Why I’m Not Buying the Nexus One…or any Other Smartphone

My personal experience with AT&T has been so horrible recently that I’ve pretty much given up on using my iPhone 3GS as a phone. While some people have no problems at all connecting to voice and data services through the country’s largest phone service, it seems like I’ve had more dropped calls than completed calls. As Sumocat pointed out earlier today, you have to go with the network that works for you.

In my case, AT&T just doesn’t work reliably in my home office, in my neighborhood, throughout San Francisco, in chunks of Silicon Valley, on the Las Vegas strip or in Manhattan. As I’ve noted before, it’s one thing to have your work disrupted by dropped calls, but poor reception can cause a LOT of stress and even cost lives.

AT&T is not the only network that’s stressing out customers and dropping calls. Our own Warner Crocker is having trouble staying in touch during a crisis due to poor reception and battery life.

Warner’s reporting that AT&T’s the most reliable network at a hospital in Richmond, VA. His sisters are having trouble staying in touch via Verizon. Sumocat is also having issues with getting his Droid working in northern Virginia.

After not being able to get a hold of my family after a major earthquake in Northern California during CES, I decided to add a T-Mobile line to my mobile arsenal as insurance. I’d originally planned on spending about $500 and getting a contract-free Nexus One and paying month to month. After reading reports about so-so battery life and watching the calamity in Haiti, I’ve changed my mind and won’t be buying a Nexus One or any other smartpone for my T-Mobile line in the near future.

As much as the geek in me WANTS a Nexus One, there are more pressing matters. One, I need to be able to place and receive calls reliably, especially in case of a family emergency or natural disaster. Two, I decided to send the American Red Cross the $500 I’d set aside for the Nexus One.

The Nexus One has a pretty big battery pack, but like the iPhone it needs to be charged on a daily basis. When I went to India last month I carried an old Blackberry Pearl. Its battery is rated to last for up to 360 hours on standby and four hours of voice calls. I went over a week between charges. I’m sure there are even simpler phones with even better battery stamina out there, but the Blackberry Pearl will serve me fine for now. Voice calls have been crystal clear so far from home and on the road.

After watching what’s going on in Haiti in CNN and MSNBC, I’m now of mind that a phone with long battery life and a solid voice connection trumps fancy apps, slick user interfaces and killer industrial design. As much as the geek in me wants a Nexus One or a fancier phone, it’s much more important for me to know that my family can get in touch or that I’ll be able to place a call when needed.

For now, I’m keeping both my iPhone 3GS and the Blackberry Pearl. If push came to shove and I had to reduce my mobile carrier budget I’d ditch the iPhone and stick with the Pearl, knowing that I’d be able to dial 911 when my life depended on it. Hopefully I’ll never hit a concrete divider head on, injure myself in a motorcycle accident or have to put out a car fire on the side of a highway again, but if I do I sure as hell won’t trust my lfe to AT&T or a phone that’s low on juice.

Obviously, it’s not economical to have dual voice plans. It is relatively cheap to pick up a pre-paid phones. Most of my family is on AT&T. From what I can tell, T-mobile is being the most aggressive about improving its network in the San Francisco Bay Area. After I eat lunch, I’m heading over to the T-Mobile store and picking up an assortment of pre-paid phones to add to our emergency kits and distribute to family members.

I remember when my father bought his first mobile phone. It came in a briefcase and I believe  it was on Cellular One’s network. Back then, mobile phones were marketed as life lines and business tools. Nobody cared about anything else. I can only hope that our country’s wireless carriers can go back to these roots and start focusing more on personal safety and a tad less on entertainment and apps.

15 Comments

  1. Paul Harrigan

    01/18/2010 at 3:01 pm

    I agree with the lifeline thoughts.

    On the other hand, since battery charges degrade with time anyway, it strikes me that the key is about keeping things charged and chargeable.

    To that end, my biggest sorrow in getting the 3GS was that the old 9V battery adapter I had for my ipod no longer worked, and neither did its predecessor that used AA’s — the most commonly available batteries.

    Since I don’t live in a city with meaningful mass transit, I use car chargers extensively. (In SF, with the Metro and Bart, I am not sure what I would do, which is why your approach may be much, much better for you.)

    Yet, the key clearly is preparation, and I applaud you for putting that in the forefront!

    Reply

  2. turn.self.off

    01/18/2010 at 3:07 pm

    and this is why i carry a SE featurephone and a N800, and do not plan to grab a N900 any time soon (tho i keep an eye out for any non-phone devices similar to the N800 or N810).

    Reply

  3. Xavier Lanier

    01/18/2010 at 3:08 pm

    @Paul, you are absolutely correct about batteries having limited shelf life. Trust me, these things will get plenty of use subbing in for iPhones and AT&T in our extended family.

    Reply

  4. tyler

    01/18/2010 at 4:03 pm

    Please… get over yourself. Anyone who relies on their phone that much needs to check in with reality. Need someone remind you that 15 years ago people would be praying for the intermittent connection that you are currently complaining about?

    Life happens. I can’t believe you are letting that stop you from getting something you want.

    Reply

  5. Xavier Lanier

    01/18/2010 at 4:11 pm

    @Tyler, times change and like it or not, a lot of us rely on our phones for challenging times. I ask that you actually read Warner’s article earlier today. The reality is that poor battery life and a poor network connection are getting in the way of him and his family staying in touch during a critical point in their lives.

    I’m fortunate enough to get most of the things I want, but once in a while I let practicality get in the way of getting something I want. In this case, it’s a matter of personal safety vs. wanting another flashy smartphone.

