Why I Returned My iPhone 4

Earlier this week, I handed in my iPhone 4. I’m back on my iPhone 3G at the moment. I’ll move to Android soon. I loved my iPhone 4 in many ways, and I’ll share my thoughts about it below. But the most important feature, the AT&T network it ran on, sucked.

Getting Out Of My Contract

Apple and AT&T couldn’t have been nicer about the return. I’d returned my phone 32 days after having it, 2 days outside the return policy. I’d been on vacation and didn’t have a chance to easily get in.

Apple Store managers apparently have discretion to take back a phone. The manager I dealt with did this without hesitation. Everyone at the Apple Store totally got my frustration with AT&T. They didn’t try to pressure me to stay. The person I worked with actually has a Nexus One with T-Mobile, because he was on his family’s plan. That surprised me. I assumed Apple would ensure all their employees had the iPhone somehow. But no matter. We had a good talk about how the iPhone measured up to Android. It was such a nice, pleasant experience that I felt bad about leaving the iPhone and wanted to stay.

With AT&T, I had to talk with a supervisor. That was all very polite. They decided to do what’s called a “no activate,” which meant the phone supervisor had to call to a retail store near me, to see if the manager there would approve that. Seemed weird, but it worked. I had to take the receipt for my iPhone 4 refund in, and that was it. I was back to my original contract — which at this point is now month-to-month.

Life Back With The iPhone 3G, For Now

It was kind of funny to have my iPhone 3G back. All my settings and apps were still on it, so it was a simple transition. What’s most remarkable is that I’m not thinking that I’m missing anything. The iPhone 4 was super fast when I got it, in loading apps. The screen was amazing. And yet, I’m back on my iPhone 3G and not really feeling like I’m missing much.

I find that kind of reassuring, because I felt really anxious about returning the iPhone 4. I’ve loved the iPhone, but returning the iPhone 4 was the first step toward leaving the iPhone altogether. Leaving the iPhone family. The security of knowing there will be a billion cases to chose from (except, of course, right now when the iPhone antenna issue has caused cases to be out of stock everywhere). The security of feeling like I had what the bulk of people are using.

Then again, I have an iPad, which is just a giant iPhone, more or less. I’m still in the iPhone family!

More important, Android is growing. And Android’s all I feel I’ve got, if I want a smart phone that’s iPhone-like but with Verizon. If Verizon had the iPhone, I’d have probably gone right to that. But they don’t. Apple’s decision that it had to be buddies exclusively with AT&T has ultimately cost them a customer. I doubt they’ll notice I’m gone. But maybe I won’t be alone.

My Real Life Review

I liked Walt Mossberg’s “real usage” review that came out yesterday about the iPhone 4 (he said it’s the best smart phone, if you can stand AT&T). Over the past two weeks, I’ve read enough phone reviews to go blind, most of which focus on the specs rather than what we really do with our phones. This has front flash. This has a front camera. This has 5 megapixels, while that has only 8.

Who really cares about this stuff? In the end, what makes a phone right for you is if it does the things you need it to do and does them well. So this is my review of how the iPhone 4 did for me. Disagree? That’s fine. You might be absolutely right, for yourself. That’s what’s important, so don’t worry if someone tells you that you have the “wrong” phone.

A Beautiful Camera

The iPhone took great pictures, much better quality to me than my old iPhone 3G. That was nice. Want to see one? OK, here:

That’s from what I uploaded to yFrog. Here’s the same scene from my Droid X, that I uploaded to Twitpic:

Personally, I think the Droid X colors are a little nicer. But you know, it’s not that big of a deal.

Look, most of the pictures I take with my phone get uploaded to photo sharing services, where they’re going to be compressed. Worrying about small differences in picture quality is like worrying about whether your MP3 file would sound better if it was a larger sampling, when you’re playing it through low-quality earphones to begin with

I’ll probably look at some of my pictures on my computer. A few I might use for a news articles. The quality with any of the smartphones I’ve used has generally been good enough.

