Help a farmer find his smartphone?
April 27, 2010 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Which is more durable? The iPhone or the Nexus One? Or something I haven't heard of yet?

My first generation, hand-me-down iPhone is finally on its last legs and needs replacing. I've found the phone (with a rubberized case and screen protector) to be shockingly durable. I've dropped it dozens of times, smeared... um... chicken byproducts on the screen, and once set it on muddy ground directly downhill from the waterer I was pouring out. (What can I say? I thought I'd check my email while draining the trough.) As you might imagine, I'm a bit hard on phones. However, I'm hooked on the smartphones and I now need to replace it and I'm considering the Nexus One. Or another iPhone. Or something I haven't heard of yet.

My criteria, unless you see a better solution:
-as few moving parts as possible
-some degree of water resistance
-decent impact resistance
-a *decent* camera, doesn't have to be great, just adequate. Not for snapshots but more for visual records
-no symbian and no windows whatsoever.

Things that are required before I give up and go to a Nokia 3rd world special/burner:
-calendar with gCal integration
-good mobile web experience. The iPhone has spoiled me

Things I can't do with my current phone that I'd like to do in the future:
-have good access and editing of google docs in the field. Oooo, dropbox integration would be awesome as well
-tethering (I think that's the term?) so I can use my phone's Internet connection with my macbook

Salient facts:
-My spouse and I are in a contract with AT&T for the forseeable
-I've had no problem with reception and data access with the AT&T network in the greater Seattle, USA area. I know that this is weird.
-The best price I can get on the iPhone and Nexus are, respectively, $299 and $529
-I consider Apple, AT&T, and Google to be interchangeably evil. If there's an option that's not overtly evil, I'm willing to bend on some other requirements.
posted by stet to Technology (27 answers total)
Response by poster: Oh, also, music and video playback are irrelevant to me. I don't think I've ever used my current phone as a music player.
posted by stet at 9:27 AM on April 27, 2010

Voting for the Nexus One, but insatiably curious why you think Google is evil.
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:33 AM on April 27, 2010

Best answer: If you want good gdocs editing you just need the google app for iPhone. I mean, if you can wait for the G4 launch, I'd say wait and compare to the nexus at that time. The thing I keep hearing about the nexus is that it's HEAVY. Add a really good case (like the otterbox that I assume you are using w/ the iPhone) and it will be heavier.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:36 AM on April 27, 2010

Best answer: Voting for the Nexus One, but insatiably curious why you think Google is evil.

Really? Draconian policies, complete lack of transparency to it's partners and a general sense of big brother aren't enough reason?

To point - I've been pretty impressed by the durability of the iPhone 3GS. Much better than I anticipated. I don't carry mine in a protective case, nor with a protective cover on the screen. Outside of a few light scratches on the Apple logo the phone looks brand new. Granted, I'm not known to be hard on my electronics, but I do carry it with me everywhere and I have dropped it a couple times.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:37 AM on April 27, 2010

I am able to tether my Droid to my wife's macbook, while she can't do that with her iPhone. Though I have heard that this is because of AT&T, since our Canadian friends regularly tether their iPhone to their Macbooks. So you might be out of luck with the tethering by staying with AT&T, unless you're willing to jailbreak/root your phone?

Speaking of the Droid, I love the OS, Android, and that is what the Nexus One runs, so I would recommend that as well.
posted by Grither at 9:38 AM on April 27, 2010

Don't know much about the Google Android phones other than what I've read on the interwebs, so this is going to lean heavily on the iPhone. Sorry about that.

I think one thing you should consider is the apps. If you've had your first-gen iPhone from the beginning (or thereabouts), you've presumably amassed a pretty large collection of free and paid apps and a particular usage pattern. This is by no means a final judgement on Android or any other mobile OS, since it's early days yet, but the ecosystem isn't quite as developed and you may find there are things you want to do but can't because there isn't an App For Thatâ„¢. As I've said though, this is a presumption on my part and you might just have a handful of apps.

Regardless of which option you go for, your post suggests that your current iPhone is on its last legs but not yet dead. In that case, buying an iPhone now is a terrible idea. Why? Because a new iPhone will be released in June. Full details can be found here, but the long and short of it is: a faster processor (even faster than the 3GS); a higher-resolution camera with flash, as well as a front-facing camera for video chatting; a new design; significantly improved battery life. Since Apple only releases new iPhones on an annual basis, comparing the iPhone 3GS to the current crop of Android phones is unfair since most of them were released in the last few months, whereas the 3GS is close to a year old.

(Apologies if you know all this already.)
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 9:41 AM on April 27, 2010

Best answer: The Nexus One has more moving parts by far: more buttons and a trackball.

