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What Will Your Next Smartphone Be?

With the Galaxy S III turning heads with its Australian launch last Thursday and a new model iPhone widely expected to be announced next week, there’s a definite mood of smartphone upgrades in the air. Which models will our editors be turning to next? Lifehacker and Gizmodo debate the issues.

LIFEHACKER: I’m having to think about this harder than I have for a while. Regular readers will know I’m a generally happy BlackBerry user, but that has issues beyond just the prospect that Research In Motion might go down the toilet. More specifically: It’s not at all clear that the next-generation BlackBerry models will have the combination I prefer: a full-size touchscreen and a full-sized keyboard.

The initial announcement of BlackBerry 10 models didn’t even mention physical keyboards at all. RIM later backtracked and said that keyboard support will continue, but that might well mean a Bold-format device, with less screen area. At this stage, I don’t want to make that compromise.

That wouldn’t matter so much if I could upgrade my current Torch, which works perfectly well. However, as an older model it can’t even shift to the recent 7.1 BlackBerry OS update, which adds some handy features I’d like such as tethering. So it’s not quite clear where I’ll go next, but I clearly can’t stay contemporary with what I’ve got.

What’s the current story over at Giz?

GIZMODO: Oddly enough, I’m in much the same uncertain position, at least as far as one can read the tea leaves.

Obviously my gig comes with a lot of phone reviewing, so it’s rare for me to carry a single phone around in any case, but my go-to phone for the last six months has been the iPhone 4S. I’ve got a reasonable investment in its app infrastructure (and as most Giz readers would know, my workflow is largely Apple-centric as well), but then the same is true of the Android ecosystem; the phone that was my go-to handset prior to that was the Samsung Galaxy S II. The S II was (and is) a great handset, and I’m enjoying what I’ve tested so far of the S III as well. But I doubt it will be my primary handset, and that relates back to the reason why I switched back to the 4S — phone size.

The growing trend in Android handsets has been for increasing handset sizes. The Galaxy Note is the obvious flagbearer here, but it’s not alone — HTC’s One X/XL is pretty big, as is the aforementioned S III. It’s a matter of personal taste/utlity, and, I guess hand size, but while I appreciate some of the benefits of a larger screen, I find a smaller smartphone easier to deal with. If I want a larger screen, I’ll generally just grab for a tablet — but that’s not for everybody. Android handset makers, however, don’t seem to be targeting the compact space that much with upcoming releases.

How does that relate to Apple? The current spate of rumours (and they are only rumours) suggest that Apple will finally jump up a screen size with the next iPhone. I’m not sure that I’m likely to jump up with it.

What’s your take on the screen size issue?

LIFEHACKER: I don’t mind a bigger phone per se, but it undeniably has issues. I was also pretty taken with the Note, but you look completely ridiculous when you try and take a photograph with one. And if I’m going to have a larger phone, I want some of the obvious benefits: most importantly, I want an integrated physical keyboard.

Apple is fairly evidently not going in that direction, so an iPhone of any flavour is off the menu. The only Windows Phone 7 device I’ve used with a physical keyboard made me want to cry. I’ll be interested to see if the second-generation models do better in that department, but given Microsoft’s Cupertino-like obsession with touch to the exclusion of all else in everything at the moment, I’m not holding my breath.

So BlackBerry aside, that leaves Android. The best Android physical keyboards I’ve seen to date have actually been on cheaper phones, but if I was going to switch to Android entirely, it would seem senseless to deliberately force myself onto a Gingerbread model. One good thing about Ice Cream Sandwich is that it works much better in landscape mode, so if I have to shift to a phone with a keyboard that slides from the side rather than Torch-like from the bottom, the apps should cope better. But there are always exceptions that get confused some of the time (the WordPress Android app being one that misbehaved like this last time I tried).

You’re much happier with a touchscreen keyboard than I am. What features are on your must-have list?

GIZMODO: I’m certainly much less obsessed with physical keyboards than you are — and the way that market is going, I suspect you’re probably going to run out of applicable models in a year or two!

That aside, I’m something of a performance nut; laggy smartphones drive me considerably more insane than a slow-acting desktop or laptop. That’s not just a matter of the most cores or the highest processor speed, however; having recently just tested the quad-core HTC One X and then the dual-core One XL, the differences there aren’t as pronounced as you might expect, and I’m sure that’s down to software optimisation. Perhaps as more quad-core models hit the market, the apps and OS will adjust accordingly. That having been said, I’ve been happy with ICS so far, and particularly with the launcher efforts of the major makers; rather than clutter them up with crapware they’ve tweaked subtly around the edges.

The other thing that’s a must-have for me is plenty of storage. My current 4S is the 64GB model, and any Android phone that I was to seriously consider would have a microSD card added to it exceptionally quickly. It’s something that seriously annoys me with Windows Phone 7; you can’t get a phone with larger storage, or upgrade it internally. At least Apple (finally) got that one right.

To flip the question around though, there are also features that are very low on my must-have list, and chief amongst them — for now — is 4G. Which is odd, because I love having lots of data speed, but the problem there is one of access. I’m not in a 4G zone at my home location, and the Allure offices are notably woeful for 4G reception, despite sitting in the Sydney CBD. It’s a “nice to have” feature, but not (yet) a killer one. What’s your take there?

LIFEHACKER: Largely ditto, but with one proviso: hitting the road. My home 4G reception is similarly non-existent, but I spend a lot of time in hotels. Part of me thinks that being able to use a 4G phone as a tethered hotspot would be one less gadget to cart around. But a bigger part of me recognises that this would drain my phone battery so fast that the compromise wouldn’t be worth it. So if I’m going to be lugging a hotspot or dongle anyway, then it really doesn’t matter so much what’s happening on my phone.

So in summary: I want a BlackBerry model that probably won’t get manufactured at all, or an Android handset that will come out months after the main models and be from some weird manufacturer. I’m screwed really, aren’t I?

GIZMODO: I think you are. I probably am in my wishes for smaller form factor phones as well; I want the kinds of performance being chucked under the hoods of the just-under-5-inch crowd, but not with a 5-inch screen, and that doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon outside of Apple-land — and there, who can really tell? Not even the people working at Apple, because far too many of them aren’t even allowed to know.

This is all just a matter of personal taste, ultimately, and it’s good to have choices. That’s our take on what we want in the next phone to get uncomfortably warm in our pockets — over to the audience, I reckon. What are you grabbing the next time your contract expires?

Picture by Uwe Hermann

More: 35 Hot Phone Specs Compared (Including Samsung Galaxy S III)


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