Saturday, 9 March 2013

Same Phone, Same Build, 4 Months!

Something strange has happened!

Since 2009 I'd fallen into the habit of change with mobile phones. The materialisation of good value "pay as you go" deals rivalling "pre-pay" monthly contracts meant it became truly feasible to drop out of the 12, then 18 and even 24 month tie-in to one mobile network and a single device. Sure you could buy a SIM free device even if you were mid-contract, but your monthly payment was still paying for your contracted device, because it was subsidised, not "free". That meant buying a new device mid-contract was an extravagance, but once you drop into "pay as you go", you free up the subsidy portion of your monthly payment to spend on devices.

This led to a rapid turnover of devices, driven I think by four factors:

  • Each device turned out to have a significant deal breaker
  • The grass was greener; there was a better/faster device, gadget lust took over
  • The grass was different; there were major new features or new form factors in the market
  • I could turnover devices quickly outside of pre-pay contracts

This sent me through Symbian, Android, Windows Phone 7, even WebOS; you can see my personal device history over here. Throughout that time I didn't stay on the same device for more than a couple of months, three at the absolute maximum. Whist I may have not purchased a new device every couple of months, I ended up changing my SIM card between devices in my possession for a few weeks at a time. More than that, some devices (for example the Motorola Defy, Sony Xperia Ray, Samsung Nexus S) were customisable enough that I went through multiple operating system builds as well. Non-Nexus Android devices in particular can change dramatically when moved form the manufacturer's build of Android to something built by the community, either direct from CyanogenMod or from the very talented folk hanging out in the XDA forum.

This was all great fun, but skip forward to the present day and I'm writing this post having had my SIM card in the same phone with the manufacturer's build for well over 4 months. The Motorola RAZR i. Is it some kind of amazing super phone. No. Is it the manufacturer's amazing implementation of Android. No. So why have I settled after all that previous fluidity? Going back to the reasons I kept swapping in the first place:

  • The deal breakers - For me, this device has none. Past deal breakers have included poor battery life, poor camera or no camera flash, device too big, device's core hardware going out of date leading to latest versions of operating system running like a dog, and end of support for the device both from the manufacturer and the community. I can't leave this section without calling out Motorola's use of an Intel chip in the RAZR i, as opposed to ARM chips in 99% of other Android phones. There are still some apps which don't work, most high profile in the UK is iPlayer (if you really want to watch TV on a phone). There are zero apps which I use that don't work however, so no deal breaker for me personally, but maybe for others.
  • The grass is greener - I haven't seen any device released since the RAZR i which would tempt me, even with an unlimited budget. This is mainly due to my personal preference for "phone-sized" phones, and with flagship devices from HTC, Samsung, Sony et al arriving with 4.5" to 5" screens, I am simply not interested. Anything in the manufacturers' line ups below this screen size seems to have been relegated to mid-tier, as if the size of a screen is directly correlated to how good a phone should be. This means there is very little in my size range with specs worth getting out of bed for! This is subjective I know, however, Motorola did a great job of packing a large screen in such a small case. Ideally I'd still have the RAZR i made slightly smaller, but it comes just about inside my tolerance for size! The grass is greener argument has also faded away in terms of operating system build. I still run CyanogenMod on a few low-end devices which use exclusively for the gym or mountain biking, and they continue to do an amazing job, but the days of having the time or inclination for fiddling with custom recoveries and ROM installations are waning. Do I wish Motorola had been much quicker getting the latest version of Android out for the RAZR i, of course! However, the only thing I'm truly pining for from Jelly Bean is Google Now. The rest is minor tweaks or background "under the hood" improvements.
  • The Grass is different - This goes in some ways hand in hand with a previous post about form factor monotony. Referencing just the Android world, we've seen that there has been nothing but rectangular slabs for well over a year now, and innovation with form factor has simply died off. Nokia's industrial design for the Lumia range, previewed with the N9, was a nice slant but ultimately the same. HTC's efforts with the recently announced One are also to be commended, if only for putting the speakers on the front of the device and not the back, but again still a rectangular slab. Physical keyboards appear to be out for good, as do sliding and flipping form factors. With this kind of stagnation in hardware design there is simply far less chance of seeing any different grass.
  • Because I could - This one actually hasn't changed. I'm still "off contract" and have the option of selling the RAZR i at any time and using that money to buy the latest and greatest, but the the previous three points explain why I haven't!

Does this mean the RAZR i is the greatest phone since sliced bread? I suspect many, it not all, would argue against it, but it is pretty close for me, and that's why it has been with me for over 4 months, unheard of in the my recent phone geek history. The scary part is that I may be on the RAZR i for some time to come, unless one of the manufacturers decides to break rank and release, shock horror, a flagship-spec phone-sized phone. I can dream...