Renai LeMay is the publisher of independent technology site Delimiter. He’s often known for dropping some mini grenades within the analysis/opinion sections of his site and calls a spade a spade. He also racks up a lot of comments on his site and has developed a loyal / vocal following since leaving ZDNet a few years ago so our hats are off to him.
He’s used to being the interviewer so we thought we’d turn the tables and interview him about his public choice to switch from the iPhone earlier this year and how today’s iPhone 5 announcements sit with him!
WhistleOut: Renai, since you’ve publicly switched to the HTC One XL on Telstra away from an iPhone there’s been two key phone releases since (including the iPhone) which could have pushed you to question your decision. Firstly, you reviewed a manufacturer’s version of the HTC One XL on Delimiter before making up your mind to switch. How important was the hands on experience vs. HTC’s marketing materials in switching?
Renai: The hands-on experience was in making the decision to switch personally from my iPhone 4 to a HTC One XL. I had been holding off on switching to Android for several years, because although a lot of my friends and readers were using Android, every time I reviewed or played with an Android smartphone, the user interface experience did not feel as mature as it needed to be to make the switch.
With the release of Ice Cream Sandwich (version 4.0 of Android), a lot changed. At the same time, carriers such as Telstra and Optus were starting to bring 4G networks to market, which I knew would deliver a step change in terms of the speed of smartphone network access. Being able to have a hands-on experience with the One XL before I decided to switch confirmed these two key factors for me: That Android was mature and that 4G was everything it was cracked up to be. HTC’s excellent build quality sealed the deal.
WhistleOut: With that in mind, how can someone actually make up their mind from a spec sheet and some marketing materials considering how impactful the hands on experience was? Does Apple have a killer advantage here that with our millions of iPhone users in Australia at a BBQs demoing their phones to their friends that this hands on demo will breed more iPhone users? Is that why my mum wants an iPhone?
Renai: I think it is definitely possible to make up your mind about which smartphone to buy without actually playing with one first, especially if you are familiar with previous smartphones in that manufacturer’s history. If you’ve had an iPhone before, you broadly know what you’re getting with the new iPhone 5, for example, and the same can be said of Samsung, HTC and Nokia. Online video reviews are also great these days. But I always recommend playing with your future purchase first with demo models in-store.
There are a lot of iPhone users in Australia, but arguably the iPhone line doesn’t perform as well in the hand as competing models from Samsung, HTC and Nokia at the moment. iOS doesn’t have the dynamic backgrounds of Android which delivers such a vibrant user experience to many Android phones, for example, and the iPhone doesn’t have the large 4.7″ or 4.8″ touchscreens which are attracting so many people at the moment. In addition, iOS is a much less fluid user interface than Windows Phone 7, and Nokia’s new Lumia line is eye-catching for its colour and beautiful build materials.
In comparison, where iOS shines is that it’s just much more functional than either Android or Windows Phone 7. Most people buying a smartphone for the first time are going to buy an iPhone, because it’s kind of the default in this way — you learn iOS first, and then a lot of people switch to operating systems such as Android and Windows Phone 7 as they want more choice in handset design and are willing to put up with operating system trade-offs such as not having all third-party applications available and so on.
In short, yes, existing iPhone users are great evangelists for the iPhone to non-smartphone users. But Android and to a smaller extent Windows Phone 7 users are also currently cannibalising the iPhone base, and some of these models have much greater immediate physical appeal than the iPhone.
WhistleOut: How is your HTC One XL going now that you’ve been using it everyday for the past few months?
Renai: I am still enjoying it a great deal, but like any gadget there are positives and negatives associated with it.
On the positive side, I continue to love the One XL’s large 4.7″ screen size. It’s big, vibrant and I have a dynamic background set, which can be mesmerising to watch. It makes my old iPhone 4 look tiny. In addition, I love the customisability of Android, as well as just having basic features available such as copying files to my phone via USB — something which Apple was never able to quite master on the iPhone. I feel “free” in that I don’t have to do everything on my phone the way Apple wants me to any more. I get more choice in everything. Plus, the One XL’s Beats Audio feature is great, and I love consuming multimedia on it.
On the downside, there’s battery life. If I’m going out for an extended period (say, working out of the office for a day and then out for drinks after work), I know that I have to carefully ration my One XL’s battery life over that period, keeping it charged through my laptop. Sometimes I still take my iPhone 4 as a backup (it has a prepaid 3G data SIM in it) in case my One XL runs out of juice. This is the single biggest problem with the One XL, and one I hope HTC focuses on for its next line of smartphones.
In addition, sometimes Android is just weird. Opening PDFs from emails sometimes crashes the PDF app, the way Google Play handles eBooks can be asinine (what the hell is “cloud reading”, for example — why don’t eBooks just download to your device by default?), and third-party app support is inferior to that of iOS. Music recognition app Shazam, for example, just never seems to recognise songs on my One XL, whereas it works fine on my iPhone. Android can be messy at times. And it really annoys me that Android users don’t get updates such as Jelly Bean instantly … we have to wait months for manufacturer and carrier approval.
WhistleOut: Looking at the new iPhone 5 today with 4G, do you feel any HTC buyer’s remorse?
