Nexus One vs Water

Nexus One vs Water So my foray into the world of smartphones was brought to a short end over the weekend when my Android was destroyed by a minor spillage.

At this stage, I'm wondering if smartphones are all they are cracked up to be, and whether I actually want to buy a replacement. I'm just not sure - I guess I expected a lot more from the Android.

And so it ends

It all happened one Saturday morning. The phone was on the floor under the bed, plugged into the charger. This may sound like an odd place to keep it, but there's a reason for everything. Firstly, the bedroom is one of 2 places in the house that gets reception - see, the Nexus just doesn't get as good signal as the trusty old Nokia. Not even close. And secondly, the Nexus one has this giant blinky light that flashes every time you receive an email (ie permanently flashing). This is bright enough to warn passing ships of nearby danger, and certainly perfectly adequate for keeping one awake all night. So the lighthouse phone goes under the bed at night where it can blink to it's heart's content.

Then Emily accidentally knocked a glass of water off the side table. It landed on the floor but no spillage on the phone. This got cleaned up quick smart, and a towel was left there to soak up the water by the bed. At this point I'm making breakfast, and nobody else noticed the phone under the bed. I return a bit later and rescue the phone - no direct spillage but the screen is all misted up anyway. I unplug, remove the battery, dry out for 24+ hours in a warm place, then turn it on to see if it works. It doesn't. After a fair bit of playing around and a factory reset, I confirm that the device can boot but the touch controls are dead. And the phone won't charge. All indications point to a dead phone.


As it turns out, I'm not alone in losing an expensive phone due to a tiny mistake. A friend dropped an Android from waist height onto a linoleum floor and the screen cracked. Another friend had his iPhone removed from the corporate network due to something about security (he now has a Blackberry and hates it). And I met someone else with a new Nexus One, also with hardware faults. The more I read online, it seems these things crack easily, can't sustain the tiniest amount of moisture, and need to be reset constantly due to software glitches. I'm talking smartphones in general here, not specifically Android. They just don't seem anything like as sturdy as normal cellphones.

The good

There are some things I will miss if I decide not to go Android again. The first is my bike-riding routine - which involves Runkeeper to record my loop times (and monthly total distance), the music hammering out something to get the blood pumping, and the phone headset in case a client calls. I quite like to go for a sneaky bike ride during work hours, divert the landline, and pretend I'm in the office if someone calls. I'll definitely miss that, and dread going back to the dusty old ipod + itunes.

It's an immensely handy tool for powder days too. Plenty of times last season I would drop tools and skip off up the mountain for some skiing because the weather was good. More than once, my day got interrupted with urgent stuff, which is fixable with a smartphone. You can bring up a webpage, see what's going on, login to the hosting control panel, email the client back, FTP in and do stuff if you have to, etc. It gives more power for doing technical stuff when you don't have a computer handy. Far better than the alternative of driving back to the office.

I'll miss the news reader a lot. I never seem to find time to read the news at home or during the day, the Android has been great for catching up on the news while the kids play in the park.

And the camera on the Nexus One was well decent for a phone camera. A reasonable picture + plenty of storage space + the convenience of not having to carry around a proper camera means you take more photos when the opportunity arises. And that's a good thing. Also the Android is great for flicking through old photos, with the big screen and all.

Special mention goes to the maps and navigation features - absolutely lovely tools to have when away from home.

The bad

These are all good things, but there's also the everyday annoyances which come about all the time when doing basic tasks. There's the crappy reception to consider - remember I'm comparing a $1000 brand new Nexus One to a 5 year old $250 Nokia here so really there's no excuse. There's countless small usability things like the above blinky light. There's this annoying glitch where the phone's touch screen won't respond after waking from sleep - even if the phone is ringing I often can't answer because the touchscreen takes 20 seconds to sort out it's shit. This issue is especially bad when Skype runs in the background which means I don't run Skype anymore. The email client has recently got mind-numbingly slow, taking about a minute on average to check email even on Wifi. Facebook photo uploads fail about half the time. The phone overheats when I use a protective case on it. The Google calendar doesn't seem to stay in sync properly and can't be trusted. The speaker gets drowned out easily if the phone is placed on certain soft surfaces, meaning you don't hear it ring.

A lot of this is minor, but seeing as we are talking about user experience, this is what spoils the fun.

The ugly

Then there's Google's new 15 minute refund policy. Yet again, Google completely missing the point and offering no sensible explanation to users or developers. The Android Market previously offered a 24-hour no questions asked refund on any paid app - giving you time to evaluate and be sure that the app worked on your hardware (which isn't a given). In my mind easily the best feature of the Android market, and a fantastic feature that iPhone users don't get. A clear point of difference that made Android's market better if you will.

It's now shortened to 15 minutes and as usual, Google has fuck all to say on the matter other than "most people who request a refund do so within the first 15 minutes of download and that’s why the change to 15 minutes". Which reminds me of when hard drive warranties in NZ went from 5 years to 1 year becasue "it's better for consumers that warranty periods are standard across all components". Right.

What Google have forgotten is that the 24 hour refund period puts the onus squarely on the developer to produce quality applications at a fair price. This is a massive driving force behind improving the quality of paid apps in the marketplace. Seriously, if a paid app can't sustain enough interest to make buyers want to keep it for just 24 hours, then it doesn't sound like a very good app to me.

Openness is about letting things succeed on their own merits. It's not about pedding something average and using complicated license agreements and contracts to screw the user out of choices and freedoms. The move to 15 minute refunds is a move away from openness and towards 'buyer beware'. In what world can this be a positive step?

Sleep on it

So I'm going to have to think about this for a bit, and in the meantime see how my old Nokia treats me. It's certainly much more comfortable in the pocket and the battery life is fantastic, but it does have a few glitches of it's own to deal with.
A lot will come down to whether the insurance company ponys up the cash for the replacement - there's no way I liked the Android enough to want to fork out another $1000 of hard-earned cash, but for an insurance payout I might go there again. I'd love to be able to finish off the half-complete Android apps I'm working on if I ever find some free time.
I'll also revisit the idea of an iPhone4 again - maybe there's some merit in that idea after all with the benefit of hindsight?

One final thought - don't you just wish Nokia would make an Android phone? I'm certain their awesome hardware would go a long way to fixing many of Android's shortcomings
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