10 Tips for Buying an Android – From an Apple Hater

I don’t have an iPhone, and I’m proud of that fact. Like many folks, I have an Android phone. If you want to avoid the hype and save some money on a great smartphone, here’s how to do it.

Apple has the iPhone 4S on the market – and I still don’t care. I’ve been on Team Android since the launch of the G1. Why? One reason: customization. Sure, my die-hard Apple-fanatic friends make fun of me, but I just think they’re jealous because they’re stuck with one handset model and a whole lot of rules.

I like options, and now that I’m on my sixth Android, I’ve learned a thing or two about narrowing those options. If you’re ready to make the switch to Team Android, use these tips to help you find the best Android model for your money…

1. Wireless provider

Decide on a wireless carrier first. Even if it’s the best Android handset ever sold, you’re not going to care if you’re paying a ginormous bill every month or standing in the corner of your kitchen because it’s the only place you get service. Compare plans and ask your friends about their coverage. If you’re considering their carrier, invite them to your house to see how it is where you live. But don’t rely too much on service reviews. Wireless coverage varies widely by area, so you’re better off getting an honest opinion from people who work and live near you.

2. Manufacturer

Almost every smartphone manufacturer except Apple is pumping out Androids these days. In my experience, it’s not the manufacturer that matters – it’s the Android series. Great manufacturers can release some horrible phones. For example, the Motorola Droid series is excellent, but the Cliq series, also by Motorola, pales in comparison. Bottom line: Don’t pick an Android based on the manufacturer.

3. Display

Screen size matters, but it’s all based on personal preference. If you want a smaller handset, you need a smaller display. So look for an Android in the 3-inch range. If you want to watch movies on your handset, go for something in the 4-inch or higher range.

4. Keyboard

For keyboards, you have two choices: touchscreen or a full QWERTY external keyboard. QWERTY keyboards are easier for typing longer emails, but having that full keyboard makes the handset bulkier. If you want a sleeker handset, go with a touchscreen keyboard. And if you end up hating Swype (the keyboard common on touchscreen Androids), you can always download a new keyboard app. For example, Better Keyboard does what the name implies.

5. Camera

For still cameras, I’ve found that 5 megapixels is the dividing line for getting quality shots. My Samsung Galaxy had a 5-megapixel camera that took near-digital-camera-quality photos. For video cameras, the 3D-video capturing looks amazing, but 1080p will also produce high-quality videos.

Most Androids are still bare bones when it comes to photo settings and options, but you can fix that with different photo apps. The Android Market has dozens of great photo-taking apps available. I love MagicHour and PocketBooth.

6. Operating system

Google releases updates to the Android OS fairly regularly, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get them. If and when your handset will get an upgrade depends entirely on the manufacturer and your wireless provider. It’s better to play it safe and buy a handset that already has the latest OS installed. Right now, that would be Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is on its way.

7. Processor

The processor affects how your Android runs. Processor speeds are one category where I have to give props to Apple – they really know how to make a phone run smoothly. But a few of the newer Android models have similar speeds. For example, the HTC Rezound has a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, and the Droid Razr has a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor. Both are fast enough to handle any multitasking you throw at them.

8. Storage

Android devices typically have two storage capacities: the internal storage and the expandable memory slot. Apple only has the first type.

Turns out 2 GBs of internal storage and an expandable SD card slot are enough memory to download apps, save photos, and keep a few ringtones on hand – which is all most users will ever need. But if you want to do more with your handset, look for one with a larger internal memory or higher SD storage capacity. For example, I switched to the Samsung Galaxy II and dumped my old iPod. With 16 GBs of internal space and a memory card slot, I have all the space I need to use my Android as an MP3 player.

Once you get your handset, clear off as many factory-installed apps as you can to free up storage space. Every wireless provider loads their Androids down with not-very-helpful pre-installed apps, and they’ll eat away at your storage.

9. Data speed

4G is faster than 3G, but it’s also more expensive and not available in all areas. If you want to save some money, opt for a 3G data plan if your wireless provider still offers them. 3G is more than enough speed to browse the Internet on your Android. If you can only get 4G through your provider, opt for a lower monthly limit – 2GB is enough for most users.

10. Interface

Each manufacturer has its own interface installed over the Android OS. The interface changes the appearance of your home screens and different menus. Try out different interfaces in the store, because the online pictures really don’t do the screens any justice. Personally, I think HTC has the cleanest interface. But if you miss your old iPhone, try Samsung’s interface – after all, the two were similar enough to start a legal war.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • I can’t wait to read your next article – 10 Tips for buying a Chevy – from a BMW Hater.

  • This year I, too, switched from an iPhone 3GS to a Droid 3.  Two of the most important reasons – Google’s voice prompted Navigator system available and updated free for Android phones and a slide-out physical QWERTY keyboard.  I have found that I just make too many typing mistakes with the onscreen keyboard.  I don’t know if it’s my aging vision or my pudgy fingers or that the touchscreen detection sensitivity is not precise enough but it’s been very frustrating on the iPhone.  Although the keys are small on the slide-out keyboard of the Droid 3, I have no problem pressing the right keys and the “click” provides the auditory feedback I need to let me know the key was pressed hard enough.  As Stacy points out, it does add a little heft to your phone but not enough for me to be concerned with it.

    I didn’t even have to give up one of my favorite casual games, iFishing.  Despite its name, this game by Rocking Pocket Games has been seamlessly ported to the Android.  

    The Android’s built-in Speech to Text converter also lets me use free apps to dictate book reviews and blog posts and speak destinations into the Navigator when I’m on the road and can’t use the keyboard.

    As a photographer, I also like the Droid’s 8 Megapixel camera.  It has both flash and zoom and I have even taken indoor shots without flash and the resulting images are sharp with very little noise.  I was also able to buy a lens kit for it from Photojojo.com that includes a 2X teleconverter, a macro closeup lens and a fisheye special effects lens for times when I don’t have my full sized digital camera with me and need just a few more features than the default phone lens capabilities.  The kit lenses are attached via a small thin magnetic ring that is affixed like a sticker around your phone’s camera lens so the kit works with just about any model of smartphone.     

  • This is TOO funny!  You lambast the iPhone for its’ limitations yet you talk about all of the apps you have acquire to get the Droid to function like an iPhone!  LOL  It’s good that you enjoy the phone and carrier of your choice but that’s no reason to put down others’ choices.  I prefer the iPhone precisely because I do NOT have to get apps to get it to function in the ways you describe – and I didn’t need to buy six phones to get there, just the ONE.

    Good luck and happy phoning!

  • Well I tried…to jump ship from an old 3S Iphone…to a brand new Samsung Galaxy 2  4.3 inch screen…..smartphone last week…I gave it my best and was really excited!

    After 7 full  frustrating days of trying to make it a Usefull device….I took it back before I took a hammer to it. It seemed like the display was designed some mad scentist ! Even my  Android son and friends could not figure out    half the problems I had. The App Mkt was a mess  hard to use and full of crap apps!

    Very unfriendly ..non intuitive….

    Beautifull screen……but its whats inside that counts

    I can see why they call it a “Droid”

    It’s like a HemmeDroid”….”a pain in the ASS!!”

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