I’ve never quite understood the concept of the mobile phone as holiday gift. Sure, I guess for family members or anyone else you might share the bills with, but even then, it’s such a personal decision. Can you imagine if your significant other handed you a Blackberry or Nokia box with a red ribbon wrapped around it?
Have you ever tried to return a mobile phone? Have you ever returned a gift from your wife? Yeah chump, enjoy BB10 when it comes out in… never.
So even if you’re not giving your giftee a surprise new monthly bill, and even if you have a solid idea of their tastes, and even if it happens to be time for them to upgrade, you’ve really only got a couple choices.
You can go latest or greatest.
The iPhone 5 is the latest iOS model and it’s two things: It’s surefire guaranteed impressive on receipt but it’s also the first crack in the gorilla glass of Apple’s domination, with a whole lot of bugs and deficiencies that only mere mortal phones should have.
It’s also still wicked expensive. $200-$400 with a new contract.
The Samsung S3 is the reigning Android handset and after about five months it’s still $250 with a new contract. My main issue with the S3 is my only issue, but it’s a dealbreaker. The phone is gigantic.
This won’t dissuade most people, and everyone I know who has an S3 still loves it. But if you’re me, and I am, you’re looking for a top-shelf Android experience in a reasonably sized, reasonably priced handset.
With that, I can recommend the Motorola Droid RAZR M, but mostly because its the first phone I’ve ever rocked with Jellybean (Android 4.1), which is the latest and, dare i say, greatest OS on the market.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Moto products ever since my awesome experience with the Metal Moto. But since the original RAZR, Moto has consistently dropped the ball on style, usability, and reliability. Even the original Droid RAZR, while a definite step forward, was too bold a design for me. It was like part of the phone was missing, which is what they meant, I guess.
The RAZR M apologizes for that with a much more traditional design. It looks a lot like my current phone, the HTC Incredible 4G ($100, no Jellybean), only it’s all screen, with no bevels. The only issue I have with it, in fact, is that it’s slick. Not slick as in cool, but slick as in I’m-going-to-drop-this-phone-not-if-but-when.
Said screen is beautiful, a bit wider than the iPhone 5, if sometimes hard to see in bright light. The OS and data are fast, calls are good, camera is meh, all-in-all, the RAZR M is more than comporable for a $100 phone.
And that’s the selling point of this phone. It’s a high-end, Jellybean-packing phone that does everything above-average and sometimes surprises, disguised as an entry-level priced, conservatively designed workhorse.
Until you get to Jellybean.
The RAZR M has gone strictly Android. This is awesome, because Jellybean is the best OS I’ve ever used. It’s clean, intuitive, and flexible in ways that iOS isn’t.
The RAZR M still employs Motorola Smart Actions, the faux artificial intelligence that they’ve been including with Droid for about a year. It’s actually a set of programmable features that you can set to, for instance, automatically switch to vibrate at night or reduce your automatic data consumption when the battery is low. This is neat, but it hasn’t progressed. And much like how Siri has gone from fascination to fad, Smart Actions are heading that way.
Enter Google Now.
Google Now, much more enhanced with Jellybean, has actually started to fulfill the promise I was looking for with Smart Actions. For example. Google Now can check your calendar for your next meeting and, in time to make the information relevant, automatically present you with traffic updates, navigation, the weather, and nearby places to eat. It learns as you go, which is a value-add that Smart Actions doesn’t have. And while it isn’t thinking yet, it holds a bit more promise than either Smart Actions or Siri.
The keyboard, a huge factor for me, is also a lot better, and Jellybean finally starts to get context right with autofill, not just simply guessing at words that are similar but rather at words that might fit the sentence it thinks you’re trying to type.
I typed about half this article on the RAZR M after Thanksgiving dinner while everyone else watched football in a food coma (Yes, I care about you that much, and Yes, I was also checking my fantasy lineup from time to time, but with RGIII on my bench it was too much swearing even for my family). I’ve done that kind of thing before only with Jellybean, more than 50% of the words I typed popped in before I finished them. That is huge for me.
There are a lot of updates, but the last one I’ll touch on is notifications, where they’ve raised the bar a bit. You can now expand and act upon notifications, like see who the email is from or respond to a call with either a callback or a text. Doesn’t sound like much on paper, but in practice it’s a big plus. I rarely have to jump into my phone now, half the time I just check notifications and realize I can wait until later.
I’m not a fanboy of either OS nor any handset maker. I’ve owned the iPhone 4S as well as phones from Samsung. I like HTC but I have concerns about them, and until now I thought Motorola was dead. I know Microsoft exists and they’re trying. Blackberry is a dumpster fire.
I can tell you this. If you’re looking to straight-up impress, like jewelry or a signed autograph from a favorite player, the iPhone 5 is the call. If it’s a keeping up with the Joneses kind of thing, then go S3 or they might feel like they’re missing out. But if you’re looking to give someone a phone they’ll use every day (and they will) and appreciate, then Jellybean is an impressive package in a solid RAZR M body at a value price point.