I must admit that I wasn’t on the Android train in the very early beginnings. Whereas our founder and editor in chief Rob Jackson was on the scene from day one, it wasn’t until around September 2008 that I began to hear the rumblings about the ever-dreamy “Google Phone.”
At this point, Apple’s new kid on the block — the iPhone, of course — was kicking butt and taking names, and Blackberry was still a pretty significant force. I was a Windows Mobile guy through and through, but I knew the platform was dying, and for some reason I wasn’t interested in replacing it with offerings from either Apple or Blackberry.
Perhaps part of it was because I wasn’t interested in doing business with AT&T at the time, but a big part of it is that I simply didn’t desire those more popular options. As a big fan of Google’s, I wanted Android. It was at that point that I’d decided I was going to grab the T-Mobile G1 (known as the first “Google Phone” or the “gPhone” in its earlier years) the first day that I could. This is my Android history.
Being a hardcore T-Mobile fan at the time, I was deeply invested in the Windows Mobile-based Shadow lineup, but I could feel Windows beginning to age. It was sheer luck and coincidence that T-Mobile was the only carrier that decided to carry the Android flag way back when. HTC was their running mate, with the Taiwanese company adding another “first” t0 their long list of them.
I’m talking about the G1, of course, the 3.5-inch keyboard-enabled smartphone that allowed us to enjoy the best of both worlds. Up until then, it was “do I want an awesome keyboard for texting and emails, or a big, beautiful, responsive display for games, videos and other multimedia?”
With the G1, we were able to get both. Granted, Android wasn’t nearly as smooth as iOS back then, nor was the G1 keyboard good enough to best the ones found on high-end Blackberries, but having the best of both worlds felt quite good. My G1 fanaticism was at an all time high after big upgrades like the ones to 1.5 Cupcake and 1.6 Donut, the updates which brought us things like on-screen keyboards, custom widgets, and other standard features we now take for granted in these more mature years of Android.
Things got even juicier once the custom ROM scene exploded with tons of great developers. Folks like JesusFreke and Steve Kondik (of CyanogenMod fame, of course) got their initial shine on this phone and platform, and they made folks like me and you proud to call ourselves geeks. Flashing new custom ROMs was like waking up for Christmas morning and finding a brand new gift under the tree every day. It was a magical time, indeed. Obviously, the train didn’t stop there.
The MyTouch 3G was the second Android phone T-Mobile launched, and the first one that came without a hardware keyboard (thanks to the aforementioned software keyboard finally introduced in Cupcake). The device wasn’t quite that far ahead of the G1 in terms of specs, though the added bit of RAM and internal storage made for a bit of a smoother experience at the time. My stint with the MyTouch 3G was short, because 3G was no longer relevant — 4G was calling my name over at the Now Network.
This was Sprint’s first 4G smartphone — in fact, it was the first 4G smartphone ever — and I just had to have it. I lusted so much that I had no problem paying T-Mobile $300 to escape a contract I’d just signed. Sprint’s promise of WiMax-based 4G LTE wasn’t the only thing that had me salivating.
This 4.3-inch device was massive for its time. It had a beautiful display, HTC Sense, and a kickstand (because, why not?). It was awesome, and held me down for quite some time. To boot, developer support for this thing was just as huge as it was on the G1, so I was in heaven.
Unfortunately, at some point, I’d started longing for a physical keyboard again. An aging battery also didn’t help things along. I’d sold my EVO 4G in pursuit of the next big thing.
Luckily for me, Sprint had one of the most exciting devices that fit that bill. It was the Samsung Epic 4G, a variant of the Samsung Galaxy S with a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard. With a beautiful 4-inch AMOLED display, a slick 1GHz Hummingbird processor and a 512MB of RAM, this was the phone to have on Sprint.
Oddly enough, Sprint’s version also offered an LED flash and a notification LED, while other variants ditched those two elements. While not a huge deal, those additions certainly made Sprint’s offering that much sweeter.
It wasn’t long after getting the Epic 4G that HTC started wooing me with yet another option. This time, they’d look to do it with the EVO 3D. I’m guilty of falling for what I now consider one of the biggest gimmicks in all of smartphones. I’m talking about the dual cameras, and an autostereoscopic 3D display. These two things pulled me in, but many other things started pushing me away.
For starters, while I appreciated HTC’s attempt at trying out premium metal-based build materials, the easily-chipped paint made the device as ugly as sin after just a few short weeks of use. And don’t get me started on the horrid battery life — even a 3,300mAh extended battery couldn’t help me get through an 8 hour work day. It was so bad that I ended up naming it one of the worst Android smartphones ever, which makes it the worst Android smartphone I’ve ever purchased. I quickly handed this device down to my brother in anticipation of something much better.
Ah, yes — Sprint’s version of the Samsung Galaxy S2. This was the phone to have no matter which carrier you did business with, and for good reason. The Samsung Galaxy S takes credit for the initial kick start Samsung needed to get where they are today, but it was the Samsung Galaxy S2 that really shook things up. It was the first smartphone to aggressively challenge Apple’s iPhone in both features and marketing, with Samsung winning over tons of customers on carriers where the iPhone was not yet available.
