What smartphone gives me root, has an OS that'll be around in 2 years, & won't crash too much?
November 2, 2011 7:07 AM   Subscribe

What smartphone should I buy if I want root on my device (without having to jailbreak it), hardware & OS quality (crashing once a month or less), and upgradability?

I want to buy a smartphone. Help me decide.

I care about:
  • Freedom (I want root on my phone without having to jailbreak it)
  • Hardware quality
  • Operating system quality (random crashiness is not acceptable)
  • Operating system longevity & upgradability (Maemo and Meego went away pretty fast, and I don't want to buy a device that will never see another OS upgrade)
I'd rather have a physical keyboard, either in addition to or instead of a touchscreen, but I can stand not having one. And I have basically no hope that I could get a device made under fair labor practices and with any attentiveness to the environmental impacts of its manufacture, but am willing to be surprised.

I really do not care how many apps are available for a device -- I'll be fine if it browses the web, makes and receives phone calls, and it would be lovely if it takes mediocre photos and plays music. And it can be big and heavy and ugly and I don't mind as long as the hardware is robust.

I am planning on buying a device, that is, buying an unlocked one separately from getting a data/voice plan from a carrier (see again: my interest in freedom). I acknowledge that I am being picky here so I'm fine with spending commensurately. And I live in the US but am willing to purchase devices from abroad. For example, if multiple people have tried the Geeksphone Zero and can recommend it (found via cmonkey's comment in a previous thread), I'm willing to pony up.

posted by brainwane to Shopping (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Upgradability is incredibly hard to predict, as your own link shows; this is particularly true of Android devices, which are also the only ones that are reliably rootable without jailbreak. Assuming it's rootable to your satisfaction, I'd be inclined to go with the Galaxy Nexus, on the basis that Google's own flagship devices are the ones most likely to actually get upgrades over the long term.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:12 AM on November 2, 2011

If you're ok with a dearth of apps, and all you want to do is browse the web, take pics, make calls, and listen to music...well, I just bought a 16GB HP Pre 3 off of Amazon for $230 - with a free touchstone for wireless charging. 1.4 Ghz CPU, physical keyboard, 800x480 screen, gorilla glass, the aforementioned wireless charging...it's a pretty sweet device IMHO. I really like it thus far.

Oh, and rooting webOS is semi-officially supported - it's done by enabling 'developer mode' via the Konami Code - in the search app, you just type the string 'upupdowndownleftrightleftrightbastart". I found that pretty awesome in and of itself. Once you've done that, you can install the Preware homebrew app store and tweak webOS in all kinds of ways.

Nobody really knows what the future holds for webOS in terms of future updates - the Pre3 has already seen one OTA update, but since the future of webOS is up in the air, who knows.
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:48 AM on November 2, 2011

Buy an HTC-made Android phone. They offer unlocked bootloaders for all their devices (that is, rooting the phone is encouraged by the manufacturer and is trivial to do). Their phones are extremely popular (they're the #1 Android phones in the U.S.) and they've been around a long time. The first Android phone way back when? The Google phone? Yeah, that was an HTC. The Nexus One, the second Google phone? That was an HTC, too.

I owned a Google phone (G1) and own a Nexus One. They're both very well-made phones and I'd recommend an HTC product to anyone. They compare favorably to the phones my wife has owned but with none of the rooting issues.
posted by introp at 7:56 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Tomorrowful. If you want the best shot at "longevity" on an Android device, get the newest Nexus. That said, who knows what the Motorola deal will bring, it's entirely possible that all of the future Nexus devices will be built by Motorola.
posted by Oktober at 7:58 AM on November 2, 2011

The only OS that gives you all of that in a stock--more on that below--phone is "Google Experience" Android, which is only available on Nexus devices (which have come from at least 2 of the hardware manufacturers). However, with the Motorola Mobility purchase by Google, that may be the way to go in the future. And as you said, Meego went away, although it's worth it to note that the hardware is being reborn as the Nokia Lumia 800, running Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango," which will presumably be moved to Windows Phone 8 (here's a comparison with the iPhone 4S and Galaxy Nexus). I'm not sure how well rooting works on Windows Phones, though.

Another plus in the Android column is that, being open-source, you can run alternate ROMs as long as the phone has unlocked bootloaders, and HTC and Samsung seem to be the most lenient in this respect. The most popular ROM seems to be CyanogenMod 7, which is currently using Gingerbread (2.3.x). However, officially Google has claimed that they will release full source code for Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0, possibly already 4.0.1) on the same day as the Galaxy Nexus, which means that CyanogenMod 8 will likely be almost identical to what you will get with a stock Google Experience phone. It may take a little while though: update time lags anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks behind official Google releases, this is a major upgrade, and it often depends on which device you have. But, as your graph pointed out, update time for carriers and/or manufacturers ranges from weeks to never, so it may be worth it. In this case, you'd want to look for anything with decent hardware and a MicroSD slot, then hit up the forums at xda-developers for your device and read up.

TL;DR: For stock hardware that will last you 2 years and get OS upgrades on a regular basis, get the Galaxy Nexus. Otherwise, any HTC or Samsung phone should do as long as it's powerful enough and you feel comfortable installing alternate ROMs
posted by zombieflanders at 8:14 AM on November 2, 2011

What you've described is a Nexus-dramded Android phone. Either pick up a now-cheap Nexus S, or wait for the Galaxy Nexus to drop.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:24 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Damn phone keyboard. (Incidentally, on my Nexus S.)
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:24 AM on November 2, 2011

I have the Droid Incredible 2 (Verizon) and I think it's pretty ideal. It was easy to root and there's an officially supported version of CyanogenMod for it, so there shouldn't be any issues upgrading to Ice Cream Sandwich, the next version of Android. It's a Verizon phone but it's also an unlockable worldphone, so you should be able to use it anywhere (although maybe not on other carriers in the US).
posted by iamscott at 8:41 AM on November 2, 2011

I wouldn't buy an HTC android phone if you want it to work seamlessly with updates. I've had three and they don't. The hardware runs fine on the OS that's current when you get the phone but the whole thing goes to Hell in a handset when you update. HTC support sucks, they support hardware for a year max, and there is limited backwards compatability. For example the latest Android update? disabled the WiFi on the HTC desire. Which was the latest, greatest thing as recently as January.

My next phone will probably be a windows phone, much as I dislike MS. At least they work.
posted by fshgrl at 8:45 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd buy any of the official Google phones. So the Samsung Galaxy Nexus would work. The updates come very regularly and you can root 'em.
posted by devnull at 8:48 AM on November 2, 2011

They offer unlocked bootloaders for all their devices (that is, rooting the phone is encouraged by the manufacturer and is trivial to do).

Not completely true. I have a Canadian HTC Sensation and as yet it cannot be rooted.
posted by dobbs at 9:43 AM on November 2, 2011

Response by poster: I greatly appreciate all your answers.

The more I thought about buying a smartphone the more my sentimental side rose up in protest against buying an Android device, and I used to have a Nokia N900 so I'm somewhat familiar with that ecology and (as I realized) sentimentally attached to the Maemo legacy. So I got a Nokia N9. Maybe I'll regret it and get a WebOS or Android device if it doesn't work out for me.
posted by brainwane at 8:02 AM on May 17, 2012

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