Social Question

Seek's avatar

Getting my first smartphone. Do you have any advice?

Asked by Seek (30181 points ) January 14th, 2013

So, I’ve said forever that I didn’t see the need for a smartphone, but it turns out it’ll make my work life a lot easier if I have one. So, I’m biting the bullet.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still a penny pinching so-and-so. Virgin Mobile has a $35 a month unlimited smartphone plan. Since I hate talking to people on the phone, 300 talk minutes is just about bang on. Everyone else can email me or wait until we see each other in meatspace.

So, the question is, which phone do I buy? Half of my brain immediately wants to jump to a tiny sale price, but the other half knows if I buy a cheap phone that ultimately sucks, it’ll be worse than the knockoff Blackberry I’m currently using.

Local area info: 3g service is available at my house, and I can get 4g WiMax downtown, where I work.

The contenders:
HTC Evo V 4g Pro: 4g. Mobile hotspot for $15 more. 4.3 inch touchscreen. Comes with 8gig SD memory, expandable to 32gig. Con: Reviews say battery life isn’t all that hot.

iPhone 4 8g Pro: I can be the hippest hipster from ten minutes ago. Con: $200 more than the HTC, and no 4g.

Samsung Galaxy S II 4g Pro: Also mobile hotspot, bigger screen, better battery, also 4g. Con: $180 more than HTC.

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31 Answers

tom_g's avatar

I have owned an iPhone 4 and five different Android phones. Android is by far the better (in terms of functionality) mobile OS. But the fragmentation and other issues are real. For example, the 2 Android phones you have listed here are running a version of the OS that it is almost 1.5 years old, and missing many of the best features of Android.

Also, many of these Android vs. iOS questions really do come down to what you plan on using this for. If you are really not a power user and would want to take a ton of photos, go with the iPhone. The camera on the iPhone really is so much better than anything else.

I could provide more info if you could describe exactly what you think you’ll be using it for. Note that there is also an ecosystem that you’re buying into. You might want to consider if your favorite services have apps that run on each OS. And once you jump in, you might find it difficult to change. My wife’s transition from Android to iOS was an unsuccessful as mine was. Having a fully-functional, modern mobile OS is a recipe for dissatisfaction when presented with a toy (iOS). And things that you can automate in Android require tons of manual clicking around and work in iOS.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I am watching this thread with interest. My cell phone is a waterproof flip phone with no text or data plan. I have a Kindle Fire that I have loaded with many free Android apps and carry both with me when I am out on the road.
I used wifi to connect to the Kindle to read email, download files and show data (in PDF form) to clients.
Does Virgin Mobile have the same coverage as Verizon? $30 for unlimited sounds like a good deal. Is that introductory?

Pachy's avatar

I’ve owned many iPhones and currently a Samsung S3 (android). I like(d) them all for different reasons, but for a newbie, I recommend the iPhone.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Pachyderm_In_The_Room You wrote: “I’ve owned many iPhones…” See? That is what worries me. When I get a phone or device I am happy with it and tend to hang onto it until the Smithsonian calls me wanting it for a museum piece – or it falls in the toilet.
(The phone I have now is waterproof so I have no idea how long it will last.)

Everyone I know who has an iPhone replaces them as soon as the new model comes out.
I don’t understand it.

Seek's avatar

@LuckyGuy That’s it. $35 no contract. 300 minutes a month and unlimited text and data. It’s on the Sprint network. I told my husband about your phone. He needs that one.

@tom_g To be honest, I have no idea what the phone will eventually be used for, as I’ve never had a smartphone before. I imagine the GPS thing will come in handy (horrible sense of direction, me), and I want to hook it up to my work email. I don’t see myself watching a whole lot of TV or gaming on a 4½ inch screen, but it might get the odd play of SuperWhy or Angry Birds when my son and I are out and about. To the nerdy personal use side, I want to get that barcode scanner app and use it to keep track of the books in my collection.

What features are missing from Ice Cream Sandwich, that makes Jellybean better?

tom_g's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr: “What features are missing from Ice Cream Sandwich, that makes Jellybean better?”

For starters, the whole OS runs so much smoother. They called it “project butter”. Then of course there is Google Now. Say I have a doctor’s appointment in Boston at 3pm. Google Now will monitor the traffic and let me know when I have to leave based on the current traffic. So, previously I would have to determine where my appointment is, how long on average it takes to get there, then set a reminder for that amount of time, and still possibly miss the appointment if there is unusual traffic. Google Now takes care of all that for me.
Google Now also integrates all of my shipment tracking and weather. It also includes that super-powered voice search.

Overall, Jelly Bean was the point where hardcore iOS fans started writing all of those reviews saying that Android has arrived, etc.
But because of the issues with manufacturers slapping custom skins on top of vanilla Android, the Android phone options are awful – those phones aren’t that old. It’s criminal that you can’t just install the latest Android versions (without rooting, etc).

