Smartphones make us demand more for the perfect mobile: Discuss
It just occurred to me that my perfect phone doesn’t exist and is unlikely to ever do so. Yet, when I look back at my history of smartphones and before that, feature phones, I was perfectly content with half the functionality that today’s handsets offer. So what’s changed since then?
I think the answer is that smartphones have made us all far more fussy and demanding of what we expect from our mobiles. Tiny features that perhaps we previously wouldn’t have bothered about so much are now vital as we increasingly look for ever more functionality to cram into our perfect phone.
The first mobile that really blew me away was the Siemens SL45, a tiny, slim and gorgeous silver handset that had a full proper address book, Java for running apps and an integrated MP3 player, all features we take for granted now but ground breaking back in 2001. I replaced this with an Orange C500 which was a proper smartphone and liked Windows Mobile so much that the next handset was a Samsung i600 which I absolutely loved.
However, as phones began to get smarter and more sophisticated, my list of mandatory features began to creep up and I stopped upgrading simply because I couldn’t find the right moby with everything. With the move towards touchscreens, it’s became even harder to find the perfect mobile.
So what’s my wishlist? My ideal handset would have all of the following:
- A large screen for web browsing and movies but if it’s a touchscreen, not too large that you need fingers like toothpicks to use it. A minimum 3 inch screen is about right with at least a HGVA 320×480 resolution.
- A decent usable portrait qwerty so I have the screen real estate for casual use but also a proper keyboard that can be used one-handed for typing out messages accurately. Landscape slide-out keyboards are no good, as they need both hands to operate. The BlackBerry Torch, Dell Venue Pro and Motorola Pro+ tick the right box here marrying large screens with keyboards. A landscape screen is even better since you don’t have to rotate it for pictures and movies but the trade off is a smaller display.
- FM radio with RDS. I’ve never understood why more phones don’t have this, it hardly uses any battery life, is a simple module to integrate and hugely useful on the go. Sure, there’s the streaming option but this totally sucks and requires downloading apps for each radio station assuming it exists. Apart from the fact that you need a data plan and it requires a stable connection, a software radio solution is completely useless for roaming whereas a hardware FM tuner will work wherever you are. Whilst plenty of phones have a radio, RIM seems to think BlackBerry’s can do without which is just plain stupid. Ditto the Nexus range of Android mobiles that are cribbed by Google who believe everyone wants to waste their data package and battery power on streaming rubbish over the Internet. And let’s not even talk about Moto who have sometimes actually provided the FM hardware but then inexplicably disabled the functionality.
- Optical trackpad for quick navigation and accuracy when editing text. Miles better than all that finger jabbing and swiping rubbish or using arrows on the virtual keyboard to move around a text box. An optical pad also means you can comfortably use the handset with one hand and is more ergonomic as your thumb stays in one place. The iPhone has a great touchscreen alternative for editing text with the magnifying glass but the optical pad is still king. Bring Back The Optical Pad!
- Bluetooth and Assisted GPS. Found on lots of handsets which is a Good Thing.
- A 3.5mm headphone socket. Fortunately, the market seems to have moved towards standardisation so this is usually a given. USB headphones and those horrible 2.5mm sockets are long gone.
- Long battery life. Why on earth do companies still insist on shipping powerful handsets with measly batteries that barely last a day with even moderate use? A daily charge is unacceptable, especially if you’re on the road a lot and there’s absolutely no point having all this technology crammed into a mobile if it’ll be dead by noon. This is my biggest gripe with most handsets and aftermarket heavy duty batteries or carrying a spare are not viable or feasible solutions given most are just cheap Chinese knockoffs that don’t even work and are often worse than the stock battery. I’ve just bought a bloody mobile, why should I now have to now fork out for extra kit to lug around? Motorola seem to be the only company trying to address this and their svelte Razr Maxx handset has a huge 3300mAh battery that can easily last a few days with even heavy use.
