Random thoughts, ideas and experiences

Phone Wars – Achieving Locomotion

I recently spent an inordinate number of hours trying to figure out which mobile phone camp to join. Having no commitment or loyalty to any particular provider meant I had complete freedom of choice. Given that platform, it was a question of figuring out the pros and cons of the devices, operating systems and service providers and lining those with our particular needs.

Figuring out what is available out there is a time consuming affair. Making a list of all criteria and collecting data is boring. I spent most of my time in this department. “What exactly do I need from a smartphone?” is the question I should have been asking myself all along. In the end, focusing on this question made the decision more palpable.

Our Usage

I use my smartphone a lot. But barely for calls. I do not use text messages at all. I read a lot of stuff via Twitter, keep up on emails and chat on Google Talk. No interest in features like MMS, tethering, etc. My wife has similar usage patterns though she does not surf as much as me. She is at home for now and prefers her laptop most of the time. She may use her phone more when she gets back to work.

We have small kids so taking photos and videos and sharing them needs to be quick and easy. Good quality is also important, these are special memories. We are big Netflix junkies so getting that on our phone would be nice, though trusting Netflix, they will get streaming working on every phone anyway. We are not too big into music but it needs to be simple when needed. Off and on, we stream music in the car.

Service Providers

Verizon has the best coverage, Sprint is good too plus with 4G. AT&T performance is livable and T-Mobile is decent.

Verizon has the Droids, Sprint has the Evo, AT&T has the iPhone. T-Mobile does not have anything worth mention. Blackberrys are available across the board.

Verizon is the most expensive by feature, Sprint is the all-or-nothing cheapest, AT&T has cheaper data albeit with limits. T-Mobile has the no contract option.

Sprint’s 4G offers a next gen speed improvement but totally kills the Evo battery. Also, it is not that much faster than 3G in my experience and its future is questionable. Verizon’s and AT&T’s 4G plans seem to have more widespread backing. I have also read good things about T-Mobile’s 4G capable network. I guess we gotta wait another year before this is debatable.

Considering everything, I picked AT&T. Verizon was too expensive to justify the cost. Sprint was a great deal but unlimited everything is of no use given our usage patterns. T-Mobile had no phone I desired.

Yes, the AT&T network struggles but it mostly works. And the limited data plans seem adequate. We end up saving $20 per month because of this flexibility that others don’t offer.


The new breed of smartphones offer a lot of choice, much like the toothpaste aisle, measurable in a variety of ways – screen size and resolution, physical  keyboard, network capabilities, megapixels, etc.

The iPhone takes the best photos and videos. The iPod functionality is also the industry standard. No contest there. Not that the other devices were terrible in these departments so this was not a huge factor.

The large screen on the Evo and Droid X make surfing and reading a complete pleasure. My eyes are not too picky about the resolution so the 4.3″ devices won hands down. Although you can surf just fine on a 3.5″ device too. Not so game changing.

The larger screens did offer a better portrait keyboard experience, though in landscape mode, even my large hands felt stretched. The iPhone keyboard is pretty good too – I typed this entire post on it. Again not game changing. I am not much of a physical keyboard lover, so that was not really considered.

Battery life is another line item. I do not travel much and usually have a power outlet or laptop nearby, but constantly having to worry about juice is not acceptable. The Evo has many battery horror stories. I had it for a few weeks and it performed quite well mainly because I never kept 4G turned on. On the iPhone 4, the battery lasts 1.5 times longer than the Evo does (without 4G). Not sure how the Droids perform but they are probably comparable to the Evo (without 4G). iPhone won this one, I could go to work with 40% charge and not worry.

One factor I did not consider originally was the front facing camera and FaceTime. The integration is just fantastic on the iPhone and I have used it for literally hours thanks to a trip away from my kids. Qik on the Evo would have worked too, but the integration is poor. Apple really got this right, though AT&T needs to get its act together to support calls over their network. Once that happens though, unlimited data will become desirable again. Or perhaps FaceTime data would need to have a different quota, or AT&T to AT&T calls free or something.

And antenna gate? Yes it is an issue and I have had some dropped calls. But I call back, and *hold* the phone differently, until my case arrives, after perhaps 2-3 months! A big compromise but I am okay with it, and apparently, so are the other millions who kept their iPhones regardless.

Overall, all devices are almost made equal. In my case, the biggest contenders were the Evo and the iPhone. And the iPhone won because AT&T won in the service provider department. Paying $30 extra per month for stuff I would not end up using just does not make sense.

A short blurb on the other contenders. I am not a business user, not that big into email or corporate integration. These are perhaps Blackberry’s strengths. If it is a question of surfing the Internet, the Blackberry offers no contest as of today. Being number one may change that soon but not today. Same story for the other contenders, just no contest.

Operating Systems

iOS is just plain intuitive. My daughter was comfortable on the iPhone when she was barely two. My wife loves it too. Lots of restrictions bug me, but they are getting better over time, some perhaps worse.

Android is very cool too, I am very attracted to the freedom. But I notice how my wife uses her iPhone 2-3 times more often than when she had an Evo. Something about the Android interface is just amiss. Just look at the settings app and it becomes evident. More isn’t always better. Google is luckily investing in improving it.

Blackberry, I already covered before, it is too clunky once you have a touch bias. It reminds me of my WinMo phone from yesteryears, just pure torture. RIM is also reacting and coming out with newer stuff. Until a real product success, they will have to coast on their entrenched user base. Something like Windows XP. Hope they don’t create a Vista.

The Windows 7 phone – have not looked at this at all, still on the drawing board with some YouTube videos thrown in. Microsoft is struggling though and desperately need a major hit.

iOS and Android are very comparable. But Android still needs lots of work to get to a two year old’s comfort level. Of course, being adults, we could manage with both.

Again, iOS won because AT&T won earlier. And once you pick a service provider who does provide an iPhone, why would you pick Android?

In retrospect, given how things are in the US, service providers seem to be the biggest deciding factor. If both me and my wife were heavy service users, Sprint is the most affordable. AT&T provides more flexibility and the Apple experience. Verizon is for those who need a highly reliable service. T-Mobile needs to figure out their niche. I feel their no contract plan might just be it but not sure if America cares.

It seems to me that focusing on the device may not be the best way to decide unless you do not care for the service or have deep pockets. Either way, there is choice and that is finally what matters.


Filed under: Review

One Response

  1. Manjunath Shivappa says:


    beautiful writing. you have now convinced me to go for Iphone :). hope to see more of this writing in the future.

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