Verizon iPhone and why I simply do not care

Tomorrow is [supposedly] the big iPhone Verizon announcement.  Verizon is holding a big, fully media covered, event in NYC.  Tech bloggers from the major publications are headed to the Big Apple (Techcrunch, as an example).   This is a major.big.deal….in a post-CES techworld where there is nothing much else going on.

A few facts (as we currently know them): the Verizon iPhone 4 will be essentially identical to its GSM-cousin except that, and this is my guess (i.e. I have not read it anywhere else), it will be a worldphone, which means it will work on essentially any network anywhere (except for 4G/WiMax networks).  Cool.  The iPhone is an amazing piece of hardware.  It is the best hardware on the market (assuming you do not want a keyboard).  Its software (iOS) just works and has ~150,000 more apps than its nearest competitor (the Android market).

I recently purchased a Droid 2 Global on Verizon, which means that I essentially have the “best” smartphone currently available on Verizon.  “Best” is clearly subjective but it has the fastest available processor, a great screen, and is a world phone.  Most importantly, it is running the latest publicly release build of Android (2.2 except for those Nexus S customers on T-Mobile with 2.3).  However, the phone is far from perfect – the software is sometimes sluggish, it tends to reset on me every time I plug it into my computer, and it is heavy (partially due to the keyboard), and battery life is so-so.  Despite years of false rumors, I was fairly confident that the iPhone 4 was going to launch on Verizon in winter 2011.  So why didn’t I wait and why is all this extra hype a bit bothersome?

1. I have bought into the Google ecosystem in most ways (although I try to use Bing here and there).  Outside of work, Gmail is my main email program.  Google maps is my go-to map program on nearly a daily basis.  Google voice is awesome.  Google calendar is my personal calendar system. On the iPhone, these [mostly] work but not nearly as well nor do they receive the fastest updates.  As these are my daily go-to programs, I want the best.

2. Lack of control.  I have an iPad, which is essentially the same iOS running on the iPhone, and while it is great, the lack of control over the system and how I use it, bothers me.  Granted, if you are willing to give up a lot of control over your main computing device (i.e. your smartphone) in exchange for a rock-solid OS, then the iPhone is a good choice.  I like to modify things to suite me so the iPhone is no way to go.  Note that on the iPad, which I really only use to consume media, I care less about control.  My phone is simply a more important device, which means I care more about how it works.

3. Apple hype – I am sort of annoyed by the Apple hype. Don’t get me wrong, I love many Apple products and own four of them (iPad, iPod touch gen 1, Macbook Pro, and MacMini hooked up to my TV).  They almost always tend to work.  However, so do things in the Cloud (see my review of Google CR-48).  No smartphone works really well without a connection to the Internet and the Cloud.  Apple makes beautifully designed gadgets but that does not make them inherently better. The hype is simply overblown.  This is the launch of a phone you have already seen on a network you may already use.  Sure, the network is ten times better than AT&T but this isn’t groundbreaking.  Really, why do you care?  Are you going to break your two year contract with your carrier to upgrade early or switch to Verizon?  Waste of money but go ahead.

4. Apps – Apple has the most apps by a good margin.  However, Android has a huge number of Apps, as well.  Every App I have needed, I can find.  There are a few that I would want that I cannot but this has not bothered me greatly.  The best apps do launch on Apple but, once again, how many apps do you need?  I am a power user and I am happy with Android.  Having the best and most recent apps (except for Google apps) is a big plus but not a game changer.

5. Keyboard & Swype – this isn’t a major reason since plenty of Android phones do not have physical keyboards.  However, slowly typing out messages on a virtual keyboard without any assistance is tough (even on a much larger iPad).  If you are on an Apple device, since Steve Jobs controls the market, you only have one keyboard to choose from — the stock one.  However, if you are on Android, you not only can choose a hardware keyboard (like I have) but you can also use different keyboards like Swype, which makes “typing” on a touchscreen much much faster.

In the end, I am happy that there is more competition in the smartphone market since it simply means better devices for all of us.  The lack of the iPhone on Verizon and other major US carriers has been a huge boon for Android, which, now that it is a viable and stable platform, creates even more competition.  However, remember, the Verizon iPhone, while great, is still just a closed-system beautifully designed Apple device.  It is tempting to want one but Android is at least just as good and offers plenty more hardware options.

Enjoy the insane news coverage tomorrow!

 

A few side notes/edits: 1. Verizon generally does have a slower but much more robust network.  If you prefer fewer dropped calls, go with Verizon. 2. AT&T is faster – I did a simple test this morning.  iPhone 4 with two bars of service vs Verizon Droid 2 Global with full bars of service: AT&T iPhone = 1.5Gbs up and 1Gbps down with a ~300ping.  Verizon Droid: 800Mbps up and 800 Mbps down with ~300 ping.  AT&T is faster.  Plus, I should add that you can talk and use the Internet at the same time on AT&T, which is sort of nice if you don’t really want to pay attention to your conversation!

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Google CR-48 Chrome Computer review

I recently received Google’s Chrome OS computer, the CR-48. In one sentence, this is the future BUT we are already there (and just don’t know it).

Many of the reviews of the CR-48 discuss the hardware and the software’s shortcoming but from the perspective of a hardcore computer user.  I’ll do something groundbreakingly different (joke) – write a review for the rest of us.  By the “rest of us,” I mean people who spend 99% of their computing time already in the cloud.  They are likely using massively overpowered computers to check their email, Facebook page, and shop on Amazon.  It is likely that the only non-Internet apps you currently use are Microsoft office-type products.  Of course, via Google, Microsoft and others, you can do that in the “Cloud,” as well.

