Pondering smartphones II

2009-10-06

in Daily updates, Geek stuff, Internet matters, Rants

At the end of June, I pondered smartphones for the first time and decided on the Nokia E71 (preliminary review here). Since then, I have witnessed mine sicken and die, getting progressively buggier. Bugs aside, I have also found the phone much less useful than I expected before getting it. The web browsing experience is poor; blogging from it is impossible; the audio quality is lower than with my cheap old phone; and the email capabilities that were my primary motivation for buying it were always finicky, awkward, and temperamental. The media capabilities were never a major concern of mine, but it is fair to note that the media player and camera are both rather poor.

Today, my dead phone was revived by the Fido store in Ottawa’s ByWard Market – eliminating all my saved notes to myself (foolish to save anything in local memory!), settings, and applications. The generic OS they installed lacks some of what my phone came with initially, and it still won’t pair with Bluetooth devices. The people at the shop say that the matter of any further repairs is between me and Nokia, and I should be glad that they didn’t charge me for flashing the phone.

As such, I see myself with three options:

  1. Give the E71 another try, in hopes that the bugs are mostly gone and I will learn to live with its limitations as a device.
  2. Get an iPhone, with the annoyance of a three year contract.
  3. Abandon smartphones altogether and get a basic GSM phone with the capability of making calls and sending text messages only.

The choice is complicated by the apparent defectiveness of the E71. It wouldn’t really be ethical to sell it to someone else in this state. Given that, and my displeasure at the prospect of an exclusive contract and locked phone (or spending $700 on an unlocked iPhone), option two is basically out for now.

In some ways, option three is actually the most appealing right now. Smartphones may simply be more trouble (and expense) than they are worth. Perhaps waiting for a few more generations of devices to pass by makes the most sense. That said, given that I have a phone that I cannot really sell, I will probably continue with option one.

If I could send advice back in time to myself in June, I would probably say: “Wait a few more years before going for a smartphone, and if you must get one now, go with Apple’s offering.”

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt October 6, 2009 at 6:57 pm

I’m curious to know about the ‘generic OS’ they flashed to it… is it different than the one it came with? How is this even possible, (apart from sometimes a carrier specific OS will be flashed to a locked phone)?

As for the seller not standing behind their products, I’d get the BBB involved if any further matters arise.

Milan October 6, 2009 at 7:22 pm

The OS the phone came with had some things installed: a full copy of two games, an IM client, etc. The new OS doesn’t and has fewer themes.

As for the shop, they say that warranties on unlocked phones are between you and the manufacturer.

Milan October 6, 2009 at 11:03 pm

There does seem to be one distinct benefit of the OS flash, namely that the whole phone seems less sluggish. It’s not that I had lots of apps installed before, or ran more than one or two at a time, but it definitely feels zippier now.

Tristan October 7, 2009 at 12:30 am

The iphone platform is truly amazing. It’s actually a great musical instrument – I was playing tonight with an app called “Synthpond” for hours. Here is a video from the internet of someone who is better than me at it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mN4Rig_A8lc&feature=related

Mark October 7, 2009 at 6:53 am

Android is a pretty nice alternative to the iPhone, if you don’t want the Apple buy-in. I’ve had one for about 6 months now (HTC Dream, though better ones available now), and I’m pleased with it. Overall I hear the iPhone is more polished, but Android does a good job. I especially like the physical keyboard.

XUP October 7, 2009 at 8:16 am

I would urge you not to get into a 3-year contract. It’s beyond mere annoyance. It’s a nightmare. Once they have you locked in for 3 years you have absolutely no bargaining power. You can’t get your phone replaced or repaired without a big expense and customer service dwindles to nothing as soon as they pull your account up on their computer and find out you’re long term.

Milan October 7, 2009 at 10:18 am

XUP,

Good point, regarding the contract. It’s a shame unlocked iPhones are so absurdly expensive.

Milan October 7, 2009 at 10:19 am

Mark,

I considered the HTC Dream, but the E71 seemed to be much more positively reviewed. Unfortunately, nobody had a working demo version of either, like lots of stores do for the iPhone.

. October 7, 2009 at 10:22 am

AT&T To Allow VoIP On iPhone

“On Tuesday, AT&T announced it will allow Apple to enable Voice over Internet Protocol applications, such as Skype, to run on its 3G wireless data network. Apple stated, ‘We will be amending our developer agreements to get VoIP apps on the App Store and in customers’ hands as soon as possible.’ And Skype, while happy over the move, also stated, ‘the positive actions of one company are no substitute for a government policy that protects openness and benefits consumers.'”

