Sunday, December 18, 2011

Battle in Seattle: A Tale of Two Phones

Welcome to the Battle in Seattle: Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Android Ice Cream Sandwich) vs HTC HD7 (Windows Phone 7.5 Mango).  After all those heavy philosophical posts, I figured it might be good to lighten up a little...
Galaxy Nexus
I'm a gadget person.  I love me some consumer electronics.  I'm not an early adopter, usually, but I like to get in on a v2 of something cool.  I bought an MP3 player (32 MB, baby!) long before Apple came out with the iPod.  I've had at least 6 MP3 players and 8-ish cell phones in the past 13 years.

Of course, with the advent of smartphones, I no longer need a standalone MP3 player.  So like my friend Judy and I used to plan for "the complete purse" in high school, where we tried to optimize for every possible thing we might need to carry with us, I'm always looking for that "perfect" smartphone that does everything I need it to.

Soon after we moved to Seattle, I got one of the first Windows Mobile phones, and loooooooved the fact that it synchronized with Outlook.  And really, once you have all your email, calendar and contacts on your cell, it's hard to go back.

For a brief time, I had an iPhone.  And I loved that thing.  But the monthly service cost was crazy and we were getting ready for the great unknown of BabyT by trying to eliminate all extraneous spending.  So it got the axe and I downgraded to a super cheap prepaid Verizon phone - no Exchange sync, no Web browsing, no calendar (unless you manually entered events). 

When an exec at work announced last year that we were all getting a free Windows Phone 7, I was stoked.  I could finally justify going back to a smartphone, because it was FREE, right?  TJ bought that argument and BabyT and I were right there in line for my free HTC HD7 phone last November when it was released.

Using it was a dream, after having a "dumb phone" for so long.  I had my calendars and work email on my phone!  It had a data plan and unlimited text messages so I could browse the web, run apps and text people to my heart's content instead of deciding whether it was worth the 10 cents to send someone a text.

It got even better when I got into an internal Beta program to try the Mango release before it shipped.   Lots of cool features to discover and make the phone even more indispensable.

But it was not perfect.  The camera on the HD7 is ridiculously slow.  It focuses on an image, freezes it when you press the shutter button, and then the picture that results is what happens a second later.  Fine for inanimate objects like the fancy dessert I'm about to eat, but not so much for kids or dogs who are constantly moving. 

In an entire year, I didn't get *one* decent photo of Trillian from that camera.  I wistfully looked at everyone's Instagram photos on Facebook and wished I could capture random moments with T with my own phone.

I couldn't justify buying another phone so soon, especially since I had broken my contract with T-Mobile to get a super cheap monthly no-contract plan.  This plan was so good that even paying the contract-breaking fee was totally worth it.  $30 for unlimited data, yo!

Lucky for me, TJ's very generous employer gave him a super-fancy unlocked, no-contract-required Galaxy Nexus phone as a gift yesterday.  I easily convinced him to give it to me, since he was still using the gift phone they got last year.  He's not a gadgety person.  He used the same Nokia monochrome screen candy bar phone for YEARS.  He's of the opinion that if it still works, why make a change?  I see his point, but that's just not as much fun, right?

I spent most of last evening and today playing with the new phone and learning how to use Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS).  This isn't a gadget blog so I'm not going to run through a bunch of specs and detailed tests, blah blah blah.  If you want that, please go read Engadget.

Here's my short and sweet review of what I liked and don't like about each phone. I'm still on the fence about which one to keep, but I suspect that the Galaxy Nexus will win, just because it's new and shiny, and has a camera that actually takes a decent photo.  And with that, I should say that these opinions are totally my own, and do not reflect my employer, etc. etc.

Now that I've used an iPhone and an Android phone, I see the genius in the Windows Phone 7 "Metro" user interface.  It's simple, pretty, unique and useful.  On my HD7, I had my home screen "tiles" set up with the most important stuff I used.  It was uncluttered.  The tiles for my email and SMS messages/chat would tell me how many unread items I had.  The calendar tile showed me my next appointment.  The cute little messaging icon showed me a sad face when there was a message failure.  I love that little guy.

