Because it's the phone I deserve. Just not the one I need right now.
May 20, 2010 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Do I really want an Android phone?

I live in Europe, and I regularly visit the US for short periods. I'm using a cheap phone (never have had a smartphone/Blueberry/iPhone). I'm thinking about buying an Android phone, though, maybe the HTC Hero or the Motorola Milestone or the Nexus One. But is this really what I want/need?
  • I RARELY use my phone to make calls or texts, partly because I don't like my current cheap phone, but partly because I try to stick to email. I like having the option of being connected, but I can do without it most times.
  • I don't a need constant wifi connection. I have a Kindle, and I've appreciated being able to get wikipedia on occasion, but I can usually wait to get home to use my computer. The wifi on my Kindle is off 99% of the time.
On the other hand:
  • I do like the physical form factor of these new phones, though, a LOT.
  • I think I might find a use for the apps, although I'm not sure to what degree. I'm assuming I'll be able to find things like flash card apps, currency converters, time-killer/brain-trainer games, etc.
One more thing:
  • I pretty much need to be able to swap out prepaid/pay-as-you-go SIM cards, in both Europe and the US. Will this even be possible with the newest Android phones? And besides, with the T-Mobile plan, I don't think I'll have a data plan. Can I even connect to the Android App store?
Given all this, is an Android phone what I really want? Or should I stick to my cheapo dumphones?
posted by Busoni to Technology (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How about a Peek?
posted by schmod at 12:19 PM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: Yes, you want one.

I never cared too much for my dumb phone, as I'm not much of a talker on the phone. I can barely imagine life without my smartphone, though. The best thing about 'em is the sheer ridiculous volume of information about your physical environment right at your fingertips. Location awareness is incredible when you're traveling. You're almost never lost. You don't have to eat at crappy restaurants that cater to travelers and tourists. You don't need to spend any time before your trip trying to figure out where you'll stay or what you'll do when you get there. I find it very liberating.

As for what phone you get, I have no idea what's best on the Android front or what the best way to get data while abroad is. I just wanted to give my plug for smartphones in general. :)
posted by pjaust at 12:24 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

My wife has one and sometimes has problems with her face touching the touchscreen during a call and disconnecting the call.
posted by caddis at 12:29 PM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: I got a Motorola Droid a few weeks ago and love it. I convinced Mr. ambrosia to get one too (well, the buy one get one free thing helped a lot) and although he was initially skeptical, he keeps finding new apps to rave about. (Even if I must point out that a Droid makes for a pretty expensive bubble level.)

The integration with Google apps is seamless, and so if you have given yourself over to the Googleplex (as I have) it's a snap to set everything up, and you can make your phone alert you to new email.

Yes, you want one.
posted by ambrosia at 12:30 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

there are apps available to turn off the mobile data connection (Data Toggle widget in Market), and everything else will work over wifi when available, and you'd still be able to make calls and recieve SMS.

Yes you want the Android. I had the G1, now I have the Nexus One. it's very good.
posted by jrishel at 12:31 PM on May 20, 2010

Response by poster: Additionally, if you do recommend I get an Android phone (as most people seem to be doing), any recommendations on which to get, and how to reconcile the international/prepaid issue would be great.

@pjaust, can I ask you what kind of phone you're using? I'm guessing you're on a data plan?
posted by Busoni at 12:40 PM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: I've found that my Android phone, like my laptop, is something I didn't realize how much I needed until after I had it. It's extremely useful.

Yes, you can switch out prepaid SIM cards, provided as you have an unlocked GSM phone. Phones bought through a carrier (esp in the US) may not be unlocked. And not all Android phones are GSM.

Data might be a bit harder, but not necessarily impossible. I understand T-Mobile prepaid plans no longer include data. However, their Even More Plus Plan with 500 minutes and unlimited data is $60 per month, and requires no contract. So theoretically you could sign up and then just cancel after 1 month... or even a couple weeks. You might have to pay a $35 activation fee depending on your circumstances (I didn't have to pay it due to some promotional thing). How long would you be in the US at a time? $60-$95 might not be bad for 1 month of access.

If you can't find a prepaid/limited-time plan that meets your needs, well, every smart phone I've ever heard of supports Wi-Fi. And although Wi-Fi can't be found everywhere and isn't as convenient as a 3G connection, it's still prevalent enough that you'd be able to check your e-mail and do your surfing frequently. In my area (Detroit-area, MI, USA) every Panera, Barnes n Noble, Borders, and McDonalds has free Wi-Fi, and there are plenty of those around.
posted by Vorteks at 12:43 PM on May 20, 2010

Since you need a GSM phone, you don't want the EVO or the Droid. So the Nexus One would probably be your best bet.
posted by Vorteks at 12:46 PM on May 20, 2010

For prepaid SIMs, it's possible to get an "international SIM" that has semi-reasonable rates for voice calls. Celtrek is one company that sells these SIMs, you can google "international prepaid SIM" for others. I have never used one of these, but I'm planning to in October.

Unfortunately, data costs with this sort of SIM solution are prohibitive. $20+ per megabyte - OUCH!
posted by Vorteks at 12:54 PM on May 20, 2010

If you want a GSM version of the Droid look for the Motorola Milestone. Same phone, GSM guts.
posted by GuyZero at 1:10 PM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: In the US smartphones are discounted heavily with a 2 year contract. That contract includes data plans. I'd be curious what happens in European markets -- do they just market the phones at 200 dollars above the US price, or is there some other sneaky way they ensnare customers?

