Sleeping with the Enemy

Much as I enjoy keeping up on technology, I never spend much energy discussing it here, simply because there are so many sites out there that offer far more informed commentary and criticism than I could ever hope to provide. But I was having a conversation the other night that got me to thinking my recent experiences might be of use to someone.

I never had anything against smartphones, I just didn’t really see the need for one. I had an all right phone that did everything I really needed, I got unlimited browsing through the “Please Don’t Leave Us!” plan I had with Bell, I didn’t want to bother with a data plan and anything else I needed could usually be handled with a Wifi connection and my iPod Touch. Access was never much of an issue, there are a lot of Starbuckses in the world, people.

Then it happened. My all right phone took a dive from my jacket pocket into the toilet. Sticking it in a bag of rice overnight actually got it running again, but features started dropping left and right until ultimately I couldn’t even make calls on it, just send texts; I had a two-way pager, not a phone. And I was starting to get that iPhone itch.

The Lady would always make the [very sensible] argument that I already had an iTouch, I didn’t need the phone. My argument/hollow justification was that I would still always use the iTouch as my primary music player, but having an iPhone, with a great camera, full connectivity, apps for blogging and even video editing available, it could put most things I needed when out in about in my pocket, in one device. My own calculations suggested I’d never go through 500MB of data in a month, so it wouldn’t end up costing me much more than I already paid.

I had a credit coming up with Bell in August, but I wasn’t really interested in being stuck with them for another three years, I wanted to see what some of the other telcos could do for me. So I had three options.

  1. Live with my two-way pager for a couple months, re-up with Bell and get an iPhone.
  2. Buy a beater, no-fun phone at the no-term price and ride out the contract.
  3. Split the difference and spend a little more on an Android smartphone [eww, Android!]
This is where the twist comes, people: I went with option 3, and have been in love with my experience.
Priced at $249 with no contract, the HTC Wildfire S is not a hardware powerhouse by any means [the 600 MHz processor will be a dealbreaker for some, and the built-in memory is laughable, though you can partially alleviate that with an SD card], but as a ‘My First Smartphone’ experience, it’s everything you could ask for. Running the latest versions of mobile Android [2.3 Gingerbread] and HTC’s slick Sense interface, a 5MP camera with flash packed into a tiny 4-inch package for under $250* with no contract? Hot damn, people.

Yeah. It's like that.

But the real story here is how much I’ve come to love the Android OS. Despite my fealty to Jobs and Co, Google dominates my online life: Gmail, Reader, Docs, any Google service can be had in mobile form through Android. The slick HTC Sense interface lets you pack seven home screens with applications and widgets, really more space than my limited needs require. My homescreen has the HTC signature giant clock/weather widget, contacts, messages, Opera’s fantastic Mini web browser, Tweetdeck, Facebook, Google Listen for podcasts, the Android Market and the camera. That alone gives me most things I ever used my phone for, but when you factor in the six other homescreens you can swipe to. And yes, I know iOS has always had screens you could swipe between, but they were just a list of shortcuts. Having my email already open and refreshing is so much easier than opening the app everytime you want to check. I love the subtlety of the notification bar along the top of the screen, alerting me to new text messages, emails and tweets. Clearly Apple does too, given how they’re aping it for the next iOS release. Basically I just love being able to do the things the cool kids always could, like attach a photo to a Tweet [really, Bell?! How have you still not figured that out on non-smartphones?!]
Like I said, the phone is not perfect, and I would never recommend it to anyone accustomed to the speed of an iPhone: Angry Birds will suffer slowdown. And while it’s growing every week, the Android Marketplace trembles in fear at the might of the Apple App Store. Though many of the most popular apps can be found, mostly for free, they’re also ad-supported, or knock offs of popular iPhone apps [Fruit Ninja becomes Fruit Slice, etc]. It can kind of fill you with the same embarrassment you had when your friends came over and all you had in the fridge was Master’s Choice cola. Yeah it works, buuuttt…. This is ignoring the security concerns that go with a more open market that doesn’t require Google to approve everything that goes on it with the same stringency of Apple. Which means you have a more open system [yay], that’s also susceptible to malware and viruses [boo], though I don’t think that’s much of an issue if you’re smart with your downloads. Plus the tiny size will also be a detriment to some,
I will still likely get an iPhone one day, but I’m no longer counting the days until I can. To anyone looking to dip their toes into the smartphone pool, to anyone who wants to distinguish themselves from the iPhone herd, I’d recommend the Android experience to anyone, without question. No one is more surprised than me to hear me say it.
*Even though the phone lists for $250 on Bell’s website, the employee at BellWorld made a SIM card of my old LG, threw it in the Wildfire and sold it to me at the Pay as You Go price of $200. Came to $220 with tax, and all my contacts still already in it. Holy shit, Bell actually did someone a favour!
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