SOME people go to island getaways to relax.
I ended up on an island comparing smartphones.
The cottage I stayed at on Hornby Island last month didn't have Internet access, so if I wanted to stay in touch with the outside world I had to fall back on my smartphone, or rather, smartphones, since being a geek I had three.
They included an iPhone 4S from work, a borrowed preview unit Samsung Galaxy SIII running Android 4.0, and my personal phone, a two-year-old Samsung Focus running Windows Phone 7.5.
I used all three quite a bit, and here's what I relearned about a fundamental reality of consumer technology: No matter what manufacturers, marketers, retailers and fans might say about their favourite gadget, you should ask yourself two questions before making your choice.
- Do you use it often?
- Does the way it works work for you?
The Samsung Galaxy SIII, the newest phone of the three, was loaned to me by Samsung just before I left for the cottage as a preview unit ahead of its recent launch. It's reportedly selling like hotcakes and deserves it.
Incredibly slim and light (almost too light), it features a big, lovely screen (almost too big). It has a great camera and nifty Samsung-built features with which to share documents with other phones and video and photos with other devices like televisions. It has facial recognition to keep the screen active as long as you are looking at it, and a voice control and search feature that sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. Call quality blew the other two phones away.
The Galaxy runs on the Android operating system as adopted by Samsung. Don't worry if you don't know what that means. Consider its interface to be solid and functional, and although not stylish has lots of optimizations. IPhone users will find it both similar and maddeningly baffling. Power users will love it.
Some features were lacklustre. The Google Play movie rental and purchase selection is anemic. The vaunted Flipboard app for online magazine reading, while beautiful, seems clunky to me. But all that aside, the Galaxy SIII overwhelmingly is a sexy beast.
Is it better than the other two phones? In many ways, yes.
Would I buy it and dump my old Focus? No, because the way it works does not work for me, at least not compared to the Focus.
The Galaxy trumps the Focus in most categories: internal hardware, quality of screen, camera, call quality, even services like search and mapping. But what I found is that despite its age, the Focus held up well, partly thanks to good hardware design (also by Samsung), but largely because of the excellence of the Windows Phone operating system.
Abandoning the now-stale icon grid cemented by Apple and then copied by Android, Windows Phone opts for a colourful home screen of constantly updating tiles representing calls, texts, emails, social networks and various apps.
It's liquid and elegant, with services such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked In built deeply into the works to make social connections and updates fast, smart and easy. Windows Phone has utterly failed to gain market share in a world dominated by Android and Apple, but the way it works works for me.
IPhone users will likely feel the same way toward the Galaxy. The iPhone is an outstanding device, plain and simple. Its metal and glass hardware puts Samsung to shame. Its high resolution screen is stunning. Its iOS operating system has the most apps of any system out there. It feels like it can do anything I ask of it, such as tethering to my laptop in that Internetless cottage. The iPhone did it seamlessly. The Galaxy, for whatever reason, not so much.
What's more is that while Apple's ecosystem of apps and content is rightly described as a walled garden, it's a safe and pleasant place. The grass is cut to a certain height, the fruit is picked on time, and badly dressed folks don't get past the gate. It might be looking a little old, a little stale, even less hip, with more power features offered by Android and a radically different approach from Windows Phone. But if you like it, there's little reason to move. The way it works works for you.
And that's the way it should be in using consumer tech.
Barry Link is the editor of the Vancovuer Courier. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.