Apple released its iPhone 5 last month and, as usual, lots of people are scrambling to get it. Just so we're clear, although I have an iPad, I have never had an iPhone. And although it may be unpopular to say now, I really loved my Blackberry. I finally let it go earlier this year because support for it was faltering and it didn't keep up with the functionality of other phones.
The switch to a new smartphone
When I made the switch away from Blackberry, many people advised me to go with the iPhone 4S - in fact, for some, it seemed like a no-brainer and they couldn't understand why I would even consider another phone. But I wanted to make my decision based upon what my needs were for a phone, not what other people thought I "should" do. And the fact that everyone was jumping on the iPhone bandwagon made me more skeptical, rather than less so.
I started my research by talking to a number of people about what they liked and didn't like about their phones. I even spoke to one technology consultant who had both an iPhone and an Android phone and she told me that she liked her Android phone better for a number of reasons. In fact, she told me that since she had gotten her Android phone, she had barely used the iPhone at all.
I then did a bit of internet research, looking at numerous technology sites and their reviews of different phones, their features and their pros and cons. I thought about why I was leaving Blackberry and what I wanted to get out of my new phone, and what wasn't particularly important to me.
I ended up purchasing the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx for a number of reasons, which I will discuss below. Overall, I am happy with my choice, and although the iPhone 5 was not available at the time I purchased my phone, based on the reviews I have seen and the features that are (still) important to me, I don't think my decision would be different now that the iPhone 5 has arrived.
What I need in a smartphone
Speed - I use my phone mostly for business, rather than for recreational reasons. One of the reasons for switching away from Blackberry was that I was using my phone more and more for business related web browsing and networking, and the internet was far too slow on the Blackberry.
Screen Size - It was also very difficult to read on the Blackberry, since the screen was miniscule (due, in part, to the presence of the physical keyboard). Apps for social networking sites on Blackberry were lacking in functionality as well.
Camera - While I didn't use my Blackberry much for taking photos, I could see that having a phone that could take decent quality pictures would be helpful. For real photo opportunities or travel, I would still use my camera, but there were times when I didn't have my camera available that having a phone with a decent camera would have come in handy.
Although the camera on my current phone may not be the best out there, it takes very high quality pictures (particularly compared to my old Blackberry) and I can do a lot with them - including sharing them easily.
Battery life - I am on the go a lot and do not always have access to a wall outlet for charging my phone. If I am driving, I can always recharge in the car but that is not always an available option. I need to be able to count on my phone for a full day without having to worry about recharging mid-day. The Razr Maxx has not let me down yet on battery life, and is considered one of the best, if not the best out there for battery life.
Flash - Like it or not, there is still a lot of content that is delivered using flash technology. For my friends who have iPhones, this has proven to be an annoying obstacle. I have found this to be the case with my iPad as well. Until some other technology takes over, it's not worth the hassle to me not to have flash on my phone, especially since I don't have it on the iPad, which is the other device I am most likely to have with me.
Apps - Business related apps are helpful, but the ones I use most are generally available in both operating systems. Since my desktop and laptop are both PCs, even though I have an iPad, I'm not tied to Apple or their products. Android has plenty of apps for me on my phone. And if there's an app I need that doesn't have an Android equivalent, I can usually get it on my iPad, so I'm still covered.
Maps - Google Maps is one of the tools I use frequently when I am on the go traveling between appointments. At least as of now, it is far superior to the available maps on the iPhone 5.
What I don't need in a smartphone
Siri - I have no real need to speak to my phone(or to have it speak back to me, for that matter), and from the conversations I had with iPhone 4S users, Siri was 'cool' but not always particularly helpful or accurate. That being said, my phone does have a voice feature and a talk to text feature which come in handy and are perfectly serviceable for the times I need them. There are also perfectly good search capabilities (it is Google, after all) on the phone.
Games - I don't play games on my phone
Sometimes, you don't know what you need or what you'll actually use until you try. Here are some things I've found helpful, even though they didn't play into my original decision.
Sharing from the phone. My Android phone allows me to share almost anything on my phone with almost any other service installed on the phone. So if I'm on a web page and I want to share with Evernote, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., I can do so. By contrast, the iPhone's default browser and iOS photo gallery apps can only share to Facebook, Twitter, Email and messaging, and other apps' ability to share is determined by the individual app developer.
Sharing with the phone. Usually, if I need to share a file from my computer, I'll just use Dropbox, since I have the application installed on my desktop, laptop, iPad and my phone. But I also have the option of plugging my phone into my computer (using the micro USB port) and sharing files by dragging and dropping anything from my computer to my phone. That option is not available on the iPhone. I can also share files from my phone to my computer the same way - again, not an option on the iPhone.
Widgets - Android has interactive widgets that provide more functionality than just static application icons. For example, the calendar widget shows my next few appointments right on my home screen, saving me the trouble of finding and clicking on the calendar app icon to check my appointments.
Notifications - The top of my screen shows me notifications and allows me to directly access certain features, including my alarm, bluetooth settings, etc. right from the main screen of my phone, rather than finding the app icon and clicking through there.
Sending emails with attachments I can send an email with any kind of attachment from my phone, including documents, images, etc. (iPhone 5 only allows photo and video attachments)
Touch Screen Typing - The only thing I don't like about my current phone is the touch screen for typing text. Although Android still does offer some phones with a physical keyboard, I opted not to purchase one, thinking that touch screens were the future and I might as well get used to it.
Now it has been several months and the touch screen still drives me crazy. Since the iPhone also has a touch screen, in the Android vs. iPhone battle, this is a non-issue. Also, unlike the iPhone, the Android phones (including mine) allow you to install a third party keyboard if you're not happy with the default keyboard. And my phone gives me the ability to use Swype, rather than multi-touch, as an input option.
NFC - What my phone doesn't have that some other Android phones do have is NFC support - the technology that allows you to transfer information from one Android phone to another simply by touching phones. Since I don't see this feature being one I would use often anyway, this is a non-issue for me. And the iPhone still does not have this capability anyway.
Which phone is right for you?
Some other people who think Android phones are worth serious consideration include Consumer Reports and Techlicious* - and with the release of the Razr Maxx HD next month, you may find even more converts.
But I didn't write this post to convince readers to purchase one particular phone or operating system over another. Instead, I wanted to point out some of the features that I don't think most users know about and to give you my perspective and my experience. I hope readers will recognize that, just like there are really no "best practices" that work for everyone, there is also no such thing as the perfect smartphone that will be the best choice for everyone.
Hopefully this post will help you to evaluate your next smartphone purchase so that it suits your specific needs. Think about how you use your phone (or how you would like to use it) and what features are most important to you when making your decision.
Feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you love (or hate) about your phone, and what features you would like to see in the future.
*(Hat tip to the Techlicious blog for their post, which inspired this one).