As a tech journalist who regularly reviews the latest smartphones, I’ve faced a serious decision concerning an upcoming week-long working vacation (meaning I’ll be on call, but on a sandy beach somewhere). It’s not a typical decision most people face, and it’s one that really got me thinking about the one thing we all take for granted, and also spend the most time on: our cellphones.

For now 50% of Americans (and more everyday), that cellphone isn’t just for making calls and texting. It’s an email device, a high resolution camera and camcorder, a data connection, a game player, an ebook reader, a media player…the list goes on and on. In my life, I’ve stuck with an iPhone because it fulfills my needs, though using an old 3GS my personal handset ends up sitting in my pocket more and more often, replaced by a horde of Android devices and even an iPod Touch 6th Gen and iPad.

Furthermore, as of this writing, I have an assortment of different handsets to choose from. The Motorola Droid Bionic, the HTC Rezound, the Samsung Epic 4G Touch, the LG Nitro HD, the HTC Vivid, the Samsung Focus, and the T-Mobile myTouch and myTouch Q. All of these are 4G devices, and the Rezound, Nitro HD and Vivid are LTE (though where I’m going that won’t matter; LTE isn’t available). Even though I’ve either reviewed or am in the process of completing the reviews on all of these devices, the decision isn’t an easy one. And here’s why:

  1. I’m used to my iPhone. The fact of the matter is Apple has done a great job with the iPhone, and I’m used to it. It feels safe. I’ve used Android for over two years now, but it’s the iPhone that’s gone with me everywhere. Leaving it behind for another device doesn’t necessarily feel sacriligious…but it does make me feel a bit naked. Even though most of my high-end apps won’t even run on the 3GS.
  2. There isn’t LTE or 4G…except on AT&T and T-Mobile. It’s not the true 4G (not that Verizon even offers a middleground between 3G and LTE, and not that Sprint’s 4G is much better), but neither of the two CDMA carriers offer 4G or LTE where I’m headed. Don’t worry, I checked. That means as much as I like, the Epic 4G Touch, Rezound, and Droid Bionic are all way behind, even though the former two are the most powerful phones of the bunch. In fact, before I even considered data speeds and coverage, those were my two top choices. With fast data available only through AT&T and T-Mobile, on only four of the possible devices, I have to decide on whether I want a faster overall phone more than faster data.
  3. Should I leap onto the Windows Phone 7 bandwagon? Assuming data isn’t the bigger concern, I do have one phone that isn’t like all of the others. The Samsung Focus is a year old, but has the same basic specs as last year’s Galaxy S Android phones and is still a great device. Mango makes it even better. But do I bring that along, completely forgoing apps for function?
  4. Smartphone vs Dumb-Smartphone. If we widdle away anything that isn’t 4G-ready, that leaves us with four. But T-Mobile’s phones are both low-end Android devices, aimed at customers who won’t pay anything or very little for the phones themselves. They both have great battery life and will run basic apps just fine, but they have low screen resolution, are generally slower, have significantly worse display resolutions, and won’t perform nearly as good as the competitors. But, once again, it’s a vacation…I’ll have my laptop and an iPad along, and I don’t expect to need any of the electronics except when duty calls. Or I need to make a call.
  5. One, or give in and take two. It’s become a bad habit. You may laugh at people who walk around with two cellphones, one in each hand, but for many it’s just another part of everyday life. It certainly is for me. I usually carry around 2-3 phones at a time, depending on how many are in the queue. But it’s a vacation, and I don’t plan on bringing the whole russian army with me wherever I go. It’s bad enough to pack the bare essentials, packing extra is just extra hassle. Then again, if one phone ends up becoming a bad decision, at least I’ll have the other one to fall back on.
What do you guys think? I’ve got until 9am to decide. The only alternative is if a Galaxy Nexus arrives, which was expected to come in on Friday but, well, didn’t. Then again, it’s also on Verizon, meaning no LTE (though I haven’t had a chance to play with Android 4.0 or test the phone at all, so if it miraculously arrived before I left I would take it).

Update: the decision

As it turns out, my decision was to take the LG Nitro HD (which I’m currently testing and has 4G over AT&T) and the HTC Rezound. And you commenters were right. I should have taken the Samsung Focus. Even as an older handset, WP7 is a great and easy to use OS that more directly competes with iOS than Android (except in apps). Two very similar Android devices was unnecessary.

In my defense, my decision was rushed and I regretted it some 10 hours after starting when both batteries were dead. And based solely on my location, there was no need to carry two different carrier phones; call quality sucks all around and data is a joke, even where LTE is supposedly active. Now I know.

[Image graciously taken from AndroidTapp]

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.