2011 in Review: Why I didn’t buy a new phone this year and why I’m unlikely to buy one next year too

martincooper

I’m getting old. My girlfriend forced me to buy a nose hair trimmer. Her pet name for me is “Grandpa” because during the winter my two favorite hobbies are taking naps and listening to the radio while lying on the couch. More recently I find myself spending less time in front of a computer too because my eyes start to hurt after a few hours. Another symptom of the aging process is my newfound inability to deal with bullshit. If I find something that works with little to no effort on my part, I use said product or service until a compelling enough reason turns up to make me consider switching to something else.

Now I wasn’t always like this. Less than a decade ago you could say I was a PC gaming addict. I’d spend hours every day looking at benchmarks to find the best components for my rig, which I never really bothered putting in a case since I was swapping out bits and pieces every other week. My need for speed eventually lead me to my local junkyard, where I found a radiator from an old and busted car that I used to water cool my machine. Before New York State gutted their education department, I was lucky enough to take shop class. There I learned how to solder, which came in handy when I had to modify my motherboard to feed more voltage to my overclocked CPU and my expensive boutique RAM modules.

That version of me is dead and buried.

I don’t have the time, nor the patience, to deal with technology like I used to when I was younger, so back in September 2010 I picked up an iPhone 4 and nothing I’ve seen during the past 15 months has convinced me to switch. With each passing month I’m also growing more and more content with the idea that I may not even need to buy another new phone until 2013. Before we get to 2013 though, let’s run through the five most important devices of 2011 and then talk about why 2012 is going to be dreadfully boring.

The Samsung Nexus S

Released roughly 2 weeks before the end of 2010, the Nexus S showed everyone over the course of the next 12 months that a device with stock Android, despite not having awesome hardware specifications, was the best way to enjoy Google’s mobile operating system. Chris Ziegler from The Verge said it best in an article he published in May 2011:

This weekend, I set aside my G2x and bought my third Nexus S.

I’m not bragging, mind you. I certainly can’t afford to own three $500 phones (I sold the first two). Quite the opposite, actually: after having recently owned both the G2x and the Atrix, I bought this phone with a feeling of resignation, defeat, and disappointment that I’ve been unable to find a proper replacement for a phone that launched nearly half a year ago.

He goes on to describe how dual core, at the time, wasn’t really worth paying attention to. That handset vendors rushed devices out to market, meaning they shipped with bugs. And then finally he slams the skins that companies put on top of Android for the sake of differentiating themselves from other handset vendors.

Why didn’t I buy the Nexus S? Simple really, it came out just 3 months after I picked up an iPhone 4, my first iPhone mind you, and in terms of hardware specs I wasn’t really interested in going back to a screen that pushed only 800 x 480 pixels after being absolutely captivated by the “retina display” that Apple rightly trumpets as being amazing.

The Samsung Galaxy S II

This 4.3 inch monster came out in May 2011, at least in Finland. Americans got it later, but that’s not really any of my concern. Anyway, nearly every tech site that reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S II said it was one of the best devices to ever hit the market. Here’s a quote from the review Vlad Savov (formerly of Engadget, now with The Verge) published in late April 2011:

It’s the best Android smartphone yet, but more importantly, it might well be the best smartphone, period. Of course, a 4.3-inch screen size won’t suit everyone, no matter how stupendously thin the device that carries it may be, and we also can’t say for sure that the Galaxy S II would justify a long-term iOS user foresaking his investment into one ecosystem and making the leap to another. Nonetheless, if you’re asking us what smartphone to buy today, unconstrained by such externalities, the Galaxy S II would be the clear choice. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that.

Thanks to the obscenely large 4.3 inch screen, Samsung’s insistence on shoving TouchWiz down your throat, and because Android 2.3 Gingerbread wasn’t optimized for the dual core processor at the heart of the Galaxy S II, I skipped buying this thing.

The Apple iPhone 4S

It’s difficult to put into words how much the iPhone 4S was hyped. Rumors said there would be a new case design, 4G LTE connectivity, NFC, a new capacitive home button, and so on and so forth. Sadly, Apple didn’t deliver any of that when the iPhone 4S eventually launched in October 2011. So what ended up being the highlight features of the fifth generation Jesus Phone? Siri, a new 8 megapixel camera, and the dual core Apple A5 processor.

