Personal review of the EVO 4G or what mobile phone manufacturers need to get right.

I started an email this morning summarizing my review on the EVO 4G, and it quickly turned out longer than I expected so I thought I’d post it here, seeing that I haven’t posted anything in 6 months.

I got the EVO 4G from my dad who attended Google I/O. Generous man that he is, he handed it over to me. For a month I carried the EVO 4G around with me, along with my Nexus One that had been updated to Froyo. It made for quite a comparison since I was able to carry two flagship android devices around with me and I’ve captured my thoughts below.

Pros
SCREEN SIZE – I can’t emphasize this enough but a big HD screen on a phone changes what you want do on the phone. Screen size seems to be one of those things whose appeal is hard to understand rationally. If you had told me it has a 4.3” screen, I might have said that’s too big. But after a single day of using the EVO 4G, I found myself always going to it instead of the Nexus One. Browsing was easier, typing was easier but most importantly I kept wanting to watch videos on the phone.

Kickstand – Who would have thought a kickstand would be useful on a phone, but it’s perfect on the EVO 4G. I would carry the phone with me to lunch, prop the phone on the table and watch videos of World Cup games. Very nicely designed.

Sense– Like the way Sense handles integration of facebook & flickr contents but don’t much like it’s UI. I ended up downloading an alternate home screen that replaced the home interface to make it look more like Froyo 2.2 (not that Froyo has amazing UI, but it’s minimalism appeals to me)

Cons

Lack of Froyo / 2.2 – I manually upgraded my Nexus One to 2.2 and it made a world of difference. Faster, better batter life and full flash integration. If the EVO was to get Froyo (which I expect it will in October), that will make a big difference.

Lack of a single HD video content / app – If you give me a big, hi-res screen – I’m going to want to watch videos and movies but there’s no single app in the android marketplace that does it (till now – Droid X launched with the Blockbuster app). The Sprint video apps were terrible. I tried Sprint TV multiple times and it either crashed, or the video didn’t fill the screen or it wasn’t of high enough resolution. I ended up downloading HD videos from youtube and vimeo and watching them. A partnership with nextflix, hulu, boxee would go a long way to making video on the android phones

Camera – Camera may be of a higher resolution than the Nexus One but pictures were worse.Lots of noise, even in daylight. Megapixels don’t always matter ( I knew that intellectually, now I know it in truth)

Contrast ratio – Compared to the AMOLED on the nexus one, the LCD on the EVo 4G looked washed out. Only pro for the LCD was better sunlight performance.

Battery Life – Definitely less than my nexus one, but with a big screen, didn’t expect any less. Had to turn off a lot to make it through the day

Call Quality – This is more of a sprint issue, but calls were not as high quality as tmobile. I felt like there was a lot of digital compression on the line.

4G – Nice in theory, never ended up using it since it sucked up battery so much. Until you can have 4G on and have the phone last through the day, I don’t see the point of 4G. Nail in the coffin is that T-mobile’s HSPA+ is expected to be faster than Sprint and they are rolling out HSPA+ by end of year. I just used WiFi instead.

Sense– The UI is too heavy taking up a lot of the screen real estate with the curved arc interface at the home screen. Also, considering it’s a google phone, lack of close integration with Picasa in the gallery is unforgiveable.

PPI – 4.3” screen deserves a higher/denser resolution than 800 x 480.

Front-Facing Camera – For this to actually be used, it needs to be paired to a solid video chatting application which Qik is not. In the month I had it, I only managed to make one video call to my dad who was on his laptop using Fring->Skype. Key here is a video chatting application that supports common video chatting applications (Gchat, Skype, iChat or FaceTime)

Mobile phone manufacturers – it’s pretty simple. Fix these issues, and you have a solid phone. I have high hopes for the Droid X since it has addressed some of the issues I’ve identified above (Blockbuster App with rental videos). Let’s see what the rest of this year has in store. It’s an exciting time to be an Android user.

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Enter the gphone

If you haven’t heard, rumors are flying around about a google phone – no I’m not referring to Android, but rather something called the
Nexus One

Why would Google do this? I’m guessing these might be the reasons they are pursuing this strategy.

1. Re-establishing control – Android ended up living up to it’s promise of being the perfect white label OS for mobile carriers, and in the process ended up a lot more fragmented as an offering. With three different types of Android handsets, and various handset specific versions (Cliq, Sense, Rachel), there is little control that Google could exert on manufacturers who choose the non-Google experience version of the OS. Creating your own phone brings ownership right back into Google’s lap, with all the benefits that it entails.

