I have had my HTC Dream (
T-Mobile G1 with Google) since 2009-03-26,
about 2.5 years, which is several generations in the world of cellphones.
The current operating system version, Android-2.3
not even fit in its storage, and Android-3.0
Icecream is expected
in a few months. It is time to get a new pocket computer. So which one
will I pick?
A lot of pocket computer activities depend more on operating system support than on hardware components. However, the point here is to pick the hardware. The lists below are organized around the hardware that supports the activities rather than grouped by function, downplaying the very important responsibility of the operating system to use that hardware effectively.
At present, the majority of time on the pocket computer is spent viewing HTML content that is stored on the machine itself, and a close second is viewing nonlocal HTML content. The display must have enough resolution to be readable and the web browser must take advantage of that.
At times I use the hand computer outdoors in direct sunlight, particularly for map navigation. It is quite important that the display be readable in that situation, even though its color and contrast may be degraded from its performance in artificial light.
Many tasks involve extensive text entry. Specifically, I record my blood pressure; I send e-mail; I make shopping lists, I connect to a terminal (shell) session on both my work and home computers; and various similar tasks. The on-screen keyboard on the Nokia 770 was annoying in this role and Android's version is also annoying. The physical keyboard on the Nokia N810 was discouraging to use. The machine must have a physical keyboard of useable size and a pleasant feel, with separate numeric keys (5 row layout) for the blood pressure task. The HTC Dream's keyboard is pretty good. I doubt I would like a Blackberry's keyboard.
I would like to use the pocket computer more as a music source, both for albums on the machine and nonlocal streaming audio. My music collection is in Ogg Vorbis format. The computer must accomodate both wired headphones and Bluetooth A2DP, and the audio player must accomodate formats I can provide.
I rely on the pocket computer for rare but important voice chat (phone calls). It must be competent in this role. Nonetheless the payment plan must accomodate my typically low usage; I don't want to pay a lot for services I won't use.
I need rare but important connectivity (both voice and data) outside the United States. A phone that can do both GSM and CDMA would be rated highly. At present we have a HTC Trophy (with Windows Phone 7) that can do both; thus the former absolute requirement for GSM can be relaxed on the new pocket computer.
I rely on the pocket computer for navigation and mapping. It must have a GPS receiver for this activity.
Batteries degrade with time, and on a long flight I will need a spare fully charged battery to keep entertained the whole way. A field-replaceable battery is essential, preferably without removing screws.
I am of two minds about a hot swappable SD (memory) card. Presently my normal backup procedure involves hot-swapping it into my laptop, so dramatic operations to get the card out would not be acceptable, and a card trapped behind the battery would get a negative rating. However, I hope to improve this procedure, and it's a fact that with apps on the card it's going to be a major operation to change to a different card. Thus, I may decide to be flexible on the hot swappable SD card.
Here is a laundry list of activities which would be nice but which are not absolute requirements, ordered by importance:
Water and rain resistance. There is no chance of getting a pocket computer that is truly water resistant.
Adjusts the screen brightness according to the ambient light level. This was a very nice feature of the Nokia N810, and saves battery.
USB connection to the host computer, including file transfer via the generic mass storage driver (preferably without unmounting the card), and Android debugging.
Charges from a generic mini-USB connector, not a vendor-specific charger, as with Nokia's 1.5mm cylinder connector. The HTC Trophy has a micro-USB connector which it uses for charging, as does the Motorola Droid 3, and it looks like this connector style is becoming the standard.
Photography with a rear-facing camera. But I will normally have my real camera. A high resolution of the camera has little value. Flash is nice but not essential. Actually my most frequent use of the HTC Dream's rear-facing camera is to read barcodes and QR codes. For this, autofocus is important.
Video chat with a front-facing camera. In practice with desktop computers this has been rare. A rotatable camera like on the Nokia N800 would be a neat solution.
A LED to notify of missed calls, low battery, etc.
Bluetooth HSP/HFP telephony headset. I do not actually have one of these, but a lot of people use them continually.
Speakerphone. I have never actually used this capability.
