Choosing a mobile phone is never easy. Choosing a smart phone is even harder. To make matters worse, there is more to lose if you get it wrong, with the best phones now costing several hundred pounds unlocked or binding you into lengthy contracts. You really want to get it right. To make matters more difficult there is rampant tribalism between iOS and Android fans which bring more heat than light to the debates and the reviews.
That said, is this going to be a Samsung Galaxy S2 rave? I hope not, but I hope it will help at least one person happy with their choice of new phone – whether iOS 5 or Android 2.3.3.
So some background; where I’m coming from. I’m a bit of a techy, working in IT. I am online every waking minute, one way or another. I bought by first iPod in 2005, iPod Touch in 2008 and iPhone 3GS in 2009. The latter on a 24 month contract. So this month it was time to update. I waited eagerly for the iPhone 5 last month, but the iPhone 4S made me stop in my tracks and have a think. I guess it was just bad timing for my time with Apple. I didn’t want a long binding contract if there was going to be an iPhone 5 next year, and I didn’t really want to fork out on an unlocked iPhone that was marginally different from my iPhone 3GS now running iOS 5 and iCloud etc.
I asked colleagues what was a good Android phone at the moment, and the consensus was Galaxy SII was strong competition for the iPhone 4S being dual processor, great screen and with good storage. However, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus was supposed to be imminent with the new version of Android “Ice Cream Sandwich”, which bring together the Smart Phone version of Android and the Tablet version of Android. See Wikipedia for details.
But there is also the Galaxy S3 in the pipeline – probably waiting to face up to the iPhone 5. And I got the feeling the Galaxy Nexus was little of an improvement over the Galaxy S2. The clincher was the Galaxy S2 price collapse to under £400. So time to do some research on whether I would get on with Android.
1. Can I get my favourite apps?
Checking out the Android Market, everything was there – Facebook, DropBox, bank stuff, etc. Gmail built-in.
2. Could I sync my iTunes library, playlists, podcasts and album cover art?
Certainly some options. Easy Phones Tunes and iSyncr looked promising
3. Some games to pass the time at airports?
Most of the same options as AppStore as far as I could tell. Maybe a few high-end graphics games more favoured on AppStore. Possibly because the iPhone features a slightly better GPU.
4. My 8GB iPhone was stuffed full; what cost more storage?
The Galaxy S2 takes a Micro SDHC card which is available up to and including 32GB. The newer format Micro SDXC (32GB and upwards) is not compatible – careful, don’t muddle the 32GB cards. At only £24 the 32GB card is good value. Media and most apps can be stored on the Micro SDHC. The internal “USB” storage and the external Micro SDHC card are mountable in Windows via USB.
So, time to get hands on in the store to see how the hardware feels.
Beautiful display. Bigger than iPhone, but slightly lower resolution. Little in it between them.
Larger (to take that screen), thinner. Feels less industrial in the hand. I’m getting used to holding a mini-tablets to the side of my head as phones.
Lighter the the iPhone 4S. Sits nicely in the jacket pocket. I wonder if I’ll be less conscious of it and forget it’s there?
The plastic body and back make it feel less robust than an iPhone, but I know too many people that have cracked the backs of their iPhones. Again down to preference I think.
Takes the plunge. £400 online, next-day delivery.
Looks and feels gorgeous. Response is nice. Screens flick sideways like the iPhone. It’s going to be ok.
Main Differences in Use
You move icons by holding then dragging them. Nice touch is you can re-order the screens as a whole, rather have to move all the icons around.
You don’t have to have all your apps on the screens – they can be access through the Applications button.
You can have “widgets” on the screens. These can update with information or access phone features or launch apps. I particularly like to be able to create widgets to toggle Airplane Mode or toggle Bluetooth. Clocks, Stocks, Weather and Facebook widgets all fun to set up and play with. Useful Media Player and News widgets.
Alongside the “Home” button at the bottom centre on the phone are “Menu” and “Back” soft buttons.
I have a vague feeling that the sensitivity of the iPhone screen to touch is slightly lighter, but is marginal.
The Samsung recommended (and free) Easy Phone Tunes was a bit of a faff as you had to mount the USB drives. The iSyncr application worked seamlessly – allowing me to choose whether to sync playlists to built-in storage or the card. The free version limits you to sync one playlist and no podcasts. For a few pence extra I can now sync to iTune over WiFi.
- The built-in web server that allows me to manage my phone from a desktop over WiFi
- The flexibility of the User Interface – widgets, icon management, custom launchers (User Interface), skins, themes, animated backgrounds, etc
- The fact that you can un-purchase apps for 15 minutes via the Android Market software if you don’t like them. You can Report a Problem with iTunes apps through Account Management too, but it’s not as easy to use.
- That I can fit a 32GB Micros SDHC card
- That I can mount the built-in and card storage in Windows
- The web browsing experience is more like the performance on a PC. Note: this is with the same SIM moved from my iPhone – there’s something seriously wrong with web browsing on an iPhone.
- WiFi iTunes sync
- I get my WiFi scanner functionality back. Apple iOS 5 blocked this. In fact, it’s better (WiFi Analyzer – nice graphs of signal over time and signal per channel)
Well there is no such thing as a perfect phone! So I’ll do my best.
- The GMail app needs to come a long way. I suspect it will. I might look for a better email app in the meantime.
- Mounting and unmounting the storage needs to be simpler. If I was using it a lot it would get tedious. Just as well iSyncr is over WiFi.
- I have a slight feeling of release from Apple – I was getting increasingly nervous of how ring-fenced the iOS world is.
- Technically, there is little to choose between the 2 phones.
- If I was not a technical user I think I would find the Apple phone easier to use, but there is little in it. It’s more that you can fiddle more with Android – if you want.
- Good value, and with loads more storage.
- iTunes now easier to use – ironic
I’m looking forward to weighing up Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 as that will be a battle of giants. It’s great to see a strong competitor to Apple’s slick and smooth iOS. Unless Apple comes up with something major, they have a tough fight to better Samsung – especially as the S3 will be sporting the new version of Android. That said, if the Galaxy lets me down in time, I might be back to the comfortable and reliable iOS.
13th Nov 2011 – Internet access – web browsing on the Galaxy S2 works properly. I now realise how shockingly bad iOS was. In fact, I put the phone SIM back into my 3GS to check. Maybe the 4S is better?
12th Nov 2011 – GO Keyboard and GO SMS Pro installed – both very nice. The rest of the GO Apps may need check out.
11th Nov 2011 – Have reverted to the stock Email application – so much better than the GMail one.