Not long ago, I decried the dearth of great Android phones that weren't the size of an A5 notepad. All of the so-called superphones were so big that they were a pain to use one-handed or as, well, a phone. The iPhone 5 is a great size, but there are lots of reasons I want to stick with Android (the most significant of which is that I simply don't like the look and feel of iOS). And, more to the point of this story, I've been somewhat limited in my Android choices by Verizon, which has been (and remains) the only reliable carrier in my area.
It's no secret that I think Verizon service stinks (aside from my ability to get a few bars of 3G in my neck of the woods). The company is slow to help with issues, expensive in terms of both broadband/land line and cellular, and my unlimited data plan that was originally supposed to be grandfathered forever is coming to an end. Now it's apparent that Google's latest flagship Nexus phone, the Nexus 4, will not work on Verizon's LTE or CDMA networks.
Not that the Nexus 4 is my ideal phone. It needs to trim about 3/4 of an inch off of its screen size to get there and true 4G/LTE is mighty nice when you can access it. However, most Americans are used to buying in to carrier-sold phones because it's the only way to affordably purchase high-end mobile devices. Buying the latest and greatest phones unlocked is just painful (I know, everyone else on the planet does it that way, but $6-700 for a phone is tough to swallow for a cheap Yankee). The Nexus 4, though, is being sold unlocked for as low as $299 for the 8GB version. I was planning to spend $250-$300 on my next carrier-subsidized phone. Verizon is looking less and less attractive by the second.
And the reasons to dump Verizon and figure out a way to go with the Nexus 4 just keep rolling in. It looks likely that T-Mobile will enable its WiFi Calling technology and AT&T is improving its coverage all the time, making my Verizon lock-in less of an issue. Quad-core phones remain few and far between, but if I've learned anything from my Motorola Droid Razr, it's that I can chew through as much processing power as a phone can throw at me. I want the sort of performance from my phone that I get on my Nexus 7, so I want four cores, gosh darnit.
I also spend far too much time on my phone to goof around with mediocre screens. The Nexus 4 has resolution and pixel density that can go toe-to-toe with the iPhone 5. My phone is also my primary camera and video camera, both for cute things my kids do and shooting quick shots and clips for work and the Nexus 4 has some pretty incredible camera technology that makes the iPhone's panoramic shots look like child's play.
I'm sick to the teeth of getting OTA Android updates from Verizon that are at least a generation behind. Verizon can't seem to get updates pushed down in a timely manner to its flagship Droid devices and I have no faith, expectation, or hints that this is going to change. Yet Android is improving in terms of UI in leaps and bounds with each version. I don't want some Motorola-skinned, Verizon-bloated, outdated version of Android. I want pure Android. The Nexus 7 excels in large part because it is just Android - regularly updated by Google and unencumbered by bloatware and carrier/OEM nonsense. Which means I need to make a Nexus phone work for me.
The final reason that I'll be snagging a Nexus 4, Verizon and its far-reaching network be damned, is ironically Windows 8. I've been so impressed with Windows 8 Pro and the initial crop of Windows 8 tablets that I'll gladly make my next portable computer a large tablet running Windows 8. Not a Surface, mind you. Windows RT has not impressed me for a variety of reasons. But squeeze a real PC into a 10.1", 16:9 tablet form factor, give me a replaceable battery and slick I/O options, and toss in a Wacom stylus for fine art work and notetaking? Count me in.
Suddenly, a larger phone makes a bit more sense since I certainly won't be carrying around my primary computer (a large tablet), a 7" tablet, and a phone that I wished was a lot smaller than said 7" tablet. A phone that's big enough to be a GPS in my car, highly readable in a hand, and just "tablety" enough to make me not miss the Nexus 7 too much (and to be really useful when my Windows tablet isn't within reach) seems like a fine idea. My 10-year old really wants my Nexus 7 anyway. I actually think that within a year, a whole lot of people will have a large Windows tablet or convertible/hybrid as their primary portable PC. I'd still love to see a 4" Nexus phone with all the bells and whistles, but for $300, I can live with this.
The lack of true 4G/LTE was a big disappointment at first blush, but HSPA+ with MIMO WiFi is nothing to sneeze at. It also allows me to access very reasonable data plans, use the phone internationally, and avoid the ridiculous battery drain of LTE. In fact, until LTE technology matures a bit more, HSPA+ remains a solid option, still giving me much faster data access than Verizon's 3G and keeping battery life almost reasonable.
Am I rationalizing here to justify getting the latest and greatest Android phone? A little bit, yes, but my Droid Razr is a huge disappointment in terms of performance, battery life, and availability of updates. If it takes a bit of rationalizing to jump out of Verizon's plans, get a relatively inexpensive unlocked smartphone, and have access to better-than-Verizon 3G, all without compromising battery life, I think I can live with that. Buh-bye, Verizon, hello unlocked, up-to-date, unbloated, superfast, superphones.