Since I have established that the large majority of users already spend most of their computer time within a web browser, I can commence with the review.

Software

The CR-48 runs a special version of Google’s Chrome web browser.  That is it.  While a somewhat jarring experience at first (since there is no “start” bar or application bar, Google, via a simple and professional intro FAQ shows you how to start using the computer.  At its very basic, you just open up your normal websites.  This is exactly the same as you would do when using any other computer.  You can open new tabs or new windows.  Right now, as an example, I have Gmail, Facebook, Pandora, Google Reader, Hotmail, Twitter, a search page, and WordPress open.  Were I open my home computer (Macbook Pro), I would frankly have all the same pages open and I would be doing the same thing in those pages.

The pages run well albeit a bit more slowly than on more powerful computers.  However, I have to assume that is because the processor is fairly weak (Atom).  I had some trouble with Hulu but YouTube (at least the HTML-5 videos) worked fine.  Flash is obviously an issue but I have read that is being worked on.  The apps that you can use are, in most cases, just a quick link to a webpage.  Not much there, sadly. Install an app from the Chromse store on your home computer Chrome browser and you will know what I mean.

Because the software is only a web browser, the computer is very fast to startup – essentially instant.  Of course, I do not think this is so special since I almost never shut down my MacPro and whenever I open back up the screen the computer is ready to go.  However, since the “hard drive” is actually flash memory drive, everything on that front is speedy.

A few issues: if you want to download things, that will be challenging.  You can download items but you don’t really have control over where they are stored or how they are used.  If you cannot open the file you downloaded within a browser, then you are out of luck.  As an example, I downloaded a Gmail produced zip of a number of .pdf files – Chrome would not open that file. However, if I downloaded each pdf separately, I could open and view them.  The same would go for just about any file.  Probably the largest issue that the Web/Cloud generation (who most of us are now) by living within Chrome would have to do with photos and other self-produced media.  You can connect your camera to the computer via USB but then save your files where? Picasa (from Google) works but is not ideal if you want to save all of your photos (since they only provide a relatively small amount of free storage space).  You would also have trouble with Chrome if you wanted to manage the content of your Apple produced products, which, sadly (and I believe for not much longer) need iTunes.

A few benefits: since you are already living in the Cloud, the CR-48 is just another way to embrace this more fully. No more viruses!!!  Since you essentially cannot download anything, you cannot have a virus (until they start infecting the browser directly).  However, since Chrome is constantly updated by Google, I assume (and hope) that any viri or other dangerous issues will be fixed almost immediately.  Again – you already live in the Cloud.  Why do you need all of your old files?  I dont touch any of them anymore except for my photos.  I still have not found a great, cheap way to view all my media online and therefore need a large hard drive.  However, once a good solution comes out (and there are some already), I could probably ditch the regular computer altogether.  A few more things you already do in the cloud – gaming (Cityville anyone), listening to music (I have gigs upon gigs of music but only listen to Pandora), movie watching (streaming from Netflix, Amazon and so forth…which do not fully work with the CR-48 but probably will in short order).  I even do my reading online – Instapaper, Kindle and multiple websites.

In other words, if you are anything like me, you need a keyboard, a screen, and a wifi connection to do 99% of your daily electronic tasks. End of story.  In that respect, CR-48 is ideal.  It takes out the clutter that you pay a ton for in any other computer and gives you just what you need. In fact, I would say that the CR-48 is a taste of the future albeit one that is already here since you are already spending your electronic life within a browser anyways. Within the next few years, I predict we will see many many more “computers that are simply dumb terminals/gateways to the Internet.”  In fact, what is most likely to happen is that you will connect your smartphone to a larger screen and keyboard and go from there via wifi or 4G.

 

Hardware

I think this is very very secondary to the idea of the CR-48 and what it shows for the future.  However, since the reading public loves to know about the hardware, below is a brief overview.

The matte black (with no markings) and slightly rubberized feel works well.  It is functional and seems like a high-quality build.  Mainly, you do not notice the computer itself – which is precisely the point.  This is about the Chrome software, not the computer technology.  The screen is decent and very usable.  The webcam doesnt seem great but what do you expect?!  The speaker is the same – usable, not great.

The keyboard is just like one of the new Macs — i.e. Chicle keys. I like it a lot (and in fact wrote this entire review using the CR-48.  The layout is very different (i.e. no CAPS) lock key but instead a search key. I could easily get used to that although I do sometimes like responding to long emails in-line via CAPS.  The biggest issue is the mousepad.  It is large.  It does not handle two different touches well.  As an example, when I am typing this, if my palm hits the mousepad, it moves the mouse and clicks somewhere else.  Then, if I try to move it back using my finger but my palm is still touching it, there is major interference and confusion. You also use the mousepad for clicking (the entire area is clickable) – I like the idea but that is a lot of finger touches that the software has difficulty separating out.

A few other notes: the battery life seems great.  It is rated at 8 hours and I feel confident it will hit that mark.  The computer is insanely quiet.  I hate noisy computer (i.e. loud fans) – this thing is silent.  Of course, it has no running parts, is running a low-power processor, and only runs one program so it should be quiet.  It is pretty light and not overly warm on my lap (I have been sitting on the couch for this writeup). My iPad is a bit annoying to hold up for long reading.  I could see myself using the CR-48 instead plus I can actually do my emails or IMs on it while reading.

Anyways – time for dinner and I think this covers things pretty well.  Enjoyable.  Great start Google and a great view of the future when we are all using our mobile phones to connect larger screens and keyboards to the Internet.  I’m looking forward to it.  The cloud is easier, safer (in my view), and always updated.