Stupid Phone, Stupid Carrier

So, right before I left the Seattle area about two and a half years ago I traded in my old dumb phone and PocketPC (Dell Axim) for an HTC Apache (Verizon XV6700). That phone was already a year old at the time, but I was lusting after the capabilities (which were pretty good at the time) and the industrial design (which I still like, even the protruding antenna). It's keyboard is excellent - nice square keys that fit tightly together to maximize space but bulge upwards so your fingers have good contact, backlight, logical layout, and so on. No number keys or Control key, but pretty much everything else you'd want.

I'm running the HTC Home plugin for the primary UI, FTouchSL for touch-scrolling, VistaHide Battery Gauge, and a nice black theme - and I'm generally happy with the device.

Time has marched on, though, and the phone is showing its age:
  • It's running Windows Mobile 5. WM6 came out a few years ago and WM6.1 was a significant upgrade to that. Yes, you can install hacked WM6.1 builds on the phone but I don't care quite enough to risk bricking it.
  • With .NET Compact Framework 2.0 installed (needed for many newer apps) the available storage memory drops well below 20MB, and the random other files that apps force you to install in \Windows mean I've got about 14MB free. Use an app like NewsBreak that fetches images using IE and the cache eats that up lickety-split. You can try to install apps to an SD card, but many (e.g. Google Maps) plunk their files in main memory anyway so you need to move files and hack the registry.
  • It's SSSSSSSLLLLLLLOOOOOOWWWWW - probably due to cruft accumulating on the system - little files here and there that cause directory enumeration to grind to a halt, etc. A hard reset (i.e. restore to factor settings) would probably help.
  • QVGA display (240x320) - newer devices are full VGA (480x640) and much crisper.
  • No GPS - which would be really handy for local searches
  • No accelerometer - admittedly, just a fun toy, but tempting...
  • It's fat - like all hardware-keyboard devices. But embarrassingly so.
  • The screen is inset, which means it gathers dust. It's also full of nooks and crannies and the screen is sensitive. Simply put, it's not built to sit in a pocket by itself, so I keep it in a vinyl sleeve which detracts from the aesthetics and usability (you can't answer a call one handed).
  • The D-Pad (five-way direction input) on the device is like those eraser-mice. I really like it since you can navigate without moving your finger - just shift pressure in a different direction. However, the detente for "down" has worn off so it's touchy, and the rubber nubbin has worn down so it's physically uncomfortable to use. Making the "Halo Mobile" demo was literally painful.
  • CDMA so you're not using it outside North America
I was looking forward to the new HTC Touch Pro, which addresses many of these concerns:
  • HTC's industrial design
  • Same basic keyboard design, but with a Control key... and number row!
  • WM6.1
  • >200MB of storage memory, so you don't have to pay attention
  • Faster processor (500MHz vs. 400MHz)
  • VGA display
  • aGPS (a for augmented - it uses cell signals to boost accuracy in urban areas)
  • Accelerometer, so you can play stupid-fun games and auto-rotate the camera
  • Somewhat thinner (but not much); smaller overall dimensions
  • Flush screen - designed for being pocketed
  • 5-way D-Pad is bigger and inset
  • Touch-scrolling built in (provided by TouchFlo)
  • Nifty home screen functionality (TouchFlo 3D, like next gen HTC Home)
  • Still CDMA, but honestly I don't travel much and I'm stuck with Verizon anyway, right?
Not only that, but the Windows Mobile blogosphere was really happy with the device.
Alas, the carrier (Verizon) got ahold of it:
  • Modified case - it's boxier, which detracts from the aesthetics significantly and makes it look larger and uncomfortable to use.
  • The keyboard layout makes no sense - they removed the Control key, shove the arrow keys over so the up arrow is between N and M (W... T... F...?), move Enter down to the bottom, add brightly colored Fn caps, and so on.
  • The GPS is crippled - locked to the Verizon navigation app you need to pay extra for. Probably hackable, but *ugh*
  • Accelerometer is a ??? - early details on the phone said "no". Early unboxers say "yes". I say "don't trust it"
  • Memory significantly reduced; early unboxers say you'll be lucky to have 40MB free before you start installing apps. Toss Opera on there (since IE6 is unlikely to come out and it'll suck anyway) and... back where we started.
Oh, and Verizon charges $100 more for the phone than the equivalent models from Sprint or AT&T. Even with my 2-year-gimme-a-new-one discount I'm probably looking at over $400 for it.

Yes, with software hackery (custom ROMs, hack the GPS) or hardware investment (buy an unlocked one straight from HTC or from Sprint) many of these could be overcome. But any of those are a significant up-front time investment plus ongoing maintenance time, and would cost more $$$ anyway.


So I'm actually pondering getting an iPhone.

I have no attachment whatsoever to Verizon (although Verizon Wireless apparently did not cave to illegal wiretaps quite as quickly as AT & "Your World. Delivered. To the NSA." f'ing T), although I use my phone as a voice-communication-device so infrequently that Su and I can share a pretty good plan we're grandfathered in to. I love my Rio Carbon MP3 player (the third one I've owned!), but consolidating devices has its appeal. Freedom from the tyranny of choice ("any color you want, as long as it's black") has its appeals as well. And every other geek has one anyway (except the masochists who went with with the Googlephone) so it's going to be a long lived platform.