Gabriel’s Phoneography #2: Getting smart (or, “My On-Off Love Affair with Apple”).

smartphones_rect

Getting smarter

Continuing from the previous post (which covered my handphone history up to my days in the army), this post goes through the list I’ve had in the past four(ish) years since I came out of the army. Wait, it’s only been four(ish) years?! This coming list should make me look like a wasteful git actually be pretty impressive then.

Nokia E71 (late 2009)

nokia-e71-02

My first phone post-ORD was this little gem, which had garnered pretty good reviews in its time. Although I had previously been pretty QWERTY-averse, I had an inexplicable, complete change of heart sometime in army (must be one of those fabled mental changes one is supposed to go through in such an environment) and decided I must have one once I got out.

Although the phone worked admirably and reaffirmed my (sudden) decision to love physical QWERTY keyboards on my mobiles, it was also plagued by an OS that was long past its prime and getting an iPod Touch somewhere around then only served to highlight how deficient Nokia’s Symbian system had become in recent years.

Blackberry Bold 9700 (late 2009-late 2010)

BlackBerry-Bold-9700

Probably because my E71 had been bought from a random handphone shop (meaning that my “firsthand” purchase was probably a refurbished set), it started to show problems after a few months. Not major problems, but things like insensitive (or downright faulty) keys and odd OS glitches, coupled with the awesomeness of next-gen OS like Apple’s, made me decide to switch after only a few months.

Although iOS seemed like the most logical choice then, I wasn’t ready yet to relinquish my just-starting-to-get-fulfilled craving for QWERTY keyboards and I opted for this flagship Blackberry model instead since everyone knew that RIM’s keyboards were the best in the market.

True to its boastings, the 9700 had the most perfect keyboard I had ever used (which, admittedly, was a pretty small sample to be the most perfect of). The little thing had a perfect shape and grip too, with a beautiful, faux-leather back and a nice weight.

Despite that, it had plenty of flaws, too.

Although it was miles better than Symbian, the Blackberry OS was also miles behind iOS. The app selection was woeful, what apps there were looked so rough compared to their Apple counterparts and, probably unique to my circumstances, the fact that their first party apps could only run on BB phone plans (which I didn’t have since I didn’t get this phone on a recontract) meant that my already-hobbled experience was further besmirched. From a design point of view, I did not like the metallic sides of the phone as they were fingerprint-prone and also started to taint after some usage.

iPhone 4 (late 2009- well, now)

iphone-4-top-new-1

At around the time that my frustration with the shortcomings of the Blackberry apexed, Apple released this little gem and addressed my one criticism with the previous iPhones – the plasticky material and overly-curved shapes of their backs. The iPhone 4 was sleek, beautiful and obviously made of quality materials.

So, when it came time to recontract my phone line, I decided to take a bite of the Apple (sorry, too hard to resist) and that’s when my life changed. Or, less hyperbolically, my handphone experience market was spoilt.

The iPhone 4 was zippy, lag-free (at that time), gave a perfect, premium-feeling grip, looked gorgeous and, while I had already prior contact with iOS, was made even perfect with the addition of new features like folders on the home screen. Also? That camera and screen blew away every single other phone I had ever played with.

The size, weight, shape, look and user-friendliness of the device were (and continue to be) so perfect that it’s the only phone of that era that I still use up till now.

(Nokia E51 camera-free)

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Around this time, I had to go for my first reservist. Even though it was to be a one-week affair, I had become so attached to my internet-abled, communication-enhanced phone that I knew I couldn’t use the NOKIA WHATEVER for those five days. Unfortunately, my army camp didn’t allow camera phones at that time. So, I got this phone second-hand off a friend for really cheap.

Since I only used it for four days (and not during its prime time), I can’t really comment much about this phone. The keys had a nice, solid click to them and the device was sleek and light, but the OS was pretty crappy by this time.

HTC One X (mid to late 2012)

one_x_SC_large_first

After using the iPhone 4 for almost two years (a sheer testament to the phone being that this is only one of two times in my life, apparently, that I have ever kept to a contract timing without somehow getting a new phone in the middle), I decided to give Android, then still up-and-coming, a try.

