I've debated writing an article like this for months, but until recently, my phone addiction has been so rampant that the article wouldn't have had a long shelf life. I've worked with over 120 review phones this year and if my count is correct, personally owned 39. If you've followed my content, you know that I've spent 2011 with smartphones like the unlocked Samsung Galaxy S II, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, BlackBerry Bold 9930, Motorola DROID 3, HTC Sensation 4G, Apple iPhone 4, and HTC EVO 3D. I keep accounts open with all four nationwide carriers, and have ported my number around countless times - so much that most of my wireless accounts have been mistakenly flagged for fraud at some point. (What can I say, the carrier's backend systems aren't equipped to handle what we do.)
There are two questions I get asked regularly: "What phone do you recommend, X or Y?" and "Which phone do you carry personally?" The first one, while hard, can sometimes be answered (especially when it's an easy one like "DROID RAZR or original RAZR?"). But you'll find that most product reviewers will avoid answering the latter question.
And there's a reason why we keep our personal choices off the radar. You see, in today's wireless game, the enthusiast hatred is so rampant that mentioning any benefit of any platform means I'm a "fanboy." I must be on said company's payroll if I speak positively about a particular platform, right? Android has fantastic Google integration, you say? By golly, I must have been paid by Google to say that!
I genuinely don't get it.
It's unfortunate, because it has nothing to do with our journalistic integrity. What works for me - and what I appreciate about my phone(s) - may be completely different from what you like, want, or need. That's why when you approach me with questions like "iPhone 3GS or HTC Vivid?," it's often hard for me to give you a response. There's no "one size fits all" phone, and beyond asking you some basic questions, I can't get a real feel of what you use your phone for. It's completely dependent on what matters most to you. My mother loves Android ("Droid," as she erroneously calls it). My father prefers iOS. I sold both of them on their respective platforms, and they're both happy with their choices.
There are things I love and hate about every major mobile OS on the market, and for each device I review, I can give you a list of positive and negative features. I go back and forth between what matters most to me on a weekly basis - ask me what phone I'm using in a month, and I may mention that I'm using an Android device because, for that particular week, Google Maps meant more to me than anything else.
I love Google Maps and the Gmail integration on Android, but hate that to this day, it's plagued with random software glitches that make me feel like I'm dealing with beta software. Apple's iOS does a great job in the media department, but is absolutely terrible at email management beyond casual use. Windows Phone is incredibly fluid and painless to use, but the lack of customization beyond some colors and a wallpaper that you don't even see once past the lockscreen makes it painfully obvious that it is still in its infancy.
I accepted a long time ago that there's no perfect phone out there. But for me, the closest thing I can find that serves my needs best - and the phone that I've used since its launch - is Apple's iPhone 4S. Here's why.
This is perhaps the biggest misconception in what I do. Just because I work in technology on a daily basis doesn't mean I want my products and services to be unnecessarily complex. In fact, I tend to go the opposite way - I spend 60-70 hours per week working with wireless devices, dealing with random issues, playing with settings, and the like. In my time off, I'll always migrate to the solution that's the easiest.
Consistency is the number one requirement for a mobile device for me. I want a device that works the same way every single time. When I open the web browser, I expect it to take the same amount of time to open each and every time. When it doesn't, it aggravates me. When the haptic feedback doesn't match up to what I'm doing, I want to punch kittens. Having a sluggish phone with a 1.5 GHz dual-core is like having an Aston Martin that sputters as it goes down the road.
While you'll never have a device that's 100 percent fail-free (these are computers, after all), I've yet to find another device that performs as fluidly as the iPhone 4S. It has issues from time to time, but the frequency is far less than Android, and I'm not greeted with an ugly "force close" message each time an application fails to perform properly. Microsoft's Windows Phone does an excellent job with consistency as well.
