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Help me pick a phone that isn't an iPhone...but is kinda like an iPhone.
May 5, 2010 9:11 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend wants a smartphone for his birthday, but he doesn't know which one. Can you recommend one, based on the criteria inside the fold?

Please recommend a smartphone that might suit my boyfriend based on the following criteria:

- He is envious of the ease of installing applications on my iPod touch, but he doesn't want an iPhone because he feels like Apple artificially limits what you can do with it (he knows he could jailbreak it, but he still feels like getting one would be tantamount to supporting what he sees as "anticompetitive practices", in his words.)
- He enjoys programming (primarily he uses Java and Python, but I think he'd appeciate language flexibility) and he would very much like to be able to learn to write his own applications for his phone.
- He would prefer a touch screen
- I think Wifi capability is more or less essential to him.
- He doesn't care about cameras and so on.
- We are in Australia and he is on Vodafone, he would prefer to remain on Prepay but is willing to consider a contract deal as long as the ongoing monthly cost is under $50. He is probably willing to change networks and he is also fine with parallel imports as long as they work here.

Unfortunately I don't know very much about this stuff. I was looking at the HTC Magic running Android for him, but I'm wondering if the hive mind has any better suggestions? Thanks in advance!
posted by lwb to Technology (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Oh, and likely highly relevant: We'd prefer this to cost under $1000 AUD, under $800 would be even better.
posted by lwb at 9:13 PM on May 5, 2010


I have no idea about Australian pricing, but he wants an Android phone. Just get the one in your price range. The biggest consideration is really how much RAM it has (program memory, not the size of the SD card or internal storage), and whether or not it has and he wants a hardware keyboard.

They're programmed in Java, setting up the development environment takes about twenty minutes, and every phone is developer unlocked out of the box. The USB debugging system is absolutely killer. You don't get root by default, but you can root the phone [yes, I know how funny that must sound to an Aussie] if you find you need to (I haven't yet).

They all have WiFi (to my knowledge).

The Android Market operates much like the App Store, with on-the-phone purchase and download. However, there isn't the same quality control, so some of the applications are buggy and crashy. But, on the flip side, if you can physically do a thing with the phone, google will let you sell an app that does it.

Anyway, as a mobile phone developer, I can't imagine owning anything but an Android after getting my Motorola Droid.
posted by Netzapper at 9:22 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd definitely recommend an android phone. Java app writing, wifi, open network, based on linux.

The problem is Australian Telcos don't seem to be supporting the newer android phones, based on the various websites I've checked. The HTC magic isn't a great phone either, and wasn't even when it came out. I believe Telstra has the HTC Desire, which is a strong Android phone, and has the X10 out, which is more expensive, and seems to not have been updated to 2.1 yet.

Honestly I'd go with the Desire... the Sense interface is strong, and HTC is a market leader on Android.
posted by gryftir at 9:44 PM on May 5, 2010


I won't pretend to know anything about Australian mobile network coverage or pricing but Telstra has the HTC Desire. That's about the best Android mobile that is on the market (it was just released a few weeks ago). Netzapper is definitely right that Android is the platform of choice for a Java developer who wants to tinker with write phone apps.
posted by mmascolino at 9:49 PM on May 5, 2010


He'll like the Nexus One Android phone. More info here. Don't know if Vodafone in Australia is compatible, but Vodafone Europe just announced a partnership with Google in regards to this phone.
posted by zippy at 10:06 PM on May 5, 2010


If you decide to get an HTC Android phone, try not to go with the Magic. It's pretty old. The HTC Desire would seem to be the way to go - it's essentially a Google Nexus with Sense UI.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:12 PM on May 5, 2010


The HTC magic isn't a great phone either, and wasn't even when it came out. I believe Telstra has the HTC Desire, which is a strong Android phone, and has the X10 out, which is more expensive, and seems to not have been updated to 2.1 yet.

Yeah, I had pretty strong reservations about the Magic, which is the main reason I posted here. I somehow managed to completely miss the Desire when I looked at Telstra's offerings. It says it's exclusive to Telstra, does that mean it would be likely to be locked to Telstra? (I am pretty sure we would want to buy it outright rather than subscribing to that $60/mo contract.)

The X10 is a tad more expensive than I was hoping for, the Desire's outright price is fine though.

Great answers so far, thanks!
posted by lwb at 10:18 PM on May 5, 2010


Sadly, not an Australian, and don't own a Desire, so don't know about getting the Desire unlocked down there, but I believe it is unlockable.