Water resistance is going to come from a case. I would recommend the Otterbox Defender for the iPhone. I'm sure there's a similarly rugged case for the Nexus One.

I'm not sure which phone has better innate impact resistance, but this video of the stress test process for the Nexus One suggests it's probably pretty good.

I think it's pretty clear now that if you can afford to wait until July that the next iPhone should sport a substantially improved camera compared to the 3GS.
posted by jedicus at 9:42 AM on April 27, 2010

Response by poster: insatiably curious why you think Google is evil.

Oh, the usual. Data aggregating and mining for marketing purposes, concentration of access to information in a single point of failure, youtube comments... that sort of thing.

MM: I was not aware of the google apps app, I'll look into that. Weight in general is pretty much a non-issue as my pants are already burdened with a pocketknife, a flashlight, the biggest leatherman made, and some bypass shears. A phone is simple lost in the noise.

I've heard great things about the Droid, but a slidey keyboard won't last in my pockets. And waiting for the next iPhone is prohibitive on account of my current phone rings and receives audio only intermittently.
posted by stet at 9:45 AM on April 27, 2010

My experience with two Palm Pre phones has been mixed. The first Palm Pre died when I dropped it into a river from 3/4 of the way up a 500' cliff. On the other hand, leaving it on the roof of the car and driving down a logging road didn't do any significant damage.
posted by foodgeek at 9:46 AM on April 27, 2010

You might check out the Droid Incredible which comes out this week from Verizon, it's very similar to the Nexus (both made by HTC) and Gizmoto says it "is the best Android device that you can purchase in America right now."
posted by octothorpe at 9:57 AM on April 27, 2010

I'm also hard on phones, and my iPhone 3g is as durable as any I've ever had. I've only got the screen protecting film on it. It's gotten wet, dropped on concrete, accidently slapped down ahrd on concrete, etc. etc. Unless something super awesome comes out (which I don't preclude), my next phone (in like 5 years) will be an iPhone.

I knew someone with a Droid and I tried it. Hated it. Feels like a toy, the touch screen is wonky and laggy. GPS is very, very spotty in cities. She ended up selling it a t a loss because it was a few days outside of ehr exchange date and she just wanted to get rid of it.
posted by cmoj at 10:00 AM on April 27, 2010

I drop my Droid about once a week and the keyboard and slide function still work like the day I got it. And it really stays closed in my pocket.

I'm an android but I agree with those who say you should wait and see what the next iphone is in June and then make your decision.
Since you are having problems with your current phone, you could get a $10 basic one in the meantime or switch back to an old phone (have you kept any of yours or your wife's?)
posted by rmless at 10:01 AM on April 27, 2010

The Nexus One has more moving parts by far: more buttons and a trackball.

I have never seen or touched this phone, but do NOT get it. I don't see a trackball lasting a week with your type of usage. I had a Blackberry Curve with a trackball, and man, never ever again. There's a reason we don't use trackball mice anymore: Even in the controlled environment of a desk, crap gets it there. Lots of crap. Except at least with a mouse the thing is big enough you can reasonably take it apart and clean it without risking total destruction. It's a terrible system for any phone.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:07 AM on April 27, 2010

I think the difference in durability for you will be largely negligible compared to a good case and mindfulness. In 99% of situations where a phone gets wet, the difference in the number of buttons between an iPhone and a Nexus One isn't going to be the deciding factor between drippy and dead.

My advice? Stick with the iPhone if AT&T is delivering acceptable service to you. I'm not seeing any compelling reason for you to switch.
posted by mkultra at 10:15 AM on April 27, 2010

I'd agree about getting a good case and not worrying about it.

And as for Apple vs. Google, neither company is perfect. Apple is a little evil, but in a way that we all can see and understand, and in a way that churns out amazing products. Google is the least evil big company out there, but we're making the assumption that a News Corp will never have the money to buy them and that they'll never be compelled to just hand over their entire database to the government.

Apple is like getting stabbed with annoying usability needles all the time. Google is a huge privacy bomb waiting to go off. Pick your poison!
posted by paanta at 10:29 AM on April 27, 2010

Since you're in Seattle and on AT&T, you won't be able to tether an iPhone to a laptop without jailbreaking. If you're outside the USA that wouldn't be a problem.

Android tethering should be easy, but the waterproofiness might be an issue.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:06 AM on April 27, 2010

Unlike the various blackberries, I don't think you actually NEED the trackball to use a Nexus One. Even if it broke, the phone should still be fully functional.
posted by The Lamplighter at 11:56 AM on April 27, 2010

I own a nexus one.

It doesn't seem heavy, but I haven't owned an iphone. I rarel use the trackball. I only use it in cases where I'd fat finger navigation / text editting otherwise.

The current nexus one doesn't do 3G on AT&T, only on Tmobile. It does Edge, or 2G on AT&T I believe.