- Hardware call and end buttons. No need for any silly swiping just to make a frickin’ phone call. Plus they’re much easier to use in a hurry providing instant access to surely the main function of any mobile. An added bonus is that you can give the mobile to anyone and they’d instantly know how to make or take a call without trying to figure out the GUI. You simply can’t beat the tactile feedback of a good solid button.
- LED notification to tell me at a glance when I have a missed call or message. No need to unlock a phone or delve in the GUI, just tell me that there’s something that needs my attention. BlackBerry have had the right idea here for years with good strong visible LED’s although they could be much improved by letting the user control the duration. Ultimately, I want mine to blink indefinitely until I pick up the notification.
- It needs to be pocketable and lightweight. After all, it’s not called a mobile for nothing. The days of lugging around a brick are over although the industry seems to think otherwise with the increasing move towards bigger displays. Anything with a screen larger than 4″ or more than 150g is too much and competing too hard for combined pocket weight with coins, wallets, keys and security passes.
- I hate being tied to app stores as the sole delivery channel for adding software. Therefore, the ability to install downloaded software via a PC (known as side loading) is a must. Screw you Apple and your damned-to-hell walled garden!
- Mass USB storage mode without any additional drivers or crap. If all I want to do is use my moby as a dumb storage device then so be it, don’t try to dictate some rubbish middleware to manage the process or have me install your bloatware (Samsung Kies, I’m looking at you).
- Wired USB for direct synching with all Outlook entities (contacts, tasks, notes, calendar, email) using native apps. Absolutely no need for any useless piece-o-shit Cloud services to store all my personal details for selling on to the highest bidder. After battery life, this is my biggest annoyance and one that is shared by millions of business users. Direct bluetooth synching is a bonus. And don’t make me download your shitty software from the App store just for a basic mobile office.
- No bloated applications for synching. Manufacturers always try to insist you use their lovingly crafted shitware for the most simplest of things. Take Apple iTunes or Samsung Kies for example; both about as necessary as knickers on a kipper yet foisted upon users as if The Second Coming. HTC, Nokia and RIM have fairly decent desktop applications for synching whilst Microsoft’s old ActiveSync always worked reliably for me.
- Micro USB charger. A recent EU directive, one of the extremely ultra rare ones that is actually useful, has requested that all mobiles sold in Europe have to have a micro USB charger so this one is not a problem. Unless you buy an iPhone as Apple enjoy screwing customers with proprietary power plugs.
- Customisable profiles which Nokia smartphones and BlackBerry’s have had for ages but which other manufacturers seem to think is a luxury.
- A hardware camera button so that impulse snaps can be taken quickly and easily. A hardware camera button also allows you to focus better on the task at hand which is taking a good picture instead of looking at where to touch the on-screen shutter. HTC are the worst as very few of their handsets ship with a hardware camera button.
- An option to switch off those silly zoom and shutter sounds for the camera. What’s the point of putting a mobile into silent mode only for the camera to ignore this? And what about when you need to take pics without causing a racket such as during a speech or meeting or when a baby is asleep? BlackBerry are the arrogant dicks in this respect, none of their handsets have ever had the option to properly switch off the camera sounds. Nokia followed suit with the later versions of Symbian. Damn them both to hell.
- Instant shutter for the camera. I want it to take a picture as soon as I hit the button, not a few seconds later after the autofocus has kicked in. Better yet, get rid of the bloody autofocus, most camera snaps are opportunistic where speed is preferable over quality therefore any resolution over 2MP is overkill. And whilst you’re at it, get rid of the flash to stop wasting my battery power. If I want to take a fabulous picture, I’ll use a proper digital camera for it.
- A back button and a home button for easier navigation when navigating through menus or folders.
- Smart Dialling and Voice Dialling. You’d think lots of smartphones have this but not many implement it very well whilst some don’t even bother with Smart Dialling at all leaving you to scrabble around in the phonebook. The old Windows Mobile implementation of Smart Dialling led the field for a long time so it’s not anything new.