What’s more important to me is ease of use. The iPhone camera is a dream to use. The touch screen interface is intuitive. You can easily zoom and snap a photo, even with one hand. That’s important to someone who shoots a lot of sunset photos while in the middle of an evening rollerblade.

I love having a zoom, and it’s one reason why I won’t stay with the iPhone 3G. There are times I want to get closer.

I also love having video, something the iPhone 3G lacked. Too many times, I’ve wanted to video something. I know there’s an app that will bring video recording to my iPhone 3G, but I need to leave it because of AT&T, anyway.

A Great Keyboard

Like my iPhone 3G, the iPhone 4 keyboard was wonderful. I could quickly type, even while walking, just using my thumb. I don’t do that much typing on my phone. But when I do, to answer a quick email or to tweet, I want a keyboard that doesn’t make me constantly have to override auto-correction or that mistakenly gets the wrong letter. That’s been one of my big issues with Android. That might go away as I get more used to Android. But typing on the iPhone was easy.

A Nice OS

I love the cleanness of the iPhone OS, especially how iOS 4 allows you to group apps into their own folders. I especially like how I didn’t have to decrapify the iPhone compared to how carriers feel they’re pimping up their various Android handsets with widgets I don’t want and wish I didn’t have to uninstall.

iOS 4 allow allows you to task swap in most cases — go back to an application where you left off — which is very nice. In a few cases, you can even actually multitask, have one app keep running while using another (like Pandora will keep playing, I believe).

Android has long had task swapping and some multitasking, so I’m not losing much by leaving the iPhone. But I still feel like I am leaving an operating system that lets me do more with fewer clicks.

A Beautiful Screen

The iPhone 4 screen is the sharpest screen of any smartphone I’ve ever used. In fact, I though that would be a deal breaker for me, leaving that screen for another phone.

You know what? In the end, I found that most of the time I was zooming pages in my browser to read them more easily anyway. My eyes are getting older, so I didn’t want to try and focus on the smaller type, even if it was sharp type. And once you zoom in, other phones like the Droid X or the Sprint EVO have pretty good screens, too.

Meanwhile, in some apps like email, having a great screen wasn’t that big of a deal.

Maybe I Do Want Flash

I’m not fan of Flash. It’s often used when unnecessary, and I want to scream at designers who I believe use it as a lazy crutch in these cases.

Part of me thought maybe Steve Jobs, in refusing to support Flash on the iPad or the iPhone, would get people away from it.

But no. I still encounter sites that use it, on my mobile devices. So knowing that Android has some support, and support that will get better, is a plus.

Easy Music

I never thought I’d use iTunes much on my phone. Then I discovered it was handy to have tunes there for when I was at the gym, or out rollerblading or in the car. iTunes on my computer makes it easy to sync selected playlists to my iPhone. All types of devices seem to have support for the iPhone, too, like a watch I have that lets me control my music selection on the iPhone with a little remote plugged into it.

Apparently, dealing with music on the Android isn’t much fun. But that’s not a deal breaker for me, so off I go.

Applications

I’m really, really sick of stories talking about the number of apps that each platform has, as if the numbers mean anything. It’s not sheer number of apps but specific apps that are important.

I use Twitter and Foursquare the most. Both exist on Android. There, I’m done. Sadly, the official Twitter app for Android is nowhere near as good as for the iPhone. I’ll survive. Foursquare is about the same.

There are a variety of other apps that I use from time-to-time, such as BoxScore or TheBike. I’m pretty sure I’ll find Android version of these and others. If not, nothing on my iPhone is a killer app that’s keeping me there.

In contrast, Android has a killer app that is pulling me in: GPS. I’ve used this many times when I’ve been traveling and didn’t have my regular dedicated GPS unit. It’s handy.

Forget Facetime

Ah, but isn’t FaceTime a killer app for the iPhone? I’ve used it once, to test how it works.

Here’s my pet theory on video calling. We don’t really want it. It’s not like the technology for regular phones to do video calling hasn’t been out for ages. So why don’t our regular phones have it?

Well, I haven’t had a shower yet today. Ooooh! My hair’s a mess, I haven’t shaven and I’m not really wanting to video call with anyone, even if I could.

