Incredible 2 Review

Well, after reading about and even critiquing smartphones for the past few years, I finally got one of my own, the Droid Incredible 2 by HTC on Verizon. I’ve played around with it for a few weeks now so I feel like I can give a fair assessment of the device. I admit the name is a bit pretentious, but bottom line you’re getting great value for the price you’re paying. If only they were a little more modest and called it the Droid Really Really Good.

For various philosophical and financial reasons, I do not own any Apple devices and I wasn’t going to start with an iPhone 4. Android may not be as neat and clean as iOS, but it’s better for people who want to tinker with their phones and customize it for their own needs. It has great integration with Google services like Gmail and Voice and in many ways the Incredible 2 is better than the iPhone 4 both in terms of hardware (better camera) and software (iOS5 just got notifications).

If you’re going with Android on Verizon, you have a lot of choices. The Incredible 2 certainly isn’t the most flashy option. It doesn’t have 4G LTE like the Droid Charge or Thunderbolt. It doesn’t have a dual core processor like the Droid X2. However, what you do get is reliable performance in a lean, mean package. Unlike the 4G phones, the Incredible’s battery life is solid and won’t die after a few hours. I can get through a day of regular use (some phone/texting, 1-2 hours of music/podcasting, some web, social networking, and Youtube) without recharging. Unlike the X2, it won’t look (too) ridiculous in your pocket because the screen is only 4″ but that’s all you really need. If you really want to do heavy duty reading/watching, get a tablet. I wanted a phone that could make calls, browse the web, play music and casual games. The Incredible 2 does it beautifully without breaking the bank ($199.99 with contract right now).

That being said, there are some downsides. The biggest problem is Verizon. They’ve loaded it up with free trials and their crappy VCast apps. It’s like buying a PC back in 2000, except you can’t delete these. There’s also the issue of media management. Whatever criticisms I may have of the iPhone, its media management system via iTunes is the best out there. On Android, I’ve tried several options from the default HTC music player to DoubleTwist to Google Music (Yes I got a Beta invite! Look for a post about it!). All of these have their strengths and weaknesses but none of them work as well as iTunes on iPhone. Maybe as Google Music gets better Android will have something comparable. Lastly, I upgraded from a keyboard phone and the touchscreen typing initially took some getting used to. I’m okay with the onscreen keyboard now and Android does give you other options like voice input if you hate typing, but I still miss blazing across a full QWERTY keyboard sometimes.

Finally, I have to address the 3G v. 4G debate a little more. My choice ultimately came down to the Incredible 2 and the Droid Charge. The two phones have very similar specs. The big difference is one is 4G and one is not. We’re currently in a stage of development where there isn’t a clear cut better choice between the two. Let me be clear: LTE can be very fast and it certainly is the future. Also, Verizon’s 3G and 4G data plans cost the same so if you live in a 4G area it can be a pretty good deal. However, LTE is still a very new technology. A lot of these new phones are very expensive ($300 for the Charge) but have terrible battery life. In 2 years everything will be 4G, but right now it’s a tossup. Many places still do not have 4G coverage and the places that do may suffer outages. It really depends on where you live and how you use your phone.

So to recap, I’m really happy with the Incredible 2. It isn’t state of the art but the technology behind it is proven. You’re getting great bang for your buck. I would argue it’s the best 3G Android phone on Verizon, and perhaps even better than the iPhone 4. Don’t take my word for it though. Go read other reviews and go to your local store to play around with one.

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Tech in Britain

So last time I talked about how I’ve jumped on the podcast and netbook bandwagon since coming to London. In part two of my series on tech in the UK, I’m going to talk a little about my observations of the tech industry and tech usage in London. In general, I would say consumer adoption of new technologies is at about the same level if not slightly higher than in the U.S. However, institutional or systematic adoption seems to lag behind the States. Here are some examples to illustrate my point:

