So I got an iPhone 4s on Launch day. I’ve been using it for a few days now — enough time to do a good review.
Previously, I had been looking for a smartphone to replace my ordinary, very old, and slowly dying LG ENV. I looked at Android phones like the Incredible 2, the Droid 2 Global and Windows Mobile 7 phones ( both Mango and pre-Mango ).
I must say, I really like this phone. It is far better than I expected. I’d go so far as to say, “Magical”. I thought I’d write about how it stacks up against the Droids and Windows OS devices I looked at.
The “Magical” killer features
Apple has changed the game against all other smart-phones with Siri and location integration. Siri is incredible. I’ve used it to navigate. I’ve used it for alarms. I’ve used it to text. I’ve used it to set reminders. I’ve used it to enter lists. But what I really love — I love how Siri is now a button on my virtual keyboard. I can use Siri in any text box to dictate, with good accuracy, the content of the text box. This makes existing apps incredibly good — like adding Todo items, changing text, working with web forms. It’s really nice. I can enter long lists while driving, hands-free, while watching the road! I remember things all the time while driving — now I can organize them.
Siri isn’t perfect — it recognizes my wife talking when I’m trying to interact with it. I can’t be having a conversation with someone else while I use Siri. It mis-understand words. It mis-pronounces my name. It hangs on occasion. But even with the problems, it is a killer App. Siri has made all other smartphones seem outdated.
Location integration is also awesome. I can tell Siri,”Find me a bus home”, and it’ll pull up Google maps and enter my address and select the bus system. It’s fantastic! Reminders when I enter someplace is amazing. I’d like location aware ringers as well, but this is a good start. It’s possibly something that some apps alone do better. But location integration with Siri is so cool. “Find my wife” was an awesome experience. I asked Siri to locate my wife — it then asked me who my wife was, set a relationship, and logged me into “Find my friends”.
Notification center is nice, but I’m note sure it’s a killer feature. It’s a nicer implementation of unified data than is “Live Tiles”, and much cleaner — but Droid phones have something like this.
Compared to Windows Phone Mango
I work at the University of Washington. We have a Microsoft store opening up in the University Village, right across from the Apple store. To celebrate, Microsoft put a tent on Campus during “Dawg Days”, so I got to look at three different Mango phones, straight from MS marketing, literally a week before the iPhone 4s launch. 20% of the phones were dead!!! As in plugged in to power, but the MS folks couldn’t get them to boot. Why keep dead phones on the floor, showing off how high the defect rate is? Why not pull them out? Brand new, top of the line devices!!! Dead. HTC is the only maker of phones they had, and it seems that quality control is quite poor. They expect us to buy Mango phones, when the phones are dead?!? The PC’s were in equal shape — about 20% defect rate. I believe this to be normal and correct — I’ve worked retail at Best Buy in the 90’s, and the “dead on arrival” return rate for PC’s was pretty high back in those days. Especially for brands like Packard Bell. It seems PCs, and Windows Phones too, have equal defect rates today. Of course, maybe it was just a bad day in the tent, and I’m being too hard on MS. I have high hopes and expectations for MS. Living in Seattle, I really want MS to succeed. I’m a big MS fan. I’m disappointed time and again that MS just refuses to understand the consumer phone space. I think it’s because they don’t make phones — they make an OS. Siri works well because it has two microphones — a normal one, and one just for background noise recognition for Siri. MS can’t put two microphones into their phone — they don’t make phones.
Laundry list of bad things in Windows Phone 7
Windows Mango didn’t have any advantages, but man did it have problems!
- “Vegas Baby” low-rent feel in the UI due to the UI color choice and phone case clashing.
- Bing. Bing is so bad, it should be mentioned twice. Once for being a terrible general search engine.
- Bing. Bing’s other big problem is location search -aka navigation. Searching for places found me old addresses, out of business addresses, or lost routes. It was terrible.
- Carrier Crapification. So many obtrusive Verizon-branded un-removable apps with extra charges — and lock-outs to the free, better apps. Letting carriers control apps is like putting wolves in charge of sheep security.
- Windows Installer. Yes, Windows Installer, on a phone. All the joys of registry management, with none of the gain. IT’S A PHONE, MICROSOFT! KILL THE REGISTRY!
In all ways, the MS phone was quite poor — “Windows Installer” screens on “in-store demo” phones really highlights the problem I had when testing the device. I should not have to sit through a thousand point questions and watch installation progress bars and see a million registry entries fly-by to play a pre-installed basketball demo game in the store. The only thing MS phones did well was notification management. The “Live Tiles” concept was a great way to integrate notifications from different Apps. Then came iOS5, with notification center. Notification center kicks “Live Tiles” to the curb. When I first saw “Live Tiles”, I thought it was an innovative way to manage notifications and combine data, though I disliked how the colored tiles excluded my photos ( Or made them very small if I had chosen a photo tile), and the colors chosen seemed a bit too “Vegas Baby” to me. iOS 5 has notification center, which lets me pick which apps can notify me, and when. When there are no notifications, my lock screen is nice and clean. I have email, text, and missed call notifications set on my lock screen, and I can “swipe down” at any time to see other notifications. As notifications come in, they enter the lock screen, and I can tap and slide one to jump into the appropriate app and work with the item that caused a notifications. So, I can tap and reply to email from lock screen when I want. It’s far less cluttered than “Live Tiles”, and much easier to use, without the “Vegas Baby” feel of Mango. In Mango, those tiles take up space even when there’s no new information — a waste of time as you scroll tile screens to learn what you want. iOS notifications are much smarter.
I haven’t tested an Android device in a while ( July is when I last shopped android devices. I went so far as to place an order with HTC, which I then cancelled when HTC called me and told me they wanted to change to price on me, after I had already placed the order direct from their Web-site!) The last time I did so, I was impressed by flash. I liked watching flash Anime videos on the device. I should say, I liked that I could do this. Flash Video was technically watchable, but man, the experience was painful. Lots of stutter/interrupts. Ridiculous load times. After the Flash Video experience, I understood why Apple said, “No Flash” — flash does not run well on phones.
Android didn’t have anything special going for it, and nothing against it, either. Every phone maker is using it, and it is a commodity platform. It feels like one, too. No killer features like Siri ( Though google does have a voice assistant — it’s just not very smart. ) Plain-looking phones. Plain-looking UI. Fewer apps. Google-approved malware. ( As in Google is too hands-off on their App process, and approves Malware/Spyware. ) Great maps/location. Very customizable. can side install APKs. I like the accessory development kit available for it. It’s more geek/engineer friendly than the iPhone. iOS is like a really nice hotel on Jamaica. You see, Jamaica has high crime. You’d be mugged in an instant on your own. The nice hotels have fences and guards. You can bypass the fences and guards if you want, but they exist and can help you. Android is like a want-to-be nice Hotel in Jamaica — the fences have holes, the guards are drunk, and the hotel hasn’t been remodeled since the 60’s — but the bartender is cool and the concierge can hook you up with anything you want.
I think the iPhone 4s is a magical device. Good voice recognition with AI on a phone is a killer app. It makes the smart-phone smarter, and though it seems like a minor change, it’s huge. Both Google and MS have good voice recognition technology — they just didn’t bother to integrate it into their OS. Notification center is awesome, and I like it over other notification management — though Google is good in this as well. Apple has raised the bar with iPhone, and Google and MS must respond. I’d say RIM, too — but I have no faith that they can. Anyone looking to buy a new smartphone should go with the iPhone 4s and nothing else.