Yesterday, I left my iPhone and the AT&T network behind and switched to Verizon. In no particular order, here are the set of things that I was unhappy with:
- Spotty AT&T network. In most of the places where I used my phone, things tended to work. Except of course for the times when they don’t.
- Draconian App Store approval process that kept Google Voice out of the App Store and kept other app updates running at a snail’s pace.
- Lack of multitasking (notifications don’t count).
- Paying $10 / month for SMS on our two lines
- Paying for a home phone line so that I could get cheap calling to Canada where our extended families live.
Yesterday, I went out to the local Verizon Wireless store and moved both of our family’s phones over to Verizon. It was a completely painless process – I just had to give the Verizon rep, Pete, my AT&T account number and they moved both of our phone numbers to Verizon in under 5 minutes. I wound up purchasing the Motorola DROID, and the HTC Eris phones.
I've heard good things about Verizon’s network, and I put it to the test today. I used the New York Times homepage as the test and raced a few folks at the office who have iPhone 3G and 3GS’s. The DROID beat them hands down at page load times. I don’t have timing numbers, but it was a very noticeable difference.
The DROID is a sturdy and surprisingly small phone. It’s just a bit thicker than my iPhone 3G, and quite a bit heavier. I really wanted to have a phone that does not have a physical keyboard since the DROID’s keyboard is more-or-less unusable. It doesn’t have staggered keys, and you have to move your fingers too far and too deliberately to type. I can type much faster and more accurately using the on-screen keyboard.
One gripe about the on-screen keyboard: I can type faster than it can react. If you hit two keys too closely together in time, it will ignore both keystrokes. If I slow down my typing just a bit, my accuracy improves tremendously. With the iPhone, however, I never had to slow down – it totally nails the experience.
Hopefully a future software update for the DROID will fix this. The Android 2.0.1 update that just arrived while I was typing out this review definitely improves things quite a bit. The jury’s still a bit out on how close to the iPhone typing experience it is.
The screen is gorgeous. How could a 267 PPI display not be gorgeous? At 854 x 480, text is incredibly legible, even at small point sizes. It looks like this resolution is going to be fairly standard on high-end smart phones next year if the leaked HTC roadmap is to be believed. The AMOLED displays on those HTC phones should be fantastic too.
Multi-tasking is something that I didn’t realized I missed on my iPhone until I experienced what it could be like on Android. The modal notifications system on the iPhone is pretty useless, especially when the notification text runs long, or if there are a bunch of notifications batched together. On Android, there’s this ‘window shade’ UI concept which shows you a list of notifications, as well as a series of icons on the task bar that tell you there’s more information in the Window Shade. One thing I really like is having the current outside temperature displayed on the task bar, something that just isn’t possible using the iPhone.
However, multi-tasking is a mixed blessing. If I notice the DROID running hot, I’ll have to run my Advanced Task Killer app to kill any offending apps running in the background. This is annoying, and I look forward to better job quota support for background tasks to help maximize battery life in the future.
The turn-by-turn navigation feature is great. My car dock arrives tomorrow so I’ll be able to better put it through its paces then. But in my tests today, I was able to speak the name of my destination to the phone, click on “Get Directions” followed by the Navigation button and I was on my way to my destination. I don’t own a GPS, but it’s at least as good as Scott Hanselman’s Garmin Nuvi that got us lost on the way to Foo camp a couple of years ago :)
This is one area where Android totally nails the user experience. Your contacts are now a union of your Exchange, Gmail and Facebook contacts. For each contact on your list, they will display all possible forms of communication with them, and integrate things like their current Facebook status directly into the contact page!
If you interact with a contact anywhere else in the OS (in a email message, a SMS etc.) you can just double tap on the contact and you’ll get a popup menu with a list of all possible ways that you can interact with that user (call, email GTalk SMS etc.)
Google Voice Integration
This was the feature that I really wanted. I got a taste of how good it could be on my iPhone, but Android really makes this feature sing. For my family in Canada, if I call them (via my contact list) the DROID will automatically route that international call through Google Voice. For Canada it’s free, and for other countries it’s substantially lower than Verizon’s existing rates. You get to call people without having to dial an access number first, which was how you had to do things on the iPhone. But for me this lets me cancel my home phone # that will save me around $30 / month.
I just got a Google number (you can get one through your Google Voice settings page if you were like me and picked the “I want to keep my existing wireless number option”). Now I can send and receive SMS messages for free ($10 / month). Note that this only applies to SMS messages sent to my new Google number and not my existing wireless number. Sometime in the future Google Voice will offer # portability, so I’m hopeful that I can bounce my number then.
The voicemail feature of Google Voice is awesome. It does speech-to-text conversion for you. In the Google Voice app, you can playback the message and watch as it highlights the words that it transcribed in real-time. Fantastic feature.
The iPhone App Store is not as big of a moat for Apple as I once thought. Here are the apps that I really loved on my iPhone:
- Now Playing
- Page Once Personal Assistant
- Weather Bug Elite
- Red Laser
- The Best Camera
Of these, only The Best Camera, TweetDeck, Red Laser and the Kindle app are not available for Android. But reasonable substitutes were available:
I substituted Twidroid for TweetDeck (not quite as good, but certainly a more than capable Twitter client).
Google Goggles is definitely superior to Red Laser on my non-autofocus iPhone 3G.
Not sure yet what a good camera app is for the Android; The Best Camera was a fantastic app for the iPhone.
The only app that I don’t have an equivalent for today is the Kindle app. But I’d be shocked if Amazon didn’t fill that hole in early next year.
I’m happy that the iPhone has real competition with the DROID + Android combination (although as a MSFT shareholder I’m less happy that we’re not the real competition here). I suspect the Android app store is going to be quite disruptive to Apple since apps update much faster and appear much faster than on the iPhone app store.
What’s the bottom line here?
I can sell my used iPhone 3G 8GB for about $250 on Craigslist. My new DROID cost $50 after rebates using my MSFT employee discount. My phone bill rises to $118 / month from $100, but I’m getting a second data line and an additional 250 anytime minutes. Keep in mind that I’m also canceling my home phone # which should save about $45 / month. So net savings of around $27 / month and my iPhone will pay for my early termination fees from AT&T.
I’m also eligible to upgrade my primary line’s hardware every year as opposed to the 20 month policy in AT&T. That’s freaking incredible.