. October 7, 2009 at 10:29 am

Why smartphones are not suffering in the recession

By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website

Smartphones are not only revolutionising the mobile phone industry. They are also about to change the way we use computers.

The mobile phone industry is in trouble. Network operators are squeezed for margins. Handset makers either suffer sharp losses or fight hard to stay profitable.

Hurting most are the stars of years past, like market leader Nokia and eternal runners-up Motorola and Sony Ericsson.

R.K. October 7, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Smartphones may simply be more trouble (and expense) than they are worth.

Depends on how much you value mobility. If you have computers on hand at home at work for most of the day, smartphones have less value. If you are always out of the office or on the road, they might have more.

Antonia October 8, 2009 at 10:54 am

While not a proper smartphone, there were many things I liked about my W995 from Sony Ericsson. Unfortunately many have been removed by the fact that my Contract provider’s installation of iPlayer as a TV option under the Media heading has apparently removed the Feeds control option. I discovered this after RSS feeding a link while browsing. Now it’s permanently connected and RSS feeding, I can’t edit, add to or otherwise affect the feeds and, possibly for a different reason, am unable to connect my phone to my laptop to transfer the pictures I’ve taken. According to both the contract provider and Sony Ericsson, they’re aware of the issue and will have an update for it eventually, but as it’s been cropping up for others for months and there’s nothing on my horizon, I second your appraisal above. Get the iPhone or hold out until the Smartphones on offer are better. Fortunately my contract will expire in another 15months and in the meantime I’m only paying what I was before and the GPS still works.

Milan October 8, 2009 at 11:01 am

I hate it when updates break things that worked before. That is why I always hold off updating iTunes and iPod firmware for as long as possible.

My E71 has a 369 MHz ARM11 Freescale processor. I figure by the time similar phones have gigahertz processors, there will be absolutely no excuse for browsers less capable than modern versions of Firefox. It’s pathetic that the Nokia browser cannot even work with the dropdown menus in WordPress.

. October 11, 2009 at 9:15 pm

iPhone tops J.D. Power smartphone customer satisfaction surveys
Posted on Oct 8, 2009 5:08 pm by Dan Moren, Macworld.com

If there’s a name associated with customer satisfaction, it’s J.D. Power and Associates. I mean, come on—with a name like J.D. Power, the firm is practically the superhero of customer satisfaction. So the news that the iPhone has maintained its head-of-the-class standings in both the company’s consumer and business smartphone satisfaction studies is no small matter.

The iPhone held the top spot six months ago, when it blew away competition like Research in Motion (RIM) and LG, and its lead has only grown more dominant in the latest numbers. In the consumer market, Apple scored 811 points out of a possible 1000, handily besting the industry average of 765. Its nearest competitor, LG, was the only other firm to beat that average, scoring a 776—a 35 point differential.

. October 15, 2009 at 10:26 am

Nokia posts $834 million quarterly loss, smartphone share down to 35%

Nokia just posted a net loss of 559 million euro (834 million dollars) for the third quarter — its first quarterly loss in a decade according to the AFP. The loss comes after a reported 20% drop in sales and 1.17 billion euros in write-downs, mostly for impairment charges on Nokia Siemens Networks. Nokia also said that its smartphone market share dropped to 35% versus 41% in the previous quarter. With fierce competition from Apple and RIM, and Palm just launching its Pre into Nokia’s European stronghold, well, it’s a good thing Nokia’s branching out into untapped markets like single-core Atom-based netbooks.

Matt October 28, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I was just talking to one of the IT guys where I work… I noticedan E71 on his desk. He says he very much likes it, but his wife had one as well and she replaced it with an N97 because hers had too many glitches. Maybe Nokia has a QC problem on their hands with that particular phone.

Matt October 28, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Also, the upcoming Nokia N900 running Maemo, a flavour of Linux, will have support for Firefox. And full functioning Google Wave, apparently.

Milan October 28, 2009 at 7:30 pm

The E71 isn’t so bad once your expectations are suitably lowered. It is no laptop substitute, but better than an ordinary cell phone.

Matt November 20, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I bought a used iPhone 3g tonight for $350. It is in remarkable shape, and I wouldn’t have elected to get one if I had to A) sign a 3 year contract B) pay > $350 for it.

