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Went and got an iPhone

For a while there back in 2010 I kept waiting on the promises (by which I mean rumors) that the iPhone would soon-anyday-now-for-real be coming to Verizon. (whose signal is quite a bit better than the alternatives in my mountain town, and I get a company discount, too) But the time came I was tired of waiting, so I eventually pulled the trigger and went for a Droid X. And I liked it, and it worked very well for a while, and I spent quit a bit of time tuning applications and integrating it into my Mac desktop and workflow.

But along the way it started to get unstable. It wasn’t uncommon for it to hard-freeze while in the car dock, or if I locked it while using the camera app. It seemed to slow down, too, taking increasing (and increasingly frustrating) long times to do things that a phone should just do, like make calls.

Also, I dropped it three months ago and the rightmost fifth of the screen went dark. Do you know how much stuff, important stuff, is over there? The clock, scroll bars, send and submit buttons in a whole lot of apps, for example. Oh, the comedy of my rotating the phone to reveal a button, or blindly tapping in hopes of finding “send.”

So it was a good run, little, er big honkin’ Droid, but when my clock came up and I could upgrade, I was at the VZW store when it opened (this part was actually by accident, but I was the second guy in the door that morning) and came home with a black 32gb 4S.

Oh. My. There’s just. Why didn’t anybody tell me? It’s so good, and all the slavering over specifications at the gadget blogs about multi-core and 4.6-inch droid screens is just utter nonsense all of a sudden, because Apple just nails this thing.

I turn on the camera app, and there’s the camera. Not only does the app simply start up with a barely perceptible delay, but the quality absolutely smokes that of the droid. The camera lag matters more as my toddler gets faster; waiting for the camera to boot was okay when he was immobile, but the guy is on the move now, people, and shutter lag and slow startup were getting in my way.

The screen is gorgeous. Crisp, clear, colorful. Apps that I got used to working with on the droid — like 1password, tweetdeck, instapaper — are instead shockingly usable.

Tapping a phone number makes a call. I don’t wait, wondering if the tap registered. FaceTime is a revelation, one which my toddler is just agog over.

I mentioned my switch on the twittermatic, and a contact of mine expressed surprise to see me make the move, indicating that he expects many more to move in the opposite direction. Now that I’ve switched, I cannot imagine it. To be fair, android is — probably — forcing Apple to be competitive and pay attention to the apps and features landscape, but the past two years I’ve spent with my own droid is all I need to be very confident that nobody has the full packages together nearly as well. If there’s movement toward android right now, I expect it’s from first-time smartphone shoppers corralled by in-store salespeople. (I think smarter observers than I have made this point.) And as we come up on two years since the Verizon iPhone, I predict a surge of movement from VZW droids to iPhone.

Me, I’m happy.

Android / Droid X impressions

This little draft has been sitting unfinished becuase, well, life happened, so I thought I’d just throw it on up to get it out of the bin. These are somewhat organized thoughts about getting a Not-iPhone

So I posted this bit of a rant a couple of weeks ago about how Android just didn’t float my boat and etc. Well, not long after that I finally decided to stop waiting on a Verizon iPhone, and I ordered myself a Droid X.

Yes, the one described by David Pogue as like talking into a frozen waffle.

So how is it? Well, it is large, but it doesn’t feel like talking into a toaster pastry. I actually like the finish and feel a lot. The volume rocker is a little small, and the hard camera button is sloppy feeling. But the rubberized feel to the back of the phone is nice to hold, the ridge for the camera is a good contour, and the device overall feels quite thin.

Now that I’ve had some time to get used to the four hard buttons (menu, home, back and search), I’m pretty efficient at using the Droid X. I quite like the way the back button in some contexts returns to the prior application — for example, after visiting a link clicked in the twitter client, the back button returns you from the browser back to twitter. Search is application context-sensitive, and at the home screens it searches applications, contacts, and google. It also remembers prior searches, so it’s a handy way to launch applications or make calls, too.

However, the menu button can cause some complication, because applications don’t always use it consistently — worse, some create a soft button of their own that might or might not invoke a context menu. Here the iOS model definitely wins.

Keyboard: Text edit views often obscure UI elements, and small text boxes often are rendered as multiline text areas, taking up space rather unnecessarily. Fortunately, I have learned how to hide the keyboard after typing: since the Droid X keyboard doesn’t have a “hide” button like that on the iOS (and as I understand Android offers standard), swipe down from the top of the keyboard. That will re-hide it and give you back the rest of your UI. (That’s an undocumented Pro Tip, right there.)

