It is hard to be a consumer for mobile devices these days as there are so many interesting and really good options for consumer mobile devices. Situation is extremely good and simple if you want just a simple phone as there are hundreds of different options available for next to nothing, but if you want or need device with other modern features and good usability for everyday use – then situation becomes trickier. This posting is about my quest to to find suitable mobile device for my needs and about my reasoning behind different options.
What I would like to have in a my mobile device
Music player with comparable features ( ease of use ) to iPod is important as I would like to leave my Nano then home. So far I haven’t really used music players in my previous mobile phones as their usability has been much worse compared to my iPod nano. It has been simpler to manage tunes in iTunes and take my iPod with me, even though I would have also phone in my pockets.
Good quality camera with flash and internet connectivity for sharing has been one of the most used features in the current phone in my use, N95 8Gb. Picture quality in N95 8Gb has been really good and I haven’t needed another pocket camera for years. iPhone 3GS’s camera seems to be better than it’s predecessors, but still no flash. However honestly can’t say how much of a deal breaker the lack of flash really would be.
Internet browsing and good social media tools are almost mandatory in this day and age. iPhone’s Safari redefined mobile browsing experience and now competition is catching up fast. I am not keen on surfing on my mobile, but rather check out data and services from few important places: news, route planner, tv schedule, opening hours of stores, reading rss feeds from Google Reader etc. It would also be nice to be able to keep constantly connected to email and social networks, without draining the battery in few hours.
Battery life and device’s form factor are last key features on my wish list. Device needs to be really mobile like N95 8Gb or iPhone – and battery needs to support my lifestyle at least for a day with constant music listening, few photos and moderate browsing while on metro, buss etc.
And all this would be great to have with moderate price.
Platforms and ecosystems
Everyone knows what happens in iPhone OS ecosystem, so no news there. At the same time it is a pretty walled garden preventing innovations that might jeopardize Apple’s or opertors’ own business. For example Skype calls work only through wifi, where as with Symbian version you can call over 3g broadband connection as long as operators do not block Skype-traffic in their network. All and all, it is clear that there is huge amount of innovation going on within the boundaries of the walled garden and in many cases those innovations provide huge amounts of value to the consumers. Big downside with iPhone is the inability to install and distribute your own software – except through AppStore. With it’s draconian process you never know whether you will succeed going through or not.
Android is the up and coming mobile platform led by Google. Manufacturers like Samsung, HTC and LG are producing devices to the market and hundreds of hobbyists are tinkering around with their devices and creating software to be used in the devices. Even though the android market hasn’t yet quite lifted off to the level of Apple’s AppStore, I was positively surprised about the amount of interesting geeky apps available. It is clear that there is interesting buzz going on with new Android-devices and people are looking forward creating something new. Developing for Android seems like a fresh breath of air – said with a confidence of someone who has glanced through some documentation and APIs.
Symbian on the other hand is the old war horse of mobile platforms and possibly has also it’s long history as a baggage – in technical as well as brand term. However there are clearly things brewing below the surface and Nokia’s moves on the market give signals that the game is definitely not over. Convergence of development on all Nokia platforms on top of Qt-framework, push more and more towards open source, bold initiatives and courage to try new things out are either desperate moves or finally signals that something is happening. There are millions of different Symbian devices around the world, but unfortunately devices are not at all homogeneous – which means that developers need to target quite specific devices with their applications. This has stifled some innovation as more feature rich Symbian phones have been more expensive than new Android phones and in some cases not so much cheaper than operator subvented iPhones. But even though you might not have the latest Symbian phones, you can do quite a lot with the phone – even though user experience will not be the best imaginable.
I really liked Nokia’s Maemo 5 phone N900, but I am not going to throw my money — 500 or so euros — to great hardware without a strong community and strong company supporting it. N900 has great promise and for 299 euros I would have purchased it in a heartbeat as a geek toy and a phone. Now it will be seen what will be the future of linux based phones be and will there be any support and community drive for N900. I still would really like to use N900, but definitely not going to purchase it in full price with my own money.
Devices and prices
This is where everything gets really tricky.
iPhone is great consumer device. It is expensive, but then again operators subvent each purchase quite a lot – which means you will get 12 months jail term with the operator, but at the same time get iPhone for 500 or so euros. Depending on what you use phone for that deal is pretty sweet – especially since with that handheld computer you can tap into huge ecosystem of content and software.
Android devices haven’t yet impressed me much, but then again Nexus One has not yet landed in Finland. Motorola Droid looks really impressive, but it is expensive computer with prices comparable to iPhone. Best value at the moment comes from Samsung Galaxy Spica, which can be purchased from operators for little over 200 euros and will get Android 2.1 update later on 2010. This is really seriously good offer for quite decent device. Nexus One’s prices are estimated to be around 199 with operator bundling and over 500 or so euros unlocked.
For Symbian devices I checked out new Nokia devices with Symbian ^1 ( 5th Edition ). Nokia 5230 is great value with Nokia Maps and Comes With Music services for 230 euros. However X6 felt better in my hand, even though the price of over 400 euros put it into direct competition with iPhone. To be honest I was lost with Nokia’s catalog of phones for any and every taste. Overall feeling from quality phones however was that they were priced so close to iPhone that it came really hard to resist the idea of putting few extra euros into play and get the damn iPhone. And then again you never know what phones are on the market in 3 months. Nokia is pushing new devices out fast and new version of Symbian, Symbian ^3 should come out in 2010 as well as first MeeGo devices.
Verdict …. But I don’t want an iPhone!
I wouldn’t want to become iPhone schmuck, but if I want to get best performance and ease of use – iPhone at the moment seems the best fit for me, even with all it’s downsides. WIth iPhone I would have to take it as given that it is a consumer device, not power user tool – but then again that might be a good thing. I could watch videos, listen to podcasts, surf the web and be connected without thinking I am using a computer.
Samsung Galaxy Spica was almost great phone, even though the UI and usability was not as good and intuitive as with iPhone. But for 200 or so euros this was the best contender for mobile device. Difference to iPhone in price is clear and Nexus one still waits for it’s arrival to Europe this is really good introduction to Android. I was already seeing myself using the device, cursing from time to time but then again hacking new software for it.
Nokia has really good hardware and software is getting better all the time. After using Symbian 3rd edition for years and having disappointed myself with N97 testdrive previously, I was surprised to see how good X6 felt in my hand. Though I had some WTF moments with the UI usability, the device felt really solid and with smaller pricetag without the Comes WIth Music service I could have wanted to take it home. Sure it is not poweruser’s phone, but I could keep myself up to date with what happens with friends, browse the web with WebKit based browser and take good quality photos. X6 could have been next to perfect phone for me, except it was priced too high – so close to iPhone that I could not do the purchase. Just the phone for 250 – 300 euros would be ok.
N900 was really solid piece of hardware – you know, one of those devices that make you want to say meep and see dreams about it. It has open source ecosystem and huge amount of possibilities, but with the price set as it is – it is expensive. Oh well, I may now try to find second hand N900 from people who were disappointed to it and get it as a geek device.
This is really hard. To find the right mobile device for you.