before that but the iPod holds 16x as much music so it was impossible to resist at the time. As I mentioned, the iPod is now a paperweight.

I'll have to see how this phone ages. I plan to write about my experiences with it and any tips, tricks, or particularly useful apps that I find. For now, let's just say I'm pretty happy being an android.

1 comment:

Old Fart said...

Thank you, very informative.