Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Smartphones - My G1, and how I got there

I have been a smart phone user since 2004. In 2004 I wanted to see where handsets were headed and I believed that while our company was focused on the feature phone/mid range market of handsets, that it was important to see where handsets are going to be in the future. At the time I had been pretty fond of my Sony Ericsson T610 and wanted to see what high end offering Sony had in the smart phone category. Sony had been an early entrant in smart phones with the P800 and P900. I had read a number of positive reviews (as well as a lot of headaches to boot) and thought that the P910 might be the device for me.

The range of other choices for me then included the option to go with a Blackberry, which never had much appeal for me, Windows Mobile, which seemed more like a laptop and less like a phone, and Nokia, which frankly I just wasn't all that familiar with. I think if I had to go back and do it all over again with the knowledge I have now, I would have selected a Nokia device. In any case, I ultimately decided on the Brickish P910 and spent about 4 years using that device as well as the next generation device the P990.

In general, I was always fond of these phones. They both had a vaguely familiar Star Trek Tricorder look that I thought was cool and others thought was gigantic. Unfortunately they were gigantic and never very pocket friendly like the various in vogue Razr-esque devices. I found myself pretty happy with the Symbian UIQ user interface but in retrospect, I think that was more about familiarity than anything else. As the smart phone market started to heat up with the iPhone and the various other devices previous or since then, N95 etc., I was anxiously awaiting the new devices coming out of Sony Ericsson. I skipped on the P1 and heard rumors of the X1. When the X1 was announced a little over a year ago, I saw one at MWC in Spain and while I was really impressed with the industrial design, I was very disappointed that it was a Windows Mobile device. This change of direction made me decide to look at the various options in the market as my device was about to fall apart from age and drops.

So, with a fresh perspective, I decided to take a good long look at what was in the market. As I have a lot of access to the various devices and in fact carry a lot of them to meetings, I figured it would be good to make a thoughtful decision, or at least justify an impulsive one! My first place to look was at my Sidekick. While I wouldn't consider the Sidekick a smart phone, I have carried one forever. It has been an indispensable tool for me to interact with the team while on the road (sometimes quite literally). My initial happiness with the Sidekick in the IM arena was undercut by my disappointment in a continuous upgrade in features over models. Why no Jabber? Why no conforming web browser? Why no a lot of things. All that said, I will always strongly believe that the Sidekick is THE killer device for IM, but it doesn't do much for me in terms of productivity or some of the other things I would expect from a higher end platform. I actually no longer carry a Sidekick after having one forever. Next.

The iPhone is an amazing device. The photos. The brain dead simple UI. The ecosystem of content. There is no question in my mind that this is one hell of a device. The deal killer for me, and I would say there are some other significant issues I won't mention, is the lack of a keyboard. I have large sausage fingers, a history of using QWERTY devices, and no time to fumble around with a touch screen as my only input method. I may be backwards assed, but I have to have the keyboard. I do though have a Touch, and I love it. It is my constant companion on long flights, on runs, and for those times when I want to snack on media. The Touch is great as a media device and I am glad it isn't my phone.

Nokia smart phones. Nokia makes some of the best devices in mobile. They literally have everything and the kitchen sink embedded in the devices. They have a ton of software, services, features and a large ecosystem of applications that can allow me to do things like watch my home TV on my phone, find myself on a map, and browse the web with a quality browser. The problem is for me, it feels like it needs an update. Don't get me wrong, I always have a Nokia demo device with me and I have to say there are many days where I eye it with a lot of affection, especially the N95 replacement I am using the N85. This is one hell of a device. The problem I have with it though is that it seems to be trying to do too much. It is actually very hard to do a lot of things that are simple on some other platforms. I can do whatever I want but I have to really dig at times. That digging can be a real barrier to usage and user friendly interaction. No keyboard. Again, this one is hard for me. I will say though that I would have a Nokia before an iPhone as my personal device.

Blackberry. The Bold and the Storm are really, truly awesome devices, and I also liked the Curve which I carried as a demo phone for a while. I just can't get into the Blackberry mindset. I feel like it is the dark side that wants me to have email attacking me all day and if I would just cross over to the dark side I would never go back. I do like their keyboards and have to honestly say that I haven't given them a good shot at being my personal device. Maybe someday.

So that brings me to my current phone the G1. So truth be told, the number on factor in having this device for me was that I am a long time personal customer of Tmobile. This of course made the G1 an obvious front runner. Second for me though was that this device was essentially created by the folks who brought you the Sidekick, except it has all the stuff the Sidekick is missing (compliant browser, advanced features, etc.). Third was the idea that here is an operating system for phones that could be hacked, i.e. recompiled to do other stuff. Not that I ever would, but at least I knew that I could.

I made the plunge into the G1 world and have to say that I have been pretty happy. I think an overview of what I like, dislike, and actually use would be good fodder for a follow on post sometime later.


MaidoAri said...

Oh c'mon Mr. Play Station Thumbs!

As if you need a teeny tiny keyboard on your smarty DFKA2P. Give me a break! You got Blue Tooth, you should be able to voice input your commands- and play your games & tunes Even with with your Cowgirls Get the Blues digits.

Portability- not just of numbers across carriers- but of one's address book, aps and stuff- is also an important consideration, I would submit. Smart rarely happens on the first try, as you rightly point out. Our contacts, our networks, our kids friends and dentists- those are the things of value that reside in the SIM. Bad place for important information, if you ask me. Secure identity protection- and seemless transfer of UGC and our precious data- should be a high priority for the mobile industry- G1 and beyond.

Adam said...

I'm glad to see that you're happy with the G1 so far. I've had mine since day two of it's release and so far it's been pretty sweet.
I'd waited to purchase the G1 for quite a while. I'd been looking at smart phones for about a year before I settled on the Google device. Combining the theoretical power of open source and the backing of Google/Android consortium, I figured there was a future in the platform. Indeed manufacturers are starting to demo netbooks based on the Android OS.

I'd highly recommend getting the Seidio 1400mah battery and some sort of protector/case for the thing. Something about it's size likes to jump out of your hands. I'm a careful person and I've dropped it three times already.

One thing that I've found exciting lately are the home screen customization apps in the app market. These applications (aHome, dxtop, OpenHome) allow more desktops, widgets and icon customization. Much like theme packs for windows, these apps allow you to tweak icons and fonts to your hearts content. This is a small step in the right direction but an enormous one in the annals of mobile phones. If development continues down this path, I can foresee an open source 3D TouchWiz-esque desktop appearing for the phone.

I think one feature of the phone that's not generally played up is the inclusion of an internal compass. This isn't present on the Apple devices and allows for some pretty interesting apps. I recommend checking out the "Sky Map" application for a good demo of how the compass can be used.

I think another serious draw for me is that the OS will be on many devices. As Google has stated, it's their intent to put the OS on as many devices as they can. This means a multitude of devices where your applications and settings are easily transferred and used. I'm personally looking forward to what Moto has up it's sleeves. Apparently their device will be more social networking focused and I'm curious to see how that will play out in production. Samsung's announced it's devices and said that the heavy Google branding will take a backseat. These two things tell me that while Google plays a huge part in the development and capital behind the OS, they're not hammering their initials into everything the way other companies would.

I'll be curious to see how you end up liking the device. I've got my positives and negatives about it but I'm curious to see what yours are.