Do I want to talk to my phone while I’m out and about? Do I take enough photos that I’d feel compelled to get a device with a better camera? Have I ever once thought to myself that my iPhone 4 would benefit from having a second core? No. No. And no.

Matt Buchanan of Gizmodo was succinct in his conclusion of the iPhone 4S, which he reviewed the same month it came out:

This is the phone to buy, for most people. Not if you have an iPhone 4, but for everybody else.

So it was the best phone on the market at the time, but not worth buying if you already had the model that came before it. Great. Next!

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Like clockwork, nearly one year after the Nexus S came out, Google released the next update to the Nexus family, and boy is the Galaxy Nexus a hell of an update. New version of Android, dual core processor, front facing camera that you can use to unlock the device, 720p screen, all that and more easily make the Galaxy Nexus the ultimate geek phone. But there are two problems.

First, I’m an iPhone 4 user, remember? That means I have a microSIM card. I once tried to use an adapter to shove my microSIM inside a device that only took regular SIM cards, and it was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do with a phone. Not only did I end up cutting myself numerous times, but the stress levels after failing to get that damn SIM card working were enough for me to swear off ever trying to do that shit again. So even if I wanted the Galaxy Nexus, I wouldn’t be able to buy it because I’d need a new SIM card. I’m on prepaid, so I can’t just ask my operator for another SIM provisioned to my account either. I need to use the SIM card I have now until the end of time, or at least until I feel like changing my phone number.

Had the Galaxy Nexus used a microSIM card, I still wouldn’t have bought it. Why? Earlier in this article I said the 4.3 inch Samsung Galaxy S II was too big. What makes you think I’d want the 4.65 inch Galaxy Nexus?

Sascha Segan from PC Mag published this personal anecdote yesterday:

In this office, 4-inch screens like the one on Verizon’s HTC Droid Incredible 2 seem to be a happy medium for everyone, and even a well-designed 4.3-inch phone can seem like it isn’t too overwhelming.

Had the Galaxy Nexus shipped with a 4 inch screen, I’d probably be 600 Euros poorer right now and I’d also have a new phone number. At 4.3 inches I would have had to think about it real hard. But at 4.65 inches? Hell no.

The Nokia Lumia 800

Nokia’s first Windows Phone is the most controversial device of the year. Just 9 months after Stephen Elop got on stage in London and told the world that Nokia would be depending on Microsoft for the future success of the company, the Lumia 800 hit the market. Built by Compal, with guts from Qualcomm, and in a body that was meant to showcase Maemo, the operating system that would have put Nokia back on the map, the Lumia 800 rightfully elicits some strong emotions. It’s pretty, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s flawed.

To charge the Lumia 800 you need to open a small plastic door that then hangs off the top of the device. When I look at that, alarm bells go off in my head. How reliable is that going to be over time? And then there’s the hassle of opening and closing that door. Even if it takes just 10 seconds a day, it’s still something I’d rather not have to fiddle with. My next qualm is with the screen, which only does 800 x 480 pixels, something I’m not willing to downgrade to after having an iPhone 4 for over year. But what really kills the Lumia 800 for me is this quote from Niklas Savander, Executive Vice President of Markets for Nokia:

We made the decision to go to Windows Phone when Mango was pretty much done, so we were able to impact some elements of it but you’ll really see the fruits of what we can do with Microsoft when the Apollo version of Windows Phone comes out.

He’s basically saying we should wait a year to see the real deal. That the Lumia 800 isn’t Nokia’s best work. Why would I want to buy it then?

So what about 2012?

During the next 60 days we’re going to see the devices that will dominate the conversations within the mobile industry for the first 6 months of 2012. At CES in January we’ll see Nokia launch in America, and we might also get some more information about Tango, the minor update to Mango, otherwise known as Windows Phone 7.5. Then there’s Mobile World Congress in February. We’ll likely see the third generation of the Samsung Galaxy S there. I’m expecting that it’ll have a 720p screen, faster processor, and hopefully Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. When those devices actually hit the market is another topic all together.

Then everything’s quiet until June when Google hosts their annual I/O event. We’re probably going to see the next version of Android shown off there. Also in June is Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference where we’ll get a sneak peak at iOS 6.