USB host capability, for a wired keyboard, mouse, etc. Given the difficulty of making this happen I have not experimented with it; I have instead used a Bluetooth keyboard.
A key decision in picking the phone is to pick the carrier, which then determines the modulation style (GSM vs. CDMA) and frequency. This table of mobile phone frequencies was provided by wpsantennas.com, selling cellular antennas, amplifiers and repeaters.
|800||824-896||Traditional cellular voice|
|1700-2100||1710-1755||UMTS Band 4 (T-Mobile 3G)|
|2110-2155||Split up/down lilnks|
|1900||1920-1980||UMTS Band 1 in Europe/Asia|
|2110-2170||Split up/down lilnks|
The 800MHz band is often referred to as 850MHz. Virtually all North American carriers use 800MHz and 1900MHz for non-4G service, except T-Mobile runs 3G on 1700-2100 (split). LTE and WiMax are on 700MHz, 1700-2100MHz, or 2500-2700MHz (for Sprint XOMH).
Conclusion on frequencies: any phone should work (2G or 3G) on any North American carrier's net except T-Mobile. Internationally, adding 900MHz GSM should be sufficient.
Here is an overview of carriers in the USA, ordered by the size of their networks.
Their network is CDMA. They have 4 generations of CDMA: IS-95, CDMA2000 1x, EV-DO, e-HRPT. They are adding 4G/LTE in some areas. They are the biggest carrier in the USA and have coverage in the most places; in particular, their signal is good at our house and the places we frequently go, including Redmond. It's understood that carriers are all weasels, but Verizon's customer service is a bit less weaselly than others. Their prices tend to be higher than competitors. My wife uses Verizon and coordination with her could yield savings.
Their network is GSM (GPRS, EDGE) with 3G UMTS and HSPA
(inclding HSUPA); plans to upgrade to LTE.
All protocols are available on both the 850MHz and 1900MHz bands.
They are the second biggest carrier and are
financially secure. Nonetheless, their signal is poor at our house; I can
transmit reliably but I frequently miss incoming calls. They are the champion
weasels in the business; they lost a sale (of my wife's phone) because it was
impossible to get through to a human to discuss the terms of sale (whereas a
satisfactory arrangement was negotiated with Verizon). I am currently using
AT&T because of their favorable
pay as you go plan, despite the mismatch
of the HTC Dream's 3G modem, see T-Mobile.
They have two subnets, using CDMA on one and IDEN (800MHz) on the other, the latter being unique to them. They are phasing out IDEN. Due to the IDEN issue I have not formerly taken them seriously. They have aggressively rolled out 4G (WiMax) in Los Angeles. They claim to be the third largest net in the USA (after Verizon and AT&T). Their pay as you go plans are handled by several wholly owned subsidiaries such as Boost Mobile. Their Boost Mobile subsidiary spends a lot for advertising in Los Angeles. Their coverage map alleges a good signal at my house and frequently visited locations including Redmond.
Their network is GSM. They do UMTS band 4 (3G) on
1700-2100MHz (split), unlike any other carrier in the world.
Their parent is Deutsche Telekom. At present they are bankrupt, and they
were negotiating being
acquired by AT&T, but the Justice Department nixed the deal. They have
adequate coverage and their signal is marginal, better than AT&T, at our
house. Their customer service is not too bad. They had a favorable rate
plan for the
Sidekick product, but when they blocked the HTTP port
(requiring to go through their WAP server) and I could not work around that,
I fired them. Weasels!
Here are the calling plans from the various carriers; I'm focusing on those suitable for a low-volume user.
There are two classes of plans: monthly and daily. The cheapest monthly plan costs $45/month for 450 minutes ($0.10/min); $0.20/SMS; data $1/day of use (unlimited quantity) or $30/month for unlimited data (effectively the same). The daily plans do not include data, so are useless for me.
Our present plan with one line costs $35/month for voice (300 prime time minutes plus unlimited night and weekend) plus $30/month for data.
For the multi-line plan, voice costs $70/month for 700 minutes split between 2 lines ($0.10/min if fully used). SMS $0.20 each. Data $30/month for 2Gb; not clear if this is per line, or shared.
