Video: Smartphone Roundup

With the recent launch of Apple’s iPhone 4, it’s time to do a once-over of the current smartphone market in New Zealand to see if there are any pretenders to the throne. Today on TVNZ Breakfast I took a look at a few of the models available from local carriers.

Click below for the video:

NB: You can get all of these phones either from a carrier like Vodafone or Telecom, or you can get them (usually a bit cheaper) from someone like Parallel Imported. Don’t be too concerned about warranty: Parallel Imported are required by law to provide a 1 year warranty.

Item: Apple iPhone 4
Price: From $1099 (or less with a plan)
Rating: 4 / 5
Info: Despite the highly publicised flaws, the iPhone 4 is still the king of smartphones. The operating system is simple and fast, and there are hundreds of thousands of applications you can buy. The screen is quite incredible, and looks more like printed paper than any device before it. No matter how close you look, without a magnifying glass you won’t be able to spot a pixel. Add in HD Video recording and editing, and this phone doesn’t have any current competitors.
Having said that, there are devices nipping at the heels of the iPhone, and if Apple doesn’t provide a serious revision in their next operating system update, Android and Windows Phone 7 will be right there competing for the “best smartphone” title.
Item: Google Nexus One
Price: $979 (or less with a plan)
Rating: 4 / 5
Info: Probably the closest competitor for the iPhone’s title of “best smartphone” would be this Nexus One from Google. Running version 2.2 of Google’s Android operating system, the Nexus One is incredibly fast and much more “open” than the iPhone. This means you can run any compatible applications without special permission, review or oversight. This has obvious upsides and downsides – for example the previous version of the Facebook application for Android would drain your phone’s battery overnight.
Item: Motorola Milestone
Price: $999, or less with a plan
Rating: 3 / 5
Info: The Milestone is built like a brick, and weighs about the same too. I joke, but it is heavier than most other smartphones, perhaps due to the full slide-out keyboard. Running the same Android operating system as the Nexus One, the Milestone is a little bit slower, but will appeal to those that do a lot of texting or emails.The sad fact is, this phone has already been superseded on the overseas market, so I’d think twice before spending $1000 on it.

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    1. There’s a “gadgets” segment every Wednesday morning on Breakfast, and there are three of us that do it (myself, Tee Twyford, and John Buckley). So I’m on every three weeks.

      But it does change, like in 3 weeks time I’m busy at a conference, so will probably shuffle it around. It’s like a lottery – watch on Wednesday morning and you’ll get a surprise gadget presenter 🙂

  1. I watched your item on the Breakfast show this morning as I am considering buying either the iphone4 (which are currently not available) or the Nexus One which a Vodafone sales person tried to talk me into on the weekend. Currently I have an iPhone 3GS with the latest software. It was a bit frustrating listening to the item this morning as Paul (much as I love him as a presenter) kept interrupting you, so you didn’t get to finish certain points you were commenting on. Do you think the iphone 4 is significantly better than the 3GS model to warrant the upgrade? My main beef with it is the lack of flash on the camera, that should be a basic requirement.

    1. Personally, as a 3GS owner, I’d wait. The iPhone 4 has a brilliant screen and yes it has a flash, but I just think things are moving too fast at the moment. You won’t notice a massive difference in performance between the 3GS and 4.

      Again, personally, I prefer the responsiveness of the iPhone OS over Android, but Android does give you things like WiFi tethering (turn your phone into a wireless hotspot).

  2. I am needing to replace my mobile and after checking reviews on the Web came down to Iphone 4 or Nexus One, the former a lengthy wait to obtain and the latter off the shelf. I quite like the ‘open’ aspect of the Nexus. However one thing slightly bothered me – to access my email via the Nexus (I use Outlook to Xtra) I gather I have to set up a g-mail account and re-route my email from Xtra to that. Sounds a bit ‘messy’ for someone like me who is not overly techo, and I have had ‘fun’ (frustration) setting up email on previous mobiles. Have you experienced this Nexus aspect or know how it’s done to set up – any comments welcome.

  3. @Mike – Nope, native Exchange activesync support is built into Android 2.2, as is POP3 and iMap.

    Setting it up is pretty painless.

    I have Xtra email and Exchange Mail and Gmail all syncing up quite happily

  4. Just to clarify, you WILL need to set up a Gmail account anyway, because your market profile and all that sort of stuff is tied to your Google account.

    (Your phone settings for wifi and that kind of thing can be backed up to your Google account automatically)

    The only reason I can think of for using Gmail would be to sync the Contacts from your Outlook pop client to the phone.

    Personally I wouldn’t bother. Just dump them to a text file on the phone when conencted via USB and import them.