Again total silence, then the back to school season kicks off. Expect a new iPhone in September or October, some new Android devices in October or November, and of course the next Nexus device in November or December. Also of note is that Q4 2012 is when we’ll see Windows 8 and Windows Phone Apollo ship.

With that rough framework in place, here’s some of the reasons why I’m probably going to keep my wallet shut in 2012.

First, anything announced at CES typically doesn’t ship for another few months. That and whatever is announced there is usually meant for the American market. I’m in Finland, so I really could not care less. Mobile World Congress isn’t any better. The Samsung Galaxy S II was announced in mid February, but it didn’t ship until the end of May in Europe, and until August/September in America. Not spending money during the first half of 2012 will be a walk in the park.

Second, NFC will become a standard feature in 2012 smartphones, but it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work across different platforms. Earlier this month I spoke to Eldar Murtazin, Editor in Chief of Mobile-Review, and he said that he couldn’t get a Nokia Symbian device, a Nokia Maemo device, and an Android device to exchange information between each other via NFC. What’s the point then? As for mobile payments, my bank has yet to support that, and they’ll likely not care about NFC until the iPhone has it.

Third, 4G LTE is useless for the way I use mobile data. Earlier in this article I mentioned that I’m a prepaid user. That might have shocked some of you, but here’s something that’s even more disturbing: I use the slowest data package my operator provides, just 1 megabit per second down. In Finland all the data plans are unlimited, you just pay more for faster speeds, similar to how you’re likely paying for your home broadband connection today. That 1 megabit download speed is more than enough for me. Twitter, email, basic web browsing, what exactly am I going to do with a 40 megabit per second pipe?

Fourth, if I ever do buy an Android device again, it’s going to be a Nexus. My first Android smartphone was a Nexus One, and my next Android smartphone might be whatever comes after the Galaxy Nexus. Knowing how Google’s done past Nexus releases, we’re not going to see it until the very end of 2012.

Fifth, the highlight features of the next iPhone will likely be NFC and 4G LTE, which again, are two things I don’t really care about right now. Rumors say the iPhone 5 will have a higher resolution screen, but I doubt that. As for apps, I don’t see developers ditching support for the iPhone 4 anytime soon. Hell, the iPhone 3GS is still selling. If I start running into issues with using the latest and greatest iOS apps, then I’ll upgrade my iPhone 4, but those apps have to be extremely compelling.

Sixth, Windows Phone doesn’t impress me. That can of course change, but right now what I see has loads of potential, but there needs to be just that little bit extra. I’m hoping Microsoft brings back Kin Studio, which was an online dashboard that let you see everything on your mobile device in a timeline view. It died when the Kin died, but some say it’ll return.

And that’s it really. Curious to hear your thoughts!

  • George Chuah

    Great article Steven!! Always loved to read your blogs since 2005… 

    • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

      Thanks for the support, but:

      A) My name is Stefan, not Steven
      B) I’ve been blogging since November 2006, not 2005

      • That Awesome Guy

        He is Chinese, just understand and be nice.

      • George Chuah

        My apologies Stefan… Actually, I cannot really remember when you started blogging.. I stumbled upon your website those days when u blog solely on Nokia phones.. I was really a fan boy then.. but time have passed, I owned the iPhone 4 now together with Nokia N9! 

  • Anonymous

    I totally hear you Stefan,

    2012 is going to be a poor year for mobile hardware, quad cores are going to deliver very little tangible power improvement. The biggest hardware improvement of 2012 is probably going to be battery life, created from the move to companion cores (tegra 3) and the move to the 28nm process, so that a quad core processor will actually fit into a mobile device.

    The other big thing for 2012 is also something that won’t be sexy fare for hardware nuts, commoditisation of highly usable levels of power. In the android sphere, the level of power displayed by your iPhone, should be available for not much over £100, the Huawei Honour, and the ZTE Blade 2 should lead the vanguard.

    The real revolution over the foreseeable future is going to be an external one, the high end smartphone of 2011 is going to be grown significantly by it’s environment, increasingly sophisticated software and cloud services, OS improvements, greater reliance that your peers (and dare I say parents) will be plugged in smartphone users, empowering dumbpipe communications etc, and the increase sophistication of software for tablets will probably relieve functionality/ergonomic/battery pressures on smartphones.

