Friday, December 2, 2011

What phone should I buy? (Holiday edition)


With the release of so many new phones recently and even more on the way, this Holiday season, more than any other, will be full of choices for people looking to get that special someone -- or even themselves 0:-) -- a brand new smartphone. But where to start? Sure, you may have been rockin' the same operating system for the last two years, but who's to say you can't switch it up a bit? As any loyal iPhone/Apple follower can tell you, change is a good thing. I agree. That's why I can't choose between phones. I'm having such a hard time deciding that I have been going every other day between the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and the Samsung Focus S update on it. Choices are hard to make! Especially while in the store. If you're at a cell phone store, you may feel pressured into buying whatever that sales person likes (although that's not the way it SHOULD be). If you're at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, Target, etc... you're probably trying to find out if you like a phone by holding the non-working dummy set while a under-paid worker that doesn't give a crap what you pick because their shift is ending soon person tells you all two bits of incorrect information *ehem* "things" they know about smartphones. Not helpful? I didn't think so. That's what this article is for... to help you at least get an idea before you step foot into the store.

I'm going to organize this article into sections: Windows Phone 7, iOS (Apple), and Android. In each section I'll list the most current innovations offered by each one and what their highlights and downsides are. And we'll of course be starting off with...

iOS - Apple and their iPhones
iPhone has just unveiled their iPhone 4S. A select few decided that it was disappointing. Sales have proved them wrong. No one has insulted the iPhone 4S since and they will continue to eat their words into the holiday season. Apple has made the claim that Siri changes they way we interact with computers. We haven't seen it do that yet, but October 14th will surely prove them right. You will now see people walking around and talking on their headsets and this time it won't be mental health facility escapees and people talking to their friends and family... it will now be nerdy people talking to their iPhones. For an explanation and a cool video directly from Apple, click here.

The iPhone 4S has finally caught Apple up with what other phones have been doing for more than seven months now... they've installed a dual-core processor in a phone to make it faster. They've also done something other phone manufacturers have been doing for over a year and a half... included a camera that is *supposedly* worth using. At 8 MP and capable of recording 1080p HD video, it is definitely caught-up to the current offerings from Samsung, HTC, Motorola, and company. It's probably even just in time to be outdated by spring of next year. The fact is, no matter how much Apple smashing people do, they will never be able to squash out want for it. It sets industry standards for stability of both their hardware and their software and people like stability even if they have to sacrifice in other areas. Luckily, the 4S is caught up (for now) and will continue to get updates from iTunes to make it even better to hold people over for the iPhone 5 release.

So what sets the iPhone apart from anything else?

  1. The iCloud sure does. With 5 GB of free storage per user and even more available if you're willing to pay for it, iPhone users will benefit from not having to plug their iPhones into the computer... possibly ever, wirelessly syncing; music, apps, documents, etc..., and now the ability to wirelessly receive updates, they're going the way of Android and cutting the cord in an attempt to rush in the post-PC era. They're doing a good job of it too.
  2. Siri. Voice control is the next thing and this is one area where iPhone is ahead of the curve.
  3. Appstore. They still have the most apps to choose from at well over 500,000.
  4. Dual-core processors are now a thing of the present and platforms that fail to offer them may have phones that are just as fast, but people want them and with the capabilities of apps becoming more and more complex everyday, Apple's inclusion of a dual-core processor in the iPhone 4S is a welcome change.
  5. Digital cameras and camcorders for the everyday consumer are going the way of the dinosaurs and the iPhone 4S is helping this along with it's 8 MP, 1080p HD camera complete with face recognition and the option of taking a picture with a real button, something that Android has failed to offer as of yet.
  6. Something even Apple has skimmed over a bit is that they have improved the antenna of the iPhone with the iPhone 4S for, "Softer transitions between towers." In other words, they won't drop calls when travelling anymore.

Android - Google, Sammy, and the boys
Android is preparing for this holiday season as well. Google is possibly releasing a new update to their operating system (Android 4.0 - "Ice Cream Sandwich") soon that combines their currently separated phone operating system and tablet operating system into one operating system that can serve on both.

