Choosing a New Phone

by @edent | # # # # # # | 10 comments | Read ~930 times.

ARRRRRGGGGHHHH!

Dead BlackBerry

Dead BlackBerry

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Due to a crazy taxi driver (are there any other kind) and a violent swerve, my BlackBerry Bold 9000 is no more. Bereft of life, it rusts in pieces, and other such Pythonesque metaphors.

Arse. I truly feel like I'm missing an extension to my body. There's a symbiotic relationship which develops between a geek and his phone. It entertains me, informs me, keeps me on time and allows me to rapidly communicate with a variety of methods. In return, I feed it electricity, load it up with useful programs, decorate its skin and snuggle up to it.

I miss it so much.

Every Cloud...

Now's a prime time to choose a new smartphone. So many new models on the market. Which to go for?

What I look for in a mobile

I've had many many phones. Some wonderful (Treo 180) some dire (Apple iPhone). I know exactly what I want and what I need.  For a device that I use several times an hour every single day, I don't want to compromise on any aspect.  Perfection is what I demand.  So, what was it that made the BlackBerry Bold the perfect phone for me?

  • Physical keyboard.  I do a lot of typing on the device.  I've used soft keyboards (Android, iPhone, Storm) and they just don't do it for me.  Even with the haptic feedback, it's just not the same for speedy typing.  I liked handwriting recognition on the Treo 180 and the Nokia N97 - but in terms of speed & accuracy a physical keyboard is a must.  More than that, it needs to be a good keyboard.  The keyboard on the N97 is dreadful - it feels like a cheap calculator.  The N810 has an awful layout and virtually no travel on the button push. I need raised keys and to feel a click so I can touch-type.
  • Exchange integration.  I use my device for work.  Things which I regularly use my 'berry for are were: email and calendar sync'd over the air.  Address lookup - if I meet Jo Blogs at work, I can type her name in to the address book and look up her email, phone number, address etc (if she's in the corporate address book).
  • The BlackBerry Enterprise messenger is also really useful.  I don't use IM for personal use much any more - but work runs on it.  Sadly it's basaed on Microsoft Office Communicator rather than anything open or useful.
  • Quick start-up.  When you shut down a BlackBerry, it effectively goes into "suspend" mode.  I switch it on first thing in the morning and it's on and receiving email instantly.
  • Auto on-off.  At 2300 every weekday, my phone shuts down. So if I've forgotten to switch it off, I don't get disturbed during the night.  At 0700 it wakes up and gets to work.
  • Multiple email accounts.  I want to reply from 1 enterprise and 2 personal accounts.
  • USB interface for charging.  Batter life isn't massivly important and I'm never away from a power socket for a few hours.
  • Compatible with Linux for charging, reading files, tethering.
  • Speed dial, form factor, excellent hierarchical bookmarks structure.
  • GPS & Mapping.
  • Good browser.  I like the modern RIM browser - I know they're moving to Webkit, but I don't find the current one so bad.

Well, so far it looks like I'm going for a BlackBerry. Right.  Not quite.

What I hate about BlackBerry

  • No front-facing-camera.  I like video calling. I'm the only one in the UK who does, apparently.  But with more 3G phones coming on to the market, I'm hopeful that more people will come round to it.
  • Lack of updates.  It seems to take ages for any new developments to come out of RIM.  I understand why - you can't fiddle around too much with business critical devices - but I like shiny new features.
  • Speed. Perhaps it's running OS 5.0 on the 9000, but everything seems a little sluggish.  I'm very quick with my fingers yet I often feel like the 'berry isn't working as fast as I am.  Once you're running IM, SocialScope, Facebook and Weather at the same time and everything slows to a crawl.
  • Camera. I like the flash and the geo-tagging, but the quality of images isn't wonderful.  No focusing also impacts scanning QR codes.
  • Video recording - low quality and sound is often out of sync.
  • Calendar - only shows a single calendar. I don't want my personal appointments on my work calendar.
  • Media player. While it plays some .avi files better than Android, it won't do .ogg or .flac, the interface is sub par.

The Android Intervention

With my dearly departed long gone, I'm reliant on my Android device. An HTC Hero.  It is a stunning device.

  • Gorgeous screen, very responsive.
  • Browser is good.
  • The camera is great although sorely lacking a flash.
  • It integrates with Microsoft Exchange reasonably well - although I haven't got it fully working yet.

But - and there's always a but...

