Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Device is Chosen

I have picked and purchased my Android device. To give Android the best possible chance of success (and because I am kind of a gear snob) I am getting the HTC One X international unlocked version that I picked up from newegg for $650.00 . This is HTC's flagship phone for 2012 and is widely considered to be the best built Android ever made, with the best looking screen, and arguably the fastest processor.

I feel it is important to discuss the decision process that I went through to pick the HTC One X, especially considering that the decision process for the iPhone is actually quite different.

In Depth Decision Process

First off, its important to know that I have a strong IT background and I know a fair amount about smartphones, processors, memory, etc. Sites like anandtech, tomshardware, and slashdot are on my bookmarks bar and I try to keep up with the industry as best I can. This makes me a less common consumer of electronic devices, and one who will go through a lot more analysis before buying anything. What I wanted to do was capture my thought process when determining which Android device to use for this test. In addition to my Android analysis, I will also compare and contrast the buying decision process with the iPhone as I go through each category.

Carrier: AT&T

I live in the United States, and much has been said about AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile as carriers. Fortunately for you, I'm not interested in talking about which carrier is best. As I stated in the first post, I wanted to get an unlocked phone to use with my current carrier (AT&T) so that I didn't have to sign a new contract. I'm on a family plan and my wife's phone is under contract with her iPhone 4S, so switching carriers would be messy at best. The good news is AT&T has plenty of Android devices and 3G HSPA+ frequencies give me access to most international phones.

 I started with the iPhone 3G back when AT&T was the only option. This means that I am grandfathered into the unlimited data plan offered by AT&T at that time. If I switch carriers, I lose this plan and there is no way to get it back. This kind of carrier lock-in does affect my purchasing decisions when it comes to the iPhone.

Storage: 32GB internal preferred

My requirement in storage was a bare minimum 16GB, but I would be much happier with 32GB internal. This is because I have about 15 gigs of music and media that I like to keep with me. Because the storage is shared with applications, I've already had to pair down my collection to just 7 gigs on my iPhone. Even with iCloud, this process is time consuming and irritating. I just want all my music on my phone, even if I never listen to some of it. There aren't many Android phones out there with more than 16GB of internal storage, but most of them come with a microSD card slot that can add 32GB of internal storage to a phone. So, I was either looking for a phone that has 32GB internal storage, or one that had a microSD card slot. To be fair, the internal storage of any phone is significantly faster than a microSD, but because I was planning on storing static music content on the card I was optimistic that the speed of the storage wouldn't affect me. In the end, the phone I chose came with 32GB internal memory, which makes me feel much safer in my decision. If I was buying an iPhone right now, I would get at least 32GB of internal memory.

Some phones, like the HTC One series, also comes with free cloud storage. I'm not really sure how well Dropbox works with the phones while away from WiFi and I'm also not sure if I want to burn up my limited data plan with downloading static content I could just have on the phone. So I won't count this as real storage. However, I did buy the HTC One X, so I will definitely report on the success of using Dropbox as additional device storage.

 Speaking of the iPhone (and perhaps even the iPad) storage size is by far the most important decision you make when you buy an iPhone. As my phone has slowly run out of space as my music, photo, and video collection has grown, the phone has slowed to an absolute crawl. I had to delete enough content to get at least 1GB of free space on the phone before it resumed working at normal speed. This means I had to delete Rage, Grand Theft Auto, as well as some of my music. 

 To make matters more complicated with the iPhone, the price jump for more internal storage is $100, which makes the decision about which storage size to buy very important. A lot of time is spent wondering if Photo Stream or iCloud can save you enough space on the phone to save your cash. If you really think about it, the $100 is a totally arbitrary number too. The first $100 gets you 16GB additional space, while the next $100 gets you 32GB additional space. This means the price per GB is a much lower to just get the 64GB phone, but much higher initial cost.  Ultimately, I was already going to buy a 32GB, I probably would have seriously considered the 64GB one due to my experiences with running out of space.

Display: HD IPS LCD with >300 PPI, no PenTile/AMOLED

Many people consider any PPI over 250 to be overkill; however, for me it really isn't. Partly because I am so spoiled on the iPhone 4 Retina display, but partly because I am very near sighted. Anyone who is married and likes to read before going to sleep knows that the light from a lamp to read a book or eReader is frowned. Instead I read my phone on minimum brightness by holding the phone close to my face sometimes without my glasses or contacts on. At this distance ppi can matter a lot. Furthermore, the blown out colors on AMOLED and poor brightness performance of phones like the Galaxy Nexus bothered me immensely. Another big turnoff was the problems I had with pentile screens. When on solid white, the screen looked like sand, or like something was burned into the screen. It doesn't bother everyone, but if I'm one of those people that finds pentile very distracting, I really don't want to buy one. So, because I find the screen to be such an important facet of the device, I have chosen IPS LCD with greater than 300PP as an absolute requirement.

