Android Compromise

by Dave Michels

Fifteen months ago I bought a Motorola Droid (Droided). It was the state of the art Android phone on the market. I got it the day it went on sale.
Just over a year a later, the phone is ok, but generally obsolete. The amount of innovation that has taken place is amazing. Verizon has done a decent job of upgrading the phone, but its CPU, screen, basic design are stuck in the dark ages.
My family is split between two carriers and two family plans, consolidating to one will offer a big savings and Tmobile wins.
Being a phone person, I put quite a bit of thought into which model to get. There were three contenders: The Nexus S, The G2, and the MyTouch 4G. To cut to the chase, I went with the MyTouch 4G. All three are Tmo’s top of the line, the oldest model, the G2, has been for sale for about two months. 
A new phone should have me pretty excited (the kids are), but I am not. It’s a huge upgrade, but it was frustrating that despite all the innovation taking place, despite all the choices, despite the fact a phone a year old is obsolete. a perfect phone is still not on the market.  Each of the three phones had their attributes, but none stood out as the right model. The compromises were too many.
The Nexus S is technically the state of the art. Several reviews site it as the best Android phone on the market. But It was the first to be eliminated. No 4G, and Tmo has 4G in Boulder. Plus no HDMI and no SD wreaks of planned obsolescence.

Of course, the Apple fans will insist that the Android ecosystem of choice is a negative, and Apple’s approach of take it or leave it is far less stressful.  Apple has done an excellent job in crafting a solution which appeals to a large audience. But not me.Apple gave a monopoly to AT&T; which, by reputation is not particularly good in terms of coverage, not dropping calls, 4G, or customer service (it seems an alternative carrier is now in the works). But the iPhone too has numerous restrictions and compromises as well. 
There is truth though to choice being a disadvantage. I went through a major home remodel and choices can be exhausting. The logic of “any color you want as long as its black” shines through as wisdom when decisions get overwhelming.
There is no point in discussing the features and specs of each phone, they will all be off the market in just six months. Instead, let me focus on the key features I wanted, and the compromises forced upon me. 
4G: “4G” was confusing, but now that the standards bodies have defined it so none of the carriers meet it, I guess we are all better off. But I figured the new faster network is a top priority. I don’t do a lot of surfing on my phone because its so painfully slow, not true anymore. “4G” speeds are faster than my home Internet connection. Plus, I intend to tether and avoid future hotel wireless fees (tethering is working out of the box, but rumor has it that a monthly fee is coming). Two of the three phones had this.
Screen: Large phones are a pain, but these smartphones do so many things that it seems a worthwhile trade-off. The largest screens seem to be about 4” now – which is pretty darn huge for a phone. I like the Samsung AMOLED screens, they are sharp and easier to read outdoors. There are only a few phones on the market with large 4” screens.  
Front Facing Camera: I don’t really expect to use this very much, but I wanted it. I think the industry is going to rapidly embrace video chat to mobiles over the next few years and being a self proclaimed pundit, I felt it necessary to have first hand experience.  One of the three phones had this.
Gingerbread: I am sure the carriers intended to charge for upgrades rather than offer them for free, but thanks to fierce competition the upgrades seem to flow for free – albeit slowly. So as much a I wanted the latest and greatest, I figure it will only be a few months for it to make its way to the other phones under consideration. The bigger issue is hardware compatibility with the new OS. One release is fairly low risk, but each subsequent version has a higher risk factor. Starting with the most current version does make the most sense. One of the three phones had this.
Keyboard: A year ago, I placed a high value on a physical keyboard, but the Droid’s was so useless that I’ve adapted to living without one. Actually Swype is often faster (and sometimes slower) than a physical keyboard. I decided the bulkiness of the keyboard was a bigger disadvantage to the slim benefit of not having one. One of the three phones had this.

Stock Android: I wanted Stock Android. I got this stupid MyTouch GUI which I may indeed have to remove somehow. I hope I grow fond of it, but I don’t foresee it. Here is a sample issue: All Android phones have a swipe type of unlock, and an optional higher level of security with a pattern or code. I set a secret pattern for improved security. Normally creating a password or pattern deactivates the swipe unlock, but not on the Mytouch. So now to access the phone, I need to first swipe unlock, then swipe my security pattern. That’s double the work to get into the phone, and there is no way around it (there are apps that remove all security). Jury is still out on the “genius” button, but I think I’d prefer the stock “search” button. Two of the three phones had stock Android.

Decent Hardware Specs: One thing I learned with my Droid is that the hardware is what makes a phone obsolete. If I actually keep this phone for the two year term I agreed to, I can assume about 2-4 major OS releases, each with new features. When I got the Droid, there was no Swype, no video chat, no 802.11n, voice over 3G was a theory, etc. The Nexus S has the new Near Field radio, but I don’t do check-ins and don’t need to make spending money easier, so that can wait. I wanted a slot for an SD card (got that), an HDMI port (didn’t get that), 4G (yes), decent processor and RAM (got that).  Decent hardware also opens the door to third party ROMs. None of the phones had dream hardware.

No Bloatware: I am not as opposed to free trial software on my phone as I am on my PC. Installing and removing programs on a PC seems to contribute to instability and I have not seen that as much on phones. I am opposed to apps I can’t remove.
So out of the eight categories I listed above, I compromised four times. That’s not even counting the obvious compromises, like crappy cameras, crappy battery life, and carrier lock-in. No wonder I’m not giddy with “New Phone Syndrome”. That’s a shame, because these phones are absolutely amazing, what they can and will do. Over the next few models (generations?) we will see improvements in the above categories, plus Bluetooth 3.0, dual core processors, Near Field Communications will become usable, improved graphics, tablet functions, camera improvements, battery improvements, and who knows what else. The question is will they get it all in one phone?
Here is the paradox – when the first iPhone came out, it was the most expensive phone on the planet. It introduced the notion of a two year contract too. It was a category killer and winner. I don’t understand why the vendors are all rushing to the same price-point with so many compromises? I would have paid more for an HDMI port, stock Android, a larger screen, and Gingerbread. I think many would have – so why so many compromises? Despite all the choices, every new Android phone is basically the same, slightly different near specs and $200 with a two year contract. I am sure the market is open to more.
Each carrier has multiple Android phones, and the manufacturers are scrambling to create new designs. But they just can’t seem to nail it. Device wise, I think I could have done a little better with Sprint or Verizon, but then there are other compromises like monthly cost and 4G in Denver.