Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Tale of Three Smart Phones

I'm often an early adopter of new consumer electronic technologies. I got a digital PCS back when Pacific Bell was the only carrier to offer them. I had a TiVo before David Letterman ever mentioned them in a joke. I ordered my MacBook Air from a hotel room in Bournemouth, England, hours after they were announced at Mac World. I have been driving a hybrid Honda Insight since before the Toyota Prius became what looks like the most popular car in the Bay Area.

With that kind of background, you'd think I'd have gone straight to the Blackberry or iPhone when they first became available. However, I have a tendency to lose mobile phones in taxis, and could not bear the thought of having a costly device go missing. For years I've always used whatever multi-band GSM phone I could get free from my carrier. Most recently my phone of choice was a magenta Motorola Razr, obtained at no cost as part of my most recent re-up with T-Mobile. It served me well, although triple-tapping to send text messages was beyond onerous.

All my friends were getting smart phones, and more and more of them were communicating via text. I hoped that when it came time for me to renew my phone contract, I'd be able to get an entry-level Blackberry for free. Then I started dating an iPhone user. His comment on my cute pink Razr: "we need to get you a real phone."

He first brought me a Google Android Phone, fresh from the Google I/O Developer Conference, to try out. This phone is now available through T-Mobile as the myTouch 3G, which I think is a lame name. We popped my SIM card in and fired it up. At the time I couldn't figure out how to import my contacts list from my MacBook Air, which was rather annoying because there were about 70 entries that weren't already on my SIM card. I decided if I loved the phone and had to end up typing them all in myself I would, but was not looking forward to that.

I loved a couple of things about the myTouch (do I really have to call it that?). The first is that it just looks slick. And the android alien is super duper cute! Best of all, the little white trackball lit up and blinked excitedly when a call was coming in. It was like having an alien invasion party in my purse.

Sometimes it was a little difficult for me to remember what icon got me to where I wanted to go, but I figured I'd have it all down pat in under a week. Unfortunately, less than 36 hours later I couldn't stand the darling phone any more and happily went back to my Razr. The sole reason for this was texting. I found the touch screen keyboard difficult to use accurately and was spending as much time backing up and correcting as I had been triple-tapping out letters on the Razr. I have average sized fingers for a woman, yet felt fumble-fingered all the time, and never could quite tell what keys I was actually hitting. This frustration showed up most strongly on what has become my acid test for a smart phone: being able to text while driving. Yeah yeah, I know you're not supposed to do it.... Anyway, I couldn't even get out "b there in 15 mins" without major effort.

After a brief respite with the Razr to cleanse my palate, my boyfriend presented me with his old iPhone 3G. I liked it instantly. Already being a Mac person helped a lot: my contacts uploaded to the phone seamlessly, and I really appreciated being able to backup and recharge with my Air. Right away I was downloading apps, playing Foursquare, and IDing music on the radio with Shazam. The touch screen keys were a bit larger than on the myTouch, which made my typing so much more accurate. I especially liked the way the keys animate when tapped, giving a good confirmation that (a) something happened and (b) that I hit the right key. Best of all, I could text easily from a moving car, so easily that now I have to really restrain myself for health and safety reasons.

About three days later we dropped by a Sprint store to check out the new Palm Pre. They didn't have a fully operational one to play with, and their demo models were tethered to the display, making it very difficult to get a sense of the phone and what it was all about. In a display of great salesmanship, a Sprint associate pulled his personal Pre out of his pocket and let me play with it for a good fifteen minutes. I looked at pictures of his kids, played around with texting, did some web browsing, added and deleted a phone number, and made a brief phone call.

The Pre is a nice phone. It's got the techy-slick look and feel of the myTouch, but in a smaller package that was designed to fit comfortably in your hand. Navigating between applications is done with a swipe, giving me the feeling that I was simply mousing around on a larger desktop of sorts. The screen, though the smallest of the three phones, was easy to read due to the very high quality of the display. I appreciated the "bubble buttons," since I touch type it's nice to have feedback from a physical keyboard. I was especially impressed by the fact that the Pre backs itself up to the Cloud every night. This very much alleviated my fears of losing everything if I lost the phone in a taxi in Helsinki or something.

Which then brought me to the deal breaker: there would be no way I could lose the phone in Helsinki or something because the Pre was only available on Sprint in a CDMA model. I have to have GSM, simple as that. It was suggested that I purchase a Pre so I could take it home and try it for a few days, but I turned to my boyfriend and said "You're only getting that iPhone back if you pry it out of my cold dead hands."

I've been happily using the iPhone for a few months now!

Happy New Year

In some traditions, Autumn is the start of the new year. The Jews have Rosh Hashana, the Celtic Pagans have Samhain...heck, in the USA it's the start of a new school year. September has always been a time of restarting and renewal for me. When I was a kid it was about new friends and teachers and classes and shoes and clothes and books, and that feeling has never really left me. Having "New Year's" right after Christmas always seems a bit excessive and arbitrary to me.

So in the spirit of the New Year, I'm thinking about what's next in my life. I've been doing a lot of the same things for a long time, without really thinking about why I was still doing them. I've been putting off a lot of things for a long time, without really thinking why I wasn't doing them. I've basically been on auto-pilot, which was a great coping strategy when my life was turned upside-down a few years ago in a not very good way, but now I'm ready to do and be something again.