Kevin Tofel of jkontherun has penned a masterpiece post on his frustration with the US cellular landscape.  In summary, he wants to have a data only line and US carriers make that incredibly difficult to do on the up and up.  There is certainly some trickeration one can employ (see the comments on his post), but his point is this shouldn’t be necessary.

We should at minimum be able to bring our own hardware to a carrier and get a data only plan, paying for voice by the minute as needed (one guy in the comments boasted that he used just 13 minutes last month and that was a heavy month for him).  My dream of course is something more like the European model where every carrier uses the same standard (GSM) and 3G frequency (2100 Mhz) and if you’re willing to pony up for an unlocked phone, you can purchase any pay as you go SIM card you please, and bounce from carrier to carrier depending on where you’re at or what the best deal du jour happens to be. 

Alas, the muddled standards on which the North American cellular industry was built make this a pipe dream for now, and the foreseeable future, except for one thing I had only marginally considered – what if worldwide cellular industry disagreement over what the voice standard for LTE should be, leads to VOIP becoming the de-facto standard.  In fact, does Verizon truly realize their soon to be launched LTE network could hasten this, especially given how invested in Google’s Android operating system they’ve become? 

If Google rolls VOIP capability into Google Voice, as some have predicted they will, and this is part of the “real” Android operating system, and the tech media covers this like I think they will, such that it eventually bleeds into the mainstream media……..and one thing leads to another and Apple does some sort of iChatesque VOIP solution on the next iPhone (or even better the mythical Apple tablet), then does VOIP become a true voice calling alternative as soon as the cellular data networks are ready? (everyone is looking at you unfairly or not AT&T)

Verizon has stated it plans to implement LTE in up to 30 US markets in 2010 (as close to all at once as possible).  But, CDMA would almost certainly be required for voice calls on any Verizon LTE capable handset in the next year or two at least, and that makes me wonder if popular tech savvy and understanding of how to best leverage broadband everywhere to our advantage might outpace the technical transition to whatever the LTE voice standard(s) become?  If my crazy dreams in the previous paragraph come to fruition…..maybe?

This is a pivotal era in which we live, and we desperately need a savvy, forward thinking, aggressive leader who has the power to help consumers even the playing field among the cell carriers – in a permanent way.  And he might find himself in the middle of a maelstrom of technical, political, and cultural variables that if mixed and matched at just the right moments……..walls do come down sometimes you know!?  

I'm so ridiculously torn between these two fundamentally different devices, I've actually seriously considered using their television commercials as a tie breaker. The recent HTC commercials I've seen with the tag line: “You don't need to get a phone, you need a phone that gets you, and, you, and you”, where in cadence to the extra “and you”s you see an animated swiping of the word “You” across an HTC Hero's (for sprint) screen – very classy and compelling in my opinion. RIM on the other hand has literally permeated my television viewing experience this fall with their random characters striving for personal excellence feel good “All you need is love” campaign. If these adds did't end with Blackberry branding I would swear they were supposed to have been McDonalds commercials? So annoying in general (terribly whiny cover effort of Beatles classic)and annoying specifically in their disconnectness to what Blackberry's are about, I soon became incapable of restraining my silent visceral disdain when I saw one of these commercials. Is this seriously the best ad campaign RIM could come up with?

So I guess it's obvious which phone wins the tiebreaker, except for one thing: I would not have even considered typing this post from the Hero, and I just finished it from the Bold 9700…….

bb-bold-9700-press HTC Hero

More than one week later I’m more torn than I expected to be.  Time of possession has been roughly equal between the two devices and I’m guessing the score is essentially tied, but let’s do some math to make sure:

Design – I give a slight edge to the Hero

Sleekness – again slight edge to the Hero

Build – The Bold unfortunately doesn’t feel quite as solid, or have the same heft as the Hero, and the Hero’s supposed fingerprint resistant Teflon coating and oleophobic screen is for real.  In fact it seems as though it’s also pocket lint resistant and the Bold most certainly isn’t.

Keyboard – Big win for the Bold

Screen – Because of real estate and a capacitive interface I certainly give the Hero the edge, but not by as much as you would expect.  In fact the Bold 9700 actually has a higher resolution, and does look fantastic.

Overall User Experience – Sense UI on top of Android on the Hero is truly a thing of beauty and ease, but also of lag, extreme lag the more you try to multi task.  Surprisingly I’ve also seen some lag on the Bold 9700, but enough to be annoyed and only with one particular application. Otherwise multitasking on the Bold is snappy as can be, and the sprucing up of the icons along with the buttery smoothness of the new trackpad gives the slight edge here to the Bold 97.

Browser – Hero hands down

Media – even

Email – Dealing with email is simply easier because of the keyboard on the Bold 97, but I’m not saying it isn’t easy on the Hero.  It is, and the Gmail integration is perfect, but still slight edge Bold.

Price – had to add $20 more to the price of the Hero to unlock it and by the way, my customer experience with the unlocking provider mobileincanada was stellar: maybe 3 minutes after I made the PayPal payment, I had an unlock code for my Hero’s IMEI

Device Totals sans Price Totals Design Sleekness Build Keyboard Screen Overall UX Browser Media Email Price
Droid 68 61.8 10 8 9 5 8 7 8 5 8 -6.2
Hero 67 60.3 9 8 9 4 8 7 9 5 8 -6.7
Bold 9700 65 60.24 8 7 7 10 6 8 5 5 9 -4.76
E71x 57 54 10 10 10 7 0 5 5 5 5 -3
iPhone 3G 75 72.8 10 8 10 4 8 9 9 10 7 -2.2

Extra Credit: Camera – The Bold camera is pleasantly surprisingly good, especially when in need of flash.  OS lag on the Hero prevents me from even wanting to use the camera on the Hero, not to mention the lack of flash.

So there you have it – a tie essentially, and I have been alternating devices each day this week to break it…….unsuccessfully so far