The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

June 7, 2010

How Much Phone Do You Really Need?

Filed under: Technology — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:22 am

It was about 16 years ago when my parents purchased their first cell phone, one of the old Motorola DynaTAC models that was the standard for wireless communication throughout the Eighties and the early Nineties, and is now widely known as being the “brick” phone of yore.  For at a height of 13 inches and nearly two pounds of weight you got roughly a half hour of talk time and eight hours of standby time.  As far as features went you had a seven-character LED display, the ability to store 30 numbers and…  Well, that was just about it really.  To be honest, cellular phones in the early to mid Nineties were not all that far removed from the first-generation phones that were first introduced in 1983.  It wasn’t really until the late Nineties that the first generation of what would now be recognizable as being “Modern” cell phones were released, and over the pass several years it’s become apparent that the market is moving increasingly toward Smartphones. 

On the other hand, I’ve already been using Smartphones for over four years now, starting with a Sprint PPC6700 purchased back in 2006, and later moving up to a Mogul in 2008, which was my phone up until just last week.  As you might have noticed from some of the grumbling I have done on this site about that phone, it was not in particularly good shape by the time I was done with it.  The battery had degraded to the point where I was lucky to more than about 4 hours of standby time out of the thing while I was at Disneyland a couple of weeks ago, and actually trying to use the phone would drastically reduce that to the point where just a couple of days before I finally retired it I ended up draining the battery on a 2-minute call.  In addition to the diminished battery capacity, I also found myself having difficulties with worn-out keys on the keyboard (which I suppose isn’t a big deal if you never happen to use any words with the letter “O” in them) and signal issues that would drain the battery even faster than usual.  I’m also quite certain I don’t have to remind any of my readers here of the notoriously blur-o-riffic quality of the camera on the thing (To be honest, that’s been a bit of a sore spot for a while now, but I eventually learned to embrace the mediocrity and just stubbornly post whatever crud came out of it anyway.)  In other words, it was long past time for an upgrade, and this past Friday, I was finally able to put my old phone out to pasture and replace it with the HTC EVO 4G, a phone that comes with everything but the kitchen sink, and will probably be adding that in the next firmware update.

As you might know from some of the stuff I’ve written here, I’ve been pretty stubborn about sticking with Windows Mobile long past the point where most people dismissed it.  Part of this has to do with the fact that I’ve spent time working on Windows Mobile and some of its applications at Microsoft, and part of it is the fact that I’ve just never really cared for any of the alternatives.  In fact, up until the point that I somehow found myself employed as a tester on iPhone apps I had managed to avoid the platform almost entirely, mostly because I’d prefer to avoid dealing with either Apple products or AT&T as much as possible.  In addition to the iPhone/iPad apps which make up the majority of my job responsibilities, there have also been a couple of Android apps thrown in (as well as a Blackberry app, but I’ll refrain from ranting about that particular platform for the time being.)  This has given me a chance to spend a fair bit of time using the Nexus One, a device released earlier this year as a flagship device for the Android platform, although it was rather quickly surpassed in capabilities by other devices like the Droid Incredible on Verizon and the EVO on Sprint.  Even so, I’ve been rather impressed by the Nexus One, and if not for the fact that a planned CDMA version for Verizon and Sprint was cancelled I probably would have seriously considered getting one for personal use. 

With Windows Phone 7 announced earlier this year, for a brief period of time I would have been inclined to wait for that to reach the market, but to be honest, even though I spent a bit of time working with it at MS before it was officially announced, I get the sneaking suspicion that the platform is, to put it bluntly, doomed from day 1.  For one thing, if there was going to be any chance for it to make any significant dent in the current Smartphone market it would have had to been out at least a year ago, possibly even more than that.  Instead, we’ll be lucky to see phones running WP7 by September, and I suspect by then there’s just not going to be a lot of people out there who don’t already have something that works well enough for their purposes.  Microsoft also has a history of building these types of things, announcing them in grand fashion with a lot of fanfare, then all but abandoning them shortly afterward.  I would like to be proven wrong about this and I’d like to see WP7 do well, but I gt the sneaking suspicion that the excessively long delays in getting it to market are going to ultimately leave it as being a niche product at best.

On the other hand, the Android device that the CDMA Nexus One got cancelled in favor of is one heck of a phone.  The first thing most people will notice is its size.  With a 4.3 inch 480×800 screen (compared to 3.5 inches at 320×480 on the various iPhone models, although the upcoming fourth generation iPhone is likely to double that resolution to 640×960,) an 8 megapixel camera (and a second camera on the front for video chat,) 4G WiMax support and other specs that generally put this device into “phone that  ate New York” territory, this phone is a beast.  So much so, in fact, that I’m beginning to wonder if all of these features are really all that necessary, especially in light of the fact that the EVO comes with one major checkmark in the minus column as a result:  The battery life leaves plenty to be desired.  Gone are the days when we could expect only the DynaTAC’s 30 minutes of talk time and 8 hours of standby, but modern Smartphones have definitely proven to be a step backwards from the previous few generations of not-so-smart phones on battery life.  Back in the days before I used Smartphones, I had a couple of devices which were easily capable of running for the better part of a week on a single battery charge.  With almost all of the modern Smartphones, having to charge your battery daily (if not even more than that) is pretty much considered normal anymore.  Although I haven’t figured out the absolute limit of how long I can go on a charge on my EVO, I’ve already seen the phone drop to below 50% charge in an alarmingly short period of time when I start using the data connection heavily.  This isn’t a new problem though:  notoriously short battery life has been an ongoing issue for Smartphones for at least the last couple of generations.  It’s quite clear that battery technology has not kept up, and I suspect it will be quite some time before it does so.  I’m sure they’ll manage to work this out eventually, but in the meantime, I guess I just need to stock up on chargers and hope I don’t find myself stranded too far away from civilization for a while…

As I said back in my younger, more cynical days, I suppose that being on the cutting edge of technology means you’re going to be left bleeding every once in a while.  Or stranded out in the desert, ehichever comes first.  At least now the final photos I take chronicling my untimely demise out in the wilderness won’t be blurry anymore…

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for the comment on Redmond Neighborhood Blog. Your review of Phone 7 was placed on the posting page; it offered excellent and well-stated balance to the report. Best regards, Bob

    Comment by Bob Yoder — June 18, 2010 @ 9:06 am

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