Samsung has been busy making phones for Santa's delivery as well. They've just released the Samsung Galaxy S II on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint and are preparing to release the Nexus Prime on Verizon. These phones are hard-hitting power players that are sure to score a place underneath a few trees this holiday season. With their already stellar line-up with the likes of the Droid Charge and the Infuse, they're going to be hard to take down.

There's also some hard-hitters from HTC and Motorola like the Droid Bionic, the HTC Inspire, the HTC Status (popular with the kids), the Atrix, the Atrix 2, and even the much-in-need-of-a-back-up-battery HTC Thunderbolt, Android is looking pretty attractive right now. There's even 3D options like the LG Thrill and a Playstation phone from Sony (if you're into those kinds of things).

The unfortunate thing is that in addition to competing with each other within the Android system, they are also going to be competing against Apple, other Android phone makers, and even themselves (a lot of these phone manufacturers also make Windows 7 phones), and possibly even the latest from Nokia.

So what sets Android apart from anything else?
  1. Variety. You have to give it to them. Android has the most options bar-none. Real keyboards, sliders, clam-shells, all touch-screen, different manufacturers, playstation phones, 3D phones, even flip phones if you're willing to travel to Japan, and the options just keep coming.
  2. Openness of the operating system. Ever try to make your own ringtone for an iPhone or a Windows 7 Phone? On the iPhone it's possible... kinda. On Windows Phones it's possible... kinda (and only if you have the Mango update). From ringtones to notifications and even the general layout of the phone, Android lets you do more to customize it. People love to be unique. And now, you can even check a little box to download third-party applications like the Amazon Appstore (and others) that lead to even more things to do with your phone.
  3. Cost. And I'm not talking about the upfront cost of the phone either. I'm talking about the apps. Amazon App Store for Android has a free app of the day every day. Google's Android market has more free apps than any other market. Google's own apps are all free and they can do some sweet things these days. Even Angry Birds is free (although with advertising). And they have all the same big apps that Apple's Appstore has. Free ringtones? Check. Free Apps? Double check. Free wallpapers? Check. And if you feel like voiding the warranty and getting even more customization options, you can always root the phone too. This means parents will be shelling out a lot less cash for apps after the initial gift is given. How's that for the gift that keeps on giving?
  4. Cameras and camcorders are a big win here too. There are cameras on  phones that take amazing pictures, eliminating the need to carry a digital camera with you. Samsung even makes digital cameras, so you can bet what they're putting into their phones is going to be exceptional. Other manufacturers are also big competitors in this area.
  5. Dual-core processors are loaded into every android superphone now. Fast browsing and gameplay will ensue.
  6. The different factor. I often experience people who have had an iPhone for a long time and want something "different." They want to switch it up. Android is usually the cure for this sickness.

Windows Phone 7 (WP7) - Microsoft, Nokia(?), and Mango, OH MY!!!
To think that Microsoft would go a holiday season without giving Google and Apple a run for their money would be unthinkable. They've already officially announced several phones on their biggest partner's network, and there are several more phones floating around in rumorland that suggest Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile won't be missing out on the action. Microsoft isn't screwin' around this time either. They've pulled out all the stops with their operating system and even though it's only coming up on a it's first birthday, WP7 is making a big impact and is expected to continue to do so. Microsoft certainly thinks so. I agree.

HTC and Samsung certainly see the benefit of WP7. Any phone manufacturer that uses Android as an operating system in the phones and/or tablets they release currently pays Microsoft royalties for any sale of said device(s). Samsung and HTC actually have contracted deals with Microsoft to pay them a portion of their income made off of Android device sales. At the same time, Apple is suing the pants off of anyone who makes any kind of impact selling Android phones (HTC, Samsung, Motorola, etc...) Do you think HTC and Samsung would rather make an Android phone and have to pay Microsoft AND deal with the big Apple blocking their sales at every turn? Or, do you think they'd rather invest more into a platform where they only pay Microsoft and, in return, are protected from the only company that Apple's afraid of? I guess I'd go with the lesser of two evils and there's evidence that is exactly what might happen.