It can tether with appropriate apps from the android market.

It's a good phone for me, but if you're stuck with AT&T and happy with your iphone, then the nexus one would be more pricey, and slower internet access.
posted by garlic at 12:08 PM on April 27, 2010

Best answer: I have a Nokia N900, which hasn't been mentioned yet. The OS is called Maemo, and the next major version is to be called 'Meego'. The current Maemo release meets many of your criteria:
  • It's a smartphone that isn't from Apple or Google
  • It's not Symbian
  • decent impact resistance
  • a decent camera, doesn't have to be great, just adequate. The 5MP camera onboard is pretty high resolution but it's not going to compete with fancy flashes and zoom lenses
  • calendar with gCal integration. I think gmail has an exchange / outlook interface that Maemo hooks into. The lack of calDAV is dissapointing, but may be resolved in Meego.
  • there is an IMAP client built in, but it's missing IDLE, and google mail is notoriously bad about imap support (just enough to get outlook running). gmail worked with firmware 1.0, but has problems with 1.1. It may be fixed again in 1.2
  • good mobile web experience. Pretty sweet gecko based rendering system, and firefox is prototyping their mobile build, Fennec, on the N900.
  • tethering (I think that's the term?) so I can use my phone's Internet connection with my macbook. This is on my todo list and I'm pretty sure it's doable.
On the minuses:
  • as few moving parts as possible. It's got a slide out keyboard and a slider switch to screen unlock. There is an onscreen keyboard if you're worried about a part failure making the phone useless.
  • some degree of water resistance. I have no clue about this, and I'm not willing to find out ;)
  • have good access and editing of google docs in the field. Oooo, dropbox integration would be awesome as well. I don't know of any Maemo apps for this, but the browser might handle the HTML versions? Dropbox doesn't support maemo either.
  • It's only marginally cheaper than a droid.
  • The n900 supports GSM but only Tmobile's 3g frequency, not ATT's. You'll be limited to EDGE speeds for as long as you're with ATT

posted by pwnguin at 12:59 PM on April 27, 2010

I went from a 1st-gen iPhone to a Nexus One, and love it. The N1 just keeps getting better and better. Apple has the advantage in terms of available applications, but I've found stuff on the Android Market to do everything I need so far.
posted by mrbill at 1:50 PM on April 27, 2010

Android Market passes 50,000 apps.
posted by psyche7 at 2:55 PM on April 27, 2010

This article today in Wired might persuade you to consider alternatives to the Nexus One. I hear the Incredible will be good, but wait until the new iPhone is out so you can do the comparison.
posted by arcticseal at 3:05 PM on April 27, 2010

I'm a recent android convert, total connectivity and apps galore. Cannot really comment on Apple as I hate it with a vengeance! Something to do with smug authoritarian attitude and need to sell your soul entirely to AppleCorp for things to work.
Have you looked at some HTCs? 'Legend' has an aluminum frame and gets good reviews. has a good advance search feature which may help.
posted by BadMiker at 3:45 PM on April 27, 2010

One word: Nokia

Reliable, rugged, great battery life.
posted by Aztekker at 5:12 PM on April 27, 2010

Best answer: It's a pity you can't wait a little, because the Motorolla i1 sounds workable for you: ruggedised Android.
posted by rodgerd at 2:39 AM on April 28, 2010

jedicus: the 4 buttons (back, menu, home, search) on the front of the nexus one are not moving parts, they are capacitive buttons, same as the rest of the touch screen, so the number of moving parts are almost identical to the iPhone.

Garlic: there are AT&T 3G compatible Nexus Ones now. it was just T-Mobile at launch but AT&T 3G has been available for a few months now.

as you can tell, I really like my Nexus One. before that I had the G1. But for your "working environment" the trackball is a big concern. People are right the phone is completely usable without the trackball, but it would still suck to have it break. If you do get a gunked up trackball, a little bit of spit gets the trackball moving again. gross but effective, and saved my G1 from more extensive exploratory surgery. I pre-ordered the G1 and it's still going strong, it became my wife's phone when I got the Nexus One.

I work indoors, but use my phone as my podcast/music player while doing yardwork, so I did exposed it to the elements. I didn't use any more of case than a screen protector to prevent scratches. I think HTC knows how to build a durable phone, but you'd definitely be pushing it to the limits.
posted by jrishel at 12:30 PM on April 29, 2010

Response by poster: Dang. Thank y'all. I went with an iPhone and an Otterbox, which I hadn't heard of earlier.

Also, I am so on ruggedized motorolas it aint even funny. If I can grab one of them that's unlocked then I'm very happy. Thanks, y'all.
posted by stet at 4:05 PM on May 27, 2010

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