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A Tale of Three Mobile Operating Systems

I’ve used my mobile phones under unusual circumstances, at least for me. Mostly I was in areas where connectivity was nearly non-existant (Northern Alabama) or insanely expensive (traveling outside the US). Based on that, I have some interesting observations about three different operating systems: Symbian (at least as it exists on the US version of the E71), Apple iOS 4, and Android 2.1 on a Nexus One.

The iPhone

When I am traveling abroad, my iPhone is little more than an iPod touch. Unfortunately, my iPhone is locked to AT&T and I can’t use another SIM card in it. Despite the recent announcements from the US copyright office that unlocking your iPhone is illegal, Apple or AT&T refuse to unlock my iPhone. Unless it comes from one of those sources, there is no hope that whatever unlock I use–free or otherwise–will stick in the long term. It’s not something I want to mess with.

When I was in Northern Alabama, data connectivity was EDGE–somewhat expected when you get north of Birmingham and into less populated areas. However, the connectivity speeds were even slower than I would expect for EDGE. In the cabin where we were staying I almost had no signal at all! Whenever I tried to use my iPhone at all, data was excessively slow and most of the applications, be they ones built into the iPhone or ones I purchased from the App Store, pretty much gave up. This pretty much meant that the phone was mostly an iPod Touch.

Android with Nexus One

While I was in Northern Alabama, I had a Nexus One with me also. It seemed from my limited testing that the Nexus One was getting somewhat better reception than the iPhone. It also seemed to be a bit persistent on data connectivity than the iPhone was.

The upshot of this, along with the fact that Android allows applications to run in the background, meant that I was able to actually use the Nexus One even in these limited data connectivity situations. Podcasts would happily download in the background whenever there was data connectivity (using Google Listen), Twidroyd would happily refresh my Twitter timeline in the background, and I could periodically peek at my email. It wasn’t always realtime, but it was good enough. I even updated a few apps while I was in the sticks.

Unfortunately, because of the weak signal in the area we were, the battery drained on the Nexus One even faster than normal. This meant the phone pretty much lived on a charger most of the time.

In terms of UI, Android 2.1 is close to the iPhone. Unfortunately, apps are (at least in the areas I care about) not as plentiful as on the iPhone. The lack of a Skype client is a problem. While it’s not something I use that often, when I do, I need it.

The Nokia E71 and Symbian

Unfortunately, for the reason I liked Android in Northern Alabama, I dared not ever configure GSM or 3G connectivity on the Nexus One when I was in Europe in June. I had data connectivity thanks to the various global SIM cards I was carrying, but data connectivity was not cheap. I couldn’t use the iPhone, of course, so I was left with my tried and true platform: Symbian on the Nokia E71.

The normal incessant prompt for each data connection that I hate on Symbian actually comes in handy when you don’t have an unlimited data plan. First of all, you know when the phone is connecting somewhere because it prompts you. Second, as long as you use careful with the apps you use, you can make far better use of a scarse, expensive resource :)

Unfortunately, being that Symbian (and Nokia) doesn’t have a lot of market share in the US, Symbian lacks a lot of the cool apps that are available on my iPhone or Symbian, though there is a Skype client for it. My favorite and most used app by far is Gravity on Symbian, which is as good or better than any similar app on the iPhone or Android. This one app takes care of all of my social media needs as it supports Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Google Reader. It also supports status.net, though I don’t use that feature.

Conclusions

The reality is, a single phone does not currently meet all of my needs. The iPhone would likely be closest, but AT&T seems “unable” to unlock the iPhone–even though it is well documented that Apple has an official way to do this.

When I travel, I ultimately end up taking more than one phone in hopes that one of them will work optimally in the conditions I find myself in. While I’m sure the mobile phone manufacturers love this, I don’t. I really don’t want to carry so many phones with me. I just want to carry ONE phone. Is that too much to ask?


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