A New Phone – Galaxy S4, but not really by choice

I finally upgraded my phone last week, having given up my previous phone when I switched employers at the end of June. My previous phone was a Windows phone (a LG Optimus Quantum), which I really liked, but it was 2 and a half years old, showing its age, and stuck on Windows 7.8.

I struggled for quite a while trying to decide what phone to get. A big challenge is that I do not really use a phone as a phone very much. Almost all of my communications is email, sms, Facebook, Twitter, etc., all which I could do as well or better on a small tablet (except SMS). Still, I do need a phone sometimes, just not very often.

My first choice was to get a new Windows 8 phone, because I love the whole Windows Phone user experience. Unfortunately, there a number of obstacles to getting a Windows Phone:

  • All of the Windows phones on the market here in Canada are almost a year old, which is pretty old in this market. The only new activity is with the Lumia line, which unfortunately only available from Rogers in Canada (and I absolutely, positively will NOT do business to Rogers).
  • The carrier I deal with primarily is Bell, and Bell’s interest in Windows phone has always been marginal at best. There is one device listed on their web site, and none available locally at their retail outlets.
  • Microsoft’s whole story on Windows Phone scares the crap out of me. I have no confidence in their commitment to the platform, and no confidence that if I buy a Windows Phone 8 device now that I won’t be orphaned in 6 months.

So, Windows Phone was pretty much a non-starter this time around.

So, I started looking at Android devices (I am not quite crazy enough to drink the Apple koolaid yet!). I was primarily considering three devices:

  1. Galaxy Note 2
  2. Galaxy Note 8
  3. Galaxy S4

As most who know me know really well, I love devices that I can write on. Hence my interest in the Galaxy Note products.

I was really excited in late June and early July when I read that the LTE version of the Note 8 was coming to Canada, and that it supports phone calls. Yes, I know, it would be a big-ass phone, but for the amount I use it as a phone, it would be fine (with a bluetooth headset, or in hands-free mode in the car). Unfortunately, the version released in Canada does not support phone calls (we are screwed once again – not sure if this is Samsung’s decision, or Canada’s carriers, or the CRTC, but it really pisses me off!) So my dream of having a single device covering all of my needs was dashed.

I also gave serious consideration to the Note 2. While it does support handwriting, it is a little too small to really be useful for document review, note-taking, etc. In addition, the Note 2 is approaching obsolescence with the Note 3 rumoured to be due out in a few months. Again, not crazy about the idea of being stranded on last-generation hardware. Finally, it is a little big as a phone. In a way, it is a “worst of all worlds” device, being too small to be a good tablet and too big to be a good phone.

So in the end, I went ahead with the S4 (despite the fact that Canada got screwed on the processor). I have had it for a few days now, and while the user experience does not come close to Windows Phone, it is adequate. The camera is a huge leap from my previous phone, especially the low-light performance. I am just discovering the apps that I like (beyond the basics that I found right away). One thing that is annoying (though I knew about it before buying) is the amount of storage taken up by the OS + Samsung bloatware. On a 16 gb device, to have over half of it taken up by the OS and vendor components that cannot be uninstalled is just sick. I immediately picked up a memory card, and that alleviates the problem somewhat, but it is still annoying.

I may post a more thorough review once I know better how I feel about the device.

 

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Samsung ATIV SmartPC: Be very careful when buying in Canada

Among the Windows 8 devices I have been very anxious to see are Samsung’s ATIV SmartPC line. There are two main versions, the 500T, powered by an Atom processor, and the 700T powered by a Core I5 processor (note there is also a Windows RT version of the ATIV).

In particular, I was really looking forward to seeing the 500T. With the Atom processor, it runs a full version of Windows 8, rather than running Windows RT. The Atom processor would also seem to give better battery life, and keeps the price more in line with what people want to pay for this type of device. And the kicker (for me, anyway) is the inclusion of the S-PEN and an active digitizer to support note-taking, a big bonus in my books.

Based reviews like this, I was pretty excited.

Well, now comes the problem…I live in Canada.

As in the US, there are two different SKUs for the 500T in Canada (XE500T1C-A01CA  and XE500T1C-A02CA). The first does not include the keyboard dock, the second does.

But…

The versions being sold in the US (for slightly cheaper) both include the S-PEN/active digitizer. Not so for the versions in Canada. Samsung Canada has confirmed to me via Twitter that the Canadian versions do not have the pen, and reviews I have seen indicate that they will not even work with other Active Digitizer pens.

Others may not place quite as much important on the pen as I do, but this makes the device a non-starter for me.

I have received no justification from Samsung as to why Canadians should pay more for reduced capability. I would love to see their reasoning.