Renai: None. On paper, the iPhone 5 is really just the iPhone 4S with a slightly longer screen, 4G speeds and some other minor specification upgrades. Apart from battery life, it offers me nothing that I don’t already have on the One XL. I think the iPhone 5 is likely a better overall model than the One XL, especially considering its battery life, but I don’t regret buying the One XL when I did. It was a good time to switch to Android and I love the 4G speeds.
WhistleOut: Is there anything that you were / were not expecting with iPhone 5 launch?
Renai: This morning’s iPhone 5 launch basically delivered what the US technology press had already reported. In this sense nothing was really a surprise. I am pleased with the confirmation that the iPhone 5 supports 4G speeds in Australia, but again, not surprised. It would have been a major issue for Apple if this support wasn’t included.
WhistleOut: You’ve also reviewed the Galaxy S3 which is now being upgraded to a 4G version. Now that they will be as fast as each other, how does the Galaxy S3 stack up in your mind against the HTC One XL?
Renai: I haven’t reviewed the 4G version of the Galaxy S III yet, so I don’t have a completeley informed opinion on this model. However, the 3G version of the Galaxy S III is a better phone than the One XL in a range of areas, from software to hardware. I think it is likely that the 4G version of the Galaxy S III and the new iPhone 5 will for the next six months or so share the title of the best smartphone in Australia. The One XL, at this point, looks like a pretty close third, behind those two.
WhistleOut: I’ve seen many photos of road warrior’s mobile kits laid out on coffee tables and snapped for their Instagram feed (most often containing an iPhone 4S, iPad 3 or Macbook Air and a Telstra 4G dongle). If you were building your mobile computing tech arsenal from scratch next month, what would it look like?
Renai: MacBook Air (11″ or 13″, depending on how much time you spend out of the office) for computing needs. 4G Samsung Galaxy S III through Telstra as primary mobile phone and 4G mobile broadband tethering device. Apple iPhone 5 through Optus as backup connection. Kindle Paperwhite for eBook reading in direct sunlight.
Not too different from what I have now ;)
WhistleOut: There’s so been so much speculation in past months about what the iPhone 5 might or might not actually look like, with sites creating fake mock ups and every other type of fantasy but it is all redundant today. I know that many people say this is free publicity for Apple, but Apple are on record as saying that this actually hurts the sales of their current products, especially so in the last quarter and likely again in this quarter. Do you think that tech journos are right to be writing about the iPhone all the time or should they be covering other stuff considering all the speculation is immediately neutered on release day each year?
Renai: There are a certain number of US-based core tech publications, such as The Verge and Engadget, that rightfully specialise in sifting the iPhone rumours and working out what is likely to be true and what is likely to be inaccurate. I support these guys working on this issue and continuing to provide forward information with respect to Apple launches.
This is important, because unlike other manufacturers, Apple does not provide forward visibility on its products. It’s not fair that consumers could buy an iPhone 4S one week, for example, then have Apple suddenly launch a new iPhone 5 the next week. Because of this, the role of these core tech publications is important in giving consumers certainty that their new purchase is not going to be outdated in a month.
However, the overwhelming majority of Apple coverage is not of this nature — it’s hype aimed at generating page impressions. Many of these writers would find, as I have on Delimiter, that focusing on other topics can be more useful in the long term.
WhistleOut: I’m interested to know your opinion on what we should do with our old iPhone 4 as people inevitably upgrade? These phones are rumoured to be more powerful than the computers that were on Apollo 11. Mark Zuckerberg has revealed he wrote one of the most important company documents for Facebook’s IPO on an iPhone. We told our bosses that we had to have one for productivity’s sake. Should we not be giving our old iPhones to the 3rd world children so that they get access to this technology? Can an iPhone get you out of poverty or help you learn?
Renai: I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s very useful sending these devices to third-world countries, but if someone showed me evidence that it was useful, I would support doing this. Without this kind of evidence, I think many old iPhones and old Android phones end up going to relatives and friends who are slower adopters. They get recycled in this manner.
Beyond this, it’s also true that mobile phones are increasingly becoming disposable and commoditised technology, which we use for several years and then throw away. We see this trend with all technology in the long term. We need good materials recycling plans to handle this.
WhistleOut: And lastly, a game of ‘Desert Island Phone’ which deserves an honest answer please. You’re on a desert island, but you’ve got a power connection so battery is no issue, you’ve got a strong 4G LTE connection with unlimited data that can receive but you can’t send info to get rescued. You’re going to be on this island for the next 5 years. Which phone do you choose to be stuck with? iPhone 5, HTC One XL or Galaxy S3 4G?
Renai: Galaxy S III 4G for the win!
From a device standpoint as well, the Galaxy S III 4G has a much larger screen than the iPhone, and its ‘pebble blue’ colour scheme is the only one which would match well with the desert island aesthetic. Plus, the fact that it has a microSD card slot means I could add on a bunch more storage and extra data to take with me.
I have been a long-term supporter and user of open source operating systems such as Linux and open standards platforms such as the world wide web. While Apple’s walled garden is nice for those who want their information experience controlled in Steve Jobs’ comfortable walled garden, Android represents a much more open long-term future, and one I would much rather invest in. It’s just more interesting being an Android user than an iPhone user. I don’t always think like Steve does — sometimes I want to ‘Think Different’ — and the iPhone is not conducive to this.