It’s a necessary part of my work that I test and review a lot of mobile phones, and as a result, I get a lot of people ask me which phone they should buy. It’s a question I really dislike. Here’s why.
It’s a natural enough question. I’ve tested an enormous number of handsets and therefore can give a good accounting of the market and my opinion of where a particular handset sits within it.
I can tell you what I think is a good about a particular smartphone, and what I think is lacking. I can tell you where it crashed — and they all crash, eventually — and where it genuinely impressed me. That’s the basis of any review that I do, after all; if you flick back through the Mobile Monday archives here at Gizmodo you’ll find reviews written by myself and Elly that give our considered opinion of the most significant phones of the last twelve months. A useful resource for you to make your mind up — but the reason why I dislike the conversation is that the final decision really should be yours, not mine.
That’s why when I’m asked, I always try to get a general impression of what it is that somebody wants to do with a given phone. After all, whether you go iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7 or Blackberry, they all handle the basics competently enough. If you just want calls, messaging, email and browsing, it’s not going to make a huge difference which handset you pick. I may well have upset some folks by saying that, but it’s undeniably true. Within operating environments, there may be differences due to the hardware, but again that comes down to a degree of personal choice.
There are areas where I think particular smartphones or their operating systems have an edge. If you’re a gamer, I can’t see a big reason currently to go for anything but an iPhone, because that’s where the majority of the games development is happening, and also where you’ll see the most fierce bargain wars. I currently think that this is true across a lot of app development areas (and it leaks through to tablets), but again, that’s my opinion. You’re free to differ.
If you’re a control and configuration junkie (and I do mean that in a positive way), on the other hand, Android’s widget setup is much more flexible, and the variety of skins, ROMs and other customisations means it’s possible to do just about anything. Those who want quick information at a glance but don’t want that level of customisation can do very well on Windows Phone 7. If you live and die by your email, Blackberry’s still the platform to beat. And so on and so forth.
There’s also the factor that many people seem to think that the phone I’m using at any given time must be the best in the market. Not always so; outside of the reviewer-specific problem that I’m often using a handset because it’s the one I’m testing at that time, my needs, wants and desires are mine. Not yours.
It’s why I particularly hate that particular question. To give this context, my current day to day phone is an iPhone 4S. Yes, I know, Gizmodo cliché and all that, but you know what?
It works for me.
My current setup doesn’t need a larger phone, my professional setup means I get more than a (probably healthy) exposure to mobiles and their operating systems generally, and my personal preference is for a smaller mobile phone. That’s not the way that general Android phones are going for the most part (hint to manufacturers: there may be a niche here for a high-end Android smartphone), and while I like what Windows Phone 7 does in a software sense, there’s been a dearth of choice in terms of really compelling hardware beyond the Lumia 800.
That’s not to say that I won’t change away from that particular handset. The vast majority of my 2011 day to day smartphone usage was on Android handsets, including the still-excellent Samsung Galaxy S II. Which is I guess what I’m getting at; I hate the question partly because each individual’s needs and desires are different, and it’s not as though they’re not fluid as well.
Now, each operating system fan group: You may commence your barbecuing of me. I’d prefer the left side to be done medium rare, if that’s OK.