4 Years of Smartphone use

It was a little over 4 years ago that I got my first smartphone, and a little over a month ago since I got my 7th one (I do have 2 connections so it’s not that bad). These 2 phones cost me almost the same, but in terms of specs, they couldn’t be any less similar. Here’s looking back at my many smart life companions:

Samsung Galaxy S LCD (2011)

This was my first smartphone bought in Mar 2011, well after the smartphone revolution had started. It cost me around Rs 19,000 at that time and came with a then decent 8 GB storage and the Samsung staple microSD slot. In terms of overall specs, it was just below the Galaxy S flagship of its time but the performance was pretty reasonable to start with. I loved the fact that I finally had Google Maps in my pocket. My primary usage of the phone was also for internet access as my main voice connection was CDMA based and it was on a dumb phone. The phone began to show signs of trouble around a year later when it used to require a soft reset every other morning to wake up. Plus the OS was also stuck on Android 2.2 FroYo with no immediate update in sight.

HTC One V (2012)

I finally grew frustrated with the recurring freezes and lack of OS update in my Galaxy S and decided to scout around for a replacement. Found the just launched HTC One V whose looks I liked quite a bit, plus it had the then shiny Android 4.0. I bought it without too many second thoughts at Rs 17,000 though the phone was in many ways a downgrade from the Galaxy S with its lack of a front facing camera and no magnetometer meaning trouble navigating maps. Still, I was quite happy with the phone and a few of my friends and family members even bought this model based on my recommendation. Then less than 2 months later, during an office offsite meet, it decided to die on me. It turned out that a lot of people had been facing similar issues with this model. Haven’t considered or recommended a HTC phone since.

Samsung Galaxy S3 (2012)

I bought this phone more out of frustration with my last purchase and decided to buy a phone with no compromises that’ll last me a few years. It had just been launched and so I ended up paying a hefty premium at Rs 39,000. However, the phone was a huge jump in both usage experience and quality over the last ones and I ended up using it for nearly 3 years before it finally bit the dust. It started off on Android 4.0 and went all the way up to 4.3 officially. KitKat was not released officially for it due to its 1 GB RAM, but I flashed it with Cyanogenmod last year for its unofficial KitKat upgrade. It had also begun signs of slow down around the 2 year mark, but the flash gave it some breathing room. It also became my Android gaming platform for my Humble Bundle games, and a mobile mini tablet of sorts.

Samsung Galaxy Pop CDMA (2012)

I finally upgraded my CDMA connection with this device out of barely a dozen choices as I had grown tired of having to maintain a disconnected phonebook on a dumb phone. It cost me around Rs 8,000 which was a significant premium over the equivalent GSM model, and that too for just 256 MB of on board storage. Moreover, my CDMA SIM did not support data and I actually ended up using it as a wifi only smartphone. Though it was stuck on Android 2.2, it wasn’t a bad experience overall considering the fact that I used it almost exclusively for voice calls. Overall, not the best deal but given the limited options in the CDMA space it served its purpose. This was also my first online phone purchase.

Nokia Lumia 720 (2013)

I began having network reception issues with my CDMA connection, and after a few months of bearing it, decided to move over to a GSM connection which obviously meant a new phone. Windows Phone was looking quite promising at that time with 8.0 having been launched a few months back with pretty positive reviews. I was sure that I didn’t want another flagship and so narrowed down to the Lumia 720. It cost me around Rs 17,000 and was one of the best value models of its time. The camera was the best in class and the battery lasted 2 days comfortably. It wasn’t a fast phone, but it had a smoothness that Android lacked. The OS update situation was also quite rosy with the Windows Phone preview updates trickling in without any troubles. I was very happy with the phone until I dropped it at home and shattered the screen. That of course meant a replacement of the phone and not the screen.