    The mobile paradigm created by the iPhone is maturing, the functionality that was the preserve of dreamers is being realised, and before a new paradigm is formed, we will see a revolution in practicality, resulting is lower cost, longer batteries, and better OS and software support

    I would love to hear your views on my predictions Stefan, and your article was a very enjoyable read

    Stuart Hodges

  • http://techspalace.blogspot.com Technical Fun

    This is lame.

  • https://profiles.google.com/john.fisherman Fred Rocha

    I am entitled to a free Android phone, this XMas. The Galaxy S II seems way too huge, besides the fact that it costs 500+€ here in Portugal. That said, I think I am going for the Nexus S, since I am a heavy user of the marvelous Google suite, and since it costs “only” 350€. I am assuming that it will eventually be upgradeable to Ice Cream Sandwich (android 4.0)…

    Does it seem logical to you to purchase a 1 yr-old phone, today?

    • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

      It’s hard to tell you what to buy since I don’t know what device you have now. But I’d have absolutely no problems recommending you the Nexus S if you’re all about connecting to Google’s services. Great screen, there’s NFC in there, and best of all Google is already in the process of updating the Nexus S to Ice Cream Sandwich!

      • https://profiles.google.com/john.fisherman Fred Rocha

        Grand! That’s exactly what I needed to hear. My device is none, as my iPhone 1 died last month. Was waiting for santa to bring me a new phone. And a Nexus S it’ll be. :)

        Thanks for the reply, Stefan!

        • Quintusmurray

          forget nexus S meizu MX costs only $470 and is shockingly fastere than galaxy S2 and is a worldphone HSPA+ pentaband

    • Quintusmurray

      shockingly meizu will unleash a beast phone that beats galaxy S2 and it’s pentaband 3.5 hsdpa+ the MX the first meizu to not suck I kid you not

  • Peeyushagarwal

    I wish to buy Dual Sim  Android Phone with Great Camera-at least 5 MP and 3G, Touch screen-3.5 to 4 Inches
    which models are most suitable.

  • Adam J Bourque

    I agree. The new phones are underwhelming and despite the improvements, ICS for example, the Nexus ships with only a 5MP camera. It seems like we don’t have the full package yet on the Droid side. I’ve used several and I always want to like them but end up being very disappointed. I have three carriers though and plenty of lines when the new Nexus or Jesus phone comes out next year. We’ll see. The big sellers for me personally are the camera, the polish of the OS, and the screen resolution/display quality and size (over 4.3″ is too much).

  • Rock

    I couldn’t agree more. I own a Droid Incredible, and it does absolutely everything I need it to do. Worst case, if my battery starts to wear out, I’ll buy a new one, and continue to use this phone until something REALLY compelling comes along. (Full disclosure; I also use a five year old Dell laptop and Windows XP, and that still does everything I need it to do). Even though I’d like to upgrade both devices, I think 2013 will most likely be the year.

  • Ahmed Bouzid

    On Siri: if you really are not going to put up with truly painful BS, then you would be jumping on the Voice Assistant bandwagon – whetherr Siri or Majel or Vlingo or MSFT… But I think it’s not the case that you won’t put up with Bullshit. Typing on a flat surface is onerous, and so is tapping, and swiping…. It sounds to me more like you are used to some kind of bullshit and would rather put up with it than than try something new…

    • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

      When Apple brings Siri to the iPhone 4, which I’m sure they will, I’ll try it out.

      Who knows, maybe I’ll discover that it’s the best thing since sliced bread!

      But am I going to spend 600 Euros just so I can save myself the hassle of typing?

      No.

  • Alterx

    Nokia N9 with MeeGo!

    • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

      MeeGo/Maemo/Tizen is dead.

    • Cellularcrazy09

      I agree!! I bit the bullet and got one.  I loved my iPhone 4, but I was tired of the same boring hardware and software.  The nokia n9 has the ease of use like in webOS and the refine of iOS.  It is too bad that Nokia is scrapping MeeGo, but maybe someone else will take it on.  Or they will realize that people still like MeeGo and will keep it around.  Even if they do scrap it, its still one of the best phones.  Android sucks! 