Horizontal coverflow like display of bookmarks and images in gallery is awful. Really, it’s bad. Hold the phone vertically for a standard thumbnail-style view. (The same holds for the bookmarks view in the browser. In the faux coverflow style, bookmarks are entirely, entirely unusable.)

Lack of bookmarklets is regrettable. I hear there are workarounds that involve chanting and offerings to Shiva, so I’ve delayed exploring them.

Battery life: I have heard bad things about smart/app phones in general, including the Androids. It’s easy to imagine that Android’s true multitasking could be a big battery liability. This is where the fanboys go ZOMG APPLE SUXORS, but the presence or lack of multitasking hasn’t been an issue for me yet, in terms of functionality. I have observed that Android runs a lot of applications that i have not once, ever, run on my own — Amazon mp3 store and the car dock, for example — and this strikes me as a pretty inefficient thing to do.

So does it matter for battery? Who knows? After a handful of days I stopped using Advanced Task Killer every twenty minutes and just relaxed. While I reserve the right to revise and amend my statement, for now I’m very happy with my Droid X’s battery life: I routinely finish the day with 50 percent of battery life left on the meter after a day of pretty heavy use.

Apps I like (The range of Android applications seems … adequate if not impressive. The Android market badly needs some kind of curation.):

  • My Tracks: nice tracker app for biking in the hills. Integrates well with google maps.
  • Twitter app: Clean, works well, nothing extraneous.
  • Vignette: Much better than the built-in camera app, with a bunch of creative filters. I’m taking more pictures with the Droid X than in the past several weeks with my DSLR. Really good photo application a la the Hipstamatic app for iOS.
  • K-9 Email: This is a powerful email client with IMAP support. On the Droid X, there are lots of problem reports about the stock client not correctly refreshing, and while I am loath to solve a defect with an app, K-9 syncs properly and offers a bundle more features than the stock client.

It’s a good device with very nice hardware and some software feature that I really like — and some hitches.

More later?

Good Apps: Instapaper

It only took a few minutes with the free version of Instapaper on the iPod to make it quite clear that this is one app worth paying for.

Marco Arment sums up the app better than I can:

Instapaper facilitates easy reading of long text content.

We discover web content throughout the day, and sometimes, we don’t have time to read long articles right when we find them.

Instapaper allows you to easily save them for later, when you do have time, so you don’t just forget about them or skim through them.

Simply and straightforwardly, Instapaper works in conjunction with a simple web interface to download articles or blog posts — or anything else that the handy bookmarklet can save — to your iPhone/iPod Touch, making them available offline for reading whenever the time and mood strikes.

Unlike altogether too many App Store applications, Marco offers a free version of Instapaper along-side the “Pro” version, which means that it’s easy to test out the app without making a commitment. Before a trip to Dallas a few weeks ago, I downloaded the full-featured free version and loaded it up with maybe a dozen long-ish blog posts and some other things I have been meaning to read. This process is about as simple as it gets: Click the “Read Later” bookmarklet to save any article to your Instapaper account, and then sync the Instapaper app to that account. The app will download both web- and text-only versions of the article and save them to the iPod. Later, on the plane or between meetings at that wifi-unfriendly hotel lounge, just open up Instapaper and there you find the articles:

instapaper screenshot

Open one up and read away. (Instapaper Pro even saves your position so you can come and go from long articles easily)

instapaper screenshot

Since it’s a bookmarklet, you can sync Mobile Safari on your Pod/Phone and flag things for later reading while you’re on the go, as well. And since the backend of Instapaper provides a web service, you can also read and manage all those articles from any web browser.

The Pro version does have some nice added features that are worth the $10 purchase price. But what makes Instapaper truly worth the money is that the developer has, in my mind, made precisely the kind of app that’s worth supporting.

Gizmadness

I’m sequestered at Schussman North, enjoying a bit of snow. But I can’t help but check in in response to Kieran’s waving of the semi-transparent lucite Mac signal flag.

Holy cow, this sucker looks cool.

But why, Apple, why locked in to Cingular?


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I’m a sociologist-errant. This site is powered by Textpattern, TextDrive and the sociological imagination. For more about me and this site, see the long version.

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