The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 18, 2012

Seriously, How Much Phone Do You Really Need?

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

All four of the HTC-made smartphones I’ve owned over the years. You can definitely see the family resemblance…

It was a bit more than two years ago on this site that I wrote this post on this site discussing my then recent purchase of an HTC Evo 4G to replace the old and worn-out HTC Mogul I had been using as my phone for the previous couple of years.  That isn’t to say that the Mogul was a particularly bad phone; for its day it was actually just about the best smartphone you could get, although it should be noted that in this particular case, its day just happened to last around two weeks or so, at which point the first iPhone was released.  I think we all know how that one turned out (in fact, if I recall correctly I got a hold of this particular phone second-hand from someone who was switching to an iPhone at the time.)  I don’t recall exactly when I started using the Mogul as my primary phone, but I’m sure a particularly clever web archaeologist could trace the change by going through my old Blog posts and finding out when the photos started going from being merely blurry to being extra-blurry.  Although the camera on the Mogul was theoretically better than the one on my previous phone (a Sprint/HTC PPC6700,) in practice I could never get the blasted thing to focus properly, and as a result I was never particularly satisfied with the photos it took.  Anyway, by now that’s all ancient history.

By the time I replaced that phone it was pretty badly in need of retirement, although surprisingly when I plugged it in and turned it on for the first time in two years to take the photo above it came right up and promptly beeped out a calendar notification for something that happened all the way back in May of 2010.  After some digging through my stuff to find it, it turns out I was able to do the same with the PPC6700 as well, hence the “reunion” photo showing all four of the Smartphones I’ve owned over the years (not shown: a pre-production Palm Treo 700WX I used for about a month as part of some sort of beta test for Sprint, but that’s even more ancient history by now.)  To make a long story short, I must admit that few (if any) tears were shed when it came time to retire the Mogul and replace it with what was at the time the absolute top-of-the-line phone you could get on Sprint (and quite possibly even the best phone on the market that wasn’t an iPhone if you read some of the press at the time:)  The HTC Evo 4G.  It came with a monstrous 4.3 inch screen running at 480×800 resolution, which is quite the step up from the 2.8 inch 240×320 screen on the Mogul.  To be honest, pretty much any halfway decent Android phone would have been a significant upgrade over the Mogul by the time I finally replaced it, but since most phones these days come attached to a 2-year contract it pays to get as much phone as you possibly can for the money, and at the time the Evo seemed to be the best choice by far.

Now that I look back at this purchase two years (plus another month or so) later, I have to say that for the most part I’ve been pretty satisfied with the Evo.  It’s served its purpose well, has given me few technical problems (aside from some random shutdowns I may have been complaining about a couple of months ago, but eventually I traced those to the third-party replacement battery I had installed not to long before the trouble started) and has for the most part been more than capable of performing the various tasks I use a Smartphone for.  On the other hand, battery life has been passable at best and notoriously brief at worst, and I’ve encountered a number of occasions where I could drain the battery in a couple of hours with light-to-moderate usage, which can prove to be pretty inconvenient when you’re miles away from your nearest charger (still better than draining the battery on a two-minute call like my last phone did shortly before I got rid of it, but definitely enough to be annoying.)  Still, in spite of a few relatively minor annoyances here and there, the phone has done its job with a

Even so, the two-year contract signed for that phone when it was purchased has now expired, and as it always does, technology moves inexorably forward.   And although the phones of today aren’t quite the same huge leap forward from the phones of two years ago that the Evo was from the Mogul, the improvements over the last generation are pretty clear.  The screens are getting bigger with higher resolutions, the form factors are getting thinner, the processors are getting faster, and the user interface is getting smoother and more polished.  Unlike the last time I got a new phone where I was practically spending three months counting down the days until the Evo came out so I could finally get rid of my decrepit old Mogul, at this point I still had a phone that was, for the most part, still reasonably functional.  I’m pretty sure I could have easily gotten at least a few more months (if not another year) out of my current phone, so technically I didn’t really even need a new phone.  Even so, a number of tantalizing new choices have found their way onto the market in the past couple of months, and if I was going to be getting a new phone, the decision on which phone to get wasn’t going to be nearly as simple as it was the last time.

Right now, the two kings of the proverbial hill (at least on the Android side of things, your mileage may vary depending on your phone and/or manufacturer preferences) seem to be the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One X, which serve as the flagship models for Samsung and HTC respectively.  In this case, Samsung has opted to retain the Galaxy S III branding on Sprint (which is the first time they have done this, as both the Galaxy S and the Galaxy S II used the Epic 4G branding) while a variation on the base HTC One X has been released on Sprint as the Evo 4G LTE.  Although there are a handful of clear differences between these two phones, most of these are in relatively minor details, and when it comes to the big features there really isn’t enough difference between these two phones to make either one a clear choice over the other.  The Galaxy S III has more RAM and a replaceable battery, but the Evo seems to have better build quality overall, and a better user interface.  Ultimately, I had to try out both phones a number of times to get a feel for each one, but ultimately I decided on the Evo.  Aside from being a logical upgrade path from my previous phone, I also found it a bit easier to use overall, and I thought it looked a bit better too.  I suspect I could have been just as happy with the Galaxy S III if I had gone in that direction, but as I’ve discussed on this Blog before, sometimes when it comes to technology you just have to make a decision and get something, lest you find yourself forever waiting for the next big thing to come out.  Honestly, just because I chose the Evo over the Galaxy S III doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily any better or worse, just that there are two choices out there that are for the most part equally suitable.  In addition to these, there were also a couple of other options in the Galaxy Nexus (which is basically a Galaxy S II running plain vanilla Android, something I might actually consider if I was still working with Android apps on a regular basis) and I could have even gotten an iPhone 4S without having to switch carriers for the first time if I was so inclined (I wasn’t, but that shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone who has known me for long enough.)

So far I’ve only had a few days with the new phone, so I haven’t really had a chance to fully get used to it yet.  Even so, I’ve found that in spite of the larger size and larger screen, it actually seems to be easier to carry around in a pocket, mostly owing to the fact that it’s a fair bit thinner than my previous phone.  I’ve also found that the battery life seems to be better than I Was getting with the old Evo, but that may just be a matter of the phone being newer without a battery that’s been used for most of the last two years.  Owing to having an evolved version of the same HTC Sense user interface that my old phone had, I’ve also been able to largely replicate all the apps and UI layouts from my previous phone, making the transition between the two relatively seamless.  Perhaps at some point I’ll revisit this with some longer term impressions of the Evo, but for now it seems to be doing a pretty good job of things.  But, as mentioned above, technology doesn’t stand still for anyone, and no matter how nice this phone turns out to be in both the short term and the long run, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be having this same conversation again two years from now.

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