They are my present carrier. I'm currently using their
GoPhone plan with voice $0.10/minute, data $15/100Mb (feature package lasts
1 month), SMS $0.20 each. Effectively I'm paying about $16/month.
There is an alternative with
unlimited voice and SMS for $2.00 each day you use it, not counting
Checking their CDMA coverage map, they
claim to have
Best coverage at my house but no 4G. Places I'm at in Los
Angeles generally have Best coverage. Coverage in Redmond is also Best.
Plans I would be interested in include:
Daily Unlimited: $2/day ($60/month), otherwise same as Monthly Unlimited at $50/month. Unlimited voice, SMS and data.
Pay as you Go: $0.10/minute (voice) or per SMS in or out; Data unlimited at $0.35/day ($10.50/month). Includes call waiting, voicemail, long distance PSTN, use of nationwide Sprint network. International costs extra.
Boost Mobile offers the Samsung Prevail (Galaxy series) for $180. This is the first time they've offered an Android phone. Reviewers are underwhelmed by this phone.
Their pay as you go plans all include: use of their network anywhere in the USA; voicemail, caller ID, call waiting. International calling costs extra (duh). Voice: $10 gets you 30 minutes or $30 gets 160 minutes (expiring in 90 days). And up. SMS $0.10 each in and out. They do not offer any data capability.
T-Mobile's monthly plans include the same features. $30 gets you 1500 minutes plus SMS (e.g. 1300 mins chat plus 200 SMS, or vice versa) and 30Mb data, rate limited to non-4G speed. Not clear what happens if I use over 30Mb data. If you go over 1500 mins+SMS you can refill (pay more); refills can be any dollar amount but it's not clear what you get for the money. $50/month gets you unlimited talk, SMS and data (1st 100Mb at 4G speed).
Summary of plans, showing the monthly cost I would probably pay:
|Verizon||$75||CDMA||Best coverage, exorbitant|
|AT&T||$16||GSM||Poor home signal, champion weasels|
|Boost Mobile||$12||CDMA||Only 1 Android phone|
Conclusion: I'm thinking of switching to Boost Mobile (CDMA), but not with the Samsung Prevail.
The following lists are filtered according to my required features: 5 row slider keyboard, field replaceable battery, hotswap SD card. Probably I should restrict to displays bigger than 3.8 inch diagonal. Also I'm restricting to non-ancient phones: introduced starting 2010-06-01.
These features are expected on any such pocket computer: WiFi, Bluetooth, rear-facing camera, wired headphones, GPS, accelerometer, magnetometer.
These features are nice, but not dealbreakers if absent: Dual GSM/CDMA, ambient light sensor, front-facing camera, notification LED, mini-USB or micro-USB charger.
These features are important but are not likely to be discernable in a compact summary list: nice sunlight readable display; competent voice chat, rain resistance.
|Wikipedia's List of HTC Phones|
|HTC||Espresso||MyTouch 3G Slide||Qc 600MHz||0.5/0.5||3.4in HVGA||GSM||Keyboard 4 rows|
|HTC||Vision||Google G2||Qc 800MHz||0.5/1.5||3.7in WVGA||GSM|
|HTC||Speedy||Evo Shift 4G||Qc 800MHz||0.5/2.0||3.6in WVGA||CDMA+Wimax|
|HTC||Lexikon||Merge||Qc 800MHz||0.5/2.0||3.8in WVGA||CDMA|
|HTC||ChaCha||ChaCha||Qc 800MHz||0.5/0.5||2.6in HVGA||GSM||Front + rear camera; only 124 grams|
|HTC||Doubleshot||MyTouch 4G Slide||Qc 1.2Ghz X2||0.77/4.0||3.7in WVGA||GSM||Front + rear camera|
|Wikipedia's Comparison of Android Devices|
|HTC||Desire Z||G2||Qc 800MHz||0.5/1.5||3.7in WVGA||GSM + WCDMA||4 row Keyboard|
|Moto||(?)||Atrix 4G||nV 1GHz X2||1.0/0.0||4in QHD||GSM + WCDMA||Front+rear camera|
|Moto||Sholes||Droid (OG)||TI 1GHz||0.25/0.5||3.7in FWVGA||CDMA||Keyboard|
|Moto||Targa (?)||Droid 3||TI 1GHz X2||0.5/16.0||4in QHD||GSM+WCDMA||184 grams|
|Front+rear camera, 5 row keyboard, issued 2011-07-14|
Legend: Name(int) is the internal codename; Name(ext) is what the carriers call it. Processor vendor codes: Qc = Qualcomm; nV = nVidia; TI = Texas Instruments. Display sizes: HVGA = 480x320px; WVGA = 800x480px; FWVGA = 854x480px; QHD = 960x540px.