I hated the Samsung offerings available at that time due to their cheap-ish materials and make so I went for the only (to me) logical choice – the HTC One X, which had to be one of the most beautiful phones I’d ever seen.

The phone was insanely designed. From the slight curve (for optimum grip) to the exquisite materials used to the amazing screen with its gorgeous palette of natural colour renders, the One X was a thing to behold (even more so than the current flagship HTC One, which I think is pretty overrated for its looks) and, er, besee.

Unfortunately, it had a few huge problems – some with the phone and others on a much larger scale.

While the phone had that amazing, huge (at that time) 4.7″ screen, that also meant that its battery consumption was much higher than the iPhone’s. For some reason, HTC only managed to squeeze in a battery that was marginally larger than the one in the iPhone 4, which meant that the One X was pretty much in low battery mode from the moment I stepped out of the house and, oddly, charging it took forever. Plus, I was hugely disappointed with the camera, which inexplicably (to me) had many a hoo-ha made about it.

Secondly, although Android was the next major player to watch at that time, its app ecosphere was nowhere near as refined and comprehensive as iOS, both in terms of the quality and quantity of apps. Several apps that I had used and loved on the iPhone were either not available on Android or were pale shadows, if they were. Plus, Android (or the HTC skin of it) was just not as pretty at that time.

Increasingly dissatisfied with having to plug the One X into every electrical outlet I could lay my hands on and also having to sacrifice so many apportunities because of Android, I sold it after about four months and reverted back to the iPhone again.

iPhone 4 (late 2012-early 2013)

(Blackberry Bold 9900)

blackberry-bold-9900

Around this time, I still had a pretty huge crush on QWERTY keyboards and I refused to give up on that first (?) love. So, having scoured the forums for a good deal and justifying the purchase by telling myself that I needed a decent app-abled phone without a camera for my next reservist (and for future ones too, or so I thought), I got a camera-disabled Bold 9900, then RIM’s flagship (admittedly that of a sinking fleet).

Of course, the week after I had bought this, it was announced that my army camp would be allowing camera phones. To make it worth my purchase, I brought this phone in anyway and was repeatedly reminded over a week why RIM was doing so badly.

Google/LG Nexus 4 (early-mid 2013)

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Because I had only used the One X for such a short time before reverting to a phone that I had already used for two years past, I felt like I was shortchanged but couldn’t get a new flagship phone from anyone since I was far from my next recontract.

When I saw that Google/LG had released the Nexus 4 to rave reviews and was available online, my interest was perked. After finding out that, although having almost top-range specs, the phone would cost the same without any contract as other top-range phones with one, I snagged one immediately.

Without the annoyances of HTC’s skin, I finally got to experience pure, unadulterated Android and it was so so so much better. To put it simply, default Android was, and still is, the most beautiful operating system I’ve had the chance to use, even more so than iOS. Google’s pervasive Halo theme was so incredibly easy on the eyes and all the little zings and customisations that Android allows (even without rooting) made the experience better in so many little ways over Apple (widgets, for example) was something I never knew I needed in a phone. Somehow, in those few months between the One X and this, the Google Play store had also caught up significantly with the Apple App Store, even if it still had some way to go to equaling it.

The phone itself, while not particularly remarkable, was also decent. It had a nice, solid shape, the materials used were of decent standard (not as nice as the Apple or HTC ones but way better than Samsung’s cheapo sets) and the main failing – its fragile glass back – was rectified by encasing the phone. The camera, like the phone, isn’t much to shout home about but is perfunctory for day-to-day snapshots.

Although the battery of the phone would definitely suffice for less heavy users or those with more constant sources of power (like most desk-bounded workers) and is definitely better than the travesty that is the One X’s, it was unfortunately not good enough to last even most of the day and, due to the gypsy-like nature of my (now full-time) job, I couldn’t charge it as often as I would have liked to. Charging took quite a while, too, although again not as long as with the One X.

