The_Anal_yst posted a query the other day, wondering if anyone knew a single person who switched to Sprint from another carrier within the last few years. When I let him know that I had switched from AT&T’s iPhone 3g to Sprint’s Evo recently, he invited me to share my experience with the readership.
Some Background: I live and work in a suburb outside of Sacramento, California. UC Davis, if you know where that is. I’d been on AT&T with my family since it was Cingular in the 90s. My family is still on AT&T and most of my friends are as well. And I was, honestly, very happy with AT&T and the iPhone itself, as are all of my friends and family that have them. I rarely, if ever, had dropped calls; my signal was always very good, usually even reaching into the elevator inside the concrete building in which I work. For the two years I had my iPhone, it was rarely out of reach and was easily my favorite object.
But my phone was aging and my contract was up for renewal and I had a choice to make: upgrade to the iPhone 4, or try something new? At this point the iPhone hype was orders of magnitude greater than when I bought mine. I heard a story about a guy who was paid a thousand dollars for his spot in line, took the money, and paid someone farther back $500 to get back in line. Why wouldn’t you just take the grand and wait a couple days?! Easiest money ever! It is almost the prime law of fashion that once a thing becomes popular it is not fashionable anymore, and if the iPhone is, as some suggest, mostly a fashion accessory, surely it was nearing its peak.
I had technical reasons as well. I was tired of having to jailbreak after every update just to unlock certain basic features. I was also tired of knowing that the major Android contenders had more and better features, and had some of them long before the iPhone. What do I care if the iPhone has a “retina display” (whatever the fuck that is) if its screen is almost a full inch smaller than the Droid X or the Evo? I don’t care how crisp the display is if I need a magnifying glass to see it. Nor was I impressed by Apple’s magical FaceTime, usable only over a Wi-Fi network. Apple could have put out a phone that blew all Android phones out of the water, but why bother when people would buy a brick with “iPhone 4” sharpied on it? It’s more profitable to string customers along and make them upgrade — or do you actually believe a camera on the original iPad was technically impossible?
So, I switched. I have an enormous screen and it’s perfectly crisp for my uses. I also greatly appreciate the kickstand so if I’m watching something I can just set it down and not have to hold it. The kickstand combined with the super bright LED (for the camera flash) is also really useful if you’re doing some kind of delicate work, like changing watch batteries or something.
The whole UI is customizable, which can be really useful, like the to-do list widget I keep open on my home screen, or the beautiful weather/clock widget from Beautiful Widgets. Still, I’ll be honest, it doesn’t “feel” as good as the iOS UI. It’s hard for me to say which I prefer. The iOS felt extremely polished and everything just fit together, whereas even the professionally developed interfaces I’ve tried for Android feel sort of amateurish. But, on the other hand, I’m not sure I could do without my widgets now.
The other problem is the battery life. I have a few apps I use to throttle different things on and off as needed to conserve battery life, but it still only lasts about a day and a half, whereas my iPhone 3g lasted three or four days, and I think the iPhone 4 is supposed to last until the sun explodes or something. But part of the poor battery life is because of my massive screen, the widgets, and various apps I have running in the background to schedule things like switching my sound profiles at certain times or locations. So the shitty battery life is in part because I am making greater use of the phone. But it’s also partly because it just has shitty battery life.
Regarding apps, it’s an interesting comparison. I would say there are fewer quality apps for the Android, and far more junk apps, but the ones that are quality are much better and more interesting than what’s on the iPhone. I have an app that can turn a pair of headphones into an FM radio receiver, if for some reason I want to listen to the radio. I have turn-by-turn navigation built into Google Maps, and an app that will turn GPS on only when I’m using an app that needs it, like Maps, Foursquare, or Fandango. That app in particular can control almost any function of the phone based on almost any context. Most of the good apps are free or come preloaded, but the super quality apps (like the one just mentioned) are paid, and as a consequence I’ve purchased far more apps so far on my Evo than I did in the two years of having my iPhone.
As for the network, I haven’t really noticed much difference in quality. There are a few plusses and minuses though. On the plus side, there’s 4G, which is about as fast as a broadband connection, and my phone can act as a WiFi router, so I could basically cancel my internet if I wanted. The downside is that there is no 4G in my area yet and you have to pay some big extra fee to unlock the WiFi hotspot use, although you can just root the phone (basically jailbreaking) to unlock it too. Another downside is that you can’t do a phone call and surf the internet at the same time, which I often did on my iPhone, although I haven’t particularly missed it. And finally, the visual voicemail sucks hard. Sometimes a voicemail goes to visual voicemail and sometimes you have to call the voicemail number as if it is 1999, and I can’t figure out what it depends on.
The other carrier comparison would of course be cost. I paid about $90/mo with AT&T for the smallest minutes plan and a 1,500 text plan. Data was unlimited while I was with them. I now pay $76/mo for Sprint, which includes the same minutes but unlimited everything else, an insurance plan on the phone that covers everything from water to dropping it, the $10 Evo fee (a “premium data” fee for the 4G network I don’t have access to yet), and a 20% discount for being a university employee. So on an apples to apples comparison it’s about $10 cheaper than AT&T. The phone itself was $350 minus a $100 mail-in rebate, so a good bit cheaper than a comparable iPhone.
So all in all, I would say my experience has been “mixed.” Some things suck, some things are cool. I get more comments on the Evo than I did on my iPhone, and I feel kind of cooler having it. It’s generally a more useful phone, but sometimes it’s more of a pain to use. When my plan runs out in two years I will probably strongly consider switching back to the iPhone, if it’s caught up with Android more in terms of features and openness, because I really do miss the iPhone user experience, but I don’t think I could go back to the walled garden now that I’ve seen what Android is capable of.
The views expressed in this article are those of mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the views of any of the entities I work for. I do not hold stock in any of the companies involved in this comparison. I am a part-time freelance investment writer and can be found on Twitter @JakeRoche.