    Reply

  6. Xavier Lanier

    01/18/2010 at 4:27 pm

    @ Tyler, btw – it really pisses me off that you’re posting from an AT&T MARKETING AGENCY and not disclosing so on your comments. Is this part of an organized campaign or are you just a bad apple?

    “Tyler” (if that’s even his real name) is posting from IP: 208.82.64.21 , which is assigned to Eprize, a marketing agency that counts AT&T as a client. http://eprize.com/portfolio

    If this is an organized AT&T campaign to call out bloggers I’m really, really disappointed in AT&T. They certainly have higher priorities than spending $ on activities like this.

    Reply

  7. CJ

    01/18/2010 at 4:56 pm

    @Tyler’s I agree with you 100%.

    @Xavier Why would Tyler need to say he works for a firm that has AT&T as a customer? He’s not bashing any competitors of AT&T or disagreeing with your claims of crappy service by AT&T. The fact that you felt the need to look up his IP address and accuse him of possible wrong doing shows a lack of journalistic integrity on your part. You should have left your comments at replying to the statements he made and not what you perceive to be a hidden agenda since his comments don’t hint at such.

    Reply

  8. Tyler

    01/18/2010 at 5:00 pm

    Touche! Nice work on the research.. I am not sure whether to be impressed by it, or feel sorry for you for not having anything else to write about that gives you the free time to do an IP lookup on each comment you get.

    Regardless, I do apologize as I was rushed when I was writing that last sentence and it did not come out how I wanted it to.

    What I was trying to say is that life is going to happen whether or not you have cell service or battery left, and if you are willing to sacrifice stuff that you want due to your fear or complex about bad things happening, then guess what? Life has beaten you.

    Furthermore, (using your example above) in the event that you actually do get into a motorcycle accident, I HIGHLY doubt it will be you who is the one calling 911. And I would bet that your odds are fairly good that someone around you will not have an iPhone and will be able to call on your behalf.

    Reply

  9. Xavier Lanier

    01/18/2010 at 5:16 pm

    @Tyler checking up on an IP for a rather rude comment only takes about 10 seconds.
    We have plenty of material to write about and poor reception happens to be a topic Sumocat, Warner, myself and other bloggers have chosen to write about. Most of our mobile community understands the importance of staying connected and the challenges presented by various networks.
    After blogging for 4+ years it’s pretty easy for me to spot comments that are out of place.
    I’ve actually survived the above emergency situations with and without a mobile phone. And yes, a working phone would have helped in each. Of course you would’ve known that if you were a regular GBM or Notebooks.com reader.

    btw- which Verizon phone are you using these days?

    Reply

  10. Avram

    01/18/2010 at 5:19 pm

    Up until a few weeks ago, I felt the same that you do. I was the last person on my block and at my job to pony up for a smart phone and the associated data plan. I was very happy with the incredible battery life and solid voice quality I got from my Samsung Alias on Verizon. It only needed to be charged maybe once every 3 days and never dropped a call.

    However, knowing that a lot of the communication I do is via e-mail and IM, I made a calculated decision to get a smart phone, in my case a Motorola Droid. I really like my Droid and I have been able to have decent conversations on it. I still don’t think the voice quality is on par with my old flip phone,but the ability to get e-mail and IMs instantly is more important to me.

    I was in Vegas for 5 days, covering CES and I would not have been able to keep in touch with my coworkers in real-time without my Droid. For that, it was well worth the price.

    Reply

  11. Gary Harrison

    01/18/2010 at 5:38 pm

    I’m glad to hear you voice these concerns. I carry a little Samsung flip phone for voice connections – goes a week or so on one charge, and my little carrier (CellCom, a local Wisconsin carrier) had contracts all over the country, so I’ve never been without reliable voice anywhere in the US. I carry an iTouch for my PDA, and generally find enough wifi hotspots to do the email I need. I run a small business with clients all over the country, but I still have to ask, ‘how connected do we need to be?’ I don’t mind the $40+ bill for two lines, either :-)

    Reply

  12. Corinne

    01/18/2010 at 8:07 pm

    I have a blackberry on t-mobile. I also keep extra, charged batteries just in case. But, except for when I was at Cornell, I’ve never had service issues.

    I’ve been on T-mobile for 8+ years.

    Reply

  13. Xavier Lanier

    01/18/2010 at 10:51 pm

    @Avram, I do agree with you regarding needing a Smartphone for our line of work and that’s why I’m keeping my iPhone 3GS for the time being.

    Reply

  14. Gavin Miller

    01/19/2010 at 7:43 am

    Let’s not forget though how a Smartphone can actually help in an emergency! GPS for your exact location to give to emergency services, maps for finding hospitals, police etc. Being able to Twitter “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’. Joking apart, there have been circumstances where Twitter has been a link to the outside world.

    Other examples off the top of my head are Skype over WiFi for when you can’t get a signal, SMS to multiple recipients, Instant Messaging – all great communication tools which could be used in emergency.

    First Aid Apps, survival apps etc. all exist for reading at leisure and reference in an emergency. Oh, and don’t forget the flashlight apps! ;-)

    If challenging circumstances may arise then plan ahead with extra batteries or get an adapter for AA batteries for your phone and carry a dozen or so in your backpack. Let’s face it, if there is a huge catastrophe, it’s likely cell networks will be swamped anyway, but maybe those twitter messages, sms or IMs might get through.

    Thoughts out to Warner just now through his difficult time, and thanks for your Haitian efforts Xavier. Let’s not forget how short and precious life is, and how vulnerable we all really are.

    Reply

  15. turn.self.off

    01/19/2010 at 7:51 am

    i find it interesting how apparently easy it is to forget that twitter was designed around sms, given how many need a smartphone and custom apps to manage their follow list ;)

    Reply

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