Apple iPhone 5s (2014)

I made some nice phone comparison spreadsheets to rationalize the different model features, and the iPhone 5s was definitely not the best value even though it had a price cut due to the imminent iPhone 6 launch. I was looking for an upgrade in the photography department as well. The Lumia 925 and not yet launch 930 were top contenders as the 720 replacement, but the app situation finally won over as I had built up a good collection of iOS apps thanks to my iPod touch and iPads. I ended up getting the 16 GB gold model for around Rs 46,000. Almost a year later, the only gripe I have with it is the limited storage, but the iCloud photo library optimization has managed to keep things going. The photography has definitely been a revelation, and I don’t see the performance of the phone becoming a limiting factor anytime soon.

Xiaomi Mi 4 (2015)

This completes the Android circle for the time being, with the 64 GB model coming in at Rs 22,000 – just a little over 10% more than my first smartphone. It has pretty much all the bells and whistles one can hope from a flagship including an IR blaster and the specs are top of the line as well. It was a long deliberation between this and the OnePlus One, but the size and IR blaster finally won out. So far, I haven’t had any reason to complain, but given that it’s an Android phone I’ll reserve the final verdict for a year down the line as that’s when the slowdown begins. For now, it is definitely an excellent phone and a big upgrade over the Galaxy S3 it replaces. Let’s see whether it matches the 3 years of service as well.

HTC One V: 2 week usage review

Update (17 Aug 2012): My HTC One V died last month (in less than 3 months), and by died I mean totally bricked just sitting in my pocket – wouldn’t turn on or charge. This seems to be a fairly common problem with the initial batches of the phone. I changed my flipkart review due to this. In case you are wondering what the problems are, try searching these terms on Google: “HTC One V dead”, “HTC One V not turning on” & “HTC One V bricked”.

Original review

I finally gave up on the Android dead end (no ICS upgrade) that was my Galaxy S i9003 and decided to jump to the ICS bandwagon. The only options for an out of the box ICS experience in India at this time are the HTC duo – One X & One V. Of these, the One X was beyond my budget, and so it was a pretty simple decision to go for the One V in the end.

Reviews have been pretty positive, and I’m throwing in my 2 cents based on a 2 weeks of usage experience that wouldn’t have shown up in initial reviews. A caveat on my usage experience – I use the One V (and the Galaxy S before it) primarily as a mobile internet device (mails, browsing, e-commerce, social networking etc.) rather than for phone calls.

What did I get over the Galaxy S i9003?

The build quality is definitely impressive with the metal body, and it is also sleeker than the Galaxy S. I personally prefer the One V’s build quality over the Galaxy S.

In terms of software, ICS definitely offers a better experience than Froyo (there is a Gingerbread update for the Galaxy S, but I never got to install that during my 1 year with the phone – Kies didn’t work, so I ended up installing it through Odin). It is also a lot more stable, and I haven’t had any lockups that required hard reboots on the Galaxy S.

The HTC widgets are also pretty handy plus there are the new ICS widgets for Gmail & Email, I’m still using the Sense launcher on the One V. I had replaced the Touchwiz launcher on the Galaxy S with Launcher Pro. The Gmail & Mail clients are also definitely improved over Froyo. In particular, the mail client now has better support for Microsoft Exchange with better threaded views and flag support.

The main camera is also pretty good on the One V, though the resolution is still 5 MP like the Galaxy S. The optics are definitely better (f2.0 lens), and there’s also an LED flash (not that useful though, as it tends to blowout the photo). The bigger improvement is on the software side with the negligible shutter lag, incredible burst mode and the quick launch option from the lock screen (you need to have the camera icon in the tray for this).

GPS performance is another area where there is a big leap with the One V locking on pretty quickly. This is an area where my Galaxy S was severely lacking, and I left GPS off most of the time, unlike the One V where I have it on most of the time.

Battery life on the One V also seems to be better compared to the Galaxy S. It holds out pretty well over the day even with sync and GPS active, even though the battery capacity is lower.

