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Archive for May 8th, 2010

Why I didn’t buy an iPhone (I got the HTC Droid Incredible instead)

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

When the first iPhone came out, I wasn’t tempted to purchase it because its price was too rich for my blood (or rather my underpaid, young reporter checkbook). I settled for a BlackBerry Pearl instead and stuck with T-mobile.

When subsequent upgrades were released, I found other reasons not to take the plunge. Its network sucked, especially in my office where I always had full bars on T-mobile. I didn’t like the idea of a virtual keyboard. It was still too expensive. Even when the price of the handset with a new contract plunged, the substantial monthly cost was a deciding factor.

In particular, the cost factor was hard to swallow not because of the upfront handset cost but because the network I was on gave me unlimited monthly calling for >$50 and unlimited data for $20. With texting and taxes, my monthly bill came out around $81. It was still a lot of money to fork out monthly for a girl with plenty of debt to pay back (thanks college). But it was, and remains, the cheapest smartphone deal out there from a major carrier.

Last month, as my more than two years old BlackBerry started malfunctioning and its battery life depreciated significantly, I knew purchasing my next phone was a decision I couldn’t put off. For more than a year, I had been talking about the need to upgrade and visiting cell phone stores to check out the latest, greatest phones. I haven’t been under contract in more than two years, so that was never a factor. I knew I had to buy a new smart phone because I used mine constantly for my work and play; honestly, once you go there, you can’t go back. It also had to look nice and include a few key items:

  • a network that worked well in the places I spend my time most, including my cave-like office and the rural areas that surround my city,

  • the ability to use Google Voice (which I use to set up a local cell number for sources to call me back),
  • the ability to take decent quality photos,
  • the ability to work with my gmail and my work e-mail on IMAP,
  • the ability to install apps ranging from Twitter to Google maps, and
  • the ability to use more than one of these programs at the same time.

Those were minimums, and they were minimums based on my most-used programs and functions from my existing phone. I also wanted to add to that, in a non-dealbreaker category, the ability to take video and watch it on the Web, a handset that wasn’t bulky and that looked nice and one that would allow for some strong personalization.

I truly thought about buying the iPhone. For the most part, it does what I want it to do. I like Apple products. I own an iPod nano. I’m writing this on my MacBook. And I use a Mac at work as well.

However, one thing about all the hype that really concerned me: I’ve never had anyone recommend AT&T to me, not for their coverage, costs or customer service.

The other thing that bothered me equally as much was the App Store-approved requirements. My boyfriend develops computer software for a living. He hasn’t created apps or anything. But it still annoyed me that Apple denies legitimate applications from being offered for its phone. It’s not that they won’t place it in the store because they have that right. Bricks and mortar stores make decisions every day to offer or not offer products. But in the real world, if you can’t find something you want at Best Buy, they don’t stop you from getting it somewhere else. Apple does that by closing off its handset to anyone without their stamp of approval. I don’t think they have the users best interest in mind (protecting them from malware, etc.) but instead their own bottom line and seemingly random acceptable interests.

Still, neither of those were complete deal breakers. After all, every phone/network has limitations. But they did mean I wasn’t going to be an Apple fanboy and pony up my hard-earned cash without looking around.

I initially thought I would stay on T-mobile. They have by far the best prices per month for smart phones. Their customer service has always been great. Their network has served me not imperfectly but well enough since 2004, when I moved off my parents Verizon family plan and onto my own plan. They also have a lot of smart phones to choose from, including Google’s Nexus One. The downside to sticking with them, however, was for existing customers even with upgrade pricing their phones are not competitively priced. What motivation do you have to stick with your company when they want to charge you $200 for a two-year contract but you can get a comparable phone/contract for practically free on another network? However, the Nexus One was the most competitive iPhone competitor. And after handling one that belonged to someone I met at a recent tweetup, I was ready to go for it. But then I looked into the pricing. As an existing customer, I had to pay almost $100 more for the phone upfront, and I also had to switch to a much much less favorable phone plan than my existing one.

The same person who let me handle his Nexus One recommended, if I could, that I wait to see the HTC Droid Incredible when it came out the next week. (The previous strangers’ powers of persuasion were helped a lot by knowing he was graduating soon and going on to develop mobile phones for a major company.) I started researching that phone, and from the specs it sounded better than I hoped for.

However, when I ran out the cost of ownership of the Incredible on Verizon against the cost of the iPhone on AT&T, they came out dead even. (This was before I realized I could get a corporate discount, but even with that the costs would be about the same.) So I was faced with the dilemma: Who wouldn’t want an iPhone? It’s a culture icon and status symbol. And if I’m going to pay that much anyway, why not?!

But then, I looked back at what I wanted and my reservations.

I previously had used Verizon when I was in high school and early college. I was never anywhere I didn’t have reception. My mom is also on Verizon, which would make calls home fall outside my minutes. I also know, on the flipside, many people with AT&T who get spotty at best reception in the newsroom, so it was a concern. In short, the Verizon network won in that battle.

After poring over specs and reviews of the Incredible, I decided I needed to handle it. I had some concerns about it, including notably the back cover design was sort of ugly and the lack of keyboard (something missing from all of my finalists, actually). So I went to the Verizon store on Monday and asked to use one of their models without strings. It felt light in my hands and fit comfortably. The keyboard, even on my first use of the phone, was responsive and accurate. And, wow, the phone was fast. It flies through tasks and bumps from one thing to another without hesitating. Its camera has a surprising number of features close at hand. Its internet browser was speedy, displayed full pages and even handled some flash.

I was sold.

Then the sales rep asked if I was interested in buying two — for the price of one, after mail-in rebate. I’d initially thought I’d buy the phone online from one of the stores selling it for $150. But two for $200 was a better deal. So I got the details and went home to talk to my boyfriend (who is also exploring an upgrade to an Android phone from a very low-tech phone that’s currently connected to his parents family plan). A family plan, we realized as we ran out the figures, would be cheaper to split than an individual plan, and that wasn’t even factoring in the 21-percent corporate discount I got for being a Gannett employee. We decided to go with that. On Wednesday, I went back to the store, signed up for a new contract. I was told the phones were (understandably) on back order because they had just been released and to expect them by May 12. It was no big deal. So it was a pleasant surprise when I got the phones from FedEx the next day: A week sooner than I’d prepared myself for.

My new phone

I plugged the phone in overnight. Then, I ported my number over (I plan to keep my 330 cell number forever if I can) and spent Friday morning downloading all the applications I need and want, setting up my e-mail accounts and linking my phone to my other networks (the social media aspects are so intertwined in the phone system it’s remarkable) and playing with it. The calls I took on it all came across good, except one cell phone call I took from a source who was on their cell phone in Florida, so I don’t know if it was her phone or mine that was degrading slightly. It was fun to use, very easy to get going and ridiculously quick.

One of my iPhone-toting bosses had jibed me over Twitter: “@meranduh is there an app that turns your phone into an iPhone?” To which I replied, “I’d rather have an app that turns your network into Verizon.”

Even so, It didn’t hit me until about 11 p.m. last night how certain I was of my purchase. I was on the phone chatting with my boyfriend on speaker phone, playing a LabPixies game, searching for phone accessories on the Web (using my home wifi network on the phone) and then an e-mail came in that I was able to switch to and check. I was doing all of that all at once when it hit me: You can’t do that with an iPhone. The upcoming iPhone4G might change the field, but it wouldn’t eliminate some of previously stated hesitations. I know I’m still in the honeymoon period with my new phone, but for right now, I’m loving it. I’d definitely recommend checking it out.