Android as a whole has certainly improved in this department over the years - and took a leap in the right direction with Ice Cream Sandwich's smoothed fonts and improved transition effects - but it's still no match. Using the Galaxy Nexus as an example, I'm amazed that transition effects often take 2-5 seconds to load. To be Google's flagship Android device at the moment, having that kind of lag is unacceptable to a consistency nut like me.
I'm usually met with the "you should buy and root an Android device!" response when I bring this up, and my thought process goes two ways. One, my consumer-driven mindset kicks in with a response like "I shouldn't have to modify the software - it should work well out of the box." More importantly (assuming I were fine with and had the time to spend rooting), force closes, random errors, and issues that come with hacking and tweaking are fine when it's not your primary device, but I can't afford to have the potential downtime on my phone. I can't be on a conference call while traveling and have my phone kick into an endless bootloop because I'm running a non-official software build. I can't risk that downtime on my primary line.
I've never been a huge music buff - and all things considered, I'm still not - but I listen to music while in my car and while at the gym. When I mention the ease of use of the iTunes ecosystem and my desire to find something similar for Android or Windows Phone, I'm greeted with an array of cloud music options. I can appreciate the "send it to the cloud!" trend that's taking off as of late, and it works really well when you have data connectivity. Not so much when you're in a WiFi-less airplane, in a dead zone (which, much to my chagrin, still exist), or getting close to your tiered monthly data allotment. All things that still happen to me on a daily basis. Each alternative also requires too many steps. Downloading an app, streaming music, moving a song to a playlist, clicking "make available offline." Too much.
I like owning my music, and I like the synchronization abilities that come with iOS 5 and iTunes 5. I buy a song on my computer, and it auto-syncs to my iPhone (and vice-versa). Again, very easy.
I've heard a ton of people say things like "I never used Siri beyond the first few days," or "Siri? What a gimmick." Be that as it may, I use it multiple times a day. I plug my iPhone into the auxiliary jack in my car, and use the iPod to listen to music while driving. Combine that with the fact that I'm EXTREMELY opposed to texting or doing any gesture input on my phone that requires me to look at it while driving, and you can see how Siri makes for a great companion while on the road. Without taking my eyes off the road, I can press and hold the home button, say "Play 'International Love,'" and my song loads.
I travel internationally enough that switching out phones has become a hassle, and the lack of global roaming capabilities continue to push me away from using a Verizon 4G LTE Android device as my daily driver. I used to keep a spare internationally-capable BlackBerry around to handle my globetrotting, but the constant ESN swaps before leaving, changing domestic features, and migrating information back and forth between two phones got old quickly.
With the Verizon iPhone 4S, I activate international services (calling, text, data) on top of existing domestic features prior to leaving, and outside of toggling between Airplane Mode, I can land in most countries and turn on my phone like I'm in the States. Pictures, data, music, and more stay in the same place. One-stop shop.
Out of all of the smartphones I've used, battery life continues to shine on the iPhone 4S in comparison to Android and Windows Phone equivalents. It has taken a hit for sure with iOS 5 and the 4S' dual-core processor, but it still outperforms other smartphones I've worked with this year. And perhaps more importantly for someone that travels as much as I do: it charges faster than any other device I've ever worked with. I live off of quick charges while on the road (outlets are surprisingly scarce), and 20 minutes is usually enough to get the job done.
I spend hours each day on mobile devices, so the smoother the fonts and the better the apps look, the happier I am at the end of the day. Apps aren't a big deal to me (I find that most of the apps I use are mainstream options that are available across the three main platforms); what is a big deal to me is how they look. And I can't recall looking at an Android app and complimenting its looks in comparison to its iOS and Windows Phone counterparts.
Is it a wonderphone that everyone should carry? Absolutely not. Would I recommend it to everyone? Nope. I can go off on a tirade of things I don't like about it. Email management has been especially bugging me lately. But for today, it's the device that allows me to check off the most number of features on the "things that matter to Aaron Baker" list, so it remains in my pocket. At least until tomorrow.