A long time ago, I reviewed my last Nokia phone. I concluded that it was good, and I'd miss it.
I moved on to an Android phone - a HTC Desire Z. I had that for eighteen months, and was very happy with it. And I meant to review it when I finished with it, but didn't get around to it because there was something nagging at my mind about just how I'd review it. There were a lot of thoughts to distill down, and I somehow couldn't find the right way to review it.
(I'm now using a Samsung Galaxy S3. It's great.)
And within a couple of weeks, my contract expires and I'll be upgrading - I've already been looking at new phones and the Sony Xperia Z1 is my current front runner.
Looking at new phones has crystallised the reason I was having difficulty reviewing the HTC Desire Z. I've come to realise that, frankly, I don't give a shit about the phone so long as it meets some fairly basic criteria. The really important thing is not the phone, it's the apps. I summed that up in the very second paragraph - “I move onto an Android phone”. That’s just the way we think of phones these days. No longer the manufacturer, but the software ecosystem. (Because you know if Apple allowed clones, we’d end up calling them iOS phones.)
The way I use my phone has changed. My old Nokia E90 was, despite what some may think, a smartphone. It allowed me to read email, browse the internet, read documents and PDFs, and more. It ran Symbian, so could run many apps that made my life easier, such as a very useful profile switching app that allowed my phone to be quiet at work, silent when I was sleeping, and switch to silent at some locations - like cinemas and bars.
The world has moved on though. A decade ago, the important questions about a phone were battery life, call quality and whether or not it felt like it would survive the minimum three years you expected to use it for.
Today, almost all hardware has become somewhat generic in areas like call quality. Battery life has been sacrificed for functionality, and everybody gripes about it but nobody wants to go back to a phone that can't play the latest gaming craze. And build quality is still an issue, but the expected lifetime of a phone has plummeted and a fairly high bar of quality (for that lifetime) has been almost universally met. We may complain about plastic, but it’s durable enough.
Phones have become much of a muchness, except for their software. And even there, a certain adequacy was long ago met. Whilst tech writers wring their hands about uptake of the latest versions of phone operating systems, the fact is that the version you were running two years ago would probably do the job just fine.
Which ecosystem you are trapped in (Android, iOS, Windows Mobile) is far more important than anything else.
When I look at new phones, I only have one real requirement in the physical specifications - it must take a microSD card. That’s it.
And software-wise, I’m trapped in Android. Which is a very roomy, comfy and well equipped prison cell with access to a fine garden and a decent prison library, so I’m not complaining.