What does all this mean? It means that WP7 is quickly headed in the right direction to become the next big thing.

So what sets WP7 apart from anything else?
  1. Variety. Although they don't have the variety that Android has, they still have phones with Surround sound, Beats audio, slide-out keyboards, and plain ol' touch-screen phones too. They're made by a few different manufacturers and more are coming out and saying they want in on the action.
  2. Nokia. Nokia? Yes, Nokia. You know, the phone manufacturer that used to make cool phones with snake on them and now all we see from them is crappy little flip phones. Those guys. They've made a deal with Microsoft that gives them exclusive rights to change aspects of the WP7 operating system, rights that other manufacturers won't have. Nokia may not be a big phone manufacturer in the states, but in the world they've only recently been passed up by Apple and Android. Do you know what Symbian is? Until recently, I didn't either. But if you're from Europe or Asia you do. Symbian is Nokia's smartphone operating system that caught on like wildfire everywhere but the U.S. Nokia knows a thing or two about operating systems, and since they're helping Microsoft develop WP7, expect some amazing things.
  3. The "Different, different," factor. Now that Android has been around a while, I'm seeing people that have had both Android phones and iPhones and they want something different. Here's where WP7 comes in.
  4. XBox Live is a key part of the WP7 operating system. You can sign on with your XBox Live account and get achievements points while on the go. Plus, you can see your friend's scores and achievements, as well as see who is online right now. Multiplayer options in the future, you might ask? No official word yet, but I'd guess the answer is yes. Most of the games on WP7 are very high quality, too. They may cost more, but you can tell a lot of time went into them and they work!
  5. Microsoft Office has unofficial versions like "Quick Office" on Android and iPhone, but with limited capabilities. Microsoft Powerpoint, Excel, and Word are official on WP7 and in a big way. You can create, edit, and save Excel and Word documents right from the phone. You can edit pre-existing Powerpoints right from the phone, as well as display them. No compatibility issues here. Just plain, sweet office at your fingertips.
  6. Bing Search is new and, to be honest, I don't like it from a computer. From a phone on the other hand, you have things like local scout that make it easy to navigate unfamiliar cities like you've lived there for years. You can even see the layout of malls and where stores are in each building. Restraunts nearby? You can see them all. Local attractions? You've got it. Each business has its own card with the address, phone number, website, and rating displayed, as well as a simple direction button that will lead you there. There's tons more features too, just not enough room to cover them all.

Blackberry - RIM and their Canadian employees
I must keep going, lest we forget about Blackberry phones. I recently "reviewed" their operating system. It was little more than an article that explained why Blackberry needs to change and how fast they will fail if they don't, so I'll be brief.

Blackberry hasn't come out with anything innovating for a long time. Their Appworld hasn't changed much. There aren't fun games here for the kids. There aren't cool apps like Shazam that identifies music that's playing by just holding the phone in front of the speaker. There aren't... well... games. This is the number one reason that Blackberry is not going to be the ideal gift for a kid this Christmas season. It's also one of the main reasons that people don't want them anymore. Even people who aren't "gamers" want to chill out and play a little Angry Birds from time to time, or even a challenging game of Words With Friends. If you own a Blackberry, good luck.

Here's the only reasons you should get a Blackberry for that special someone this Holiday season:
  1. You secretly hate them.
  2. You are against having fun.
  3. The special someone MUST have e-mails from a dusty old Blackberry Enterprise server sitting at their workplace. Chances are, if you don't know what the last sentence means, this doesn't apply to you.
  4. They are absolutely in love with Blackberry phones and are ferociously opposed to change.
Here's some reasons not to get that special someone a Blackberry:
  1. You actually love them with all your heart, soul, and mind.
  2. You know that even though they're opposed to change, change is a good thing.
  3. They can get those stupid work e-mails when they're at work!
  4. At this point, everything else is better.
  5. There ARE other phones with real keyboards.
That wraps up my summary. If you have any questions, please post in the comments below or Facebook me. I'll be happy to respond!

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