  5. @ben Hi Ben..

    You said the Nexus One is one to look at quite a bit but there are issues here.
    Google do not support it any more. It is a done finished phone, They recommend others. It was a massive suppirse to see Vodafone getting this and labeling it as a new Android phone in stores. Maybe to NZ but it is far from it.
    If you have a fault with one (which there are a number of issues that can occur) , Repair and supply is going to be an issue.

    Nice phone but it was up against the 3GS and compared to it and most reviewers said not quite. Up against the iphone 4 – nah.

    You hardly got any time on the show and so I think totally pointless. You could not get any decent information out and meaningless to the average Joe and annoying for any of us in the know on tech.

    Did not even turn on the screen on the iphone, Did not mention about the free bumpers etc…
    Here you said if you got a 3gs hold off on the iphone 4.
    It will be another year before the next one at least do not forget so thats a long wait for someone and the screen, front facing camera, hardware itself update (The external antenna despite the “kill switch” location (which most smartphones have , is better then the 3gs) etc it is a decent upgrade.

    You should have got time to explain to people that the stock is very limited / non existant as well. Based on that some people will nip to a store and ask for an “iphone 4 thingy” and told – Sorry, no stock.

    At the end of the day you probably know your stuff but you barley had time to even say your name and so the segment was totally pointless :/
    NOT your fault at all though, I am just sick of shows aimed at “Everyone” that is widely watched do not make enough time for educated information about tech stuff like mobile phones.
    Bloody “BANG” fitness got bloody more time, BARMY!

    Someone needs to pitch the UK Gadget Show to NZ TV folks and get a decent show going.

    1. Tell me about it. There’s no option but to ‘dumb’ things down a fair amount for Breakfast. Too little time and the audience is mostly completely non-tech.

      I think you’re incorrect on the Nexus One though. Google have stopped selling it direct, that is all. It’s still being made and sold through a number of channels, and in any case, any seller in New Zealand is going to have to support it under the CGA.

      The reason I say hold off on the iPhone 4 is that there is so much change going on before the end of this year. Windows Phone 7 (probably), Android 3 (probably) and their launch devices. Man a Galaxy S running Windows Phone 7 would just be the bees knees.

      1. nexus one Manufacture is going on but only in the current manufacturer cycle, after that its gone.
        But yeah, a seller has to support it but People wanting support will run into a number of issues. I am sure your aware if you get like vodafone do with the iphone a lot of the time “Talk to apple” Google and Nexus one support is crappy forums etc.

        Galaxy S is ok but windows 7 I do not think will live up to the hype. The OS based on the Zune HD interface will not quite cut it.
        Android 3 OS will be a little time away now. Google got hold of the main OS designer from Palm as Palm/HP Dies a death and he is working on big interface changes.
        When it happens though (since Web OS is really dam good!) some great things will come of it. But it is some time away.
        Early stuff from a lot of tech sites think its a VAST improvement from WINMO6 but it will take a good fair while to get up to speed. It will launch without multitasking for example as well as other features finally as standard on both IOS and Android.

        The fragmentation of the OS updates over phones is a massive issue for Android and the slow up take of modern smartphones in New Zealand will not be up to scratch.
        We never even got to see the Palm Pre or its offspring at all.

        Do not expect to much from Windows Mobile 7 after the fan fair this year, especially here in NZ so I do not agree people should hold out for that here, would be waiting a while and also a little let down.
        Android 3 is when I will start taking notice of android stuff but that will not be any time soon either.

        You have not really mentioned MeeGo either which has a lot of promise and Blackberry have a big OS update as well. MeeGO has a lot of potential and should be one of the best OS options for tablet’s as well.

        This year will be Tablet spam towards the end of the year rather then a mass Mobile Phone option bonanza.

        Apple Got the notification designer from Palm and I am sure you hate them like the rest of us on IOS so these will get some love very soon.

        Side note: Ipod Touch Update is weeks away if anyone cares.

  6. Thanks for an excellent round up this morning. One question is whether it is worth waiting for the Windows Phone 7 or the Nexus is just as good. It seems to me that one could wait fro Windows phone 7 and when that arrives the next big thing is now on the horizon. However, I want my first intro to smart phones to be worth the wait!

    1. Personally I’d wait to see what the Windows Phone 7 launch devices and apps look like. And then there’s Android 3 that’s rumoured to be just around the corner too.
      So much happening at the moment, it’s really great after the last 3 years of iPhone dominance.

  7. The external antenna despite the “kill switch” location (which most smartphones have , is better then the 3gs) etc it is a decent upgrade.

    No, despite Apples propaganda, other phones do not have the same issue with antenna grounding and detuning.

