10 reasons I dumped iPhone 3GS for Nexus One

On April 24, I put aside my Google Nexus One and purchased a white 32GB iPhone 3GS from AT&T. Two days ago, I returned the Apple smartphone and cancelled the service. My reasons should interest anyone considering AT&T and iPhone between now and June 1st, especially, and after June 7th. The first date is when AT&T jacks up early termination fees; the second, when Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 4G.

Let me start by saying that I won't pull a Dan Lyons. The Newsweek columnist and Steve Jobs wannabe also is switching from iPhone to Nexus One. But he unleashed one helluva venomous diatribe explaining why. I've got no venom to spew. I really enjoyed the iPhone 3GS and will miss using the device. My reasons are more pragmatic.

First some background: In October 2009, I moved my family from AT&T to T-Mobile, putting aside iPhone in the process. I had been an AT&T customer for about six years. My simple reason: Too many dropped calls. Six or more a day was a common number, with about as many failed outgoing calls. By comparison, I used T-Mobile for nearly five months before dropping a call.

But following Apple's April 8th iPhone OS 4 announcement, I reconsidered the switch. My major gripe with iPhone is multitasking, something Apple should fix well enough with iPhone OS 4. I hadn't tested iPhone apps for many months and wanted to prep for Apple's newest mobile operating system. Also, I didn't having a portable music player or good stereo digital recorder for doing interviews. Apple's smartphone could fill in for both.

So I finally decided to buy a new iPhone 3GS and start fresh with AT&T. In California, the buyer's remorse period is 30 days; I would have plenty of time to evaluate AT&T and iPhone 3GS. I also would be coming off the Nexus One, which would be a great comparison to the iPhone 3GS. To be clear: I planned on the switch being permanent; I ported my number to AT&T. But it was not to be. Here are my 10 reasons for dumping iPhone 3GS and AT&T (again), in no order of importance:

1. Dropped calls. During my first two weeks back with AT&T, I experienced fewer dropped or failed calls than before my departure in October 2009. Then the experience deteriorated. Last week, dropped and failed calls returned with a vengeance. For example, in conversations with my father-in-law and The Loops's Jim Dalrymple over one 15 minute period, calls dropped six times. I simply gave up talking to both men.

By the way, when I returned the iPhone, the AT&T rep asked where I live. She laughed and said that everybody at the store knows that my zipcode has some of the worst AT&T service in San Diego. "Oh?" I asked. "Then why when I asked about reception before, AT&T reps said it was strong in my area?" She didn't answer that question, but instead offered me an AT&T MicroCell. "We normally charge $150, but it's free to people in your area," she said. Basically, MicroCell acts as a local 3G hub connected to the home's broadband. Ah, no thanks.

2. Google is leapfrogging Apple. That's the story headline from Gizmodo on May 20, and I so totally agree. Apple's yearly iPhone release cycle simply isn't fast enough to stay competitive. Google has taken Android from version 1 to 2.2 since the T-Mobile G1 shipped in autumn 2008; Google is rapidly innovating by iteration. The pace reminds me of the browser wars, where Netscape lumbered along while Microsoft lept ahead.

The numbers tell part of the story. According to Gartner, Android handset sales rose to 5.2 million units during first quarter from 575,300 a year earlier. Last week, Google revealed 100,000 Android phone activations a day, which over one quarter puts units at 9 million -- or more than the number of iPhones sold during first quarter.

3. Android 2.2. The new operating system is chock full of exciting features, many of which either close the gap on iPhone OS or push ahead of it. Installation of apps onto memory card, Web-based app store, better suport for multiple e-mail accounts and faster Chrome browser are among the new features that turned me away from iPhone, even when anticipating v4. Then there is support for Adobe Flash, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs disses. He can keep iPhone. The real Web runs Flash.

