Mobile Computing and Me
I’ve tried a few times to write reviews of the cellphones I use, and they always come out fractured, full of tortured metaphor and half-coherent ranting.
This post isn’t going to be that. I want to talk about the phones I have used, why I moved from them, and what I’m really looking for when rant-fueled words tumble forth.
First, the iPhone
The first smartphone I ever used was an iPhone, the original. Using it was very much like holding the future in your hand, a world I’d only seen on television.
I barely remember the device in context; There was no landscape Messages, iMessage didn’t exist. Mail didn’t have threads. EDGE was often quite slow.
That I bought it the week before the 3G, always a constant frustration.
It was nice, elegant. Delightful. It was the first iPhone I’d ever own, and the last for 4 years.
My use case for the iPhone was rendered moot by Rogers, in Canada. Free SMS to the USA had been included in all plans, but had been deprecated due to people daring to use it.
As my use at the time was quite heavy, the costs became quite prohibitive. Email, while functional, had issues due to the iPhone’s excessively quiet speaker.
My frustration took the better of me, and I switched to a Blackberry, citing the inter-device “pinning” ability as the core feature.
Again, only bits and pieces remain. I loved the email integration, the simple SMS and Pinning interfaces. Later, once Twitter and Facebook applications had been released, the level of messaging integration was unparalleled. It was a delight to use for most communication.
The rest? As a smartphone, as a fragment of raw Future the Blackberry was horrifyingly bad. It could make calls, certainly, but the web browser, the camera? The music features?
Even one’s ability to get new software? Monstrously terrible. Every attempt to use it as more than a messaging device was steeped in agony and regret.
The one redeeming property was the ease of tethering. If I had my laptop, I could get online trivially.
The Blackberry met a watery end, falling into an ill-timed bath. Rogers was also an expensive carrier, and it was time to move on.
The next phone was a Samsung Galaxy S, T-Mobile Vibrant edition. I still have this phone sitting on my desk, used as an Android development platform.
At the time, it was amazing, the first modern smartphone I’d used since the iPhone. My iPhone had served as an iPod Touch, of sorts, acting as my personal media player. For the first time, the something could replace that.
It was a difficult transition. The integration of Facebook and Twitter to such a huge degree was a big draw of the Blackberry. The standalone apps never bound to the core Messaging, my core of messaging never just available.
This phone still sits on my desk, and is the one phone I remember most strongly.
The most frustrating change was Samsung’s fouling of the GPS; it has never worked correctly due to manufacturing faults, and never will. Slowdowns and performance inconsistencies plagued the device, eventually traced to severe bugs in the underlying filesystem drivers.
Shipping with Éclair, the phone was only barely upgraded to FroYo. At this time, two years after ship, an official Gingerbread release has never occurred.
This phone was shoved out the door, abandoned, and I was fool enough to spend money on it.
The custom ROM, Cyanogenmod, has released Gingerbread, as well as problematic Ice Cream Sandwich releases; it helps. Running Jelly Bean, the hardware shows potential; it could have been much better than it was allowed to be.
The hardware, the lack of support, but really, Android itself drove me, 18 months after purchase, from the platform. Constantly the poor implementations of iOS features would be released; applications filled with innumerable ads.
Interface inconsistency and performance issues across the board. Even the most basic act of synchronizing music was turned into an aggravating ordeal. Bluntly, it shows its heritage well; open internals, inept user interface and apathy towards repair.
The Ninth N
It was July 2011. I had been following announcements surrounding the Nokia N9, growing beside myself with excitement.
In October, the phone was finally released to New Zealand; I owned one launch day.
A screen made of curved glass, icons floated serenely in inky blackness. Delightful to use, smooth animations and transitions abounded. A phone worth buying. Fast GPS, seamless integration of Messaging, Twitter and Facebook from the moment it first chimed.
A fit to the hand as yet unmatched.
I purchased an iPhone 4S in January, 4 months after the N9.
For every delight of the Nokia, every smooth swipe and caress, more frustration filled me. Constantly would cease responding to input, interrupting my task. A basic task, copy and paste of text, unimplemented in release. Grave-quiet app store.
Messaging that would inexplicably reconnect endlessly, battery life left in shambles.
A 1.0 release. A very strong 1.0 release, without a future, hopeless; Nokia had announced its death 8 months prior.
The greatest frustration that it was so close; a strong open Linux underpinning paired with strong, elegant visual design. Filled with a sense that someone cared, thought of how it should be, consistent unto itself. The very quality of greatness as the downfall; it strove and fell short.
MeeGo has seen three major updates1 since the N9 was released. Likely its offering is now much stronger, lost as it is to a history of might-have-been.
It’s an iPhone. I love it, for it fills every desire of design and function. Any number of articles upon the Internet review it better than I.
My only gripe? Apps cannot share data; those restrictions prohibit the joys of Android, or MeeGo. Nothing may target Dropbox, save explicitly. Nor any small service lacking the weight of Facebook, Twitter.
One feature; a nuisance, not a daily irritant.
I can live without.