Selecting a mobile phone for you … a simple guide that is free of religion, politics and sex

There is another highly religious topic in tech other than “Are you PC or Mac?”. It’s “are you iPhone or Android?”. Did you notice anything wrong with that sentence? Given a market which comprises of 4 key smartphone operating systems, there is the distinct absence of both BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7. I am a big fan of Windows Phone 7 and I am always evangelising about it (after all, Microsoft are crap at telling us about their own products) but I do try to remain unbiased when people ask me which phone should they buy.

I can achieve this position by having them answer a few questions.

Do you have Apple devices in your house and/or are you a frequent iTunes user?

While a phone may be the best phone in the world, if it does not fit within your lifestyle/ecosystem, it is just a clever gadget without connectivity. If you have already invested in an Apple lifestyle, then the odds are iOS is best for you, so get an iPhone. You can use your iTunes, and the user interface will be pretty similar to what you’re used to. Coupled with the iPad, and you get yourself a really cohesive user experience.

Are you a tinkerer? Do you like to install apps, play with your phone for hours?

Android is an “open” source operating system. I’m saying “open” because I’m using the Google implementation found on mobile phones as the benchmark, here. And not all of it is open in the truest sense. If you like to play with your phone, hack it, configure it, tweak it, update it and hopefully avoid bricking it, then Android is a great choice. For most users, it’s simple enough to just work.

Do you have an XBox, with an XBox Live profile (Silver or Gold)? Do you want your phone to “just work”?

In this case Windows Phone 7 is a gem. It does not get in the way of what you need to do. It is not trying to be clever, it is trying to help you use your phone for what it is good for: making calls, texting and interacting on social networks. If you have an XBox, you can use your XBox profile on the phone and enhance your Gamerscore through XBox Live achievements. If you have Zune (that’s Microsoft’s poorly marketed iTunes competitor), you can listen to music on your phone, your XBox and your PC. It really does “just work”.

Are you interacting with your workplace/colleagues regularly?

BlackBerry may be on the wane, but it is undeniably a strong OS with regards enterprise integration. If you demand secure communications with your office, BlackBerry is a tough act to follow. However, whether the relevance of BlackBerry is on the decline as a result of the failure of the OS to keep up or changing user requirements is not clear. While BlackBerry is a strong contender, it isn’t necessarily a contender that will be around for long.

Under the covers, all these phones are the same. They are all running the ARM processor. They are all able to make calls, send messages, browse the web, etc. So it is not about “what phone is better”, it is “what phone best fits your lifestyle”. They all have application marketplaces, games, music players, etc. Some phones may do it better that others, but this is always relative to your own requirements.

For example. If you have iTunes at home, an Android is not going to play your iTunes.

If you have an XBox, an iPhone is not going to help you increase your Gamerscore

If you like to tinker, Windows Phone 7 is going to work against you.

On the other hand …

If you use Office a lot, maybe have a SharePoint of Office 365 scenario, Windows Phone 7 integrates seamlessly into this. All phones can read/write Office documents, but which one works naturally and fits best for you?

If you have high principles regarding software ownership, then Android is by far the winner. All phones have an established API and can be “hacked” to different levels, but how deep do you want to dig?

If you want to keep up with the Joneses, then an Apple a year will keep the stagnation away. There are a huge number of phones available and being made available month on month, year on year; but which one is the one to be seen with?

Hopefully this will help to separate vendor-religion, community politics and marketing sex from the mechanics of choosing a phone. It’s all about you and what works for you, as under the hood, they’re all the same.

LOVEFiLM? Then maybe LOVEFiLM isn’t what you need.

I’ve been a LOVEFiLM subscriber for a couple of years now, having started with the Amazon service model. I’ve been largely pleased with the service. The staff are helpful on the phone, the disks are usually reliable and the various packages are simple to understand and manage. The catalogue is incredibly decent, too.

