Android Phones: Why you’re never going to have the best

It took a lot of time and made my wallet quite a bit lighter, but I’ve finally realized two things about Android handsets: 1. You’re never going to have the best of what’s available. At least you won’t for more than three months in the best-case scenario. 2. Waiting for or chasing the next great phone is ultimately a fruitless endeavor. How did I end up coming to these respective conclusions?

Why you’re never going to have the best mobile, even if you have the best mobile.

I was among the first in line to grab a Nexus S despite being fully aware of the fact that it was essentially a repackaged Samsung Galaxy S, a handset that was near six months old at that point. Additionally, the fact that we would soon be seeing mobiles with dual core processors wasn’t exactly a secret either. Unfazed, I went ahead and confidently made my purchase for what I imagine are largely the same reasons anyone else bought a Nexus S. That is, I wanted to experience Gingerbread before anyone else, and at the time, the Nexus S was hands down the best Android phone available.

As anyone who owns one will attest, the Nexus S is a more than capable mobile that’s adept at handling nearly anything you can throw at it. Transitions are usually buttery smooth, even the most CPU intensive of apps run with little to no slowdown, and both the colors and the deep, inky blacks produced by the SAMOLED display are near unmatched. Essentially, it did, and still does, absolutely everything I need from a mobile.

Despite this, as I’m sure anyone who’s taking the time to read this will likely understand, there’s some sort of inexplicable psychological benefit in having something that’s better than what everyone else has. So, when mobiles like the Motorola Atrix and the LG Optimus 2X began rolling out, I began developing a sort of dual core itch. By now, we’ve all read the reviews about how quick and smooth those new processors made everything from browsing web pages and transitioning between homescreens. That the Nexus S was a “last generation” phone that lacked any sort of “future-proofing” seemed unacceptable to me, so I bit.

The Nexus S was quickly relegated to secondary status, a mobile I’d use primarily for flashing CM7 nightlies to look for bugs and stability issues before trying them out on the 2X. Still, from the first day I began using the 2X, a few things kept nagging at me. Despite the equipped Tegra 2 inside the 2X, it felt no faster (in fact, it occasionally even seemed to stutter more often) than the Nexus S. Additionally, the display felt like a huge disappointment coming from a Samsung handset. The comparatively dull colors were to be expected, but the excessive backlight bleeding was unacceptable. Dismayed, I ended up selling it and the Nexus S reclaimed its former place as my primary mobile.

Of course, this lasted for all of a few months before the feeling that I needed something new began to come back. Since I’d purchased and resold the Optimus 2X, a new generation of dual core mobiles began cropping up. These new phones apparently addressed all the problems that the Tegra 2 SoC featured, and were complimented by new, higher resolution qHD screens. Having been a fan of HTC’s design language, build quality, and styling for quite some time, purchasing a Sensation seemed like a no-brainer.

Unlike the Optimus 2X, the Sensation actually did seem noticeably quicker than the Nexus S, especially when performing tasks like browsing complicated web pages or installing apps. Plus, for a mobile with a 4.3” screen, the Sensation feels surprisingly svelte in hand. In fact, despite the extra screen real estate, the physical size of the phone itself is scantly larger than the Nexus S. This is a good time to mention that I’m a lot like Goldilocks in the sense that I feel like 4.5” screens are far too large, 4.3” screens are a bit bigger than I like, but 4” screens are just right for practicality and pocketability. So, at least on paper, the Sensation should’ve been the perfect phone for me.

And yet, there were a few hang-ups I couldn’t bring myself to get over. Having a backlit SLCD rather than a SAMOLED screen was still noticeably bothersome, and despite the premium materials, the Nexus S actually felt like it was better built. For all the (well warranted, I might add) complaints directed at Samsung for using cheap, plasticky battery covers on their mobiles, one has to admit that they fit on their phones well enough to make things like random squeaking a non-issue. I unfortunately couldn’t say the same about the Sensation and its unibody aluminium shell. Somewhere along the line, I decided that these things were deal breakers and moved back to the Nexus S.

Ultimately though, I suppose it was for the best. As I’m sure we’re all aware, the Samsung Galaxy S II, whose position on top of the Android totem pole has already been usurped by the Galaxy Nexus, quickly outclassed the Sensation. Continuing down the path of wanting the hot new mobile is a slippery (and expensive!) slope that’ll ultimately find you continuously disappointed, which brings me to my next point.

Don’t wait for that awesome new mobile that’s releasing soon, even if it’s only next month

One of my favourite things about the Android platform is the way it allows us to see, almost in real-time, the pace of development. Unfortunately, that’s also one of the worst things about the Android experience for consumers.

The typical release cycle of a phone goes like this — we first hear about a game-changing mobile, are granted a few pictures of it, maybe see a hands-on video or two at events like MWC, and are given a vague release date. Then, as it gets tested and makes its rounds a few months later, a clearer picture of when it’ll actually be released begins to form. And, finally, as it’s ready to be released, we’re hearing about some new phone at some other conference that is absolutely worth waiting for because it’s also a game-changer in some way or another.

The timelines from announcement to production to purchase may vary from phone to phone, but the fact of the matter is that there’s always going to be something just slightly better waiting for you a little further down the pipeline. That new mobiles are always coming out, each one typically an improvement on the last, has the effect of almost paralyzing consumers into being unable to make a decision.

Of course, the best way to deal with that is to simply not fall into that trap. Regardless of what upcoming phones do, it’s important to remember that your mobile is always going to be able to do at least the same things it does now for as long as you have it. My Nexus S might not have a barometer or a camera that instantly snaps pictures the way the Galaxy Nexus does, but you know what? Those are both things that I absolutely haven’t missed up until now. Likewise, the Galaxy Nexus won’t have a quad core processor the way phones released in 2012 will, and those won’t have whatever comes after that either.

None of that should matter. Unless you have a truly terrible mobile like the Motorola Cliq, your phone is more than likely good enough and there’s little that new releases will do to change that.

This is a guest post from Kenny Kraisornkowit who offers shopping advice, product reviews and ways to save money on tech gear and gadgets at Savoo.co.uk, the U.K.-based version of the popular deal site, Savings.com.


3 thoughts on “Android Phones: Why you’re never going to have the best”

  1. If you really need to have the best phone all the time i you’re priorities are way out of wack, you’ve got some sort of complex and i feel sorry for you. Buy a phone. like it. And stop shopping after that.

  2. Garyhart1965 says:

    TTotally agree, the contract on my HTC desire is coming to an end and I will probably go for the desire s, does everything I need with more internal memory and a few quid cheaper a month!

  3. GrayC says:

    I think it’s pretty important to get the best phone you can at the time you need it but no point in constantly waiting for the next best thing, as the author says. Depends what you need the phone for really. As more people use their phones for downloading content, multitasking etc better specs become more important, plus it’ll hold its value for longer.

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