Why I don’t own an iPhone

I’ve written a couple of harsh evaluations of a new Android phone this week: a review of Samsung’s Galaxy Note for Discovery News and a rant for Boing Boing about how the same old vendor-inflicted problems surface on this device.This led to  predictable accusations from readers that I’m in the tank for iOS–that, as it were, I wrote those pieces while affectionately caressing my iPhone.

The problem with that scenario is that I don’t own an iPhone and never have. (My wife has a Verizon iPhone 4 from her office; sometimes she lets me borrow it to try out a new app.) My own phone is an Android device–the battered HTC Hero you see in the photo below, which has exhibited some of the best and worst qualities of Google’s operating system in the two years I’ve owned it.

hero_cyanogen_mod.jpgI didn’t buy an iPhone in 2007, even though I found a great deal to like about it, because I was in the middle of a contract with Sprint. And even if I’d been willing to eat an early-termination fee to defect to AT&T, I would have then had a phone that I couldn’t use anywhere in the subway parts of Metro.

When my contract expired in early 2008, switching to AT&T still would have left me offline for almost all of my commute. I could not wrap my head around the idea of having to use a pay phone to call my wife or the copy desk after work. So–boy, does this look embarrassing now–I took the cheapest adequate option, the Palm Centro Sprint offered for free.

The Centro was no prize, but I figured I could limp along until Android phones arrived for Sprint or Verizon. (AT&T did not wind up offering coverage underground until October of 2009–and still doesn’t work in the two stations closest to my home.)

At my next upgrade window in early 2010, AT&T had shown itself to be a poor steward of Apple’s device by supporting picture messaging months late and failing to upgrade its network in D.C. and elsewhere. On a personal level, I didn’t care to underwrite Apple’s inscrutable App Store curation/censorship–and after enduring two rounds of the “OMG, the iPhone’s here!” get-a-life-you-people media circus, I took perverse satisfaction in thinking differently.

I’d liked the Sprint HTC Hero I’d tried out a few months before, so that’s what I went with instead. In retrospect, that represented dubious judgment on my part; I could have switched to Verizon and gotten the Droid, or I could have suffered with the Centro for another few months and picked up an Evo. Instead, I got a decent phone that got old fast.

Much of that is Sprint and HTC’s fault for abandoning it. They delivered one Android update, an upgrade to Android 2.1 that arrived after I saw Google executives demo Android 2.2, aka “Froyo,” at a developers’ conference in San Francisco. Not long after, I had to root the phone to nuke the bloatware Sprint had welded to it.

After coming back from CES in 2011, thoroughly fed up with how sluggish the phone had become, I wiped the factory software to install an independently-developed build of Android, CyanogenMod. This brought the Hero up to Android 2.2 and, for a time, rejuvenated it. My phone was vastly more responsive, had better battery life, could run new software incompatible with 2.1 and, because I could park apps on its microSD Card, no longer kept flashing “phone is running low on storage” nags. I was all set to rave about the transformation wrought by aftermarket firmware when this thing started crashing a little too often.

“A little too often” degenerated to “all the damn time.” I upgraded to the 7.0 release of Cyanogen, and that briefly fixed things while also bringing free WiFi tethering and an update to Android 2.3 Gingerbread. But this installation, too, became hopelessly afflicted with crashes as its battery life steadily decayed. Upgrading to 7.1 hasn’t improved things much. When this thing crashes for no reason–then crashes again before it can finish rebooting–I feel like throwing it at the floor. (If any of you have tips about what I could to fix this, please share in the comments.) It’s a good thing I happen to have some review phones around to lean on.

I’m now out of contract, and my options are more open than ever. I could get an iPhone 4S on Sprint or Verizon, or I could get another Android phone. As a platform, I like Android. Really. Free turn-by-turn navigation is a huge benefit that makes the iPhone look pathetic. The selection of apps is tremendous–I can’t think of any iOS-only software that I miss. Android’s onscreen widgets and (in 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich) multitasking have no parallel in iOS. I’m just afraid of what the manufacturers and the carriers might do to my next Android phone. It is reassuring that Android offers the escape hatch of third-party firmware–but would that prove as unstable as my current sorry software?

I hope I haven’t gotten myself stuck in yet another abusive phone relationship.


32 thoughts on “Why I don’t own an iPhone

  1. Hi Rob, maybe a bit naive to suggest this, but a phone reset solved a lot of these spurious restarts which I was experiencing too (HTC Desire). The downside being you have to reconfigure quite many preferences etc. On my phone you get to the relevant menus by starting the phone while contemporary keeping the volume-down pressed. Hope it helps.

  2. I didn’t have an iPhone for a long time either. I live in France, and a French ISP (Free) recently shook up the market offering a very inexpensive contract. For €20 a month – or €16 of you have Internet access from them – you get unlimited calls and SMSs, and 3 GB of data. Before that, I was not willing to pay the exorbitant prices for data contracts. Oh, and that’s with no commitment. You buy your own phone, and stay as long as you want, then you leave when you want. Since then, other French telcos have had to lower their prices, and the market is suddenly much freer than ever. (And vastly freer than in the US.)

    If only you in the US were so lucky…

  3. I have a HTC Sensation smartphone on T-Mobile. It is my first smartphone, and I am very happy with it. It is suppose to be updated to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich sometime this year (hopefully soon), and I am looking forward to seeing that update. It is amazing how dependent you become to such a device. I would not want to go back to the old kind of cell phone. Good luck on finding a new phone.

  4. Anyone who thinks you are in the tank for Apple obviously hasn’t ready anything written by MG Siegler. Now that’s a guy so far in the tank, he’s drowning in it (and he doesn’t care who knows it).

  5. I had Palm (Centro and pre Plus) for a while but they were slow. My wife got a Droid when it first came out and my kids got Droid Incredibles and liked them but had some issues with third party software and other buggy annoyances. I was all set to get a Droid when my wife bought me an ipad to show my photography. As much as I resisted (which was futile) it made sense to make the leap to the iphone and I haven’t regretted it once for several reasons: No buggy problems from untested third party apps, only one manufacturer of the parts rather than x number of brands all with slightly different issues, great tech support. The phone is fast, easy to use, great sound and transfers apps between my ipad and iphone so I always have the photos and books I want. Oh and this is all on Verizon. Drink the kool-aid Rob.

  6. “I got a decent phone that got old fast.”
    Me too. An LG Ally on Verizon. Can’t upgrade until July. Then I’ll be getting a Droid 4.

    Have you tried replacing the battery?

  7. The easy answer, if you want to stick with Android but don’t want the bloat ware, is to get the Galaxy Nexus. ICS and no bloat ware. Personally, I switched from original Droid to iPhone 4 and the only thing I miss is free navigation (although it was crashing constantly towards the end). The iPhone is vastly more usable and polished.

  8. Great, now I think you are in the tank for Android. Although I will admit that you are fair in your treatment of Apple. I have to say that I’m surprised by your reasoning for not getting an iPhone. I don’t have any smart phone and some how I live without step by step navigation. I will use Maps on my iPod touch to find my own way on occasion. Not agreeing with Apple App Store policies seems odd. Does that mean you agree with all of Google’s policies? And not getting one because it’s popular? Really?

    My friend bought a Hero after seeing you speak. She claimed if it was good enough for you that was good enough for her. She’s only a bit technical. She would never do all of those things you mentioned to improve performance. I’m trying to convince her to iPhone now, mainly because most Android manufacturers are not supplying consistent updates. It seems to be their way of forcing people to upgrade.

  9. Rob, I bought a HTC trophy. I had roadtested a lot of VZW’s 4G devices, my son has an iPhone4, my husband has a 3G android.

    I find that I love my phone. Windows Phone doesn’t have all the apps, but I’m not so app-y. I want search, camera stuff, social media and being able to use whatever website I want to.

  10. I love my Verizon Galaxy Nexus. I’ve been waiting for the Nexus to come to Verizon to check it out. I was actually due for my Verizon renewal a year ago, but my Windows Mobile phone was ok. The big screen and 4G of the Nexus rocks! Pure Android tipped me over to the Nexus, away from the Razr. I wish the battery life were longer. The longest I’ve had it running on battery was about 5 hours, mostly on 3G, with about 2 hour total screen on, at mostly 40% brightness: mostly email, web browsing, and about 30 minutes of talking. Battery went from 100% to 75%. 4G uses a lot of battery and I usually have it plugged in the car or the wall or to my USB battery, when I use 4G for an extended amount of time. Overall, I think the Galaxy Nexus is the best phone available.

  11. Rob,

    iPhone 4/4S has free turn by turn navigation apps. I use Waze, a free app, and find that it works better than my Garmin. Waze has user reported traffic updates, accident reports, and other goodies.


  12. I have a significant number of work colleagues who initially drank the various Android koolaid flavors, found various degrees of bugginess and ultimate dissatisfaction with lack of upgrades for their device, and have now moved over to the iPhone 4S. So far, none of them have opted to switch back. What I hear from them is that they enjoy using their device instead of wasting time fooling around with it……ymmv.

  13. Thanks for all of the comments. Quick responses…

    * Luigi: I’ve had to wipe the phone to install each new version of CM. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to have helped things. (I’ve also used ROM Manager’s repair-permissions tool–in this way, Android reminds me of the early days of Mac OS X–way too many times.)

    * wiredog: I’ve thought about replacing the battery, but at this point it would be good money after bad. Easier to bring a charger with me, or charge it off my laptop if I have that around.

    * Randy Rosso: Not a fan of the Galaxy Nexus, on account of poor battery life, instability and Vz blocking Google Wallet. (At least the upcoming Sprint version won’t have that last issue.)

    * Ed: Crap, now I feel bad about steering your friend wrong. Sorry!

    * Jean: I’m looking forward to trying out the Nokia 900, assuming AT&T PR isn’t spooked by my panning the last three phones they’ve sent my way.

    * Ed (the other one): I should have noted, as I did in this USAT column, that it’s not just turn-by-turn navigation, but also stop-by-stop transit nav and bicycling directions.

    – RP

  14. I got a Droid Eris when it first came out, and must echo your thoughts: I got a decent phone that got old fast. I finally had the money to replace it a month ago and got an iPhone 4, mostly because of an issue I haven’t heard mentioned: the iPhone 4 was only $50, compared to $100 and up at my local Verizon store; and its size. Every affordable Android phone with anything more than Android 2.2 is so big the idea of slipping it into a pocket is laughable. And, having been stuck with Android 2.1 for 20 months, I was pretty reluctant to have my hardware leave me in the dust regarding updates.

    I do miss widgets, though; and Waze is great, but doesn’t replace the functionality of navigation working with Google Maps.

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  16. Cyanogenmod has had a rocky ride for me on my phones, especially my old HTC Hero. I too experienced the instability that you described, at first.

    It is indeed sad that existing Android phones are left high and dry when a new OS version comes out.

    However, Cyanogenmod since v7 has been great on both my Hero and on my new Desire.

    Just my experience.

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  20. I had Iphone since the first one, a few month ago changed to HTC, i have a Desire HD and I find it way more usfeul and cooler for me, but this is something that depends on what you expect from a phone, and IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE, Iphone is a great phone, but to limited, Android has his down also, like the keyboard, more difficult to use than the iphone BTW: if you want a powerful phone, go for HTC SENSATION (dual core CPU)

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