4. Android notifications bar. Sometimes the simplest user interface feature can change everything. Good example is TiVo's program guide grid, which opened up the digital video recording market. Time-shifting wasn't a new concept. People could record shows on VHS tapes long before TiVo. But the program guide proved to be a simpler and much better motif. I say the same about Android's notifications bar, which by its placement, pull-down access and audible zing leaps way ahead of iPhone notifications. It's one of Android's killer features.

5. Desktop widgets. Returning to using the iPhone 3GS at first felt like returning to something old after using something new. The Nokia N900 and Nexus One spoiled me with their widgetized home screens. For example, while iPhone forced me to use various news apps, Nexus One provides a Google News widget accessing thousands of news sites. Nexus One kept me more informed than iPhone. Widgets make what is important readily available and updated in real time.

6. AT&T termination fees. On June 1st, AT&T will raise early termination fees from $175 to $325. I simply didn't want to be locked in to AT&T. I got to wondering why the increase, too. What is it that we don't know yet about iPhone 4G? Is Apple charging AT&T more for the new device? Is AT&T concerned about churn to other services, like Verizon and its two-for-one Android smartphone deal? Could AT&T and Apple be planning to lower iPhone's purchase price, increasing the carrier's subsidy while paying same price for the phone? Or perhaps could lower monthly subscription fees be coming? Is iPhone coming to other carriers and AT&T proactively acting to keep customers? As a journalist, I'm interested in the answers. As a consumer, with the number of dropped calls, I wasn't willing to be locked in for $325.

7. My wife loves the Nexus One. My beloved is an artist and non-geek. She simply doesn't like gadgets -- but she loves her Nexus One. After switching to iPhone 3GS, I offered her the Nexus One, not really expecting her to take to it; for starters, I find the Google phone to be kind of ugly compared to iPhone. What got her: The aspect of the user interface I also found appealing -- the notifications bar (see #4). Now she does e-mail and Facebook on her phone, because of the notifications. My wife had used an iPhone 3G in autumn 2008 and asked me to return it, which I did within the 30-day buyer's remorse period. She's keeping the Nexus One. I had to buy another, and it arrived while I was writing this post. By the way, nearly two weeks ago there was big noise about Google stopping Nexus One direct sales. Oh, yeah? When? I ordered my phone from Google on Sunday (May 23rd).

8. Blue Mikey. Like iPod Classic, when I had one, iPhone 3GS was to be my digital recorder with attached microphone. I purchased the Blue Mikey, which records in stereo on iPhone 3GS in airplane mode. I also purchased from the iTunes App Store $9.99 "FiRe - Field Recorder." But when I connected the iPhone to my computer, the recorded audio files wouldn't transfer. According to the FiRe's support site: "You cannot transfer your recordings using 'Sync' because it is proprietary to Apple." Say what? I was presented with ridiculous options like browser access over same WiFi network (which I couldn't make work) or uploading to FTP site. Frak that. When I'm recording interviews at events, there's no time to muck around with FTP sites. If sync isn't good enough, the product isn't good enough.

9. Service costs. I have five lines on T-Mobile, four of them with unlimited phone, Web and text. These five lines cost me less per month than four did on the AT&T 2,100-minute family plan. I paid more for Nexus One ($529) versus iPhone 3GS ($299), but Nexus One is unlocked and the extra AT&T monthly fees would close the price difference in less than two months of service.

10. I prefer the real Web to apps. With iPhone, there are too many disparate applications. Nexus One presents the real Web, which will be more real with Android 2.2. Google also presents the real Web in a really useful way, in the browser and with supporting app services. The emphasis is search and location -- what people need where they are. During the iPhone OS launch in April, Jobs asserted: "Search is not happening on phones." What alternate universe is he living? Search is one of the principle benefits of smartphones.

By the way, of course I do use apps. Amazon's release of Kindle for Android also factored into my decision, which leads to something else. Nexus One is all the tablet I need -- better because it's always with me. So also with the switch back to Nexus One came something else: Yesterday I sold my iPad to a good friend. As asserted last week, iPad isn't for everyone, and that includes me.

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