But there are other considerations. If you think you might be doing a lot of reading/web browsing, some phones have awful screens (low resolution) and terrible battery life. The amount of choice within the Android world is both good and a curse. You will likely be weighing OS version, screen resolution, screen size, battery life, removable/non-removable battery, micro-sd car slot, form factor, etc.

GPS is obviously one of Android’s strengths due to integration. But some people can get by with basic GPS functionality on an iPhone.
Do you geek out with technology at all, or do you prefer limited options? I think the iPhone might actually be a better choice for some people because it has made 90% of the choices for you. And many people don’t want to do some ridiculous stuff us Android freaks want to do.
I don’t envy your decision. Maybe you can go hit a store and try them out. It won’t really give you much of an idea, but the size might be something that does matter to you.
Good luck.

Pachy's avatar

@LuckyGuy, I’m an early adopter—the worst kind of spendthrift. But looking back, I could have stuck with my iPhone 4S and been completely happy up until the time my contract ran out. But then my company actually gave me a 5 (for use as long as I work for the company). I didn’t like it as much as the 4S but it was free. I bought the Samsung on my own because, having an android tablet, i just like that OS.

Seek's avatar

@tom_g I’m 99% sure I don’t want an iPhone. Yes, there are a lot of toys that you can buy to go with it, but it doesn’t seem worth the hassle of worrying about which websites I can go to and not being able to use SD memory. And I am a geek – so if there are geeky things to be learned, I will probably want to learn them.

I feel a little like I just dove out of 1999. I get the concept of a smartphone, but I’ve never really used one. So I don’t even know what they can do. But I really want to learn.

The Google Now thing sounds good, but I can live without it. I will see whether the HTC or the Samsung can be upgraded to Jelly Bean

Seek's avatar

Looks like there’s an upgrade for the Samsung planned (as of November) and possibly for the HTC.

My brain is still looking at that other $180 as Universal Studios tickets.

tom_g's avatar

To be honest, Ice Cream Sandwich isn’t bad. If it was pre-ICS, I would say stay away. But you would probably be fine. I don’t know much about those phones. But as long as the battery life (and other variables) seem ok, it might be a good choice.

Just to add to the complete dorkiness you can sink into in the Android world…you can automate anything. Launch a program automatically when you connect to your bluetooth in your car. Auto-create and send an email/text when you arrive at a location. Automatically set phone to silent and turn down brightness at a particular time. Turn on bluetooth at a certain time in the morning. Do an activity when you get home. Set different screen timeouts for each application. Lock some applications so that they must be opened with a pattern lock (or pin or password). And seriously, anything else you can think of…

Seek's avatar

@tom_g SOLD on Android.

I love automagical features. Yes, please set my alarm clock to ring at six AM on Monday through Thursday, but seven on Friday because traffic isn’t as bad and I can sleep longer. Please turn the phone to silent at 9:00 pm. Also, it’s tempting to set theme music to play when I enter a building. I must figure out how to do that.

mazingerz88's avatar

Wow, sounds like you could also auto-create the end of the world with Android. “Danger, danger Will Robinson!” Lol. I’d pick the iPhone. Because somewhere, Steve Jobs got reincarnated as Spock. Wait, what? : )

hearkat's avatar

The iOS devices will do different alarm times, and automatically silent (Do Not Disturb) at a time of your choosing – and you can specify exceptions.

I got the iPhone the first day of release. Skipped the 3G and upgraded to the 3GS when it came out. Upgraded to the 4 for the better camera and skipped the 4S. Upgraded to the 5 for the LTE (worth it).

Historically, for cars and computers, I buy the best I can afford and use it until it dies. Upgrading the iPhone when eligible on the account is not that big a deal, because you can recoup most of the price by selling the previous model on eBay.

I know people that have switched to Android devices that swear they won’t go back to iOS, despite having a long history with Apple. I know others that have switched and hated Android.

If you have Apple devices at home, the integration with iphone is nice. If you don’t, there are other ways to sync your info with windows-based programs, too. If you want simple and fairly predictable functionality between apps, iPhone would be nice.

If you like to explore different technology options and try lots of apps and customize minute details of the device, Android would be better.

If you decide on Android, I have always heard good things about Samsung products. I had a flip-phone of theirs in 2002–2004, and I really liked it – it felt solid in the hand and was durable. I haven’t heard a lot of positive reports on HTC products.