This 4.5-inch device had it all. It was a dual-core monster with 1GB of RAM, and while that may sound a tad funny in this day and age it was a big deal back when it first launched. Samsung went full steam ahead with TouchWiz, and introduced a lot of useful and unique features on top of Android that other OEMs could only dream of having at the time. It also housed one of the best smartphone cameras you could hope to have.
While all of this was great, I began to loathe one major problem — Sprint’s inability to get WiMax towers up and running in more major areas. Every year since the EVO 4G launched, I was promised 4G would come to my city by year’s end. Every single year — to this day — I’ve been disappointed.
Sprint hasn’t launched an inkling of 4G LTE in the Milwaukee area, and 3G was getting so bad that doing something as simple as checking Foursquare or Twitter became impossible tasks without WiFi. It was because of the terrible network quality and those broken promises that I was allowed to get out of my contract without having to pay an early termination fee. I decided to set my sights on the first company that was able to get 4G LTE up and running in my area.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Luckily for me, I found someone on Reddit willing to give up their Verizon unlimited data family account with two full upgrades available without me having to pay a dime (this was at a time where 4G was about to be axed, so these accounts were going for a premium on eBay). They were even nice enough to send me two original Motorola DROIDs with tons of accessories at no cost.
My brother and I had the displeasure of using those Motorola DROIDs for a few weeks (it was good for its time, but extremely dated by now) until the phone we really wanted launched — the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It was going to be the perfect marriage, I thought.
Here was a dual-core phone with completely stock Android, 4G LTE radios, NFC and a beautiful Super AMOLED HD display. The device had some shortcomings — namely the lack of expandable storage and horrid battery life — but I was willing to put up with them because of the promises that Nexus devices were supposed to bring.
Those promises — namely timely system updates — were completely nullified thanks to Verizon. This wasn’t a huge issue for me, of course, as I’d grown accustomed to flashing ROMs to get what I want, but my brother was in a different boat.
We’d used the phones for nearly a year anyway, but when the display on both of them cracked (we’re a clumsy bunch, I tell ya’) we decided it wasn’t worth paying a deductible to get them replaced. He ultimately decided to get an iPhone 5, while I was obviously interested in staying on the Android train. Something big was on the horizon.
I was a fan of Samsung’s original Galaxy Note, but its lack of availability on the carriers I preferred always kept me from looking at it as a viable option. Thankfully, Samsung’s second attempt at the new “phablet” category they are credited with making was available on nearly any carrier you could think of, and it was the perfect device for me. The full rundown can be had in our Galaxy Note 2 review.
Huge HD display? Long-lasting all-day battery life? Quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM? Wacom-enabled digitized S Pen with unique features like multi-window? All these things were worth gold to me, which is why I had no problem dropping $700 for the Verizon version due to not having an upgrade available. It was the first — and probably the last — time I’d ever paid full retail price for a smartphone, but I enjoyed every last bit of it.
The Note 2 was my dream phone, and there was nothing anyone could say to keep me away from it. But as much as I loved it, I was beginning to fall out of love with TouchWiz. I began to see just how much of a resource hog it was, and found my phone becoming more sluggish as time went on. It wasn’t terribly slow, but not as fast as it was out of the box.
The lack of updates (even to this day) didn’t help. The device is still on Android 4.1.2 officially, and there’s no telling when (or if) Samsung and Verizon will ever bring folks up to Android 4.3 and beyond. I’d grown tired of waiting for much needed updates, and TouchWiz was no longer desirable to me. I still have the Note 2, but it’s merely a backup to what I now consider the best device I’ve ever owned.
I sidelined my Note 2 about a month and a half ago and looked to buy a new smartphone under Verizon’s new Edge upgrade program. This meant losing my unlimited data at this point, but after realizing I didn’t even come close to using half a gigabyte each month (I’m almost always on WiFi) I decided this was no longer an issue.
With that, I sought out to buy a smartphone with three very key factors:
- Battery life
- Long-term support
I won’t go into much detail about why my latest choice — the Motorola DROID MAXX — satiates most of these areas (with the only current unknown obviously being long-term support), because I already went through that in the lengthy editorial I wrote here, as well as my full review. The TL;DR version? Forget the specs, the gimmicky features and the hype: give me useful features, long battery life and a phone that doesn’t do too much (and subsequently crash and slow down because of it), and I’ll be happy.
So that’s where I stand today. I’m not sure which Android phone I’ll have yet. I’m not even sure if my next phone will be an Android phone… read into that what you will. I’ll tell you one thing, though — if, by the grace of the deities of the universe, the Nexus 5 launches on Verizon, I’ll be the first one in line with $350 – $400 to line Google’s pockets with.
So what about you? Which phone did you start with, and what do you have now? Android has been a huge part of my life, obviously. I wouldn’t have the great job I have today, and wouldn’t have met the many wonderful people I’ve met along the way if it weren’t for my love of all things Android. I’m sure there are others like me who cherish Android, and view it as more than just “that OS that runs on that phone I have.” We want to hear about all of that and everything in between, so sound off in the comments section and let us know your Android history!