- Comprehensive address book. By that, I mean spaces for absolutely everything and multiple fields for emails and numbers to enter more than one. The old Windows Mobile was excellent for this during a period when everyone else regarded a name and phone number sufficient.
- Voice-to-text would be cool to complement me tapping out a message using the stellar keyboard on my killer mobile.
- Native DivX player to play videos without having to convert to . Controls to fast forward and rewind through media is a bonus.
- Browser with adblocker. A good browser is imperative for a smartphone, it needs to be slick, quick and minimalistic. And that means blocking all manner of crappy ads that clutter up the valuable screen estate as well as slow down the browsing experience. An optional Flash (is crap) blocker would be a bonus, despite the move towards HTML5, there’s still an awful lot of Flash (is crap) content that’s not going anywhere soon.
- Power remaining indicator in percentage. A battery icon with 4 states is of no use, I want an exact figure to tell me precisely how much juice I have left.
- Wifi and GPS. The former so you’re not at the mercy of the rubbish 3G coverage and the latter for when you need to quickly find your way about.
- My business agenda on the home screen showing upcoming appointments. I should be able to whip out my phone and see the schedule for the day ahead without having to click anything or launch a PIM. An easy one this but unbelievably, RIM took it away from OS6 and OS7 so that appointments were no longer shown on the home screen. For the life of me, I still can’t figure out why a smartphone maker universally known for making the best business handset would remove this key piece of business functionality.
- Multi language support. Not so much of an issue with the latest handsets but up until quite recently, receiving a text message in complex ligature based scripts or reading documents in Kanji was not possible unless you had that language installed on the handset that wasn’t always possible as I noted in this post here.
- Dedicated media buttons on the top of a handset are always useful. Saves you having to fumble around with stupid touchscreen or take the phone out of the case.
Now you might be thinking there are plenty of mobiles that can do all of the above but you’d be wrong. And just to show you how difficult it is, I’ll tell you why.
Let’s start with the easiest one; battery power. Only one worth considering here, the Motorola Razr Maxx. I’m willing to overlook the qwerty, lack of hardware buttons (camera, call) and even the decidely large dimensions. No FM radio though so no deal. The Razr i also has stellar battery life and a proper camera shutter button but no qwerty and the FM radio, whilst present, has no native app.
A BlackBerry ticks most of the boxes but has no FM radio or the ability to disable camera sounds or a home screen agenda. The three RIM handsets that do offer an FM radio (all Curves) both have smaller non-touchscreen displays and two of them, the 9360 and 9380, have poor battery life. Nice one RIM!
What about other Android handsets then? Plenty of choice and lots of form factors, surely there’s one that would suit? Yes and No.
Yes, there are form factors that would suit like the Motorola Pro+ or even Samsung Galaxy M Pro. But No, neither have hardware camera buttons and the Galaxy M Pro has a small screen. But even leaving all those aside, virtually all Android handsets have lousy battery life and there is no native Outlook synching via USB. The stupidly named HTC ChaCha is another consideration; it has hardware call keys with qwerty and a touchscreen but a smaller 2.6 display and no optical trackpad.
Windows Phone? Version 7 is a piece of shit with barely any useful functionality outside all of the pointless social media crap and Windows Phone 8 didn’t advance the business use case one iota.
iPhone is a Big No due to the walled garden and a million other limitations that Apple impose. Plus, no keyboard and no direct Sync or trackpad or half decent battery life.
That leaves the also rans like Symbian. Not much choice available here and again, the likes of the Nokia E6 tick a lot of the boxes but have no optical trackpad and offer a stupidly small screen along with a camera that can’t be silenced. The Nokia E72 is a better match; it has no touchscreen but does have both an optical pad and navigation keys and I can overlook the small display with crap QVGA resolution and even the limited video support that can’t even manage DivX or Xvid codecs. There are hacks available to silence the camera and it has stellar battery life and a good mobile office. Do I really want a 4 year old phone though?
So where does that leave me then? Quite simply, it doesn’t unless I go down the Nokia E72 route.
The quest for the perfect phone that ticks all the boxes continues …