My other advice is to talk to people in your area that have or recently had Virgin Mobile to see just how good the cell service really is – especially in the locations where you’ll use it most. It is very frustrating when one has a lousy signal and calls are dropped or you can’t load a map and you’re lost

muppetish's avatar

My SO started with an EVO (hand-me-down from his parents who must upgrade their phones every year) and recently moved to the S II. He hated the EVO. It was running an older OS though (so that’s something to definitely consider—I think he was on Gingerbread with that phone.) It had more bloatware pre-installed and didn’t have as many screens that he could customize with whatever he wanted.

The S II (which has the same specs as my Atrix, but his was free due to a Christmas deal) runs like a dream. It has the most recent Ice Cream Sandwich update, which is visually pleasing and pleasantly customizable. Applications seem to run more smoothly on it and transitioning from screen to screen is also better.

For me, if I were paying for the device, I might go with the EVO as a first-time smart phone user because it’s cheaper. Hey, nothing wrong with being a penny-pincher… But if you start exploring ideas of what your smart phone can do for you, then I might consider the S II a bit more. It’s a solid phone that will last you, it’s extremely light weight (he had to buy a weighted case because he kept forgetting it was in his pocket), and has a pretty good camera that stabilizes photos better than mine does.

Also, my experience has been that buying in a physical mobile store, like Best Buy, has garnered better deals than shopping direct from the provider. I only paid $100 for my Atrix and that’s when it was a brand-new device.

lightsourcetrickster's avatar

You seem to be all about the android. Ever considered a Windows smartphone? Obviously there are downsides to that, but there’s also some good sides to it.

Seek's avatar

I’d love to have a Windows phone. I have a Windows 8 laptop, so they would get along nicely. Unfortunately, the no-contract options are currently nil, and I will not be a slave to a phone company. Bummer, huh?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I asked this question quite some time ago, and it garnered a lot of good information. I ended up buying a Samsung Galaxy S III, which I really like. There was a recent OS upgrade from ice cream sandwich to jelly bean, and it’s even better. I can’t give advice, but I will state that I’m very happy with the one I chose.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Best bet for longer battery life is the Galaxy S, it has twice the battery life of the HTC. Also the hook-up for work email could be problematic because of company rules and IT requirements.

Seek's avatar

@Tropical_Willie Thanks! I work for a very small business, so the requirements are “Oh, you’re getting a smartphone? Cool. Just lemme know.” There’s one person with an HTC Evo, one with a Samsung S III (who just upgraded from the S II) and three with iPhones. So… there we go.

@Hawaii_Jake OMG. That post just made me love @tom_g and Android even more. Now I want a car with Bluetooth.

jerv's avatar

I would take the Samsung.

HTC is cheap for a reason, and when a smartphone is noted for battery life shorter than it’s peers, it means that you may as well have a corded phone since it will rarely survive been unplugged from the charger.

Apple products only work well with other Apple products; the Windows version of iTunes sucks. That doesn’t count the problems with syncing and possibly wiping your iDevice by accident. The lack of expandable storage also sucks, as does the restrictive apps store.

Samsung earns the reviews it gets; solid, decent, fast, sexy… basically the next best thing to a Motorola.

As for Windows phones, the only way I will get involved with anything related to Win8 is if large amounts of fire are involved. Their apps market is at least as draconian as Apple’s without the wide selection. There are reasons that Steam is moving to Linux in the wake of Win8.

@hearkat My Razr HD does those things too. Motorola has SmartActions that can set triggers based on time, location, battery condition, etcetera.

Seek's avatar

I admit, the app store for Win8 sucks so far. I am crossing my fingers and hoping for good things to happen. I rather like the interface, more for my very young son and computer-illiterate husband than for myself.

jerv's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I think that that is odd, based on my experience that some experts agree with. Making things harder to do is no way to make them easier to learn. Hiding basic controls, adding extra steps, making right-clicking mandatory… seems less simple to me.

LuckyGuy's avatar

While we are having this discussion, does anyone know where these are made?
I try to avoid “made in china” as much as possible.
I absolutely love my indestructible, waterproof, shock resistant, etc. Casio GzOne. It is made in Korea and the battery is made in Japan.
Are any smart phones not made in china?

Nothing is made in china without the governments’ approval. I therefore avoid them for the obvious political, economic, social reasons. I am also concerned about their ability and proclivity to slip back doors into products and then claim it was an accident when one of them is discovered. By backdoor, I mean phones turning on at random times and recording voice or keyloggers that record log in information and passwords, or GPS location, and time coupled with log in info to determine place and type of business. We know others are doing this (Apple) but when they are discovered there is recourse. There is no fighting back if the phone is MIC. A few people might ask for a refund but the majority do not.

Seek's avatar

@jerv Let me put it this way: on Windows XP, my then-three year old was easily able to get into the Control Panel and change the screen resolution. I managed to stop him just before he uninstalled Internet Explorer. The little guy was able to figure out my administrator password by watching me type it.