Voice has been and will continue to be fine. FaceTime’s nice to have, and when I was traveling more and my kids were younger, I probably would have loved it as a better solution that the web cams I tried. But now they’re older, and it’s enough to get them just to talk in voice, you know?

For me, FaceTime wasn’t a killer feature. If it does become popular, I’m pretty sure a system that’s not dependent on two people having exactly the same device will come along.

The Browser & Email

Two of my biggest activities on my phone are browsing the web and reading email. It’s a nice experience doing both on the iPhone. In Android, browsing feels about the same. The double-click to zoom often is useful, too. The email client isn’t as nice to me as with the iPhone, but it’s good enough.

Battery Life

I never had a problem with battery life on my old iPhone or my iPhone 4. I keep things off so it wasn’t constantly polling the network to download data. I’d always keep my phone plugged in, when I had the opportunity. I religiously shut off my screen, when I wasn’t using it.

As for Android, it depends on the phone. I’ve had some like the EVO that are power hogs. But I expect to learn the best power management options for whatever phone I do ultimately end up with. And unlike the iPhone, I can always change the battery.

The Network: AT&T Sucks

I saved the worst for last. The most important feature of my iPhone is its ability to connect me with the world. That’s the point of the phone. And it constantly lets me down.

The antenna issue was a non-issue for me. In fact, I find it infuriating that so much focus goes into that aspect. Look, I can take two iPhones, put them side-by-side, and have different signals on them, no “death grip” involved. What the hell is that?

More important, I can’t get coverage or get only poor coverage in many places I go. On my vacation, I went through the Southwest: Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Zion National Park. I had 3G Verizon coverage in all these places. Sure, I was on vacation, and I really didn’t need to be connected. But my iPhone had only basic coverage or sometimes no coverage.

When I go to large events like a baseball game or a concert, I’ve consistently had my iPhone be unable to send data or make phone calls. But on occasions when I’ve had another phone with another network, that’s been OK.

I just can’t have a nice shiny phone that doesn’t do the basic thing the phone is supposed to do, connect me with stuff. So I’m moving to Verizon. Verizon isn’t perfect, but I know from experience in using my broadband card that I often have coverage where the iPhone doesn’t.

And yeah, maybe if everyone goes to Verizon, then it will have network problems. Fine. I doubt that will suddenly make AT&T better. More important, I’m just fed up with holding out hope for AT&T.

More Posts To Come

That’s about it for the iPhone 4. But I’m not done with posts coming out of my experience in leaving it. I’ve got a whole series coming, because I need some type of cathartic release.

I carry my phone around with me more than my children! More than my wallet. It’s almost always with me, for better in some cases, for worse in others. But there’s no denying it’s a big part of my life. So committing to a phone for two years, at least for me, is a huge decision beyond price point.

I’ll have more about this in a future post, frustration with carriers trying to lock us in to phones for two years in a way we’d never be locked in with our computers. I know, just pay the full price for your phone. Sure, but unlike a computer, that phone is basically locked to that carrier. A brick you can’t use elsewhere easily.

I’ll also do a post shortly about life with the Droid X, which I picked up two weeks ago, to see how Android has changed since I last looked at it earlier this year. Answer? Much better, enough that I’ll make the jump comfortably. But I won’t be keeping the Droid X. It’s just too large for me. (This is now up, see Life With The Droid X & Do We Need Super Sized Phones?)

Instead, I’ll probably go to the HTC Incredible or the Samsung Galaxy S — the Fascinate, as it is known when it comes to Verizon. The Incredible is out of stock. When it finally comes back in mid-August, the Samsung may arrive. I’m tempted by the Samsung because it looks so iPhone-like, plus because it will be newer than the Incredible. Mossberg is among several reviewers who liked it. I also played with the AT&T version and was impressed by the keyboard. But more on all that later.

Ultimately, I’ve got an entire post coming where I’m going to take Apple and Google to task for selling out what should have been the smartphone revolution in order to make sweet cell phone love with the carriers. I think that’ll be fun. Stay tuned.

Below, some of my past posts about the iPhone and Android: