A New Year, A New Phone

This year I’ve decided to make a foray into the future by finally getting myself a proper smartphone. I’ve had an iPod Touch for a while but also had a simple Nokia not-smart phone to make actual phone calls. It’s always been somewhat annoying to have to manage two devices: a real phone for calls or texts and the iPod for any Internet and data-related work. A large part of my resistance to getting an actual smartphone was that I simply didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a cell phone plan when I was surrounded by wi-fi all the time and barely made actual phone calls. But now that there are finally both reasonably cheap unlocked smartphones and contract-free data plans I decided to bite the bullet.

The unlocked iPhone 4S would end up costing me a tad over $800 after tax and Applecare. I was also getting bored of the iOS ecosystem and its closed, silo system for apps. So instead I got myself a much cheaper unlocked Android phone – the Google/Samsung Nexus S. I’m pairing that with a $30 a month T-Mobile data and phone plan. I’m still waiting for a new SIM card to show up but till then I’m making use of the ample wifi coverage that’s a side-effect of living in a college town. For now, I’m only going to talk about my first impressions on the Nexus S itself.

Google Nexus S

Google Nexus S (via Wikipedia)

The Nexus S is Google’s previous flagship phone. Its current flagship is the Galaxy Nexus which Google is also selling unlocked. However it’s almost twice the price I paid for the Nexus S and in my opinion, isn’t sufficient of an upgrade to justify the price. Even though it’s about a year old by now (and technically running the old version of Android), I haven’t had a problem with it so far.

It looks pretty different from the iPhone and the plastic feel takes some getting used it. I also think it slips more easily, but that might just be a personal problem. The back of the phone has something of a ridge at the bottom which I guess is supposed to make it easier to hold. Though the build quality does feel inferior as compared to the iPhone, I like it and have no major complaints.

The Android sofware feels like a breath of fresh air as compared to the iPhone. It is considerably more customizable and I like the presence of both tradiiontal apps as well as “widgets” that add functionality directly to your home screens. I’ve found widgets great for quickly looking up data like the weather, Twitter mentions or what system services are currently running.

The tinkerer in me loves how customizable the Android system is. Changing the look and feel is just the beginning. There are a lot of bells and whistles and options and sometimes it can be a rather confusing. For now I’ve only stuck to the usual set of apps (Twitter, Foursquare, Camera) but I’m looking forward to trying out new and interesting apps in the future. More than that I feel like Android would be a really good platform if I decide to get into mobile dev anytime soon.

There are a few things about the Nexus S that I’m concerned with. I think the battery life is a tad too short, especially with the geolocation services on all the time. Luckily, the battery monitor widget makes it simple to turn off services with a touch so maybe some manual management might make it better. While the Google apps are really well integrated (especially Google Voice) and apps from large companies are well done, third-party apps seem to be of considerably less quality than iOS equivalents. I don’t really blame the developers given the multitude of devices but it does mean that finding good apps for simple things like RSS is more difficult than it should be.

Despite the glitches and minor annoyances I really like the Nexus S. The hardware is pretty solid and I like Android so far. Right now having a fully functional smartphone is still pretty new to me, but I’m hoping that when the novelty wears off I’ll dive into actually programming the powerful computer in my pocket.

10 thoughts on “A New Year, A New Phone

  1. FWIW You should get the ICS 4.03 update available now officially available, a nice upgrade to the “newest” Android software (same as on the new phone…) I’ve had one for a year now and love it.

  2. Also The Grooveip app enables VOIP calling in and out via GVoice (It is a one time purchase in the market ($4.99) well worth it, no ongoing charges.. I also like the Flex t-9 keyboard app (small charge) it is by Nuance and seems to do better voice recognition as well as providing swype and grafitti keyboards as well as better text prediction and auto correct…

    Those are the only two apps that I have seen fit to pay for.. but I think they are both worth it.

    1. I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas, hated the Amazon customized Android, loaded Cyanogenmod7 on it, and totally dig it. I’m a little sad it’s not a phone with always available data and GPS, but it’s a great little tablet. I’ve got it running dropbear and lots of free apps. Once you root your Nexus/S you’ll dig the customizability even more. It’s not hard to avoid paying for software with all the free stuff available especially when you root it and can use its Linux foundation to your advantage. Enjoy.

      1. I might root it someday, but not just yet. I think I’ll explore the default system first before rooting it. Since the Nexus S is straight from Google there’s no third party crapware which is nice. As for tablets go, I don’t think any of the Android ones match up to the iPad in terms of quality, but that’s a discussion for another blog post.

    2. I saw the GrooveIP app and it seems really interesting. Since I make very few phone calls (and have to get some minutes anyway) I’m going to wait it out a little and see if I can stay within what I minimally pay for. If not, I’ll spring for the GrooveIP app. Additionally I almost always use Gmail for phone calls when I’m near my computer nowadays.

  3. Nice entry. Welcome to the android world and yeah, battery life is big issue here. How long does your battery last? within a day? I’ve been an android user for a year now. ^^

    With the applications, you should try evernote, astrid task and the “Go” application series.

    I’m hoping to enter the Android world this year as well. Going native using Java ^^

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