    What all phones DO have is natural attentuation from the big meaty mass of your hand when you hold it.

    On the IP 4 this is sometimes compounded by the detuning effect of bridging the GPS/Wifi and Cellular antennas with conductive skin

    When you look at the actual numbers (see anandtech article on the subject) in terms of dbm of signal loss when both circumstances are in effect, the IP 4 experiences an average of 10dbm WORSE than any other phone. This equates to 100x less signal strength (db are a logarithmic scale).

    However the iP4 does genuinely have a superior signal processing ability so that it holds onto a connection at very low signal levels.

    So in all likelihood you won’t notice much difference in normal spotty coverage, and it may be considerably better in many circumstances.

    Having said that while you may not drop a call, data rates are likely to be affected. Which may affect realtime apps that are not terribly jitter tolerant (e.g. video conf)

    On the plus side, as you say you can mitigate this with an insulating bumper (are they even available in NZ BTW? I gather the ‘money back if not satisifed’ offer is US only). And when you do it’s certinly a damn nice device.

    So while the antenna issue may not affect most of the people most of the time, and the IP 4 is without question an awesome phone otherwise, you shouldn’t have to use a glorified rubber band to mitigate a design flaw on a $1k device.

    Apple should just man up and fix the problem properly, instead of obfuscating and trying to confuse people with irrelevant comparisons.

    It would be a better phone for it and people would think better of them.

    1. Actually Heck Yes they do…
      Been and tested even old Nokia’s and so have many other people. The issue very much exists. What makes modern smartphones a bigger issue is their design and FCC regulations on antenna locations.
      Because they are forever smaller and thinner and with these regulations these problems do exist and there is plenty of evidence to prove that.
      Iphone 4 has the issue because it has “x marks the spot” and the outer casing being the antenna makes this more prevalent.
      My brother back in the UK is a lefty and for the life of him can not replicate any drop in bars, If I hold the right bottom of my 3GS the bars drop to nothing in a week signal area.

      Your right Apple hype and over state everything but official numbers on complaints, drop calls etc are not a lie. It is an issue YES but it has been blown way way out of proportion.

    1. I’m not sure. You need to be careful because I think there are two models of Nexus One with two different frequency bands. Here’s a blog post which shows the frequencies that XT and Voda use, and I think the Vodafone Nexus One will be the 900/2100 model, which will not work well on XT.

      The only way to be sure is to ask which version you are buying.

  8. XT is GSM, works for the iphone and so the nexus one.
    ORCON are also GSM so these will work with them…

    Stay tuned for better data plans from ORCON as well.

    1. Not entirely correct. Check my reply above. There are two versions of the N1 with different UMTS aka 3G) bands. Same with most phones. Just because it has a SIM card doesn’t mean you can swap networks.

      1. No It will work on Telecom XT:
        In the Vodafone Forums The information is it is the second version and that it does work on Telecom XT though.
        Info for people:

        As of March 16, 2010, there are two versions of the Nexus One[55]. Both versions of the Nexus One cover most major GSM and 3G providers in the US, Europe and Asia. On both phones, the GSM radio frequencies covered are 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, and 1900 MHz. The original Nexus One also came along with UMTS frequency bands 1 (2100 MHz), 4 (1700 MHz), and 8 (900 MHz).[56], allowing it to access 3G throughout Europe, as well as on T-Mobile USA and WIND Mobile in Canada. The second version of the Nexus One supports UMTS frequency bands 1 (2100 MHz), 2 (1900 MHz), and 5 (850 MHz), allowing it to access 3G in most of Europe, as well as on AT&T Mobility in the USA and Rogers Wireless, Fido Solutions, Bell Mobility, and Telus Mobility in Canada. The second version of the Nexus One also works on Telecom New Zealand’s XT Mobile Network and Telcel’s 3G Network.

        The UMTS radio supports High Speed Packet Access; HSDPA at 7.2 Mbit/s, and HSUPA at 2 Mbit/s.[2]

    2. Liam Liam Liam………you should listen to Ben, he knows what he’s talking about regarding the different frequencies.

      The XT Network is 3G 850MHz/2100Mhz WCDMA/HSDPA network only – Telecom is using the 850MHz band wherever they have coverage, with some 2100MHz cell sites for infill.

      GSM is an old standard, and WCDMA is the evolution of this standard.

      The GSM frequencies you mentioned should be ignored as only handsets capable of working WCDMA 850 or 2100MHz will work on XT.

  9. Actually Heck Yes they do…
    Been and tested even old Nokia’s and so have many other people. The issue very much exists

    If what you are saying is that every cellphone experiences signal attenuation, then I agree with you.