  • http://twitter.com/PhiloSkinner Ron Logan

    STEFAN CONSTANTINESCU, Like his style!

  • Drake Gould

    I gotta say i’m using the HTC desire, and I’m still loving it. I have cyanogenmod 7 on it and will be putting 9 on when it comes out. Really have no need for more power when its already fast. I have yet to be limited by the single core performance. This might change once ICS is on it, but so far so good. I would like a bigger screen though, 3.7″ is kinda hard to text on with big fingers. 

    Really I have no idea why you only listed Samsung phones for android. HTC by far has the best build quality out of all phone manufactures. As a long time thinkpad user, one thing Lonovo has taught me is build quality matters most. Thats why my next phone will be a HTC running ICS or windows if its well integrated with windows 8.

    • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

      I didn’t list any HTC devices because I hate Sense UI. I actually hate all Android customizations. If HTC adopted a policy whereby they offered stock Android ROMs for their enthusiast community, I’d be much more interested in them.

      • Anonymous

        Most people love Sence UI, Even I find it more pleasant then iOS. But really its not like you cant put cyanogenmod onto one. HTC phones always have great rom support. I used to use a ipod touch and you really cant do much to it in terms of customization. The one thing that really put me off was no widgets on the desktop.  I like having a clock and weather just there. Plus the web browser on iOS is really bad. I need desktop mode, my work and banks website doesn’t allow for mobile devices to log in. In the android browser all I have to do is set it to linux desktop mode and all is fine. I also really need flash support, don’t forget the web still is flash heavy and is still needed for a lot of things. 

        • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

          Agree to disagree.

  • mr.klee

    The article was an interesting read, thanks for that. But with arguments like the ones you are using you can always skip buying new things. I actually was one step away from buying a Nexus S earlier this year (they were sold for only 200 Euros here) but then the first alphas of ICS for my Galaxy S1 starting coming to XDA and I decided I could wait some more and maybe get a Galaxy Nexus next year as soon as it’s around 300 Euros. But that would require my SGS to die on me because I wouldn’t know of any really good reasons to have to get a new phone otherwise..

    I will never get a non-Nexus device again, Touchwiz and the like just annoy me a lot and I love custom roms which always seem to be optimized for Nexus devices.

    Just one minor thing in your article I didn’t like: you never seem to have seen the Galaxy S2 and the Galaxy Nexus side by side because they actually don’t differ much in size. The GN just won 0.35 inches by dumping the hw-buttons and making them virtual. So the screen only is bigger when you’re playing games or watching videos (and that is a good thing, isn’t it?).

  • Ssc

    I bought and returned 2 Samsung phones on AT&T this year. One of them randomly rebooted (Skyrocket) and the Galaxy S II had a data cap sucking application known as AP Mobile which can’t be turned off without doing a hard reset everytime and is also on a lot of Samsung Windows 7 phones as well. AT&T is even throttling its non-unlimited LTE users. No has complained so far because only 3% of the United States is having this problem. 

    Looking at Verizon’s current lineup of LTE phones didn’t encourage me to switch over either. Heard reports about people returning the Droid Razrs 5-6 times within a month to get a good device. I’m not interested in being a guinea pig for Motorizon.  22 GB double data doesn’t matter since on LTE you suck up data in a few hours. 

  • Courthale

    Dude you are the man and a really talented writer. But this article was crucial to my current circumstance. I have been up for my Verizon NE2 plan for a while now and I recently used it on the Galaxy Nexus, meaning I received a $100 off their normal price. But my friend is now looking to sell his Motorola Bionic for $200 which has essentially the same hardware minus the 4.5″ screen which I love. I would go 5″ if possible as I really don’t mind the size. So I began thinking maybe I should return the phone, which is extremely buggy, buy the Bionic and then wait for the next cool phone, say quad core which I already knew without any research would be a longshot to release this year. But your saying for sure by no means a quad core or really any significant increase to the Galaxy Nexus will be released in the next year. So basically I should stop waiting, it’s been almost 3 years since I’ve used my upgrade, and just hold on to the phone. Again I really don’t care about the size and really not too concern with the bugs. However, I work hard and if I’m going to be signing a 2 year contract I want to get my money’s worth. 

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