I set off on a quest to purchase a new phone last week. My current phone crashed three times, and each time it downloaded Verizon ROMS and forced me to re-sync my contacts. Combined with all of my other intense frustrations (below), I also considered my lifestyle: I carry a Blackberry for work, an iPod Nano G3, my personal phone (the XV6800) and must have my keys accessible on me at all times for work purposes. So, my pockets are pretty full. My objective thus became to reduce the number of devices I carry or reduce the weight and footprint, and improve my user experience.
A Run Down of my Run Down XV6800
Considering how excited I was over the XV6800 for most of 2007, how could I possibly justify replacing it after only a year? On paper, it looked excellent: It was a full Windows Mobile device, boasted a faster processor than its predecessor, featured a really nice spring-loaded keyboard and a bright, full touch-screen display.
Ultimately, owning this phone was a disaster. I was frustrated within about two months and started feeling the pain. First, the mini USB-connector port stopped holding cables in place and started popping out when using the phone while powered, or during charging (to leave me with a dead phone in the morning). Battery life was horrible. One-handed use with the XV6800 was nearly impossible because of the sideways keyboard, not nearly as natural as a Treo or Blackberry. The worst part was the bulkiness of the phone and the weight! It sat in my pocket like a brick. The CPU was faster than its predecessor but still not enough to handle the bloat of Windows Mobile 6.
Separating Must Haves from Tech Gadget Fever
The reason I ended up with the XV6800, above all else, was the coolness factor. I decided to step back this time and look more objectively at what I actually do with my phone. First, I text quite a bit. I also use my phone for personal email (from Yahoo!, and multiple accounts), so I don't need to synchronize with a corporate server. My corporate Blackberry nearly eliminates my need for personal calendar. I browse the web frequently too, so web browsing capability is high on the list. I currently enjoy my portable music via my iPod Nano and frequently use iTunes, and have no desire to convert to another format. Bluetooth is required, but I could live without Wi-Fi (though it's nice). Finally, reducing the thickness and weight of my current phone is an absolute must.
This led me to these requirements:
Another strong factor of phone choice for me is carrier. Verizon Wireless by far has the best coverage and call quality and I'm currently with Verizon. Their customer service is great. My 5 year experience with AT&T/Cingular was very negative, but Apple and AT&T are in bed together so if the iPhone were to remain an option it meant biting the bullet to switch back to AT&T.
- QWERTY keyboard or Touch-screen equivelant
- Web browsing capability with enough to view Craigslist (Facebook never worked on my XV6800)
- Around 0.5" thickness or less
- Around 4.5oz or less
Samsung U740 (Alias) - A creative, very small and light SmartPhone with a QWERTY keyboard.
Samsung Omnia - A full Windows Mobile 6 device engineered for touch-screen usability (no hardware QWERTY just like the iPhone). This baby also comes with an FM radio built in and a processor around 200 Mhz faster than my old phone, 8 GB internal storage and plenty of RAM.
Apple iPhone - BLA BLA BLA BLA BLA. BLAH BLAH Bla, bla bla bla, wank wank wank. Go get your box of Kleenex, enough already. Everyone knows the iPhone is best of breed, slim form factor, trick UI. I like this option because iTunes is Apple's platform and the iPhone would reduce my number of devices by leaving my Nano in the car.
I won't go into a full review of each, but I'll mention what I liked or disliked about the options and the considerations I made before settling on my new phone.
Samsung U740 (Verizon Alias)
The Alias is a Samsung Smartphone with a unique design that allows the phone to flip open in either direction. Flip it open like a flip phone, and you have a nice phone and display for dialing and browsing contacts. Go horizontal, and you get a QWERTY for text messaging, email and browsing. I liked this phone because it weighs around 3.5oz and it's about 0.5" thick. It has the smallest footprint of all my candidates.
I typed on it in the Verizon Store for a while and its keyboard is quite comfortable. This phone is great for messaging and basic Email and Web. It's true advantage is the small footprint and simplicity compared to the full PDA-style devices I've owned in the last four years. The limitations are email access and web browsing. Accessing Yahoo! means logging in each time through the web interface, and there's no touch screen, so navigating by hardware buttons is required. Still, I highly recommend this phone to any avid texter who doesn't need full PDA functionality. Even with its age, it's still a really nice piece of hardware.
Apple iPhone G3
My first impression of the iPhone was "thin". As expected, the hardware and UI works seamlessly to bring a fast and responsive user experience. Remember, my first requirement is QWERTY so I can text and email. So when I jumped on the iPhone in the Apple Store of Stoneridge Shopping Mall, my primary focus was its SMS client and the keyboard. Well, the keyboard is terrible. My thumbs were all over the place, and though I went back to the Apple Store four times to retest, I could not gain any confidence in my accuracy typing on this device. I started anticipated that I would be trading one set of frustrations with my current phone for a new set of frustrations from Apple.