Perhaps this is a possibility for you (especially since you’ll be in Vancouver, which seems to have a huge used market).

While the web capability of the iPhone is much better than my E51, I’m sure I’ll use both. The iPhone is big, and it’s a crappier telephone than my Nokia.

Milan November 21, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Is it unlocked?

Matt November 21, 2009 at 6:32 pm

It wasn’t when I bought it, but I unlocked it with blackra1n the night I got it. It was super easy. You download the blackra1n, install the app on your mac or pc, and click the button that says “make it rain.” This jailbreaks the phone. Then, on your iPhone, you find the newly installed blaackra1n app, launch it, and click blacksn0w. This unlocks it. Easy.

Milan November 21, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Don’t they lock jailbroken iPhones off the network / out of the app store from time to time?

Matt November 21, 2009 at 7:52 pm

I haven’t heard of that happening. I quickly googled it now, it doesn’t appear that that is the case.

Milan November 21, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Good to know.

Matt December 16, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Canada’s 4th Wireless Carrier, Wind Mobile launched today, on a limited Toronto footprint. I understand their plans are to expand their coverage with Calgary, Ottawa, and Vancouver coming shortly, along with expanded footprints in the regions in which they own spectrum.

While phones like the iPhone won’t work on their spectrum (1700MHz AWS), they are offering Blackberries and some other smartphones. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be offering just the SIM card, which would allow someone to buy their own compatible phone elsewhere, and insert the card. Their voice prices seem okay, but they only have one expensive unlimited data plan, nothing middle of the road.

Milan December 16, 2009 at 5:32 pm

There are also ads for Dave Wireless up in Ottawa. Apparently, they are a no-contract operator.

Matt March 29, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Wind is now available in Ottawa. They are also selling SIM cards alone, which means you could source your own phone (provided it operates on the 1700/2100 AWS spectrum).

The Google Nexus One is one such possibility. So is the Blackberry 9700 or the Nokia N900.

I will not speak to the quality of Wind’s service, but I think I’ll give them a shot when they roll around to Vancouver.

Matt June 16, 2010 at 1:46 am

I’ve got myself a Nexus One. My preliminary impression is this: Wow. It’s really an incredible phone. Not only is the hardware impressive, but so are the cloud services from Google. They’ve done a nice job with this.

As an aside, I’m using it on the Wind network which, in Vancouver, is merely ok. However, they are young and I hope they will grow.

. June 16, 2010 at 11:04 am

“Apple Inc., (AAPL-Q263.193.501.35%) the Cupertino, Calif.-based manufacturer of the popular iPhone, says on its website that it will sell the current model of the iPhone “commitment-free” through its online store for $549 beginning June 24. It will eventually offer the same option with the iPhone 4, which has yet to be released in Canada.”

Matt December 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I don’t want this to sound like an ad, but I thought you may be interested because basically Canada has never seen wireless rates like this:

Wind and Mobilicity, both of whom run their own networks, are both offering unlimited talk (anytime), unlimited long distance to Canada and the US, unlimited international text & picture messaging, and unlimited data for $40 a month. There is no system access fee and no 911 fee (but there is of course HST).

I’ve been with Wind in Vancouver since June and have been happy with them overall. Their coverage is less than Rogers (my previous provider), but when outside the advertised coverage area, roaming is on the Rogers network anyway. Considering Rogers charges $0.35/min for long distance, and Wind charges $0.25/min for roaming, the cost isn’t an issue.

Milan December 22, 2010 at 11:06 pm

I have been thinking about replacing my E71, since it just keeps getting more and more buggy.

At the moment, BlackBerries seem the most appealing. I don’t like the on-screen keyboard on the iPhone, and the harsh control Apple maintains over both the device and the app store. BlackBerries seem to have good keyboards and reliability. Android is another possibility, though the phones seem to have mixed reviews on things like build quality and reliability.

Matt December 23, 2010 at 2:14 am

In my experience Blackberries are nice email devices, but not amazing internet devices. I also dislike that many of the applications that use data have to fetch at least a portion of that data through RIM’s servers. This means that even if you’re on wifi, you need access to cellular data for many applications (including push email) to work. This poses a big problem if you are roaming in a place where cellular data is prohibitively expensive (basically outside of Canada). There is, however, a separate “hotspot” browser that will allow you to use wifi alone to browse the web.

An upshot of the Blackberry, though, is that build quality seems excellent. As well, I’ve heard good things about OS6 which I haven’t used; perhaps some of my criticisms would be tempered by this OS.