I did find AusDroid who might be able to help you with specific questions.
posted by gryftir at 11:02 PM on May 5, 2010


I think the Desire is exclusive to Telstra shops at the moment (& likely for the next couple of months at least), but they'll sell them outright (no contract) for $780 - a friend bought one last month & is using it on Optus prepaid (IIRC). I don't think he was charged an unlock fee by Telstra, but double-check that before buying (I'd ask him, but he's just gone bush for a week into satphone-only territory!). AFAIK, the other part of the exclusiveness is purely the Telstra-branded bundled apps (Foxtel guide, Yellow Pages, etc).

The little bit of a play I've had with it impressed me, though personally I still think iPhone beats it. It's certainly much better than the Magic, which I thought was crap.
posted by Pinback at 11:45 PM on May 5, 2010


If anti-competitive practices are even a whiff of a concern, he needs to stay far away from Apple. Their stranglehold on their ecosystem is getting worse and they have the gall to wrap it under the guise of "best for the consumer experience" when really they simply want what's best for their pocketbook. (As made evident by them expressing editorial bents when rejecting apps, disallowing access to certain features on the phone, and rejecting apps built with cross-platform tools, among other examples.) But your boyfriend knew all that.

This is by way of saying that Android is absolutely, 100% the way to go. It is open, affordable, flexible, and the hardware is insanely impressive. The Desire is the equivalent to the Nexus One out in your neck of the woods, and he's going to be disappointed if he lands on this phone without the 3G equivalent, assuming Telstra offers that... By way of comparison, I paid $300 USD for my phone, shipped, and $100/mo. for unlimited everything. I'm not quite grasping what the $60/mo. Telstra plan includes or how data works, but he'll want it.

HTC builds great phones and they've only gotten better lately. I'm really impressed with my Nexus One and Android Eclair is fantastic.
posted by disillusioned at 12:48 AM on May 6, 2010


As others have said your choice comes down to the HTC Desire or the Google Nexus One.

The sense UI on the Desire is pretty nice but HTC are notoriously lax when it comes to providing software updates to the later versions of Android. Also (speaking from experience) their QA isn't so great so expect a few bugs which may, or may not, get patched down the line.

It isn't all roses with the Nexus One either though as Google have never sold a phone before and therefore are finding that customers expectations on after sales support differ wildly from what they currently are set up to provide (funnily enough, some forums and an email address of which neither are likely to get you an official response don't really cut it).

Also the default Android experience isn't bad but missing a lot of polish that the other vendors have had to add themselves. So he may find himself a tad envious of his Desire friends with their enhanced widgets, Facebook integration and other features.
posted by mr_silver at 1:28 AM on May 6, 2010


Since he's a programmer he'll likely prefer a phone with a real keyboard, take a look at the Motorola Milestone. All of the advantages of Android as above.
posted by devnull at 2:47 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought that the way Android uses Java is non-standard and tricksy?

I'm biased toward Linux and slightly biased against Google, so I recommend the Nokia N900. It's basically a full Linux computer in phone form factor. It's pricey, but most smartphones are. Cheaper than the iPhone though. No need to jailbreak, you are already the full owner of your N900.

Python supported out of the box - he could even hack at python on the phone!
You (your boyfriend) could even install a different distro/OS if you wanted - e.g. I'm sure an Android port is already happening in some basement as I write. Here's a random overview of it, good and bad.

I soo want one!
posted by blue funk at 3:53 AM on May 6, 2010


Another vote for Android. Also, if your boyfriend is nerd-inclined, and it sounds like he certainly is, then he'll have no problem finding developers that will push out updates much faster than HTC does on their Sense-enabled phones. Just point him to the XDA-Developers forum.

As for rooting the phone, it's generally a one-step process on newer phones. Hardly worth passing up Android for Symbian (sorry, blue funk, it had to be said.)
posted by InsanePenguin at 4:30 AM on May 6, 2010


Not sure what it's called elsewhere, but here in the US my sister just got the HTC Droid Incredible, and the name is fitting. I've got the Motorola Droid, which I love, and thought was totally awesome, until I played around with her phone. That thing is awesome. Fast and smooth and just beautiful. I highly recommend it.
posted by Grither at 5:02 AM on May 6, 2010


InsanePenguin, it's not a Symbian phone, it's a full Linux distro, Maemo. Android isn't quite a full Linux distro btw. Anything you can do on Debian, you can do on the N900.
(you should know that, with your name ;op)
posted by blue funk at 7:14 AM on May 6, 2010


Oh snap, I got called out!