The SoC of the One V is also better than the Galaxy S – the Qualcomm CPU-GPU combo has better performance than the TI CPU-GPU combo in the Galaxy S. GPU performance is particularly better (aided by the ICS improvements).

Also, did I mention that I can use Chrome (ICS only for now) on the One V.

What did I give up?

The most obvious downgrade is in terms of the front camera, as the One V doesn’t have it. However, I rarely used it on the Galaxy S (didn’t work with Skype, possibly due to Froyo lacking native front camera support), so not such a big loss personally. Then again, the front camera does make for a handy substitute of a mirror.

The One V also lacks a digital compass (wonder whether it is due to the metal body), and is not able to show you the direction you are facing on maps unless you are on the move. In addition, apps like Google Sky Maps which relies on the compass to show you the skyline are virtually useless (maybe if I run around in circles with the GPS on, it’ll know the direction I’m facing). This is a more serious omission for me, but I’ll have to learn to live with it.

The screen size is also smaller, and makes for smaller on screen elements for tapping. Not a very big difference, but when it comes to browsing and interaction, a larger screen is always handy.

The battery on the One V is also sealed in, while it could be replaced on the Galaxy S. Then again, I never really had an extra battery, and it was actually a bit of a bother as I had to remove the battery on the Galaxy S to insert the SIM. This makes the One V sleeker, so a net gain for me. Also, battery life on the One V is better than the Galaxy S.

The missing physical menu button on the One V (due to the ICS UI changes) was also a bit of a problem initially with apps like Whatsapp, facebook etc. that have their settings accessible only through the menu button. However, I discovered that a long press of the app switching button simulates the menu button press, and the settings have not been able to hide from me ever since.

What remains on par?

Though the screen size is smaller, the screen resolution is the same (480×800), which makes for a better pixel density. The camera resolution is also the similar, and so is the RAM (around 500 MB) and on board memory (4 GB, but less of it is available to the user on the One V).

Migration pains and misc.

There is still no simple way to migrate from one Android phone to another, especially when they are from different OEMs. For all the talk of everything moving to the cloud, and iTunes remaining a big bloat, the iOS-iTunes combo still remains a good way to backup and restore your apps (I own an iPod & iPad 2 as well). It is a big pain to have to install every downloaded app all over again, and then set them up.

That said, my photos & videos made a seamless transition thanks to them being stored on the external SD card that I moved from the Galaxy S to the One V. However, I can imagine things won’t be as simple for Android phones that lack external storage support. Moving apps to the SD card in hopes of them being restored on the new phone also didn’t play out as expected and I ended up setting up the apps all over again. Android needs to better way to tackle this issue, as the people change phones pretty often and setting it up every time results in a lot of wasted time.

While stability of ICS is definitely improved over Froyo (or at least HTC’s version of ICS is better than Samsung’s version of Froyo), there are still some nagging issues. The Play store still shows the same app updates for some apps at random, even after they have been installed. The data connection just freezes at times, and only a phone reboot seems to fix it (airplane & data mode toggle don’t seem to help). The calendar widget doesn’t refresh properly every day, so I end up seeing the current day mentioned as tomorrow\day after.

The UI can also be a bit sluggish at times, but it is definitely an improvement over the Galaxy S. I suspect Android requires a dual core to perform well, as the Galaxy S II was one of the first Android phones where the reviewers didn’t mention the UI lag.

And last but not the least, it still doesn’t play Fruit Ninja as well as my 3rd gen iPod touch.

Bottom line

The One V is one of the best phones available under Rs 20,000 at the moment. In fact, it is cheaper than the Galaxy S i9003 (it has held up its value well over the last year – still costs around Rs 19,000). Of course, you can get older phones that have ICS upgrades rolling out at similar price points, but the One V has the hardware to hold its own. Barring the digital compass and app setup, it was a satisfactory upgrade to my Galaxy S i9003.