So, it was with bitter reluctance that I sold my Nexus 4 and reverted back to the iPhone 4 once again (because even though the battery life of my iPhone was by this time pretty pathetic too, diminishing at the same rate as the Nexus 4’s, it charged way faster). I was, and still am, very fond of this phone because it was not only the first one to show me the true power and beauty of Android but also proved that 4.7″ screens were not too big, as I had once feared, but were just right.

iPhone 4 (mid 2013)

Samsung Galaxy Note II (late 2013)

note II USE THIS ONE

With my recontract coming up next year and a new Note being released soon (meaning that the current Note II would be downpriced), I decided to get a set to test out several things:

  • If I could use a phone made of cheap materials like Samsung’s and be able to not continually think about it
  • If 5+” screens were too big, now that I’ve ascertained that 4+” ones are pretty much perfect
  • If the Samsung phones’ ability to change batteries easily was as much of a boon to me as I think it would be
  • If I could use white phones, which I always thought were really impractical (read: easy to dirty) but which I realised matches colourful cases better than black phones

So far, having used the phone for more than a month (and hopefully several more to come before my recontract), I’ve come to a few conclusions:

  • Yes, I can apparently use phones made of cheap materials and not be as bothered about it as I thought I would be, since all my phones are encased anyway; of course, it wouldn’t hurt if the phone was as beautiful and premium naked as it was in a case
  • Yes, 5+” screens are too big; unlike the 4+” screens, which I gradually started to love, I still cannot get over how large and unwieldy the 5.5″ screen of the Note is; I’m also constantly annoyed by how I cannot type with one hand (a must while standing on the trains) and how the phone cannot fit into my jeans/pants pockets without creating an obscenely uncomfortable buldge (the 4.7″ Nexus 4, while a slight squeeze, was still pretty tolerable)
  • Cannot really tell, as the Note’s battery is so huge that a full charge can almost last a full day, even with all my social media-ing and the occasional bout of gaming; I have changed the battery a few times but only a more of a might-as-well basis rather than from any real need for it
  • The white really does go very well with colourful cases and, with good cases and comprehensive screen protectors, they really shouldn’t get too dirty

I thought my rampant, ADHD-like changing of phones was a recent development (with swifter product cycles from the phone companies, aggressive marketing, technical know-how and more disposable income) but looking back at the entire list (including the previous one), I’ve changed phones at an average rate of one a year since the start! It’s just that it has now, probably in line with Apple’s product cycles or something, shortened to something like two to three phones a year, which is all kinds of ridiculous.

Just like how I always went back to Nokia, I keep seeming to gravitate back to the iPhone (which is/was a perfect blend of user friendliness, power and portability) but which is fast changing now due to Android’s customisabilities and bigger screens.

My perfect phone now would be something made of premium materials, has a 4+” (retina-density) screen, a decent camera, a good grip, an intuitive, pretty user interface and a long-lasting and/or replaceable battery. So, basically an iPhone if they upped the screen size, allowed the installation of Switfkey keyboards (which is one of the biggest pluses in the Android catalog to me) and made the batteries better, or a Samsung if they decided to use better materials. Either ways, not that likely.

For now, though, it seems like the phone that most keeps to these tenets (with the one that it doesn’t meet being able to be covered up, quite literally) and that will probably be the one I go for when my contract ends early next year is the Samsung Galaxy S4. Hopefully something even better will pop up by then, though.

(Coming off the iPhone 5S and 5C announcement made just this morning, I have to say that, as of now, it doesn’t look like I’ll be choosing one of these over the S4. My main problem with the iPhone 5 had been that the screen was just too small and felt like such a downgrade coming from larger-screened phones and the new Apples don’t change that. In fact, nothing much seems to have changed, except marginal upgrades in a few areas that I’m not even sure are all that necessary for now.)

ps. As can be seen, my smartphone era list has been dominated by the iPhone but that doesn’t mean I’m an Apple fanboy who cannot take anything Android. I’ve never understood fans of one OS/phone who unreservedly bash the other without acknowledging any of their strengths. To me, iOS still reigns supreme in terms of good apps (especially for photography and games) while Android has its customizability (and SwiftKey, the most magnificent keyboard ever made) and while my personal preferences lean more towards the S4 for now, that doesn’t mean I think the iPhones are pieces of crap.

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