My wife and I both bought iPad 2s about 8 months ago and we really enjoy them, so the iPhone 4S was on my mind. I am not invested in the Apple ecosystem or iTunes beyond the apps on my iPad 2. I also have Android apps, so it evens out. I am, however, heavily invested in Google with Gmail and Google Calendar, but that is easily synced to the iPhone thanks to Google's support for iOS devices.
It was easy to chop down the contenders to the iPhone 4S, Nexus, and Droid RAZR MAXX (I hate that name, so lets just call it the Maxx). The Nexus has a massive 4.63" screen, so it seemed an unusual choice if I was after a smaller screen. It also seems to be a very divisive product because of Android ICS and the battery life (which is still better than the Thunderbolt's). The Maxx has incredible battery life, but I was unimpressed with it. I knew I could change the Motorola Blur software with a ROM, but that required research and work, which was/is something I was/am tired of.
I do not want to chase after ROMs and tweaks and changes in hopes of finding the one that helps me use the Android keyboard or fixes the graphical hesitations and hitches. All of that was a beloved hobby for over 3 years until I became tired of having to work to get my phone functioning in a way that pleased me. I like to leave my tinkering at home.
I have now had the iPhone 4S for 2 weeks and I do not think I will be returning it to try the Nexus or Maxx. I could make a snap decision at the 11th hour, but I am doubtful that will happen. I think it is a phone I can commit to for 2 years. Here is what I lost and gained:
I really lost tethering a long time ago. It was flawless on my Motorola Droid, but flaky and unreliable on the Thunderbolt. I tried CyanogenMod 7, MIUI, other AOSP ROMs, and more with a variety of tethering apps. The Thunderbolt would eventually fail and require me to reset the radio. Yes, I even experimented with different radios. At least it worked sometimes.
I have to jailbreak the iPhone for tethering, and maybe I will one day, but I am content without it, for now. Then again, I can always go back to using PDANet like the old days. This does not help my iPad, but maybe my next iPad will have 4G.
Of course Android will take this. I cannot theme my iPhone or change icons for an app. I cannot even hide apps I do not want on my homescreen. I found a solution that makes me happy, though. Like on my Thunderbolt, I have only one homescreen with all of the apps I use. The only difference now is I grouped them in folders by actions.
I might miss the hours I would spend fiddling with the phone to customize everything down to the icons and colors, but a big part of me thinks I have better things to do.
I miss the elegant Gmail app. The Gmail app on iOS is really great, but it lacks integration with iOS 5's Notification Center. That integration may never come, so I must use the iOS Mail app. It is not a horrible app, but it is not quite the Gmail app either. However, it works perfectly well for reading emails and that is all I will typically do with my phone. I do not need easy access to archived email or even search.
Titanium Backup is one of my favorite apps for Android. It automatically backed up everything for me to Dropbox. Simply wonderful. I thought I would miss it, and I do miss some of the control I had over the backup, but Apple added iCloud backups to iOS 5.
The phone automatically sends a backup to iCloud whenever it is plugged in and connected to WiFi. That's really great. The only drawback is I cannot restore just one app or just restore the data from a specific app. I did that rarely, though. Usually it was right after switching to a new ROM, so I may never miss it.
The new Android ICS camera app may be improved, but my Thunderbolt's camera was awful. The iPhone 4S has a fantastic camera and the new iOS 5.1 changes make it even better and easier to use. I just swipe up on the lock screen to launch the camera.
I could launch the camera app from my Thunderbolt's homescreen if I used the right MIUI theme or ROM, but the camera still sucked and it still took a bit too long to load the app sometimes.
Perhaps the one feature I will truly miss. I used two apps for easy automation, Tasker and Shush. Tasker would silence my phone from 11PM to 6AM (except for phone calls). It would disable GPS while I was at home. It would enable Bluetooth during hours when I had a conference call and disable it afterwards. My iPhone cannot do any of this and Apple will never grant an app so much control.
Shush would activate when I held the Volume Down button. A prompt would ask me how long the phone should be silenced for and then, after that amount of time, Shush would reset my volume. It was great for movies, dinners, or just any time I needed to avoid my ringer causing a disturbance. The iPhone has a switch on the side that lets me easily silence the phone without having to adjust the volume at all, but I still have to remember to flip the switch back.
I have had a lot of fun with Siri and I have been impressed with her accuracy. I could never use the voice dictation on my Thunderbolt. I think my phone had a bad microphone, but I also found myself waiting as long as 5 seconds for the *ding* to indicate I could start speaking. I would often send inaccurate text messages just because it was easier than typing it.
I have not encountered any trouble with Apple's servers. Siri has never been unavailable for me, but she really needs to learn to ignore the TV. if only that were possible. The only time I have had Siri really fail is when I have been watching TV or when someone starts talking to me.
I could go on feature-by-feature, but we can just sum-up some of the lesser changes.
Things I Will Not Miss
Android has some quirks that really got to me after a while. I am aware that ICS fixed some of these issues and some of it may have been hardware related, but they should not have been an issue for so long:
- Graphical hitches creating delays in the UI
- Graphical hitches creating typos or delays long enough to miss entire words when typing
- Cluttered notification bar (icons for apps that I wanted to keep running in the background, e.g. Tasker)
Things I Am Glad I Have Now
The iPhone has also added some nice new features that I really enjoy:
- Picking up games on my phone after playing on my iPad thanks to iCloud saves
- Displaying messages on the lock screen and swiping to view them
- I have grown to like the bubble counters on app icons for notifications
- A Calendar app that displays the day and date on the icon
- Weather updates in the notifications*
*I realize this is possible on Android, but only if you clutter the notifications bar with an icon or have an app or widget running that runs a persistent notification (e.g. Beautiful Widgets).
I like the 3.5" display, the calls are clear, the speakers are nice and loud when I need them, and the keyboard works very well. I do not have any complaints. The phone just works as expected. Over the next two years I might wish I had NFC, a larger screen, or 4G, but these are quibbles. The next model might have all of these things. A lot will change in that time. Maybe I will switch back to Android next time. Of course that is the nice thing about all of this - I have the choice.
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