Don't get me wrong, I love some Apple stuff, but those who know me know I am a fan of using the right tool for the job. My laptop is a Mac 17" Powerbook Pro, and I really love it. The iPhone, however, left me with a different impression.
The SMS UI didn't allow me to put the phone into landscape mode to type, apparently a long-standing complaint by iPhone users. The typing correction software was okay, but overall, Apple's keyboard was enough to turn me off for good. While I loved the integrated iPod, the games and impressive use of the accelerometer, I also couldn't help but retain my distaste for Apple's control over the software availability or my past experiences with AT&T's poor coverage and poor customer service. With all the hype over iPhone, I was left feeling dissapointed.
Samsung i910 Omnia (WINNER Derek 2009 Phone Awards)
As with each of my candidates, I spent nights reading reviews on Engadget, PhoneScoop, GSMCellPhoneReview (where I snagged this nice picture) and others. I particularly paid attention to the opinions of users who actually owned the phone, and took those opinions that were based solely on play time in a retail store with a grain of salt. Finally, I played with the phone in the Verizon Wireless store over a couple of visits spanning two days.
The Samsung Omnia is a full Windows Mobile 6 device, but Samsung has gone to a good deal of trouble to re-skin the OS with thumbs and fingers in mind. A complaint you see on many forums is that the stylus doesn't fit inside the device. After extensive play with the phone it is clear Samsung never intended this phone to be used with a Stylus, but in my opinion they provided one as an accessory for convenience (and it is arguably needed for initial touch screen calibration). This brings me to the optical D-Pad at the bottom. As suggested by many reviewers, I switched this into Mouse mode, and it virtually eliminates the need for ever using a stylus and can be used when you need accuracy.
The Samsung Omnia is only 12.5mm thick, and to give you a frame of reference, the iPhone is a comparable 12.3mm. The Omnia weighs in at 4.3oz, beating the iPhone in weight by nearly half an oz (iPhone 3G 4.7oz). The screen resolution is an odd 240x400 (iPhone still has the best display on the market) and is adequate. What really sets the Samsung apart is the 5.0 Megapixel camera and the FM radio. The camera is awesome and sharp. Europe has had 5.0 mpx for a while but this is the first we're seeing in the USA. And now I can listen to NPR when my iPod Nano battery runs out. Of course the phone has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and allows me to set it up as a wireless router for my laptop.
Back to my requirements. To test the QWERTY keyboard, I jumped straight to the SMS application. My first surprise was probably the same as everyone else: when you press a key the entire phone gives you a tiny little vibration and thus clear, tactile feedback. Typing at first took me and my thumbs a little practice to get used to the touch-screen. The phone requires ever so slightly more pressure than required for the iPhone, but my accuracy grew quickly and I started feeling more confident in about five minutes of use. (The phone does need to be calibrated correctly, and I recommend doing this with a stylus at setup). I was also happy to see that SMS conversations are now threaded and I don't need a 3rd-party app to accomplish this.
The device uses an accelerometer to change the orientation of the screen to whichever way you are holding it: portrait or landscape and it works upside down in either direction. Since I've owned it I have reduced the sensitivity of the accelerometer so the screen doesn't shift on a whim - this sensitivity can be adjusted in the Settings. I don't know that the transition has the smooth feel of the iPhone beat, but the processor sure makes it faster than changing the screen orientation on my old XV6800.
Samsung thankfully opted for Opera Mobile instead of Internet Explorer Mobile as the browser, and it's all set up to be driven by your fingers. In fact, browsing in Opera is really comfortable and almost fun. Of course, email integration with my Yahoo! account worked as expected, just like on my old XV6800. I was also able to easily import contacts by synchronizing the data from my PC back to this phone. To do this, I just had to rename my phone through the Settings to match the name of my old phone, thus tricking it into downloading my contacts.
At first impression the phone had a lot going for it, and it grew on me more with each visit to the Verizon store. (After my purchase while the rep was configuring the device, even he said it was starting to grow on him.) But I wasn't going to jump into another gadget on a whim this time. It paid off to do research and assess my personal needs, preferences and lifestyle. The Samsung Omnia is on the Verizon network, which has great service, the phone gives me a powerful (if not dated) operating system and access to plenty of PPC software out there (I even run Skype Mobile which is nearly fully featured). I can't attain the typing speeds of a hardware keyboard, but ultimately the interface is clean and typing on the device has become pretty easy.
Of course, it's only been a short time and I'll be honest later about any frustrations that arise. But I have to say, as an experienced Windows Mobile user, I am very happy with the effort Samsung has put into this phone.