But their distribution model is dated. We live in the internet age of instant gratification and preferably within 140 characters. So posting disks out, while good value and useful, doesn’t always address the question, “what shall we watch tonight?”. Which is why I was very pleased when they launched their online streaming service. Finally, I can go over and above my allocated disk and have more choice as and when I need. Having tried Zune Video, with its flawless HD streaming and fairly impressive catalogue coupled with integration with my existing media system, I was expecting great things.

However, they chose to stream over a web browser in the first instance, which is not compatible with my own viewing intentions. From reports, the quality wasn’t anything to write home about, either, often below DVD quality. Integration into consumer devices was a no-brainer, and that dutifully came in Sony and Samsung TVs and the PlayStation 3. At this point, I saw red, as I felt I was excluded based on my choice of a Microsoft eco-system.

The recent 2011 Dashboard update has changed that, however. Finally, I have LOVEFiLM where I want it and can stream films when I want them. Brilliant. Or so I thought. I tried it out last night …

Firstly, the user interface is uninspiring. The Metro UX is beautiful and while they have used the Metro UX, the feel of the application feels flat and while I appreciate the colours are reflecting the brand, they do contribute to an unexciting experience. Additionally, the combination of red text on dark grey produces a difficult to read font, particularly with the Segoe font used in the Metro UX. Transitions between screens and pages is not flowing, and certainly should reflect the experience in the core dashboard making the transition between interfaces less jarring. If you’re using the Metro UX, you need it ALL.

While navigation between film collections was simple enough, I was disappointed with the number of titles available. While the Zune catalogue is limited, I thought it was the lesser force in terms of number of titles. How wrong I was. I was very much looking forward to a sizable proportion of the offline catalogue being available.

My package gives me 2 hours of online viewing. So I had to find a film that was less than 2 hours. Unfortunately, this is not easy as you have to go into each title to see how long the film is to see if you could watch it. Hardly a thoughtful user experience. I found Supersize Me, a documentary that looked to be interesting and has received positive feedback. Unfortunately, it ran to 124 minutes, 4 minutes over my allocation. “That’s okay, the last 4 minutes will be the credits.” Maybe I’d be warned about missing the last 4 minutes? No. I was not allowed to watch the film, so removing my choice of losing those 4 minutes. Which raises the question, if I can’t make conscious decisions like that, and a lot of films run longer than 2 hours, why charge per minute? Surely viewing should be paid per film? If I only have 2 hours on my account, I am already discriminated from viewing a sizeable portion of their catalogue. And, I will ALWAYS have “change”, and therefore unused credits. That doesn’t work in my favour, as the user.

I finally found a film that ran below the 2 hours, and opted for the original Tron film. On selecting it for playing, I got a big fat error “MP1006“. So it seems I wasn’t going to be able to watch Tron. I tried again for good measure, but the same result was received. Maybe there was a problem with that particular title. I opted for another film, “The girl that played with fire”. I could not watch this either, but this time, because I had insufficient minutes left on my account. So in watching – and failing – to watch Tron, I had been debited (stolen from) my minutes allocation, rendering my online service useless for the rest of the month. This aside, what if I thought that film was no good 10 minutes in, do I still lose the entire film minutes? Again, WHY charge in minutes?

So between a flawed charging model (if they’re not allowing rollover minutes and/or portion viewing), plain not working films and stealing my credits I was left underwhelmed, frustrated and finally angry from what could have been a very positive experience. So while I was going to upgrade my account, I’m considering cancelling it (joining the users cancelling due to the switch to Silverlight) and going wholesale into the other video providers on the platform, such as Zune and – heaven forbid – $ky. And with Channels 4, 5 and the BBC introducing content soon, I – the consumer – am going to be spoilt for choice. Oh, and Netflix is coming soon …


Lovefilm have tweeted me back apologising for the problem and have reimbursed me with 100 digital minutes. Which gives me 9 minutes more than my 2 hours! Maybe I’ll be able to watch Supersize Me after all. I’ve asked for feedback on resolution of the original issue before I retry.

Follow up tweets: 1 and 2