#tech #android #verizon #razr vs. #galaxynexus vs. #rezound vs. #galaxysiiWhat Verizon Android phone is the one to get?
If your on Verizon, and are looking for an Android phone this winter there are plenty of compelling choices. Whether you have a worn out original droid or are new to the android game, what needs to be said first is that android is about choice. That is good and bad. Good because there are options, bad because experiences vary. Android phones come in all shapes and sizes, and appreciation for those designs is a subjective matter. My opinion follows.
There has been some excitement about the Motorola Razr. Super thin device with a kevlar backplate that has some thinking they would wield a military grade smartphone. About a week ago, I took a trip to the local Verizon store to see how the device felt in the hand. If you are someone who connects build quality with some weight and substance, as is true for many Motorola fans, this device will immediately feel different. You'll realize that the phone is mostly plastic, and a severe departure from Motorola devices you might have held in the past. For me personally, weight is not an issue, and I have appreciated fast and light phones made by Samsung (I currently own the original Galaxy S on T-Mobile). This phone feels a little sturdier than other light plastic phones, with almost no flex when pressing the sides of the phone. So what's the problem?
The Razr is unnecessarily large for the display size. It doesn't feel great in the hand, and for anyone who doesn't have extremely large hands, it will be difficult to operate with one hand. There is a lot of trim around the edges of the 4.3" screen, making this device feel as large as a 4.5" device like the Galaxy S II. Now to be fair, the 4.65" Galaxy Nexus is a huge phone. But for that size you are getting a 1280x720 tablet-like display. And the curved glass and slight teardrop shape reportedly make the device feel a little smaller than it is. The Razr is only a 960x540 display, which is not as compelling as the two new 720p devices: HTC Rezound, and Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
The bottom line, is that the Razr's design (its primary selling point), did not feel great in the hand or give me the sense that it was a sturdy device. Thin is not always the best design choice. For example, I hate the way my Samsung Galaxy 10.1 Tab feels to hold. It is so thin its painful to hold for any length of time, especially for its total size.A 720p display on a phone is impressive and worth targeting
Back in the corner of the Verizon store was quietly sitting the HTC Rezound. This device marketed with Beats audio and some red-hot design elements, perhaps distracts from the fact that in every way it is a superior device to the Razr. Picking it up immediately after holding the Razr, created a stark experiential difference. Here is a 4.3" in phone that doesn't feel larger than it should, its thickness and build quality feel great in the hand, and it has an absolutely amazing 720p display. So how good does the first ever 1280x720 Apple iPhone retina besting display with 342ppi look? Amazing. The text was clear and beautiful, which I was not able to say for the Razr.
At the beginning of this year, the new firsts for smartphones were dual core 1Ghz+ processors, front facing cameras, and 4+" displays. The rate of innovation is stunning, when I think that my first android phone only a year previous was 3.2" 320x480 single core at 528Mhz. At that time, I advised friends to not skip out on dual core and larger displays, especially because that was part of what made android different than other devices at the time.
Now, the differentiator is 720p. The Rezound, as the first phone to launch with this display, may just be the most underrated, miss-timed, miss-marketed launch in android's brief history. It should have launched (if possible) 3 months ago as the Droid Incredible 3. In fact, overhyped Beats audio aside, the device with its interestingly bevelled and textured backing, looks and feels very much like the next device in the Incredible line. What Incredible users like most about their devices is the right-sizing and build quality of the phone.Performance differences are negligible
This latest round of Dual Core android phones boast such impressive performance, that the differences between them from a hardware level are minimal. I installed the AnTuTu benchmark app on the Razr and took a picture of the results (below). From fasted to slowest: Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S II, Razr (listed as My Device in picture). Unfortunately, an Internet connection wasn't enabled on the Rezound so I couldn't run the same test. But the point is that all of these devices are faster than the Motorola Xoom dual core tablet and almost twice as fast as anything released 8 months ago.
This again would support my opinion that within a certain baseline (dual core), performance should not be the primary differentiator in your decision-making, and instead you should look to display quality (720p HD matters) and subjective device design preferences. But there is one other factor.Software - ICS changes everything
If you were to limit your purchase decision to the criteria I have included so far, and your personal preference was for a well designed small smartphone (3.5") with a great display, then your obvious choice would be the iPhone. But if you have read this far, likely there is something about the little green robot that interests you. Besides device and manufacturer choice, android is about software.
Because android is an open source operating system, manufacturers and carriers have the ability to modify android's experience. This was good especially at first, because in its infancy, android lacked some key features that users were wanting at the time, such as MS Exchange support and social network integration. Manufacturers were able to build these themselves and ship it with their products (both Motorola and HTC did this). These features are now included in official android.
