Zig


I’ve been seesawing a fair bit regarding phones these past few weeks, and believe (perhaps mistakenly) the whys and wherefores are worthy of note.

First off, given the current circumstances, it weighs very heavily on my conscience to consider spending more on a phone than many people bring home at the end of the month – I’d have to buy it off-contract (the 32GB model costs 800 Euro), and even given my recent garage sale, I’m only about halfway there.

I’ve already handled it, and quite honestly found it hard to justify the expense – were it not for my 3GS being somewhat creaky and jittery, I would probably not even bother. But all things come to an end, and it’s had a good, long run – longer than any other device I’ve used in the past decade, really.

As to the iPhone 5, the build quality I’ve seen is top-notch (both black and white alike), and after the first few minutes of thinking “boy, this thing doesn’t really fit in my hand”, that feeling tuned out. Still, while grabbing it off a desk to test a few things I kept finding it subtly off – like an unshaven Buddhist monk.

Truth be told that I’ve handled a number of “larger” phones recently, and those felt odder – unshaven Buddhist monk wearing fuchsia robes kind of odd, just about – and I dislike anything that won’t fit into a trouser pocket and stay there.

The new form factor is just… odd. But my unusual amount of experience with the iPhone and similar devices has also built up the shores of my cynicism until they’re massive tsunami-defying cliffs, and that (besides cost) might be the reason I’m hesitating so much.

Although I praise the Apple user experience to no end, every now and then I have to wonder what the hell were they thinking?

The lack of other physical changes (besides being slimmer and lighter to a degree that really doesn’t matter) is a bit annoying, but unlike the random pundits I can tell you explicitly why that is so for me, and it boils down to one thing:

Task switching is still a royal pain.

The home button is still there, hampering usage and preventing you from getting anywhere without gauche double-tapping (made significantly harder due to the new size and weight distribution). It is perfect for most people, but a royal pain once you’ve tasted multi-tasking (which is so much easier on other platforms).

There are other things, but they are mostly minor. I don’t give a whit about the hassle of getting a 4FF SIM card, the Lightning connector or the current pseudo-drama around the degree to which the aluminium casing is anodised, and the only aspect I’d single out (as a generic issue of most modern devices) is glass.

My wife’s 3GS got broken twice, and the last time the thing left little shards all over the place after one of the kids knocked it over (always a nice thing to happen at around 4AM).

Gorilla glass is great, but when it breaks, it’s a mess – hardly what you’d call kid-safe, and one of the reasons I never had much interest in getting an iPhone 4 or 4S. I’m glad that’s mostly sorted out now, but the prospect of cracking the screen of a 800 Euro device is… sobering.

Then come alternatives, and other considerations thereof. The app ecosystem is one of the latter – the iPad on which I’m typing this is still the best in class, so that investment is safe – but poking around in the Microsoft marketplace seriously put me off Windows Phone for the time being (and I’m going to leave it at that for now, even though I love the-thing-you-can’t-call-Metro-anymore).

Which leaves Android – it’s become more and more interesting to me, to the point where my biggest frustration isn’t its fragmentation or usability (there are plenty of counter-intuitive iOS apps) but rather the utter impossibility of acquiring devices (plural emphasised) that embody the reference user experience.

I like Android for its potential, love tinkering around in the internals, and have built complete versions of the OS for a few devices now (even though I had to put those on hold for a bit). But finding a phone running it that I can live with is an entirely different proposition altogether, unless it’s the Galaxy Nexus. Which is preposterously, forever(?), alone.

Seriously, what the hell is Google thinking? I’ve already established to my satisfaction that I can buy two Samsung Galaxy Nexus instead of a single iPhone, but investing in a 2-year-old device for the sake of platform purity is a tad on the obsessive side.

And yet, after fiddling around with a bunch of other Android devices, I’ve no love for anything but the vanilla OS.

Honestly, I wish Google enforced the default look-and-feel as part of its licensing deals – the biggest problem Android is facing isn’t form factor or OS fragmentation, but experience fragmentation as each vendor wraps the OS in the mobile equivalent of crapware.

So I’ve got three choices before my 3GS breaks, really:

  • Bite the bullet, save more money and get an iPhone 5 (as well as a kid-proof case made of adamantium)
  • Accept Andy Rubin as my saviour and get a Galaxy Nexus (even though Google is likely to replace it with another device real soon now and sell it online everywhere but here)
  • Buy a second-hand Android phone, build my own system image for it, and live with it for a while

I’m not particularly happy with any of the above, really (although the third is both geekier and seductive than either of the other two, the effort involved almost cancels it out), so I’m going to sit on the matter for a bit longer.