Friday, November 1, 2013

My Six Days with a Samsung Galaxy S 4

Was it really such a crazy idea to try a new phone? In the days between my smashing the screen on my trusty iPhone 4S and the release of the new iPhone 5S, I decided to give the Samsung Galaxy S 4 a whirl. The phone was wildly popular as far as I could tell, and seemed to address a few of the deficiencies of the iPhone. If I was unhappy with my choice, I could return the phone within two weeks for just a $30 restocking fee and get the brand new iPhone. The risk seemed minimal.

In a world polarized by the merits of Microsoft and Apple, I tend to hedge a bit. This blog is written almost entirely on a Mac Book Pro and when I don't have it with me, I find it very difficult to make any headway at all here. If I need to work at my job from home though, I can't access anything without Windows and Internet Explorer. So I keep two laptops and I do whatever I need to do on each of them. I also have an iPad Mini which, for the most part, has a terrible interface with Blogger, so I don't use it much for this blog, with one crucial exception.

My first problem with the iPhone is that I don't buy into the whole iTunes phenomenon. I purchased my music years ago, and all I really want is a simple mp3 player to store and play it. The iPhone is not that player. Apple products are designed to effortlessly manage music purchased in the iTunes Store and to share it seamlessly among Apple devices, but for simple things like copying a file of your own music and playing it, it's rather obstructionist. I know there are workarounds for everything, but my point is that I shouldn't have to use them. IPhones deliberately limit functionality to protect the proprietary nature of Apple's music sales. I personally want nothing to do with it.

One answer might be to carry a separate mp3 player. I actually have an old Zen which should probably be in a museum now, but it's huge by today's standards and I don't carry it around too often.

The other problems with iPhones are well known. The camera is pretty good in daylight, but it doesn't perform well under low light conditions. I stopped carrying around a camera a couple of years back, and ideally a smart phone would replace a camera for most purposes just as it's replaced GPS devices, certain computers, watches, calculators, alarm clocks, and, for most people, mp3 players.

The Samsung Galaxy S 4

Most tech-savvy people I've spoken with make a good argument for shedding the iPhone in favor of the Galaxy. The Samsung Galaxy S 4's screen is big and beautiful. Files are easily copied, moved, and shared, just like in Windows. The camera is very good even in low light. I figured many people were delighted with the Galaxy, particularly those in the know. Besides, Apple always complained that their competitors virtually stole all the technology from their phones. So how bad could the Galaxy be?

Well, it turns out they didn't steal enough. The Galaxy may seem nice on paper, but it doesn't feel right in the hand. The ridiculous fold-over cover I was sold--probably out of concern I'd smash another screen--effectively precludes any reasonable attempt at one-handed operation of the phone. The phone was also just a tad too large to manage comfortably in my left hand and I wasn't at all interested in controlling it with my eye movements.

Moving between operations on the Galaxy did not feel smooth. There was no sensation of elegance in the phone's programming. And one of the first features anyone encounters in a new Galaxy is the ugly presence of bloatware. I hope Samsung is happy with the income they derive from packing the phone with these useless applications. For those who can't decide what apps they may want on their phone, I'm sure it's a godsend. For me, it made my introduction to the phone immediately unpleasant. My opinion of the phone did not improve appreciably over the next six days and I resolved to return the phone as soon as practical.

The iPhone 5S

I was concerned I might not be able to get my phone replaced immediately with the iPhone 5S, but fortunately the Verizon store had just one left with extra memory. I had set out to purchase a phone with this extra memory anyway, so it all worked out somewhat in the end, except that my contact list and text messages were respectively scrambled and deleted along the way. My overall experience for the week was decidedly unpleasant but I was truly happy, deliriously happy, to have an iPhone in my hand again.

Note:  My previous posts on cell phones are here.


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