Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why you should stretch your budget for an Android

As the popularity of Android increases, I get more and more requests to point out the best Android phone to pick up. This is a practical decision, and linked to a budget which is often modest. Most people do not need the latest and the greatest and there is a price threshold beyond which they are not willing to spend. This post is written from the perspective of telling you the LEAST that you should spend to get value from the Android experience.

The fact is, when you buy a smartphone today you are buying a mini-computer. And just as you experience with a PC, there is a steep trade-off between price and performance. A netbook or entry level notebook PC has a slower processor, lower-grade display, variable keyboard quality and compromises on the hardware quality and finish. All of these factors affect the user experience, the performance and therefore overall useability of the device. It is no different with a smartphone.

What do I mean by useability?  I mean the ease with which you can use and enjoy using the device. Useability is critical for a phone. By default, your phone becomes your most-often-used device simply because it is always around you - to check mail, browse on the fly, post a quick comment or response on Facebook or simply to pass time playing a game. If the useability compromises performance, you will find yourself first getting irritated, then giving up on using it too often for certain things and finally, you will exchange it for a better phone, spending a little more. This is inevitable, sooner or later, depending on your patience level.

Android is the only smartphone OS which does not define basic hardware requirements. Apple and Microsoft both rigidly define this, with the result that iOS and WP OS both run smoothly on lower end handsets. This is not the case with Android. The fact that it does run on a budget phone does not mean that it runs optimally.

So when people come to me saying that they have a budget of Rs.10-15,000 and want to buy an Android, I first ask them how much they can stretch. It's a no brainer that the more you spend, the better the hardware. But a small increment in budget can actually translate into a huge jump in useability where Android is concerned. By stretching to Rs.20,000, you can get a Sony Xperia. By stretching to Rs.25,000, you can get a Samsung Galaxy S2 which runs ICS and is still a fabulous device despite being eclipsed by the Galaxy S3. Think of Apple - the iPhone 3GS is still very useable even after two newer variants have been launched. With Android, the user experience is very clearly feature/spec driven as I discussed in this post.

So to conclude, Rs.20,000 seems to be the price point from where useability of Android picks up significantly. If you can afford it, it's worthwhile to stretch till here and the price value equation is still maintained because you get the true Android smartphone experience.