Androids may have mixed reviews, but that is likely because there are a ton of different Androids to choose from, from many manufacturers. One nice Android that could be worth looking at is the HTC Desire Z. It combines a qwerty slide out with the touchscreen.

Finally, I personally have found that Swype is an absolutely excellent input technology that is a completely practical replacement for a physical keyboard. Here’s a video of it in action. The Samsung Galaxy S comes preloaded with it, and it can be installed on other devices as well.

If I were going to buy a phone today, I would probably go with the Samsung/Google Nexus S. It’s their newest developer phone running the latest version of Android. Unfortunately there isn’t a 3G version out yet for Rogers/Fido/Telus/Bell frequencies. It would run on Roger/Fido 2G, however. The aforementioned Galaxy S is almost the same phone, minus a front facing camera and near-field communications.

Mark December 23, 2010 at 4:18 am

For the last few months I’ve had a HTC Desire Z (sold as T-Mobile G2 in the US), and I have been extremely happy with it. I really have no complaints at all. The keyboard is excellent, and it also has Swype, which is great for one-handed text entry. However, the keyboard really makes it. For anything more than a text message, I couldn’t go without it.
The build quality is great, and unlike my previous Android which suffered a bit from occassional lag, the G2 gives really really smooth performance.
The one slight failing is that the hinge mechanism is a bit looser than it should be. I haven’t really found this to be an issue in practice – play with it in a shop and see if it bothers you.
If you haven’t had a smartphone before, the need for daily battery charging is a bit of an adjustment, but that’s a universal problem.

The main alternative Android worth considering is the Nexus S. I have actually had a Nexus S for the last week, and after trying both, I would still recommend the G2. The main points of comparison are:

Keyboard: No keyboard on Nexus S. That’s basically end of story for me.

Weight: The Nexus S is much much lighter. The Nexus goes for lightweight plastic construction compared to the metal G2.

Lag: Both phones are fast. The Nexus S is slightly faster in general. However, for web browsing it has a little annoying lag, because the Android browser was heavily optimized for Qualcomm chips. Its very subtle, but enough to take the shine off things. So the G2 wins in this important category.

Sensors: The Nexus S has a near field communication sensor, a gyroscope and a front facing camera. The first two don’t really matter so much yet, but the front facing camera is nice if you do a lot of video chat on Skype.

Gingerbread vs Froyo: Nexus S has the latest, greatest Android OS. The differences between them aren’t massive this time though, and the G2 will get it eventually. Or you can always install it yourself (CyanogenMod).

Anyway, just my 2 cents.

–written from my G2.

Milan December 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Thanks a lot for the information.

I think I am probably going to stick to the E71 until it dies completely or I find a permanent job.

. December 26, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Let’s start with smartphones. The big story this year was the ascent of Android: Google’s mobile operating system came out on several great phones, it saw monster growth, and its market share now seems sure to surpass that of the iPhone and the BlackBerry. Last week I wrote that the Nexus S, the new phone designed by Google itself, is the first Android phone that I’d leave my iPhone for. In 2011, I expect to see many similar, high-quality Android devices.

Android, though, achieved these gains without really moving the smartphone bar forward. Instead, it played a great game of catch-up—this year, Android’s user interface and functionality caught up to the iPhone. The iPhone, meanwhile, remained in place. Apple’s big hardware innovation in the iPhone 4 was to put the antenna in a spot most susceptible to interference and to cover both the front and back of the phone in glass (because why have one easily breakable surface on a gadget that’s bound to fall out of your hands when two will look so much better in ads?) The iPhone’s software offered no great leaps, either: Apple’s phone will now multitask in the same way that Android already does. Yippee?

I sure hope Steve Jobs is losing sleep over this. There are now few major differences between Apple’s Jesus phone and its rivals’ products. It’s time for another moment comparable to when Jobs first unveiled the iPhone in 2007—we need Apple, the great engine of innovation in the tech business, to blow everyone out of the water once more. In 2011, I want an iPhone that can sync with my computer wirelessly, that can stream music from the cloud, and that offers a new user interface that makes it easier to manage the dozens of apps that now clog my phone. But that’s just for starters. I also want a phone that can achieve truly mind-blowing things—face recognition, say, or one that offered a reimagined screen-based input method that is as fast and accurate as typing on a computer keyboard.

Milan April 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Having a cell provider with free rural roaming in Canada is a big benefit during intercity bus trips.

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