The €40 iPhone: two years later

I wrote a post in this blog two years ago extolling the virtues of my LG KU990 cell phone. I deemed the device a bargain compared to the expensive (at the time) iPhone, since it offered a touch-screen interface, 3G connectivity, video playback capabilities, and a relatively sophisticated camera for a fraction of the price.

Has my early appraisal stood the test of time? Well... not quite. In fact, I'm almost set on picking up an iPhone after my two-year contract finally ends next month.

I don't think I necessarily made a bad decision by picking up the KU990. However, as Apple continued to update iPhone software with more and more enhancements, and as third-party developers built up a huge library of apps, the KU990 received a grand total of zero software updates. That means the QWERTY keyboard still isn't available in some parts of the interface, the only third-party software comes in the form of Java apps not designed for a touch screen, and I've just had to live with all of the annoying little bugs and imperfections.

Prolonged use also revealed some limitations. For example, while the KU990's integrated web browser does use the WebKit rendering engine just like the iPhone's, it also seems to crash when asked to render long pages every now and then. The device's external speaker also died some months ago, so I have to rely on the admittedly loud vibrate function. I refuse to pay to get it fixed, though—I'd rather just put that money toward the purchase of a new, less terrible device.

In short, while iPhone users are now enjoying apps, still-solid web browsing, and many layers of added polish, time has left me with a device barely competitive with the original iPhone running the original OS. By today's standards, that's almost like having to use a smart phone with your right hand lopped off. Oh, Ben, why didn't you tell me...

What's done is done, though; all I can do now is just not screw up my next phone purchase. But that's trickier than it sounds. If all goes well, I'll be moving to Canada some time within the next couple of months—closer to other TR editors, the sources of our review samples, and the time zone in which I've worked for almost four years. However, I'm very much unfamiliar with Canadian cell phone carriers, and local conventions puzzle me.

As far as I can tell, all carriers in the Great White North seem either to tie smart phones to three-year contracts or to sell them contract-free for exorbitant amounts of money. The folks at Rogers, for example, sell the plain iPhone 3G for $99 CAD with a three-year plan and $580 CAD on its own. (The cheapest plan will set you back $65 CAD a month, though, which looks to be a little cheaper than in the U.S.) I've gotta admit, the idea of being stuck with the same phone for three years bothers me.

The release of new and exciting Android-powered phones from Motorola and HTC only complicates things further. Sure, the iPhone still looks very tempting, but phones like the Droid and Nexus One have bigger screens, and Android isn't a dead-end like my KU990's proprietary software. One of my friends who just got a Motorola Droid seems overjoyed with it. On the flip side, another acquaintance who got a T-Mobile G1 last year says that device already feels largely obsolete, and my latest brush with the emulator in the Android development kit has left me somewhat unimpressed. Generally speaking, I think Google's user interfaces have a nice, minimalistic quality to them, but they can feel dull and awkward to use, too.

I'm just not sure what to think. Apple rumor sites seem to be hinting at a new iPhone launch in April, so perhaps that'll make my decision easier—or harder.

What do TR's loyal readers think? Would you stick with an iPhone or an Android device for three years, hoping software updates keep the device current despite the aging hardware? Would you pay the full price for a contract-free phone up front and upgrade sooner? Or is there another option I've entirely overlooked?

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