    However the point I am making is that the iP4 loses signal for two different and distinct reasons, only one of which is present on other phones.

    If you mitigate the antenna grounding/detuning issue by using an insulating cover then the real signal loss measured in dbm is comparable to other handsets.

    The good news is that the iP4 has new Digital Signal Processing capabilities that will hold onto a signal right down to -110 dbm or more, which is pretty damn good.

    However having a fault that is mitigated in large part by other awesomeness in the unit doesnt make it less of a fault. It just makes it less of an impact.

    Forget comparing signal bar readings across different phone types, it’s only a very broad indicator at best because the different vendors use different methods for compressing the dynamic signal range into a vaguely linear representation of 5 bars.

    This is why the video apple posted comparing bar reading on different handsets bugged the hell out of me.

    Every single one of the competing products they showed was capable of showing real numbers for signal degradation which would have made a meaningful comparison.

    Neither of the Iphones will allow you to do this. There used to be a field test app on IPOS 3 & earlier that would give you these figures but it was removed for IP OS 4.

    Having bragged of spending over 100 million on an anechoic chamber for testing, you’d think they could actually show some real data.

    Apples’ only admission of fault is that they were using an overly optimistic representation of the signal strength when calculating their bar meter. They have now gone to a much less compressed presentation, particularly in bar two and three. The rest of the time they have been whining that evreyone else is as bad.

    What I would have liked to see was an admission that the conductive antenna detuning is a unique issue on on otherwise pretty amazing phone and a committment to providing an engineering solution as soon as possible, even in the next version if it proves too difficult to modify the current unit.

    The IP4 has an astonishing ability to maintain a connection right down to very low dbm. So I totally agree that this is not likely to be a huge issue for most users.

    I just think they should admit it, fix it and move on.

    Anyway, Anand Lal Shimpi and Brian Krug found a way of getting the field test app back onto an IP4. Have a read of the testing. It’s very interesting.

    Even that is not the full story though. As the guys point out, simply comparing raw signal strength in dbm is not really indicative of how well the phone will perform. There are many other factors such as the signal processing software and hardware.

    Also a stong signal isn’t much use if it’s full of noise from the Arc welder next door.

    Signal to Noise Ratio would be a better measure but none of the mobile vendors seem to use it.

    Android will let you see the raw dbm signal and there are even free apps that will log, plot and geolocate your cellular landscape. They also present you with a value called ASU, which I haven’t figured out yet.

    At least it makes it relatively straightforward to compare different Android phones cellular radio performance.

    Pity the IP won’t let you do the same. 🙂

  10. “and Windows Phone 7 will be right there competing for the “best smartphone” title.”

    I’m not so sure Ben, MS has to do something a lot better than iPhone or Android to be able to get a foot in now. It is very unlikely that current iPhone or Android users will switch to WP7 without some compelling reason to do so. Things like the browser, only based on IE7 etc isn’t an indication MS wanting to change. They really need to shorten their release cycles, not like the days of Windows Mobile. Hopefully WP7 initial development isn’t an indication when the next release comes up.

    I was really looking forward to the best thing I’ve seen from Microsoft for a while, the courier, since they canned it I’m hoping they’d do something more innovative, not an ipad clone.

  11. I’m a complete dunce when it comes to technology – I want to get an iPhone – not sure if I need the latest flashest one. I’m stuck with Telecom for another year – so something that’s compatible with that and also where the hell do I buy these iPhones? It seems everywhere I go I get sent to another store – and I don’t want to go to Voda as I’m locked into a contract!

  12. hi mate this is interesting article will make sure I check your posts more often! Really interesting articles.If anybody has an interesting articles you can share with me.Any way Ill be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.thanks for sharing good info.regards,

  13. Hello! If you’re looking for high-quality replacement screens, batteries, covers, etc.for your iPhone or iPod or ipad, I recommend .They have great prices, fast shipping, and friendly, helpful customer service and guaranteed satisfaction.
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  14. Hi Ben,

    I am cycle touring with my family in Canada in Jul-Sep and looking for a technology solution for voice/data that works here as well as there. Has to be Windows based to run a proprietary practice management app. Do you have an update on your ‘king of the smartphones’? Which of the Windows 7 smartphones is the best?

    Thanks, Simon Smith

  15. They might be smartphones oh yes, there smart to rip you off.Free apps sure, but no one tells you that you have to pay to use things like,GPS,Facebook,3G,maps,any FREE app you download is NOT FREE as you think.As long you have deeeeeep pockets to use these APPS go for it. All the APPS you downeload uses data and thats where it gets you. GPS uses a lot of data, BY BY $$$$$$$$$$.

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