Check out the Dell Flash: 800MHz 512Mb/512Mb, 480x800px(?) LCD. Dell's Flash, Thunder and Smoke do not have the keyboard I want, but if they did, they look intriguing.
About the Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy S II: Both of them may have dual mode radios. The version of the Galaxy S for Sprint, called the Epic 4G, has a 5 row physical keyboard. A year ago this would have been a wonderful choice, but it was discontinued in 2011-02-xx. All Galaxy S II's and most Galaxy S's do not have the physical keyboard.
Of the above devices, the new Droid 3 from Motorola meets my requirements the most closely. Let's look closely at it, particularly for any showstoppers.
Review by Brad Molen, 2011-07-21. Mass 184g, kind of heavy. (The G1's mass is 159g.) Nice, durable construction: metal edge frame. Gorilla Glass on screen. Micro-USB charger and HDMI port on left side. Power button and 3.5mm phone jack on top. Volume buttons on right side. Rear camera (with LED flash) at top right. You can get an inductive charger, replacing the standard back cover. Easily field replaceable battery. SIM and SD slot are under the back cover but not covered by the battery. SD card can be up to 32Gb (card is not included); internal flash is 16Gb. Processor: TI OMAP 4430 (1GHz dual core), 512Mb RAM, 1540mAh battery. 2 cameras: 8Mpx rear, 640x480 front. Does not have LTE.
The reviewer liked the keyboard. Neither bouncy nor rubbery; he thinks they're natural to type on. It has separate number keys on the 5th row. It has actual arrow keys. All programmer's punctuation seems to be there. Backlit keys. Also has Swype virtual keyboard, which worked out well for the reviewer.
Camera: jimc says the shots of kids in a park at dusk came out very well considering the low light level. No dedicated camera button. Camera app had no way to jigger contrast or exposure, and had bugs. Autofocus took longer than the reviewer would like, causing candid shots to be missed. Reviewer felt the colors were washed out in sunlight, ill-defined under clouds, and shadowy in low light. The Samsung Galaxy S-II camera does better. (Comment poster says: pay $4 for Camera360 app.)
Software: Motoblur is gone, no registration required. Too many long
animations in the UI (2 to 3 secs, yuck). They do obey the
animations UI setting, though.
Battery life: Play video continuously, it will run 4hr 15min. It lasted 10 hours in active use.
Posted comments: Almost everyone loves the phone. There is an extended battery available.
8-megapixel, VGA P2P video, 8x digital zoom, AF, LED. Jimc's translation: front camera VGA (640x480px); rear camera 8Mpx (likely 3260 x 2450px), autofocus, LED flash.
The Droid 3 has a locked bootloader. Check carefully if CyanogenMod can
be installed. Some people claim to have rooted their Droids. This is the
Sholes (original), not the later Droid models.
Verizon's unlock policy is 60 days. That is, 60 days after purchase they are supposed to tell you the SIM unlock code, so you can use a non-Verizon SIM in it. This does not relieve you of the obligation to pay under your contract, nor evade the early termination penalty. Which is fair since they're subsidizing your phone with $200 at least, up to $350, and they deserve to suck your blood long enough to get that back.
Call quality: Their reviewer found incoming voice to be muffled; he could
understand the partner but it
muddied the overall experience. Partners
generally happy with the results on their end. Speakerphone did
well, clear audio and enough volume.
2011-08-26 -- CyanogenMod forum thread about Droid 3: On this date, Driftinaway reports rooting his Droid 3.