2. Cloud is the new pc – There has never been a greater number of web based services that leave you wondering if you really need a desktop. Other than running an OS and a browser, if you are adventurous enough, you can pretty much do everything online, from the mundane (Google docs, groups) to the exciting (photo editing using Aviary, 3d gaming etc.). Even the OS part will change soon enough with Google’s Chrome, an OS designed from the ground up to support web based applications. With so many of the traditional pc services moving to the cloud, why not a phone? The increasing prevalence of fast processors, connections make a phone a perfect platform for cloud based services and apps and with a Google Phone, Google has control over every aspect of how this phone will connect to the internet, either being subsidized through ad based revenue as some have speculated, or through other creative methods.

3. Design cohesion – I don’t know if Google cares about design cohesion but with multiple parties involved in the development of any single Android based phone, Android products have felt thrown together. I have been an avid proponent of Android for quite a while, but I’ve also been carrying around a ipod touch and my Google ION doesn’t hold a candle to the speed and performance of the Apple product (now granted I’m comparing iTouch and a phone but the core interaction remains the same whether it’s an iPhone or iTouch). Having one entity (google) in charge of the end to end user experience should result in a better designed product.

4. Next ad platform – Of course this goes without saying but with 1B mobile phones sold every year, and about 140M smartphone sales, mobile phone are the largest category of consumer electronic devices and are growing at double digit rates all of which add up to a perfect ad platform for Google. Google’s recent acquisition of AdMob is just the first step towards establishing a whole suite of mobile metrics that will leverage location, context and transactions to driver more targeted ads.

However, while there might be reasons why Google might be pursuing this strategy, nothing explains why they would make a decision to leave behind all the manufacturers who have jumped behind the Android platform and invested significant resources in the development of phones based on this OS (Motorola, SE).

If Google does in fact decide to approac customers directly with their offering, I can only imagine that manufacturers will start looking for an alternate OS that can power their smartphones.

End to the hiatus

It’s been far too long since I’ve put my thoughts to paper (well pseudo-paper in this instance). Starting a new job while completing grad school leaves little time for reflection – but I’ve felt the growing need to get back to it. It also helps that my classes are done for the semester. So expect to hear a bit more from me.

Airline Innovation

I wrote this post in response to a wired article about black boxes.
http://blog.wired.com/cars/2009/03/cockpit-voice-r.html?cid=150902941#comment-150902941

After having watched numerous Air Emergency shows, I feel that what’s really missing in the cockpit are simple cameras that look out over the airplane, highlighting sections like the wing, engines, tail section etc.

What struck me the most was that pilots were only relying on instruments and the external view to the front of the plane to guide their behavior. In addition, what they should have had is a “gods view” of their plane – so that they could see exactly what was happening. There were so many episodes where passengers were seeing flames shooting out of the engines, but the pilot had no view of them and ended up making bad decisions because of the lack of visual information.

Disconnect between market demand, supply and pricing

60 minutes has a great episode about the disconnect between price of oil and real demand and supply. Instead, the villain we have all come to hate, hedge funds and institutional investors were artificially driving volatility of prices, causing real pain for those actually consuming this product.

Check out the 60 minutes podcast.

Studied vs Read

I’m taking a class this semester on Marshall McLuhan, who I will admit not knowing prior to class (sorry Chris). On reading his chapter of the photograph, my thoughts kept wandering away after every sentence and I found myself re-reading many of his statements multiple times. Now this might seem obvious to you, but I wasn’t “reading” McLuhan, I was “studying” him to gain a deeper understanding. In contrast, I “read” Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, where a cursory glance allows me a high level understanding of the points he’s trying to make. This distinction might either seem nuanced or down right obvious, but the next time you ask someone if they’ve read XXX author, think about what that means, and what it implies in terms of their deep understanding.

I’ve started my post-grad career

Last week, I started working full time as an associate strategist at gravitytank, a Chicago based innovation consultancy firm. Some sharp-eyed readers might remember that I’ve mentioned this company before. GT (wonder why the short form is capitalized?) is closely tied to school as more than half the employees are graduates and many of them choose to teach at ID. At one point or another, I’ve been taught by, on teams with or had colleagues who were from GT which makes switching from school to work a lot easier and lot more fun.

School continues, as class requirements need to be met but will be taken over the year, rather than finishing up by May. I’m glad in some ways to maintain some contact with ID. The transition is much less abrupt and I actually get to enjoy the classes more, enjoying their theoretical discussions as a sharp contrast with the practical and interesting challenges at work.

The purpose of this blog I hope, will start to include perspectives that show the combinations of the practical and academic world. If you have any questions about my experiences, please leave them in the comments.