If you’re in the market for a new phone, you’ve got two choices. Buy outright, or pick up a phone on a plan. If you buy a smartphone outright, you’re typically looking at between $500-$1000 out of pocket; there are models that are both cheaper and more expensive than that, but it’s a fair average across the most popular models. That’s why contracts make a fair amount of sense. Not only do you shift the handset cost over a longer term (and potentially gain the ability to write it off against tax rather simply under certain business circumstances — but check with your accountant!), you also get the most generously provisioned rates for calls and data compared to most pre-paid plans on a handset you own yourself.
The problem is, most smartphone contracts cost pretty much the same irrespective of the model of phone you choose. Entry level points are now down around twenty dollars, but those are typically last year’s handsets being rushed out the door while they’ve still got stock. Between fifty to seventy dollars a month can get you the handset of your choice, including cutting edge models. It’s easy enough to test the physical layout of a phone by simply gripping it, but what about on the software side? With so many choices, which smartphone operating system do you go for? Here’s a brief rundown of the most prominent smartphone platforms and their pluses and minuses.
Representative Handset: iPhone 4
Pluses: The largest applications marketplace for any smartphone, hands-down, which gives iOS a lot more flexibility in what can be done with it, especially in the realm of entertainment applications. The fixed hardware platform — basically just the nearly-obsolete iPhone 3G, 3GS and iPhone 4 — also means that all apps run optimally across handsets. iOS upgrades are regular and not subject to the approval of the carriers, meaning they’re usually a little faster than on competing platforms.
Minuses: Apple controls the iOS environment with an iron glove, which some folk plain don’t like; certain applications will never be approved for iOS as a result. There’s also no such thing as a “live” iOS application displaying twitter feeds, weather or the like. Everything is icon-based using push.
Representative Handset: HTC Desire HD
Pluses: Google’s “open” smartphone OS is being rapidly picked up by just about every handset maker out there (excluding Apple and Nokia). That gives you a huge choice of handsets and price points, as well as a wide variety of features. Google’s tailored Android applications for its core search and gmail utilities are incredibly slick, and the applications market is growing rapidly. Applications can act as live widgets displaying up-to-date information constantly.
Minuses: The variety of handsets can make some applications behave in unusual ways, especially as application development isn’t a rigidly controlled as it is with Apple or Microsoft. Operating System software upgrades must be carrier approved before you can get them, which can lead to long delays in getting the latest version of Android for your smartphone — if it ever appears at all.
Representative Handset: Blackberry Torch
Pluses: Blackberry has long been the smartphone of choice for the business crowd, and its core competencies have remained the strength and speed of its email client, which simply blows the competition away. If you need email quickly (and want, on most Blackberry models, an excellent physical keyboard), the Blackberry is the one to get.
Minuses: Operating system upgrades are once again at the mercy of operators, and some handsets will get stuck over time. The excellent email service is part of a specific paid service, which (depending on the carrier) might not be the most cost-efficient way to get your email. The application library, like the devices themselves are largely productivity oriented, although this has changed slowly as more consumers have taken up the Blackberry brand.
Windows Phone 7
Representative Handset: Samsung Omnia 7
Pluses: Windows Phone 7’s “tiles” arrangement is amongst the simplest smartphone visual layouts of any smartphone platform, making it very easy to pick up and use. Xbox Live integration is built in for the gaming crowd, and the application market, while still quite small, is growing rapidly.
Minuses: There’s a relative dearth of available handset choices, although that’s likely to change with Nokia recently making the shock declaration that it would start building smartphones utilising Windows Phone 7. As yet for the existing models from HTC, LG and Samsung the full operating system upgrade path is quite unclear; even the patches to date have had a rocky history. At the time of writing, Cut & Paste functionality still wasn’t present, despite being promised as “coming soon” when it launched.
For any of these platforms it’s certainly well worth having a test run in a mobile phone shop to see not only which one may suit your needs, but also your style of smartphone use. Some users will prefer the full touchscreen setup of the iPhone or most Android models, while other users may favour the keyboards found on most Blackberry models.