  • HTC. They are very unresponsive to customer queries. No software updates for the Hero, even though they've been announced.  Again, I understand the reasoning, but I don't want to be stuck on Android 2.1 when 3.9 is out.
  • Slow start up.  I don't want to wait 60 seconds for my phone to wake up.
  • Lacking in functionality - although it has plenty of add on software, some at cost.
  • Lack of keyboard shortcuts.  I rely on these heavily - as described in my comment to The Really Mobile Project.
  • Such tie in to the Google Eco-System.  If I ever want to leave Google, I'm not sure how the phone would cope.

Others

I'm big on Linux. Despite the slight disappointment with Nokia's recent efforts, I'm intrigued by the N900.  I think I'd like to play with it for a day - especially the keyboard given the disaster of the N810 - before comitting.

I've tried a 3G iPhone running OS3.0.  It's a toy and really not suitable for me.

Windows Mobile is... lackluster.  I can't wait for Windows Phone OS 7.0 Mobile (or whatever they're calling it today).  Besides, I don't run Windows on my PCs - I can't think of a reason to run it on my phones.

What else is out there?  Bada? Doubt Samsung call pull it off.  Pre? I want to like Palm, but it's restricted to a single device and only on one network. Symbian? Hopefully it will be resurrected but after the disasterous N97 and the abandoned N95, it's dead to me.

Choices

I think it boils down to three phones.

BlackBerry 9700

Bold 9700

Bold 9700

This is the "safe" choice.  It's the next model up from my smashed 9000.  I know it does everything I want.  I like the idea of replacing the trackball with a touchpad.  Good that it's got the new standard USB charger, even if I'll need to buy some new cables.

On the down side, it's a bit boring.

SonyEricson Experia X10 mini pro / Motorola Milestone / Droid

My Android choice.  Has a keyboard and avoids HTC.  I don't know how hackable it will be.  Given it's one of SE's & Moto's first forays into Android, I'm concerned about how committed they'll be to the device.

Would really like an Android with a decent keyboard - there are just so few of them about.

Nokia N900

Nokia N900

Nokia N900

The outside choice. I generally love Nokia hardware - but their software sucks.  As innovative as the N810 was, they really dropped the ball in providing updates to their original Maemo software.  I'm slightly wary about how well this will be supported.

The keyboard looks ok, but the oddly placed space bar puts me off, as does the lack of ergonomic consideration.

Your Opinions

I'd love to know what you think.  Which phones rock your world?

This blog is a personal comment and does not represent my employers, Vodafone Group.  Nothing in this blog should be considered an official position on any phone, platform or manufacturer.

10 thoughts on “Choosing a New Phone

  1. I have the N900. It is interesting and good and I like it. But I could not recommend it, given some of your use-cases outlined above. You can't create or accept Outlook meeting invites, for example. And it's a two-handed device.

    It may be worth testing for a week. Some of the concepts are very interesting, if half-finished, experimental, and ultimately, probably failures. More of a device for a tinkerer than a geek about town.

    I'd be interested to hear what the Nexus people have to say...

  2. I really love my Nexus, however the screen keyboard isn't great for people who need to do lots of typing. Calendar and Email sync (with Facebook) is clever and the browser is amazing (and with Flash 10.1 around the corner, good quality iPlayer).

  3. I have a Milestone which replaced the G1 I had previously. It is *much* faster and better than the G1. I have nearly got used to the keyboard which is not as tactile as the G1's.

  4. Mark Pack says:

    I've got a Bold 9700. Speed is a bit variable but generally better with more recent OS updates. As you say, it's not exciting so depends on whether you view technology as something to do work or be fun.

  5. Tom Parker says:

    I'm currently also looking for a new phone. My need is slightly less drastic, but a bit of a change is planned. I've decided on an Android phone, but I've run into the same physical keyboard problem. Things I really like about my current E71 include the damn good keyboard. One possiblity might be Swype (http://swypeinc.com/) which I've been hearing good things about from another physical keyboard addict, and so I'm getting Alan to get into the beta and let me test it out on his Android phone. If that works out, I'm thinking about the HTC desire.

    1. You may also be interested in ZetaType which is an alternative software keyboard for Android. It works, but there's a bit of a steep learning curve - especially for those of us with touch-type muscle memory.

      1. Tom Parker says:

        Hmm. I can see some of the reasoning behind it, but the learning curve would be downright evil. Worth testing out though.

  6. ilicco says:

    terence - Blackberry bold 9700 - i know you like BB's - it is the best one i've had. and the nipple-less trackpad is great to use. (oh i have both Nexus1 and BB9700 - use them both all the time) - okay okay - i have lots of other phones too

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