People report that their Nexus One works fine on Tmobile prepaid. My Maemo Linux phone (N900) works fine in the US on TMo prepaid call+SMS and wifi for data; so it seems your plan is possible and allowed if your phone purchase and cellular network supports GSM. I hear there's tricks to use dumbphone Web prices on smartphones, but they may be blocked without notice and I haven't tried.

I can't speak to Android the OS platform, but if it's anything like my smartphone there's plenty of free apps even without a decent app store -- Ovi is pretty terrible for Maemo. If we consider the sorts of gadgets purchased ten years ago, they're all compressed into there. MP3 player, camera, gameboy (emulators), pager, PDA, calculator, alarm clock, etc. Dumbphones offer some of these, but the UI is generally so horrible you never try to use them. I've used my old dumbphone calculator like twice, and it was impossibly opaque how to divide two numbers.

As a PDA, it's pretty good. With a high resolution touch screen, alarms are far easier to configure than my alarm clock ever was. Beyond this trivial use, I can set up events and calendars online and the phone picks up on them and their alarm settings -- the old goofy PDA sync tools are pointless now. There's a sound recording app I use to record meetings & lectures (I take poor notes).

I assume Google's geolocation software is much better than Maemo's, but both will probably be crippled without cellular data access. Similarly, you'll need to be stationary to fully utilize wifi; large building wifi networks don't generally support roaming. I just treat it as the price of admission.
posted by pwnguin at 1:10 PM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: Note that the HTC Desire and Nexus One basically the same phone inside (same processor, memory, camera, etc just a different casing).

Nexus One: Will get software updates first since it is Google's baby. Has a trackball and capacitive buttons (no clicky)

HTC Desire: Nifty Sense UI interface plus optical trackpad and physical buttons

Motorola Milestone: Slower than the other two phones but has a physical keyboard

AT&T doesn't really have prepaid or no contract plans so your best bet is Even More Plus on T-Mobile during your visits (just make sure your phone is compatible with their 3G frequency). You'll have to pay $18 for a SIM and then can just pay for the months you're in the states.
posted by barake at 1:15 PM on May 20, 2010

In the US smartphones are discounted heavily with a 2 year contract. That contract includes data plans. I'd be curious what happens in European markets

It works exactly the same way.

Do yourself a favour and get a phone with a camera that autofocuses. You'll want to use google googles.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 2:08 PM on May 20, 2010

My Droid Eris blows. At the moment, it has locked me out and will not allow me to log back in with the email address associated with it. Ordinarily though, when it's "working," I find that it inconsistently and erratically switches preferences that I have set, fails to send me notifications from gCal, and occasionally sends the same notification over and over and over. The alarm goes off at times that were programmed months ago, subsequently deleted, and haven't been seen since.

Really, I hate the shit out of this phone.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 5:59 PM on May 20, 2010

The Desire and the Nexus 1 are, as mentioned, essentially the same phone, but I believe the Desire available in Europe (at least the UK) will only work with 2G/Edge in the US. I think the Nexus 1 will be fully functional on both continents. You'll probably want to do your homework to find out if the phone you want will work with the carrier that has coverage in the place(s) you go in the US or be ready to be on a slow connection or hunting WiFi while you're there. (For example, Atlanta airport doesn't have free WiFi anywhere (here is a workaround I haven't tried yet).)

I just moved from old dumbphone to a Desire and love it. Your question isn't whether to do it, it's whether to do it now or wait for a newer model later this year with Android 2.2 or 3 already installed.
posted by K.P. at 7:56 PM on May 20, 2010

oops, that ATL-WiFi link is very old and probably doesn't work anymore. But they still don't have free WiFi anywhere in ATL except perhaps some first class lounge and the last time I was there and paid for it I got dropped and couldn't log back in and GRAR!
posted by K.P. at 8:05 PM on May 20, 2010

I have an Android phone which I like, but if you're not interested in making calls, sending texts, or accessing the mobile internet, I don't think you want a smartphone! It sounds like what you really want is some flash cards and a video game ... ?
posted by hungrytiger at 11:34 PM on May 20, 2010

Traveling in Europe, the first day of my trip I didn't have a local SIM or data plan, so no connection. I felt like a stunned monkey. I used to be a dumbphone devotee, but now that I have an Android phone, I use that online data connection all the time. Never lost, good restaurants and cafes. Wherever I am, I have the knowledge of a local.

T-Mobile US has some month to month plans that might be good deals for you when traveling. Unlimited data, reasonable prices. T-Mobile and AT+T are the two major GSM telcos in the US.
posted by zippy at 4:40 AM on May 21, 2010

Best answer: I use tmobile pay as I go with my nexus one. I don't have a data plan, and don't make tons of calls, but still find the device useful. I'd call my uses of it more as a pocket computer than as anything else. Specifically, music and podcast player, ebook reader, map of the local transit system, offline map of my state, camera, local copy of my google calendar, game player are all functions I use when not connected to a local wifi spot. And if I want to make calls or texts it'll do that, and if I track down a wifi spot, I can get the internet. I expect if you don't want to do things like that or other things that work on a pocket computer, then you don't want a smart phone.
posted by garlic at 11:35 AM on May 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. Garlic's use case sounds like what I can expect from my newly ordered and on-its-way Nexus One.
posted by Busoni at 6:07 PM on May 21, 2010

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