Cell phones are incredibly useful tools. Even a bad one is better than not having one, but a bad phone can get in the way a lot. Every couple years I spend a few hours evaluating the market and picking a new phone, hoping that I get it right.
I’m starting the search by deciding to stay on Android where I’ve been for almost 4 years. Why not move to Apple or Microsoft for a phone? No good logical reason really. Apple is still the king in the phone OS market as far I’m concerned and a valid choice – maybe my only objection is that it’s a little too locked down (and that is a lot of what drives the ability to deliver a quality experience). Windows phones seem to be improving across the board – hardware, software, apps, that’s good, but it still doesn’t feel like critical mass quite yet, enough to make me reluctant to switch platforms for something that may or may not survive. It’s also just easier to stay on Android. I use a Nexus 7 and like it, my kids use Kindles, and my wife has decided after all these years to move to Android because she tired of waiting on a bigger display on the iPhone.
So, logical or not, Android it is.
The current top contenders seem to be the HTC One and the Galaxy S4. Perhaps not quite as good but lots cheaper is the Nexus 5. And on the top end, the Note 3 is a phablet with killer battery life. I read the reviews, looked at some comparisons, went to the store to take a look. The HTC One seemed sturdy and smooth in construction, but otherwise it was a draw – both were as good as or better than the Maxx in raw specs. The Nexus 5 intrigued me because it runs pure Android which means faster updates, but early reports had it not being quite as good as the HTC/Galaxy overall. A tradeoff worth making for a $250 savings? Maybe.
The Note 3 intrigued me. The larger size doesn’t bother me. I often drop my Nexus 7 with a cover in a pocket and the Note 3 is smaller, carrying it would be no problem. I almost always use a bluetooth headset so I didn’t see me spending a lot of time holding it to my ear. The battery life interested me, as did the larger screen – I could probably go back to two devices (phone and laptop) and not need the Nexus 7 (which I use for reading and task review mainly).
I was leaning towards the Note 3 when I saw the Moto X. It doesn’t have quite the specs of the others I’ve mentioned but the reviews seemed pretty good. It was on sale for a couple days before the holidays for $350 and that was interesting – the same savings as getting the Nexus 5 for a phone that seemed decent. I thought about it, wasn’t sure, just kept using my Maxx with the super cracked display after a near fatal pavement encounter.
Let’s discuss carriers for a moment. I’ve been using Verizon the last few years (before that it was ATT). Both had reasonable service and similar pricing if you sorted through all the plans and options. Both had the 2 year upgrade lock you into two more years of service thing, something everyone did. T-Mobile changed the game last year by separating the phone cost from the plan cost, and it made me realize I was playing the carrier game instead of my own. I don’t need to finance a phone and I do need to think “is this Note 3 worth $700 to me?” before buying a phone (or anything else!).
I was just about decided on T-Mobile/Note 3 when my client offered a cell phone. The list included everything except the Note 3. I decided to take a chance and got the Moto X – my fall back plan was/is to just order the Note 3 anyway. Two weeks into it the phone seems fine as far as hardware, battery life good but not pushed hard yet, and very nice on the software – it pulled down the KitKat release as soon as it booted.
Better than the rest? Not better than the Note 3, but I think as good as the rest – and a great deal if that $350 discounted price comes around again.
I like the idea of thinking of my phone device budget as being about $300 a year (I think of my laptop budget as $600 a year). I can spend $300 every year or $600 every two years – same cash, just a guess about whether buying a cheaper phone more often works out better than a better phone less often.