2011-09-08 -- Exploit to r00t Motorola phones
including Droid 2, Droid X, Droid 3, Droid Bionic, if they run
Gingerbread or earlier. Credit to Pete Souza.
Here's the HOWTO,
which was developed for the Droid 3, not the Bionic, but should work
on a long list of Motorola models.
2011-09-15 -- No CyanogenMod image is available. Only nightly builds are available for Droid 2 and Droid X. But you can jailbreak the Droid 2.
2011-09-15 -- Continuing the above CyanogenMod forum thread, OrlandoBob reports Clockworkmod is out for Droid 3. Hold down the M key when booting, to activate Recovery.
2011-09-15 -- Chris Parsons (credit to cvpcs) shows a video of booting CyanogenMod-7 on a Droid Bionic. It's alpha level, but it's progress. This phone shares with the Droid 3 the same exploit to root it.
This is all as of 2011-09-16. Ordered by relevance. Our target model appears to be the XT862 (see Howards Forum posting below).
Cellular Outfitter: Motorola Droid 3 Global Android Smartphone (Unlocked) for $555. This is advertised as 850/1900/2100 WCDMA, 800/1900 CDMA EVDO rev. A and GSM 850/900/1800/1900 UMTS. This is the one we want.
Motorola Droid 3 (unlocked) for $550.
Ready to use on AT&T,
T-Mobile or Verizon.
CellHut.com: Motorola Milestone XT883/DROID 3 unlocked for $800. This is not advertised as having CDMA capability.
Negri Electronics: Motorola XT860 Droid 3 850/1900 3G OEM (Unlocked) for $590. Advertised as GSM only.
Amazon.com: Motorola Milestone Droid unlocked, for $300. sold by FGS trading and fulfilled by Amazon. This is the OG GSM version, not the Droid 3.
I'm going to fixate on the Droid 3 (XT862) because it is superior to all others in the required features. However, I will wait a few months for a CyanogenMod stable image to be posted, before actually buying the pocket computer. If CyanogenMod is slow to appear (and I doubt it will be), then I will get serious with other models.
I particularly need hands-on experience with these points:
Try out the physical keyboard for feel.
See what the display looks like in direct sunlight.
Evaluate what the display looks like in artificial light;
reviewers have pointed out that the
organization produces an odd Moiré effect.
Howard Forums: How to unlock a Droid 3 XT862 (Verizon CDMA) to work on GSM. Networks that it will work on:
cellunlocker.net offers unlock codes (for a price). Procedure:
Enter SIM Unlock Codeor similar language.
About Gorilla Glass
by Corning: It is an alkali aluminosilicate glass, fabricated by Fusion
Drawing (Corning proprietary process), kind of like the Gaia butterfly
ribbons. Grinding and polishing is not needed, avoiding expense and surface
micro-damage. Typical thickness is 0.5mm. It is soaked in molten salt which
exchanges potassium for sodium ions in a
thick surface layer, expanding
it and putting compressive stress at the surface versus tension in the center.
This is similar to verre d'Arques, but caused chemically rather than by
the annealing schedule.
Boost Mobile (Sprint) offers the Samsung Prevail (Galaxy series) for $180. This is the first time they've offered an Android phone. Here's a review of the Samsung Prevail by Stephen Tenerowicz dated 2011-05-12:
This reviewer thinks the Prevail is
an extremely attractive buy
for budget-minded users.
Engadget's review of the Prevail (Dana Wollman, 2011-04-25) is less
favorable: she thinks Boost Mobile's $50/month plan is a great deal, but
is underwhelmed by the phone. Particularly, the touch screen was overly
sensitive and twitchy, causing clicking the wrong link or control. Chat
partners said she sounded tinny while the sound she heard was
and muffled. (Wacked codecs? Inferior mic and/or speaker?)
Samsung's product page for the Prevail is totally useless; for example, on the specs page they don't even tell the display dimensions in pixels, nor the battery capacity.
I suspect without confirmation that the OG Droid, code named
is named after Christopher Latham Sholes, the inventor of the first practical
typewriter and the QWERTY keyboard. See this
biography of Sholes.