A second thing android lacked at first was a compelling user interface. So manufacturers would build alternate user interfaces (UI) that would change the look, feel and some functionality of android. Interestingly enough, the most innovative and comprehensive of these is HTC's SenseUI. Why is that interesting? Well, one would think that the more that a manufacturer would change the less it would be received. There are those of us that can't stand what Motorola did to android with their MotoBlur UI, even though in more recent iterations, the changes are minor. I have to say, even as an android fan, it is frustrating to pick up someone's device to help them, and find that the locations for settings have moved and that behavior has been modified. And yet, in the early days, some of these UI changes may have been necessary, since behaviors like "the long press" on the desktop to add a shortcut were not inherently obvious.
Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, is a very big deal. It is almost a complete overhaul of the user experience. And from everything I have seen, the best thing to happen to android yet. Many of the little annoyances and inconsistencies have been addressed, and things are more intuitive and consistent. If you are buying your first android phone, I cannot emphasize enough how much better your first experience will be with Ice Cream Sandwich.
The brutal truth is that android is innovating faster than manufacturers can keep up, and more often than carriers care to fund update distribution, planning and support. This means that no matter what the promise might be, if you don't buy a device that comes with Ice Cream Sandwich, it will take a while to get it. Even previous, more minor releases, have taken time for manufacturers to re-tweak and redistribute. This is the bad part about the UI customization that manufacturers due. Even HTC, which has been the most committed to supplying android updates, takes time to rebrand the device with their SenseUI. Since Android 4.0 includes such a comprehensively significant redesign of the user experience, these manufacturers will have to decide how much of the new paradigms to adopt. My wish at this point, would be that they just start shipping stock android, since it is so well thought out now. But I doubt they will. Yet, they have stepped forward to say that they are committed to bringing Android 4.0 to all of their recent devices capable of running the update.
If you are a tinkerer, or have a geek as a friend (raises hand), you do have the freedom (warranty aside), to install whatever flavor of android you want on your device. Especially because it is open source. But the fact that you are faced with such a choice, or need, is not ideal. And not all device drivers for unique hardware is available to developers on day one of a device's launch.Opinionated RecommendationToday
If you have to buy a device today. The most compelling android phone available on Verizon, in my opinion, is the HTC Rezound
. The display is the only device thus far to even come close to the text readability of the iPhone. And its resolution and screen size surpasses that of the iPhone if your into larger displays. It should also be noted that HTC's recent phones have included top notch mobile cameras with compelling software features.
Where does the Galaxy S II fit in? The Galaxy S II is an amazing device, with a big beautiful screen, leading performance, and super-slim sleek design that the Galaxy line has come to represent. Though the display is superior in quality to the Razr display, it is hard to recommend a resolution of 480x800 when 720p is now here, and when a better Samsung device is right around the corner.In a few weeks
If your willing to wait a couple weeks (and aren't already bent out of shape with the delays between announcement and availability) then the device to get is the Samsung Galaxy Nexus
. It will be the only android device available for a while that has what I believe are the two most innovative things for a smartphone this winter: a large beautiful 720p display and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It also boasts an edge-pushing design with its buttonless, tablet-like, oversized curved glass display.
However, if I stick to my original notion that the way the device feels and works for you is important, and something you can only determine subjectively by holding and experiencing the device yourself, then the new Nexus may be too big for you, and like Goldilocks you may pick up the Rezound and say, "This one feels juuust right."Other considerations:
Battery Life - if your moving to a smartphone for the first time, plan to charge every night. LTE devices so far, suck battery life faster than 3G devices, some have required software tweeks to make it through the day. The fact that the Razr's battery is not replaceable, upgradable is a negative here. HSPA+ 4G devices on T-Mobile and ATT have similarly fast network performance and don't seem to drain as much as LTE 4G devices at this point in time.
Camera Quality - The camera's on most smartphones are good enough to replace the point and shoot camera of yester-year with the added advantage of allowing instant upload to your favorite photo site or social network. However, they are not all equal, and often perform poorly in low light situations. If your into shooting HD video on your phone and don't want to carry around a Flip as well, things are getting pretty good, but I would suggest reading more detailed reviews if this matters a lot to you.Additional Resources
After visting the store, I read the reviews on the recently launched The Verge site. Though you shouldn't limit your information to one source (including my opinion), I found the quality and similar depth of these reviews for the devices covered in this post to be helpful as a starting place, and found resonance with many of the same things I discovered from my experience. And the coverage in the Nexus review of Ice Cream Sandwich was extremely informative. Also, make sure to explore Google's nexus page with an overview and videos of Android 4.0 features.http://www.theverge.com/2011/11/7/2543626/motorola-droid-razr-reviewhttp://www.theverge.com/2011/11/14/2557172/htc-rezound-reviewhttp://www.theverge.com/2011/11/17/2568348/galaxy-nexus-reviewhttp://www.google.com/nexus/#/features
I hope this was moderately useful. Leave a comment and let me know if you would like me to add you to my [Android circle] as I don't often post internal android stuff publicly to spare my non-geek friends and family. :) And of course, feel free to correct any of the details of this post, or state a different opinion regarding these devices.