HTC Desire v iPhone

June 15, 2010 · Posted in Money, Tech 
HTC Desire

HTC Desire

A couple of months ago I got a new phone; I chose the HTC Desire. As I’m known to be somewhat obsessed with phones and their features, people often ask me for advice about their next purchase. “Why that phone instead of the iPhone?” (or words to that effect). It still seems that the only smartphone most people want is the ‘Jesus phone’, but I’ve always found myself wondering why. In the early days competition wasn’t great – you were looking at a WinMo or Blackberry – but even then the iPhone was always style-over-substance. Remember when iPhones had a 2MP camera that could only manage stills not video? Around about that time I got an HTC Diamond (3.2MP) and was shooting video and copy-and-pasting text like an Apple fanboy could only dream about.

I digress though and there’s certainly no need to add to the cacophony of Apple-bashing (and the inevitable retorting) you’ll find elsewhere. Apple has seen the light and fixed up the iPhone so that it’s now a pretty decent smartphone with a competitive feature set.

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 3GS

Two things still irk me though: lack of Flash support and the non-replaceable battery. Now the first of these just leaves me breathless at the level of control Steve Jobs wields over his following, such that they accept his justifications (google your own response to this, I quite like this one). But hey, my old Diamond never rendered Flash and I got by. Also Flash is mainly for adverts, which I always turn it off in Firefox, so I wouldn’t miss those. I have got used to watching BBC and YouTube videos on my Desire though – it’s full-fat browsing the way it should be.

The second thing, the locked-in battery, turned out to be a bit of a showstopper for me. I like to carry around a spare battery in my wallet on long days out when I know I’ll use the power-hungry features like GPS or Wi-Fi a lot. True I could buy some kind of plug-in battery extender, but I’m hardly going to fit that in my wallet (cf. size of Desire spare battery) am I? I was also shocked about the terms of the battery replacement service when speaking to a friend whose iPhone battery started developing problems a few weeks after he bought it. First the cost (didn’t apply to my friend as he was in warranty): £55 + £7.29 shipping – ouch, that’s going to hurt! And remember, that will happen at some point; batteries don’t last forever. Second the time taken – a whole week without your phone! What are you supposed to do in the meantime? Third your iPhone data will be wiped in the process and you have to trust iTunes to backup all your contacts, photos, email account settings, text messages, etc. Good luck with that (see my thoughts on iTunes below). To describe the Desire (or just about any other phone on the market) process for this: buy replacement battery (about a tenner on eBay). Pop the back off, take the old battery out, new one in and put the back on again – takes maybe a minute tops. No need to backup, your photos, contacts, etc are still there.

But the elephant in the room here is surely the total cost of ownership (TCO). I’m really surprised when I look around and see so many people that can afford to buy an iPhone. How many of them work out the TCO before taking the plunge, I wonder? Now if I give an exact TCO comparison over 24 months, it’ll be out-of-date within a few weeks so I’ll summarise the position when I bought the Desire. The iPhone was just starting to open up to competition among mobile providers after the lengthy tie-in with O2 (let’s not even start with that point shall we?) so I think the cheapest way to get one was with Tesco. My calculations may not be exactly right (though you’ll see the difference is so huge it makes no odds) but the 16GB 3GS cost about £320 on a £20p.m. contract so £800 over 24 months. I got a deal on T-Mobile (as a new customer) for the Desire which was £125 upfront and then £10p.m. so £365 over 24 months.

Now, to be fair, the iPhone would come with 16GB of memory (although it too, like the battery, is not replaceable). So let’s add £29 to upgrade the Desire shall we? That brings TCO to £394 – half the cost of the iPhone.

You could argue that my deal doesn’t include as many cross-network minutes (only 100, which I never use up) or texts (again 100, ditto), although I could have used my Flexible Booster differently to cover one of these (I went for unlimited landline minutes instead as that’s where my longer calls are likely to be to). If you said this you’d be right, but I suspect that most people don’t use all their monthly allocation for their iPhones and on these phones, unlimited data is most important for me. Even so £406 will go a long way towards any out-of-contract calls or texts you make and even an identical package will be a lot cheaper for the Desire rather than the iPhone. The point is though that you don’t get this kind of choice for the iPhone and, if you’re a light user of calls, you won’t find any deals for £10p.m. And early signs suggest this won’t improve for the iPhone 4 pricing.

So now it’s time to ask how it can be twice as good as the more-or-less equivalent (and let’s face it they are pretty similar) Android phone. Well, of course, the answer is that it’s not. It’s just like any other premium product – if you consider it desirable enough, you’ll pay the extra just to have it and you’ll have to employ some suspension of reason to assuage your financial conscience.

If you’ve got this far, you might be thinking “what about the App Store?”, after all that’s what makes these smartphones transcend the hardware they come with. Well so far there’s not much missing for me in the Android Market, although to be fair I don’t have much idea about what iPhone apps I have missed out on. I’m aware that there’s a factor of about 4 times as many on the Apps Store right now (as you’d expect, given the extra time Apple developers have had, once they finally got the SDK…) I see it more like the market for games on different consoles – you’ll get more or less the same stuff, but there will always be a few things available only in one market. Right now, I’m enjoying using Google Navigator for free, which has come to Android well ahead of the iPhone.

Also, being tied to the iTunes software would be a big downer for me. I have an iPod Shuffle (2nd generation) which I really like as it’s a sensibly priced, small, attractive MP3 player (see, I do like some Apple products!). I sync it using iTunes on a Windows PC. That program is so slow, I actually wonder if they keep it that way deliberately so it looks nice and quick on a Mac (sorry, now drifting off into conspiracy theories). Combined with the fact that, in time, I’d like to move over to Linux, which is not supported by iTunes, this becomes another potential sticking point. You may feel differently if you’re prepared to fully sign-up to Jobs’ World of Apple and swap to a Mac as well.

I would just feel very uneasy about doing this. Apple have every interest in locking you in to their closed platforms; they’re worse than Microsoft really. They’ve already shown they can get people to pay up to twice as much as they need for their hardware. What else will they make them cough up for further down the line? And what’s to stop Steve Jobs from coming into the office one morning and saying “I want to control the content that my followers have access to”. Actually, nothing, he’s already doing it


2 Responses to “HTC Desire v iPhone”

  1. PLightstar on June 22nd, 2010 11:14

    Just read your blog and fits into how I regard the iphone and Apple products in general, my GF has an iPod got her using Winamp (it supports Apple products and pretty much anything else MP3 wise), when she moved in with me as I will not have iTunes or Quicktime installed on my computer as they are very slow and resource hungry programs.

  2. admin on June 25th, 2010 08:18

    A nice little summary here of the new iPhone 4 prices in the UK:
    Lowest TCO (with only T-Mobile still to announce prices) is currently with Three at £819 over 24 months. As I said above, looks like the iPhone 4 will not bring any relief to the Apple-lovers’ wallets. Still no Flash or replaceable battery either. (I know there are ways to replace the battery yourself, but are you willing to risk the warranty on your £800+ investment?).