I’ve talked before about my Motorola Droid. We’ve had a love/hate relationship over the last 18 months or so, but all good things must come to an end. Ours has a specific end date, as I am up for a new phone on August 12th. Unfortunately, none of the Android offerings on Verizon have me terribly excited, and in fact, I’m questioning whether an Android phone is my next step.
It started when I headed to Verizon Wireless’s site to check out their phone selection. The Thunderbolt, Charge, and Revolution are all 4G LTE, which is intriguing and a good future-proofing plan since I intend to buy on-contract. Unfortunately, the Revolution got booted from my list right away, since it uses Bing Maps and Search over Google. Not because I have anything against Bing, but it seems wrong to buy an Android phone and not have full Google integration. There are several reasons why I’m hesitant to pull the trigger on the Thunderbolt or Charge, but the biggest is that both are still on Android 2.2 (Froyo), MONTHS after Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) has been released. I understand it takes time, but this is a phone that I could potentially be using for the next 18 months. It seems like it’s a roll of the dice to determine how many software upgrades it may see over time.
And I’ve been an Android fan for long enough to know the answer to why these updates are going so sloooooowly. It’s the dreaded f-word: FRAGMENTATION! Nothing is uniform, every manufacturer feels the urge to slather the interface in custom skins, and then the next thing you know it’s 6 months from announcement to rollout of a software update. Worst of all, the only way to get a non-Blurred/Sense UI’d/etc phone is to buy from the Nexus series. Otherwise, you’re out of luck, hope you like bloatware and widgets! My Droid has had a lot of issues over the last year and a half, but it came with very little excess as far as apps, and no weird Moto skin, just pure Android. Apparently, that experience is now an endangered species. And I am not alone; Michael has a great breakdown on fragmentation past, present, and future in Android, and it is a must-read for anyone looking to understand Android’s Achilles heel.
I also have some concerns about the staying power of any Android phone for the long haul. Granted, my Droid may be a bit of an anomaly, but it was at one point the flagship Android device for Verizon. Fast forward less than two years, and not only is the Droid 1 barely hanging on, but it hasn’t seen a major OS update in almost a year AND the line is already on its third revision. Obviously, this is the nature of smartphones, but if I’m going to buy a phone on a two-year contract I want to know that the phone will still be functional down the line. Unfortunately, it seems like the general rule of thumb is to expect (maybe) one software upgrade over the life of the phone, and if it’s a lower end phone you may not even see that. Sadly, “likelihood to still be supported in 6 months” is not on a spec sheet, so it requires a bit more research into what’s under the hood on a given phone to figure out if there are any red flags that could prevent future updates. And as Mike pointed out, this uncertainty has no clear rule of thumb. His Droid Pro came out in the right window of time and supports Gingerbread, but it most likely will never receive an official update.
As much as I love Android, all those choices are a mixed bag, since it really leaves you at the mercy of a trifecta of forces; Google, the manufacturer, and the carrier all need to line up at exactly the full moon, but only if it falls on a Thursday at midnight, to approve any jumps in software versions. Plus, once you receive said update, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear; apps like Netflix and Hulu+ are refined and restricted further, making it even tougher to determine what your phone can do.
So that’s my mini rant. I recognize that I could do some hackery and remove the skins, and there are no doubt third-party ROMs for Android 2.3, etc. However, my cell phone is my primary phone. I don’t have a home line, so I am far more reluctant to risk playing around with the phone. It’s one thing to play with my NOOKcolor; I use it as a tablet, and if I mess up and it takes a day or two to figure out how to fix it, that’s a lot more desirable than “Oops, I bricked my only way to make a phone call. D’oh!” And I recognize the nature of smartphones is that something newer and shinier is always in the pipeline. I don’t care if my phone is the newest and best, but I do expect it to remain somewhat current for at least a year or two. Not to bring the iPhone into it, but the 3GS is over two years old, the iPhone 4 is over a year old, and both are supported by Apple with consistent updates. Meanwhile, Android is plugging away with updates and features, but not all phones get all features, and some phones could get updates but don’t…you should not need a matrix to figure out your phone’s current and future abilities!
All this leaves me with quite the dilemma. What do I do for my next phone? Do I suck it up and stick with Android, which I generally like, but feel there’s been a lot of compromise, or do I head for greener pastures? I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices, listed below. Remember, I’m stuck with Verizon because we’re on a family plan. No guarantees I’m going to follow anyone’s votes, but let me know in the comments which you would choose!
1) Suck it up buttercup and buy a Thunderbolt. If it makes your pants sag, just buy a belt, and if HTC is too slow with the rollouts that’s what XDA is for.
2) Hang on for another month and wait for the Samsung Galaxy S 2.
3) Skip buying on contract, and hit up eBay. Android’s too fragmented to lock in for a 2-year contract.
4) Wait for the new iPhone…the grass is always greener on the Apple side…give in…