On Windows 8, there are big pictures and he can scroll back and forth all he wants without hurting anything. Oh, look, Angry Birds. Click. Done. Also, computer illiterate hubby can’t accidentally screw anything up either. And if he doesn’t want to put the time into learning new software, it better be idiot-proof.

On the other hand, I don’t mind at all the hidden controls. It’s just as easy for me to WIN+w, type “con” and then click “Connect to a Network” as it is for me to flip through all of those file windows. In fact, it’s a little bit faster.

jerv's avatar

@LuckyGuy I don’t trust others not to do the same stuff, and I’m sure that many are more clever about it.

@Seek_Kolinahr I take it that you are a hunt-and-peck typist then, or he wouldn’t have been able to track the keystrokes. We won’t even get into how big a favor he was actually doing by trying to get rid of IE, but think that Win8 is a viable solution is bizarre to me. The task you describe, I can do in two clicks; you’re moving your hands all over the place.

As for being idiot-proof, I have strong opinions on that issue; suffice it to say that I don’t consider using a computer such a right as to have to hinder normal people in order to accommodate the lowest common denominator. Would you let a 3-year-old drive your car? Are you willing to move the pedals and steering wheel of your car 18 inches closer to the seat and drive all scrunched up like that with no option to move the seat back in order to accommodate them, or do you think that sort of constriction might adversely affect your ability to operate? Would you want to share the roads with so many toddlers out there who are zooming around with no real idea what they are doing?

I don’t want to derail this thread any longer with my ranting, so I will end it by saying that I feel that the best way to make something idiot-proof isn’t to make life harder for the proficient; it’s to keep idiots away from it until that person gets educated enough to no longer be an idiot.

Seek's avatar

Gasp! No! I type 70 WPM!

I admit, the password was “mama”, but that was just to make it easier for my husband to remember. I certainly didn’t anticipate a 3 year old figuring out how to log out of his neutered account, and log in to mine.

Anyway, all in all, I have no real problems with Win8, but again, that’s because I’m not doing a lot of heavy computing. For someone doing serious shit, I can see why Win8 would be a pain in the arse. But it’s an entertainment device in my house, save for the little bit of Photoshopping that I do, and the desktop area is only a click away.

jerv's avatar

Ah; with a password that short, typing speed doesn’t matter.

Now to out myself as a crypto-geek….

I tend to use passwords that are easy to remember but still are mixed-case with numbers (expanding the effective alphabet from 26 characters to 62 increases the difficulty of brute-force attacks exponentially) and 8+ characters in length. Even using your Fluther screen name should be enough to keep the kid out while being simple enough for your hubbie to remember, and it would be hard to brute-force (mixed-case and a special character) while also containing a word that isn’t in most dictionaries.

Try for yourself

mama = Cracked instantly
Seek_Kolinahr = Would take 4 million years at 4 billion attempts per second

Just remember this tip from Xkcd

Back to the phone now….

Who will be using it? My phone is used exclusively by me. My wife has her won, I have no kids that need entertaining (and I question the wisdom of trusting them with a breakable item that costs more than my car and has sensitive, hard-to-replace data on it), and my cats can share my old Droid X.

My point is that you should only really concern yourself with what you want/need since it will be your phone.

Seek's avatar

Ha ha, gotta love Xkcd.

The phone is my toy. Mine.

And that is why it will be Android. I’ll still probably get the cheaper one, at least for the meanwhile. But to be honest, I was never really even entertaining the notion of an Apple product. And the Win8 interaction is fun for the family stuff, though it’s not ideal for geeking out (kind of like a simple home theater system would be, as opposed to a full on recording studio setup. There’s nothing wrong with a home theater unless you need the studio).

jerv's avatar

Having had to use other people’s Android phones, I have to say that hardware matters. Some, come with slow CPUs, the cheaper ones have low-resolution screens, and the worst have resistive touchscreens that require almost-glass-breaking pressure to register a touch. Those are painful to use, and if it’s your first Android, may turn you off to the whole Android system.

The HTC Evo V is mid-range, and probably adequate, so it’s not a bad choice, especially if money is an issue.

Personally. I tend to buy as high as I reasonably can in order to be as future-proof as possible. I have been rather spoiled by having an upgrade due around the same time I have a bit more disposable income, so I can generally get a top-tier phone. I got my Droid X when that was one of the flagship models in Verizon’s lineup, and it served me well, and was technologically relevant two years later, unlike the lower-end models available at the time.

An added advantage is that an expensive phone is still cheaper in the long run than buying a starter phone first and replacing it later. Sure, my Razr HD was $160 (on sale), but I think it was the best choice overall. The Razr HD Maxx wasn’t worth the extra $100 for 20% more battery and an extra 16GB storage. I guess what I am trying to say is that it may be better to absorb the financial hit up front to get what you really want instead of paying more in the long run.

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