I am a die-hard Android fan; I would even go as far as to say I love Android. My very first smartphone was Android. I switched to a Windows Phone for a brief period, but switched back to Android. I can foresee myself continuing to buy Android phones until something “better” comes out. Right now I am in a position where my current Android phone is one its last legs. Looking at the current Android device market, I am disappointed in what is out there; nothing matches what I am after. Before I go into why the current Android device market is underwhelming, I’m going to breakdown my Android journey so far. It is this journey that has me feeling this way and hopefully provide some context.
My Very First Smartphone
My very first smartphone was the HTC Desire HD. It was in my mind the greatest smartphone you could ever get. It had everything that I wanted in a smartphone, even a 3.5mm headphone port 🙂 However, the more I started to use it and as the years rolled by, I saw one glaring flaw in the once Superman like device. It had nothing to do with the hardware but the software. It stopped receiving major Android updates from Google, and HTC stopped providing updates to it as well. With the device no longer being supported by Google and HTC, I decided to “root” my phone and install a custom ROM. An unfortunate event caused my screen to no longer work; who would have thought that dropping your phone, display first on concrete will kill a number of pixels? So I decided to move on and buy a new phone.
The Proper Android Experience
It just so happened Google and LG released a new phone a month or two earlier. The phone offered a “pure”, stock Android experience, no skins and no bloatware like my HTC Desire HD. It was the almighty LG Nexus 4. It was my very first stock Android phone and after using it, I am never (ever) going back to an Android device with a skin or bloatware pre-installed; no matter how good the hardware and skin is for the phone (sorry Samsung). With the stock Android experience, I could generally get “timely” Android updates (if my telco provider doesn’t block or take an extremely long time to test the Android update on their network *cough* Telstra *cough*) and experience Android how I imagined the original creators and Google would have wanted. Eventually my Nexus 4 stopped getting support from Google but I still kept it around as it still worked great. Eventually the hardware started to fail. I probably should have just replaced the failing hardware components, but I decided to make a switch to a Windows Phone. I don’t remember exactly why I switched ecosystems but I remember having a spreadsheet with data about a number of phones and the Windows Phone was the best option out there at the time. Goodbye Android.
Hello Windows Phone
The Windows Phone that I decided to go with was the Nokia Lumia 930. At first I loved it. The build quality is still the best of any phone that I have ever had. Extremely solid, heavy and felt like it would not break on you; it is a premium device at the fraction of the cost when I bought it. The only glaring flaw the phone had (which I knew going in) was the Windows Store (more specifically the lack of apps). I could barely get by with the apps the Windows Store had, and I did not realise how much I depended on the Google ecosystem. What was truly annoying was the lack of proper first party app support; there was plenty of third party apps though. Fortunately my mum’s flip phone ended up dying and I decided to give her my Lumia 930 while I picked up Google’s latest Nexus device at the time. It was the Motorola Nexus 6, aka Shamu.
Android My Old Friend
Ah it was good to be back using an Android device. I missed having proper first party app support. After moving to the Nexus 6, something that I didn’t expect to be a major difference but would take some time to get used to was the sheer size of the device. The Nexus 6 is a fairly large device and at first I had some issues getting used to it, but now I love it. Watching videos, browsing the internet and reading documents is fantastic; consuming anything on a large screen mobile device is just too good. Like most Nexus users out there would know, the best thing about the Nexus line is the stock Android experience, and the timely OS and security updates. Overall the Nexus 6 has been a great device, however the battery is now not holding a charge like it should, and I am no longer getting any sort of updates even though officially Google is supporting the device until October 2017. Now I have to decide what new phone to get, but the choices for me are fairly limited for what I am after.
Android Market Frustrations
If you want variety and choice then there are plenty in regards to Android mobiles. You have the super low end budget phones for under $100 AUD or you can spend over $1400 AUD and get the latest premium, top of the line phone. So there is plenty to choose from. However in saying that, many of the phones on the market do not appeal to me. The features/options I look for in an Android phone are in no particular order:
- A large capacity battery – I want to hold a charge for a whole day with heavy use.
- Stock Android – no skins, overlays, bloatware or any other manufacturer gimmicks.
- Support for the device for at least 2 years – this includes timely Android OS updates and security updates.
- 3.5 mm headphone port – just because it is 2017 doesn’t mean we should take features away.
- Doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg – I don’t mind paying big bucks for a premium device if it truly is premium.
Now as you can see none of these are really unreasonable, and many phone users out there probably would have 3 of these on their list when looking for a new phone. I am not asking for an insane camera as I rarely take pictures or videos, a 4K display, wireless charging, or “squeeze” functionality.
I’m going to start with the battery option. Many phones have a decent sized battery, so this one generally gets a checkmark from me. When I look at phones out now I rarely see phones which have low capacity batteries and many phones can last a solid day with heavy use.
The hotly contested 3.5mm headphone port. I use my phone to listen to podcasts and music while travelling to work and while I code at work, so having a phone without one automatically removes the phone from my purchase list. If I was to go with a phone without a headphone port, I will need to spend even more money on some wireless headphones, and they are not cheap at all.
Stock Android. Something that is super important to me, and is probably number 1 on my list of requirements. The only phones I have seen with stock Android are the Nexus phones (R.I.P), Pixel phones, and the new Nokia phones (from HMD Global). Unfortunately the Nexus line will soon be not getting support for much longer, and the Pixel phones even though they have a premium price tag are not premium devices IMO. I feel that Google has created the Pixel line to directly compete with the iPhone and the Galaxy devices. The only new Nokia phone currently worth looking at is the Nokia 6, however the hardware is generally low mid tier with a high mid tier price. Maybe the Nokia 8 will be the device I am after. Generally all other manufacturers have skins, overlays and other gimmicks on their devices that ruin Android, so they are all out of the picture for me and I am not going to go out of my way to root a new device.
Along with the stock Android comes timely updates. With the heavily customised experience manufacturers provide for their Android device, getting updates is a major pain an hassle. If the device is running something other than stock Android then be prepared to wait for updates unfortunately. So as with the stock Android issue, having timely OS and security updates limits what phones are worth looking at.
Finally there is the price. Again, I don’t mind paying a high price for quality. I have a Surface Pro 3 and I bought it when it came out. It cost a pretty penny, but it is IMO the best purchase that I have ever done so far (in regards to technology and devices). Due to the length of support most mobile devices get from Google and manufacturers, I don’t feel like paying over $700 AUD for a mobile device every 2 to 3 years. Sure I can keep the same phone until it dies, I mean I have generally done that. But I want to ensure my device has the latest OS update and most importantly the latest security patch.
There it is folks. Let me know what you think. Am I being too demanding? What phones do you recommend? I’ll most likely end up waiting for the Nokia 8 or Pixel 2, but time is running out. If nothing is worthwhile purchasing later this year, the Nokia 6 will be the likely choice as my daily driver.