I'm kind of "meh" about the Android UI.  It's fine.  It's reasonably flexible - you can have a bunch of different home screen pages, just like on the iPhone.  But I couldn't find a single widget that would show me the number of unread messages in my email.  Really?  All notifications show up at the top of the screen, with super tiny icons.  I spent a bunch of time trying to configure my home screen to look like my Windows Phone 7 home screen and couldn't find the widgets to do it.  So, if you're an Android developer, please make me an app that makes my UI look like Metro.  Thank you :)

The Galaxy Nexus camera wins, hands down.  It takes non-blurry photos of my child.  That's really all I was looking for.  In addition, it lets me adjust exposure, white balance and lets me decide what part of the image to focus on.  No such luck on the HD7.

The New York Times app is available for Android.  It was my lifeline on my iPod Touch when I was nursing BabyT (hours!), and I missed it on Windows Phone.  There's an Android app to update my Etsy shop and I can use my Square credit card reader with Android, but sadly not Windows Phone.  I love the native Google Plus app on Android, and of course, there isn't one for Windows Phone, though I keep looking for it. These things aren't a huge dealbreaker, and I got by just fine on the Windows Phone without them, but it's nice to have them back.  It definitely seems like companies make iPhone and Android apps a higher priority before building a Windows Phone app, which is a huge bummer.

But, some of the HUGE benefits of the Windows Phone are things I didn't even know I relied on, until finding out the Android doesn't have them:  OneNote + Windows Live SkyDrive, Facebook contact info merged in with the other contacts pretty seamlessly, super easy setup for Exchange sync.  I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to get Android to sync my work stuff and had to rely on some guy's comment in a TechRepublic article to finally get it to work, after much frustration. 

I also miss the ability to manually merge contacts into one record by "linking" them.  The Windows Phone has a brilliant way of doing this with all contacts from all your accounts - it matches them automagically by name, suggests others that might match and then lets you also pull them in yourself.  I haven't yet figured out how to make this happen on Android without updating the source accounts first to make sure all the names match and duplicates are removed.

In my ideal world, I'd have the Galaxy Nexus phone running Windows Phone 7.5 and then have the huge selection of apps available in the Android Market.  But since that's not likely to happen, I'm going to keep using the Galaxy Nexus for the next couple of weeks and then figure out what I want to do. First world problems, I know.  But a girl's gotta have her perfect phone, right?


  1. I love hearing about your phones. I still have a "dumb" phone but I'm starting to really want a smart one... So you'll be able to use either of these phones with your cheap TMobile service? Right now I'm on pre-paid TMobile, using less than $100 worth each year. It's unbelievable, I know, but I still use the phone like people did when they were expensive - meeting up somewhere, emergency contact, that's about it. Upgrading to a "real" phone will be a big jump in $ - I have to really want the internet access to do it.

  2. @Stephanie - That is similar to the prepaid plan I had with Verizon, and also what TJ does with his phone. But when I did the calculation and added the extra $7/mo Verizon was charging me to access my GMail account on that "dumb phone", I was spending about $30/mo. Then it was easier to justify the jump to $60/mo for all the extra features. But with taxes and stuff it was more like $75 :(

    T-Mobile has some pre-paid monthly plans offering unlimited data for around $50, I think. I got them to give me a deal they were only giving to Wal-Mart customers, $30 for unlimited data plus 100 min of talk time. It was a HUGE hassle, though some people are able to get it easier than others :)

    It's definitely a luxury I could live without if I had to, but it is super-convenient for messaging TJ, coordinating kid pickups, responding to emails quickly, etc.

    Oh, and having a decent camera wherever I go, instead of remembering to bring my bigger one with me, is pretty great.

  3. I juuust got a smartphone (A windows phone as well, a samsung something-or-other) and I hate the camera, but love everything else. But yes, I wish there were more Windows Phone apps. The marketplace is sad.

  4. As an android lover (did I just say that???), I have answers to just a couple of your questions/issues:

    In terms of knowing the # of unread messages, that might be the product of your UI. I am guessing that since you got it from google directly, you are running "vanilla" (i.e. plain) ice cream sandwich. I have the Sense UI and my icons for text and my exchange email all tell me how many unread messages there are. The gmail icon doesn't, though it used to and I miss it.

    "I also miss the ability to manually merge contacts into one record by "linking" them."
    I have no problem doing this. My contacts all have a little chain link at the top right hand corner. If it is broken, then they aren't linked. If it is complete, then I have linked it. It took a little time to go through, but I was able to link all of them.

  5. @Adrianne - thanks for the tips. I'll go back and see if I have that link icon. I'm still getting used to the UI, so I'm probably missing stuff.

    And yeah, it must be the vanilla ICS UI because it was an unlocked phone.


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