As a phone reviewer, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to test many different phones. After each review, I go back to my “daily driver”, which changes from time to time. Here’s a look at the progression of my daily drivers from my first smartphone (from 2005) until today.
1. 2005: i-mate SP5m (at the time, had a high res screen)
2. 2006: Motorola Q9h (great keyboard!)
3. 2007: AT&T Tilt (couldn’t beat the form factor)
4. 2009: iPhone 3GS (best web experience of any phone at the time)
5. 2009: HTC HD2 (amazing screen, great Sense user interface)
6. 2010: Nexus One (huge developer support, overall a fantastic device)
7. 2010: iPhone 4 (best experience overall)
At the end of the list, you can see that I’m currently using the iPhone 4 as my daily driver. If I wasn’t using the iPhone 4, I’d be carrying the Nexus One with Froyo. The Nexus One is such a close second to the iPhone 4 in my opinion, that I often wish I could carry both. Why is this the case? Allow me to explain.
I take a “function first” approach to choosing a smartphone. It’s not about what features a phone has, but about how well a phone carries out the functions that I require. Here is what is important to me when making this choice (in order of importance), plus an explanation of how my last three daily drivers (HTC HD2, Nexus One, and iPhone 4) stack up in each category. Naturally this is a very subjective topic, so I’m curious to hear what your list looks like!
1. Email. I get a lot of email, and it’s critical that my phone provide a fantastic email sending/receiving/viewing experience.
iPhone 4: The iPhone has an elegant email experience that sadly does a poor job at marking items as unread (a critical function in email triage). You have to dive into each message to mark as unread. Android has a much better solution. That said, I love the way the iPhone handles HTML email.
Nexus One: The email client on the Nexus One isn’t as fast and elegant as that of the iPhone, but it’s more powerful in my opinion, especially when it comes to quickly marking multiple messages as unread.
HTC HD2: Windows Mobile has always had a very capable email client that worked beautifully with Exchange. It’s not elegant, but it’s fast and easy to mark multiple messages as unread. Viewing HTML email in Windows Mobile can be a frustrating experience.
2. Web browsing. I use my smartphone to check a variety of websites while on the go. It’s critical that I’m using a phone that provides a good web experience both in terms of speed and rendering fidelity.
iPhone 4: In my opinion, the iPhone 4 provides the best mobile web experience, thanks mostly to the Retina display. Safari isn’t as fast as the web browser in Froyo (in our testing), but the fantastic rendering and super clear images and text make up for the slight slowness. The lack of Flash is less annoying that it used to be because many websites are offering HTML5 versions now.
Nexus One: Google is right that overall, the Froyo web browser is the fastest mobile browser. Panning/zooming on the Nexus One isn’t as smooth as it is on the iPhone 4. The Flash support is nice to have, but in our testing, it’s not fully-baked and it can often slow the device significantly.
HTC HD2: If you’re using the latest version of Opera Mobile 10 with Opera Turbo enabled, browsing the web in Windows Mobile can be FAST. But unless you’re using an earlier version of Opera Mobile (like 9.7), multi-touch isn’t supported, which makes the HD2 a little bit more cumbersome when browsing the web with the latest web browser. That said, the 4.3″ display can make any website look gorgeous. I stay away from Internet Explorer Mobile…it’s a pain to use in my opinion.
3. Photo/video quality. I take a lot of photo and video with the camera on my smartphone. Since my smartphone is always with me, it’s the perfect tool to capture those sponteanous moments that I want to remember.
iPhone 4: The iPhone 4 has the best camera of any phone I’ve ever used, both for photos and for video. It’s good in almost any situation: low light, bright light, fast action, close-up, etc. The 720p HD video recording is fantastic.
Nexus One: The Nexus One has a very capable camera, but the quality is noticeable lower than what the iPhone 4 can produce. Also, out of the box, the Nexus One can’t record 720p video.
HTC HD2: Like the Nexus One, the HD2 has a very capable camera, but it’s not as good as the iPhone 4. Also, there’s no 720p recording.
4. App availability and quality. I don’t use that many apps, but of the handful that I use, they’re critical. My critical apps include: iStockManager (taps into my online stock trading account), Twitterific, Kindle, The Weather Channel, Analytics App (to generate website traffic reports), Facebook, NYTimes, FiOS DVR Manager (to remotely record TV shows), and Citibank (to check my account balance).
iPhone 4: The phrase “there’s an app for that” is as true as ever. I can find an app in the Apple app store to do literally anything. If I can think of it, it has been built.
Nexus One: The Android Market is becoming almost as good as Apple’s app store. On my Nexus One, if I can’t find the exact app that I want, I can always find a close equivalent. For example, you can’t get the Analytics App on the Nexus One (only on iPhone), but there’s a program called Droid Analytics, made by another company, that works just as well.
HTC HD2: The Windows Marketplace for Mobile was a half-assed attempt by Microsoft. They launched it way too late, and as a result, there are a mere 1110 apps available today on the US market, many of which are obscure apps not developed by big brands. I can find a few “equivalent” apps to what is available for iPhone and Android, especially if I broaden my search to non-Marketplace apps, but it’s too much work to search the web for apps and manually install them to the device, plus that’s a poor experience when on Android and iPhone, you can install an app in two screen presses. On a positive note, apps in the Marketplace have come down in price hugely since the launch of the app store.
5. Form factor. Build quality, screen size, and device feel are all important to me.
iPhone 4: The iPhone 4 has fantastic build quality and has a substantial amount of weight. It feels good in the hand: not too large, not too small. I wish the screen size was a bit larger, but 3.5″ works. I sometimes worry about scratching the back of the iPhone 4 with that exposed piece of glass, especially since it’s not as scratch resistent as Apple claims, but a Bumper or case can solve that problem.
Nexus One: The Nexus One has a great in-hand feel as well. The larger 3.7″ screen is just right, and the soft-touch rubber on the back gives the device a rugged and secure feel.
HTC HD2: The HD2 is remarkably thin. Compared to the EVO 4G an Droid X, it’s the thinnest device that has a 4.3″ screen. Also, the build quality is top-notch. But for me, the HD2 is a little too large. If I’m not wearing loose pants, the HD2 makes an awkward outline in the pocket area of my pants.
In the end, I choose a daily driver that fits around my requirements, and today, the iPhone 4 fits the bill. I’m smartphone platform agnostic…if Nintendo came out with their own phone operating system tomorrow and it could provide me with a better experience than the iPhone 4, I’d probably switch to that. I’m looking forward to Windows Phone 7 and am hoping that I’ll be able to use a device running that operating system as my daily driver. We’ll see.
So how about you? What criterion do you consider when choosing a smartphone? What functions are the most important to you, and what device do you think fits the bill best (even if it’s a device that you don’t yet own)?