This requirement, combined with the storage requirements and carrier requirements, immediately cleared the playing field of phones down to about four. This puts us in the short list territory.

  1. HTC One X (International version with 32GB)
  2. The Sony Xperia S (International version with 32GB)
  3. The Sony Xperia Ion (AT&T LTE Version 16GB + microSD)
  4. LG Optimus 4X HD P880 (Not yet released)

 With Apple, the only display choices you are making are Retina or the free iPhone 3GS. The only phone I would have bought with the iPhone was the 4S.

Processor: 2012 Modern SoC

My perception of Android is that it can be slow and unresponsive. I've briefly used several Android phones, and they all seem less responsive and more jerky than even the iPhone 4. In general, most attempted swappers agree with this sentiment. Therefore, to give Android the best chance possible, I decided to go all out on one of the fastest phones I could get. The Tegra 3 and the Snapdragon S4 are both going to be the fastest possible architecture for 2012 in different aspects. Also, I didn't want a bunch of android fanboys saying that I intentionally chose a slow, old Android phone to test with. The cores that make the short list are the Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 and MSM8260A, Tegra 3, perhaps the Exynos quad core. I'm not entirely convinced that more CPU will actually affect the responsiveness of the phone, but a better graphics engine will certainly speed up the transitions and effects in the OS.

This means both the HTC One X and the LG Optimus qualify since they have a Tegra 3 quad core + 1 with a 12 core GPU.  However, as much as I like Sony and their products; this means neither of the Xperia phones can fully qualify since both use the MSM8260 S3 Snapdragon from last year.

 To go faster with Apple is simple: I would get the iPhone 4S.

Size: I prefer smaller

I have, up until now, avoided the issue of size. I really like the size of my iPhone 4 and I feel that it fits in my hand well, and is easily operated with one hand. The gigantic size of most Androids have really bothered me. However, I have heard many people say that you get used to it and that it's much better. I can kind of see where they are coming from as I have used an iPad more frequently over the last year. However, I don't think I'll ever get used to the weight of the iPad in one hand. So, there has to be some reasonable middle ground between size and weight.

You would think that this puts the Sony Xperia S back in the game as it has a smaller 4.3" screen compared to the larger screens on the other phones. It's basically my only option with a smaller than 4.5" screen. So, even though the processor is from last year, perhaps the form factor will overcome this. Once you dig a little deeper into the dimensions of the phones of the phones in cubic millimeters and by weight, the Sony phones just can't match up:

  • iPhone 4/4S - 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 = 62781mm^3 | Weight 140g
  • HTC One X - 134.4 x 69.9 x 8.9 = 83611mm^3 | Weight 130g
  • Xperia S - 128 x 64 x 10.6 = 86835mm^3 | Weight 144g 

The Xperia S is actually larger and heavier than the HTC One X overall because it is a little thicker and, thanks to the extra plastic at the bottom of the phone, its almost as tall. It also weighs more even though it has a very slightly smaller battery. This means even in size, the Xperia displaces more space and weights more in my pocket. It's also interesting to note that the iPhone 4 weighs 10g more than the HTC One X!

 In addition to the iPhone weighing more, these dimensions on the phone aren't REALLY accurate. Not because GSM Arena is lying, but because almost every iPhone 4/4S has a case on it, including mine. The case I use is the Speck PixelSkin HD, which adds at least a few mm around the entire phone. I have to use a case because the all glass back and front of the phone means it has no friction against most surfaces. This causes the phone to fly off the dash in your car, off your desk, etc. After being caseless for almost a year, I just couldn't stand it anymore. 

 Again, with Apple I would get the iPhone 4S. It's already practically the perfect size for a small smartphone and it fits in the hand beautifully. I may have to use a case with that as well, but it's still a great size.

Winner: HTC One X

The overall winner for me is the HTC One X. It's actually available for purchase now, gives me the internal storage I want, the screen technology I want, and the modern processor I want. The 25GB dropbox account may also prove to be pretty useful, kicking the total storage up to 57 GB.

Possible downfalls of the hardware is that the phone may be just too big to be comfortable and the battery may not last an entire day.

Video for this post is in production.