Sorry, blue funk, I assumed the N900 ran Symbian, not Maemo. I'm aware Android isn't a full Linux distro, though. Haven't ever touched Maemo, I just hate Symbian. Does Nokia still run Symbian on any of their phones, or is it all Maemo now?


Full disclosure: My high-school flirtation with Linux was indeed influential in my handle, haha! I also run Ubuntu on an old laptop nowadays.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:33 AM on May 6, 2010


nthing the Nexus One. he'll be very happy with it.
posted by jrishel at 11:12 AM on May 6, 2010


Haha it wasn't really a call out, so much. I just ♥ Linux! Nokia have recently open sourced Symbian (I think there's still a few binary blob / firmware things closed source as Nokia doesn't own all of it) - the plan is apparently to keep Symbian for low-mid range phones, and MeeGo (ugh) for the smartphone/top end devices.

Erm, re-rail - The community and compatibility aspects of the N900 are really something to consider I think, lwb. Nokia are slowly becoming an Open Source company - the internet tablets (N770, N800, N810) are basically EOL'd by Nokia, but the community supports them with constant software updates. They have features now which weren't given them by Nokia. The hardware in the N900 was designed to support Linux from the ground up - I think it's a given that it'll be a usable piece of kit for years. Some Android 1.0 phones are already becoming unsupported (new features/updates-wise). I'm not anti-Android, it's just something to consider.
posted by blue funk at 12:09 PM on May 6, 2010


Sorry - one more thing: looks like the average price in Australian dollars would be ~800. HTH.
posted by blue funk at 12:15 PM on May 6, 2010


I have a Nokia N97 and love it. I too wanted to stay far, far away from Apple. I can basically do whatever I want with my phone. I bought it unlocked and just put my old SIM card into the phone and it worked perfectly (I had to call tmobile and have them add internet service to my phone plan, but that didn't require signing a contract.

If I were in the market for a new phone at the moment, I would go with the Nokia N900 (which others have mentioned here).
posted by parakeetdog at 1:38 PM on May 6, 2010


blue funk: Android is programmed in the Java language but code gets compiled down into a different bytecode format and is executed in something called the Dalvik VM as opposed to a Java VM. It also uses different libraries for things like accessing system services and creating a GUI. So while it is Java, it isn't quite like the Java standard that Sun has laid out for mobile Java or Desktop Java. In practice this just means that you need to learn the platform specific libraries.
posted by mmascolino at 8:17 PM on May 6, 2010


I thought that the way Android uses Java is non-standard and tricksy?

No. It's pretty standard on the programming end. In fact, it's more like the desktop Java than Microedition, though (which is a good thing, IMO). You even get floating point numbers (though it's often done in software, so it's slow).

Android is programmed in the Java language but code gets compiled down into a different bytecode format and is executed in something called the Dalvik VM as opposed to a Java VM. It also uses different libraries for things like accessing system services and creating a GUI. So while it is Java, it isn't quite like the Java standard that Sun has laid out for mobile Java or Desktop Java. In practice this just means that you need to learn the platform specific libraries.

It's a post-compiler that does the conversion.

I've successfully used several totally standard Java libraries, in bytecode form, in Android applications. They just get run through the Dalvik post-compiler along with the rest of your package. In practice, using the Dalvik post-compiler is pretty much like using a compression or obfuscation tool. No, if you want to use Struts or Hibernate, it's gonna fail... but, if you're doing that, you're doing it wrong.

In fact, most of the basic Java standard library is available on Android. Of course, as you say, the GUI library is different, as are a number of other system services. But, really, tell me the truth, do you actually prefer LCDUI?

Basically, Android complies with the Java language standard. It does not comply with the VM standard. And, in my opinion, that's just a-okay.
posted by Netzapper at 9:48 PM on May 6, 2010


It is looking like he will be going for the Desire, as there is conflicting information about whether the N900 is actually going to be released here and while he's willing to buy a phone from overseas, I think he'd prefer not to do so if there's an acceptable one available here. We may wait a few more weeks to see if the info re the N900 firms up in one direction or another, but as of now it's looking like the Desire is his choice.

Thanks everybody for your help!
posted by lwb at 7:18 PM on May 7, 2010


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