Finding an iPhone Replacement

2009-12-28

One of the things that has been on my mind for quite a while has been what type of device and software is suitable as an iPhone replacement. Many folks have suggested that the obvious answer is indeed a newer, faster, generally more capable iPhone. The other suggestion that I receive a lot is that I may want to consider getting a dumbphone or a featurephone, either on AT&T or Verizon, even with one of the virtual carriers like boost mobile or with something like AT&T’s GoPhone brand or Verizon Prepay.

About a year ago, I would have very easily considered a newer iPhone, and indeed upon the release of both the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3Gs, I did consider grabbing one, especially as I have been eligible for an upgrade on AT&T since the release of the 3Gs, at which point the cost of the hardware involved into upgrading to a newer iPhone dropped fairly significantly, to just $99 for an iPhone 3G or $199 for an iPhone 3Gs. As the summer wore on, however, what I noticed was that I would need to pay more per month for the iPhone 3G/3Gs than I did for the EDGE iPhone, and the increased network speed or processing power alone wasn’t really enough of a justification for me to upgrade to the 3G or subsequently the 3Gs.

More than anything, part of the reason I am not going to upgrade to another iPhone is that in the past two years, my needs in a mobile communications device have changed, and another part of it is course that after two years on the iPhone, I’m a bit tired of it, just after having it for so long.

So what is worthy of replacing the iPhone?

I may have said it a few times, but what I’ve noticed is that in the past year, I’ve used my phone a lot more for things like accessing my server with SSH. Additionally, I’ve been wanting to use my mobile communication device for the remaining functionality of my steno pad, which is to say, I’d really like to be able to type notes into it really quickly and efficiently, but it seems like after two years, I’ve reached my maximum iPhone typing speed, and that it’s really not fast enough to be able to fully replace the steno pad.

There are a few basic categories of phones I could use to replace the iPhone. We’ll presume that for all intents and purposes, I want to get a smart phone, because I do, and we’ll presume that most of the phones I want are available on any carrier, because for the most part, there’s something suitable on any of the major networks.

The first type of phone I started looking at was blackberries. There are good blackberries on any network, and any of these devices has a great keyboard. I was specifically looking at the Bold 9000 and/or Bold 9700 on AT&T, and the Tour 9630 on Sprint and Verizon. Blackberries are an attractive looking option because they’re pretty predictable devices, and all but one model have really decent physical keyboards that can be used for sending text messages, writing emails, taking notes, and hypothetically remote shell access of my server.

After a while though, it started to be a really long time until the contract was going to be up, so it was time to take another look around the world of smart phones. It was in this pass that I discovered a new rash of Windows Mobile and Android devices from HTC, as well as a few other one-off phones such as the Nokia N900. Also, the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi exist.

The Nokia N900 is nice because you can buy it off of contract, and use it on either AT&T or T-Mobile, albeit without access to 3G on AT&T. However, it’s a $600 device that pretty much doesn’t have applications right now, and the odd 3-row keyboard means that while shell access to my server would be possible, it might not be the most pleasant thing ever.

The Palm Pre and Pixi are interesting, but that’s just about it. I’m not too interested in being on Sprint, and while the devices look okay, I don’t really trust that it has everything I want yet. Additionally, the keyboards on those devices are incredibly small.

Android wasn’t particularly interesting when it first showed up and the only device available was the HTC Dream/G1 on a contract with T-Mobile. However, now that you can get the HTC Hero on Sprint or Verizon, along with the Motorola Droid, there are a few better looking options in Android hardware. (Indeed, even the Dream/G1 looks better, now that I’ve seen a bit more of Android.) The Motorola Droid, in particular, claims to be the fastest device running Android software, and is indeed running the latest builds of the system, and seems to get updates the most often. As a device, it’s mostly pretty great. It has a gorgeous high-resolution display with a touch screen that works really well, a keyboard that does its job in what’s considered to be an acceptable way, and it slides open in such a way that seems well built. I have no problems with the hardware Android is shipping on, although the platform is developing and changing so fast, and the people who have purchased the earliest handsets just a year or so ago have already been left behind in terms of being able to run the latest version of the Android OS.

The last platform I looked at was Windows Mobile. I saved it for last for two reasons. Firstly, nobody was actively recommending Windows Mobile to me at the time, and I have this issue where if none of my friends is telling me on a regular basis how great it is, I tend not to think about it when I’m making my own purchase decision. At any rate, there are Windows Mobile devices on the carrier web sites, and one of the interesting Android handset makers, HTC, makes quite a lot of Windows Mobile devices, so I figured it would be worth my while to look.

Worth my while indeed. I don’t know if this says good things about HTC, about Windows Mobile, or if it just says bad things about Android, but there are at least three handsets from the current generation of HTC handsets that I would consider using as an iPhone replacement.

The first one, the one that really got me looking at HTC, was the Touch HD2, a gloriously huge handset available only in Europe on European 3G frequencies, running the 1GHz “Snapdragon” processor. A 1GHz processor in a phone is something I hadn’t even begun to fathom before, and apparently not only did it exist, but the reviews of it made it sound awesome. Plus, one of the accessories for it is a desk/car mount that makes it look like a funky, black iMac G4. How can you not love it?

The next two are available both in the USA and in Europe, on GSM as well as CDMA carriers. The handsets in question are the Touch Pro 2, and the Touch Diamond 2. The Touch Diamond 2 is a great little handset, similar in overall functionality to the Touch Pro 2, known on AT&T as the “Pure” and on Verizon as the “Imagio.” The Touch Diamond 2 is nice because of the little unexpected extras, specifically an FM tuner and a 5MP camera, which is better than the other WinMo handsets, as well as the blackberries. I don’t know why I care so much, but that FM tuner definitely keeps drawing me back to the Pure/Imagio, despite the fact that what I really want is a hardware keyboard. The Verizon version even has a little kickstand so you can watch Verizon’s “VCast” TV service (or other media files) on it.

Which brings me to what I personally think is the best possible iPhone replacement. The HTC Touch Pro 2 (known on AT&T as the Tilt 2) is the same as the Touch Diamond 2, except that it has a gargantuan keyboard that slides out from underneath the phone, much like the Motorola Droid. The display, although smaller than that of the Touch HD2, is still a glorious 800x480 pixels, and the keyboard is notably far more fantastic than that of the Droid. Other benefits include a working Remote Desktop client, a decent SSH client, and really decent integration with my NAU Google account for synchronization of contacts, calendar information and email to the device. The Touch Pro 2 would also be fairly decent for media consumption, as well as just looking at when I’m at my desk, as when it slides open, it also pops up so the screen it at an angle, rather than lying flat on whatever surface.

So far, each time I’ve been to the Flagstaff Verizon store, they haven’t had the Touch Pro 2 in stock, however I still need to make the decision as to whether I will be purchasing it in the store or online. It just depends on how much it costs to buy it in the store compared to the cost of buying it online. I’d rather buy it in the store, so I can have it the same day, but a significant difference in the cost will mean I’ll buy it online.