For the past seven months, we’ve travelled without a mobile phone. And we generally haven’t needed one, especially with access to Skype. Our families and friends all use Skype, and even when they’re not online, it only costs us 2 cents per minute to call their land lines.
However, we have dearly missed the smart phone features of our previous phones, such as mapping, GPS, email-on-the-go, mobile twitter, etc. And now that we’re back in Canada, where smart phone prices are reasonable, we’ve decided to become phone-dependent again. The big question is, do we go for an Android-based phone, or Apple’s relatively new iPhone 4.
Since we’re mostly interested in the smart phone features (i.e. Internet connectivity, mapping, etc.) we’re limited to a handful of options from Apple, Blackberry, Palm, Nokia and manufacturers who use Google’s Android operating system. By virtue of available applications, reliability, ease of use, and online support, we’ve cut this list to Android-based devices and the iPhone 4.
A couple of days ago in Montreal, we had the chance to play with HTC’s new Desire HD. We were quite surprised. Firstly, because it handled quite similar to an iPhone (screen swapping, typing, etc.), and secondly, because it seemed very polished and well built. I spent some time online looking at other Android options from Samsung (and others), but consensus seems to be that HTC’s Desire (and Desire HD) are the current leaders in the Android category.
Having such a positive experience with the iPhone (previously) and the HTC Desire (recently), they’re the phones we shortlisted.
Many websites have compared these phones head-to-head already. But most of them pick a long list of categories, compare the two phones per category, choose a winner in each category, and then tally the score for the final winner. That seems crazy since no weight is given to each category. For example, screen size versus third party application availability, they’re both compared equally.
So taking a step back, we had to decide what mattered most to long-term travel:
- Connectivity – at a minimum we need 3G and WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n/etc). Bluetooth isn’t a big deal for us, nor is true quad band GSM since we use Skype for most calls.
- Applications – we need social media apps and good mapping apps, but other than that, we would like to know there’s a lot more in development so we have access to the latest advancements in travel tech.
- Battery Life – smart phones are notorious for poor battery life because they’re trying to do so much in such a small package. However, we need a phone that will last an entire day, even with relatively heavy use.
- Size – we love to travel light, but more critical than weight is volume. We would prefer a phone that doesn’t have a large footprint, including accessories and cables. Also for ‘pocketability’, which I’m big on, smaller is generally better.
- Camera – there are two trains of thought here: 1) the camera doesn’t matter because we’ll have a dedicated compact camera, or 2) the camera is very important because we can use the phone to replace our compact camera and just carry a larger DSLR.
HTC Desire & Desire HD
We’ve included both the Desire and Desire HD in this comparison because, although we can’t pick and choose the best features from each, they’re both relatively similar and we’re unsure which we’d prefer.
Here’s a list of thoughts on the HTC phones:
- Great build quality, interface works well, and overall, it’s a serious contender to the iPhone 4
- The Desire HD has a much larger screen, which many applaud, but for our purposes it’s a disadvantage
- I had some trouble typing on the screen keyboard, but maybe I just need to get used to it
- The Desire HD has class-leading camera specs, but the lens isn’t as fast as the iPhone
- It seems that now there are just as many apps for Android as iOS
Apple iPhone 4
And, here are our thoughts on Apple’s iPhone 4:
- The physical characteristics (build quality, size, etc.) seem better and more suited to our needs
- The camera is a big improvement over the iPhone 3G. but it’s not really a digicam replacement
- The battery life is said to be a little better than the HTC phones, but not materially better
- In terms of connectivity, app availability and battery life, the HTC and Apple phones are neck-and-neck
- We know the iPhone works, but we’ve heard there are still a handful of minor bugs with the HTC phones
It’s taken a couple of years for manufacturers to catch up with the iPhone and iOS. Even still, serious contenders are few and far between. I must say though, that the HTC Desire is one of few smart phones that’s as good, or better, than the new iPhone 4.
If I was undertaking a typical review, I’d probably suggest that the HTC Desire is overall a ‘better’ phone. The Android platform is open, the total package is cheaper, the phone has a great camera and big screen for games/multimedia, and it’s the latest and great version of Android-based phones.
But… for travel, and for us, the HTC phone isn’t good enough, and has a few too many disadvantages to be our phone of choice. The iPhone is a better size, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s more reliable, the camera’s better for what we’d use it for, the apps are established, but most of all, we know it will just work. And that’s really the issue here. To get me to forget that the iPhone will ‘just work’, the HTC phones would need to be much better, not just on par (or below).
So given the couple of small advantages of the iPhone, and the lack of impact of the HTC’s advantages, we’ll take the leap and get the new iPhone. Let’s just hope Internet connectivity in India is good enough for us to take full advantage of our new dependency.