The mobile industry here is quite possibly better than in the U.S. I can’t speak to 3G coverage here because I don’t have a smartphone, but regular call services are definitely superior to the U.S. First off, there are more carriers than back home so the industry is much more competitive. The major carriers are Vodafone (parent of Verizon), O2 and Orange, but there are also second tier carriers like T-Mobile and 3 and smaller players like Lyca Mobile. Unlike the duopoly that AT&T and Verizon have in the U.S., these carriers all have about equal market share so they all have very strong networks and consumer-friendly deals. I’m currently on a recurring 30 day contract with Vodafone (who, no surprise, have the best coverage here) with 100 minutes and 500 texts per month for just £10 a month ($16). What’s better is that you don’t pay to receive incoming calls and texts. Therefore, I essentially get 200 minutes and 1,000 texts assuming my incoming and outcoming usage are about equal. There also seems to be a greater selection of fancy phones here outside of the iPhone and Blackberry (although most study abroad students just get a cheap basic phone). The iPhone is going to be on multiple carriers soon (Vodafone and Orange are introducing it early next year) and

Android phones seem to be more popular (although that could change with the Droid). Overall, the competitive landscape of the mobile industry here seems to be a big gain for consumers.

Other technologies are on a similar level to the U.S. as well. At LSE, I see an equal amount of PCs and Macs, although Macs are not officially supported by IT services here. TV is a little different because they don’t really have cable here. Everything is either broadcast (which you need to pay a TV license for) or satellite (Sky box, which gets you lots of American shows and even some American sports). There are some things that they don’t have here, namely the Kindle. It’s also annoying that I can’t access things like Hulu or ESPN360 because of broadcast restrictions. A small aside here: I think going subscription is a horrible mistake for Hulu. If my situation right now is any indication, there’s always a way around if content isn’t easily accessible through legal channels. Any sensible businessman would realize that some revenue is better than no revenue.

One interesting site they do have here that’s not in the U.S. is Spotify. I first heard about it on This Week in Tech; it’s basically a legal, ad-supported peer to peer streaming service. It lets you listen to as many songs as you want on your computer and mobile app and then links you to traditional music stores if you want to purchase the song. Right now, its invite only for free use or you can pay for the premium subscription. Unfortunately, Spotify seems just as bad as Google Wave when it comes to giving out invites, as I still have not received mine for either. This thing sounds more innovative from a technical aspect than a consumer aspect. From what I can tell it sounds a lot like any other streaming service.

I also want to comment briefly on Internet here especially in light of the net neutrality debate that’s been going on recently in Congress. Publicly, there are plenty of wi-fi hotspots around London and the ethernet connections (at least at LSE) aren’t bad. However, I don’t think the UK has net neutrality. LSE’s website, for example, actually states that it prioritizes school related content over “social” sites (although Facebook has worked fine). I’m not sure how exactly they differentiate this or how much this is actually implemented, but I’ve definitely experienced more problems with Internet here. For example, for the first few weeks here I couldn’t get CNN or ESPN videos to buffer at any reasonable rate. Then magically they started working fine. Of course this could be because these are American sites and it has nothing to do with net neutrality. However, I’m still a little skeptical of this whole situation.

The disparity in institutional tech adoption is much wider. LSE definitely weaves less tech into its infrastructure than BC. For example, LSE doesn’t have an equivalent of Eaglebucks or any type of electronic currency. Everything in the dining halls is paid for in cash. Also, if you thought class registration at BC was bad, its a lot worse here. Some universities, such as King’s, don’t even have electronic course selection. LSE does let you add/drop online, but I’m pretty sure the actual adding/dropping is done manually by a person because it only updates about once a day. There’s no Laundryview here (although they have a version of it for computers on campus) and the machines are the old models we had at BC which were replaced this year.

There are a few things they do well here as a school. The library has these cool self-checkout kiosks where you can just pop the book on a scanner and it automatically senses what the book is and checks it out for you. The NHS also uses a touchscreen self check-in system for appointments, thus freeing up receptionists to do other things. Believe it or not they actually do some things efficiently. And like a lot of countries I’ve seen around Europe, the credit and debit cards here have a little chip in them so you can stick it into the machine instead of swiping it. I’m not really sure what the advantage of this is because any time you save from the physical motion is negated by the few seconds you have to keep the card in to verify it, but it looks kind of cool.

I’m sure more observations and comments will come up over the next few months. I will also be doing a post on entrepreneurship here so keep an eye out for that. I’ll try to get back to the strictly travel/London related posts too, but I honestly haven’t been anywhere the past few weeks so there’s not much to say.