Why I Exchanged My Droid X for an iPhone 4

Droid X vs. iPhoneI got my first iPhone in 2009 and it changed my life. It was my first smart phone and I loved the experience of having the internet in my pocket. Plus I finally had a high quality phone, camera and mp3 player all in one device. It was an 16GB black iPhone 3GS, and about two weeks after I got it, it fell out of my pocket while I was stargazing at my friends cottage, bounced along the dock, and fell into the lake. Amazingly, I rescued it, put it in a pot of rice for 5 days, aired out the insides using a suction cup opening technique, and it was fine. I enjoyed it for 2 more years.

When it was time to turn it in, I started to think about my next phone. After some research and playing around with various Android-based handsets at a Verizon store, I decided to go for a Droid X over an iPhone 4. The main deciding factors were:

1. The screen on the Droid X is huge. The Droid X screen is 4.3 inches along a diagonal vs. 3.5 for the iPhone. This may not seem like a big difference but a little geometry shows that the Droid X screen is 9.2 square inches, while the iPhone 4 screen is only 6.1 square inches. The Droid X has 50% more screen area than an iPhone 4. I thought this would translate into a richer experience all-round.

2. Customizeability. The Droid X has it, with all manner of screen widgets and customizable features to personalize how the phone operates. Comparatively, the iPhone user experience is on lock-down and almost identical for everyone. (Example, the Droid X waking screen can be customized right out of the box to display the weather, my twitter feed, and how many new emails I have. Doing the same on the iPhone requires a rather complicated hack that voids the warranty.)

3. I love Google. I use gmail, google docs, google calendar, google analytics, and google search. I was excited to see how the Droid X would enhance my experience using all these services through my mobile phone.

4. I wanted to try something new. Android is the fastest growing segment of the smartphone market, and I wanted to find out why.

So I purchased a Droid X while my wife Kati simultaneously purchased an iPhone 4. The guy at the Verizon store told us if we were unsatisfied for any reason, we could turn in our handsets within 14 days for another handset (and a $35 restocking fee). Off we went with our new phones.

Exactly 14 days later I was back in the Verizon store turning in my Droid X for an iPhone 4 and a big "I told you so" from my wife. Here's why:

1. The iPhone 4 screen is spectacular. While the Droid X has more screen real estate, the Retina display in the iPhone has such high resolution that it can actually display more information than the Droid X screen. I tested the Droid X alongside my wife's iPhone and noticed that web pages and emails are a lot more readable on the iPhone. The iPhone 4 screen resolution is 960x640 vs. 854x480 on the Droid X. So the iPhone has 615,000 pixels while the Droid X has only 400,000 pixels spread over 50% more screen area. This explains why the Droid X screen looks out of focus and blurry after using an iPhone 4.

2. The Droid X battery sucks. That huge screen drains battery life so quickly that daily recharging is practically mandatory. If you miss a day you could be stuck with a dead phone. And if you are using it heavily, you might kill the battery before the end of the day, which for me was a huge hassle and a big black mark against the phone. The iPhone 4 battery seems to last twice as long and missing a night of charging is no problem at all. If you are a light user the iPhone 4 will last 3 days without charging.

3. I was unwilling to abandon the iPhone-App store -iTunes workflow. I have all my music, podcasts and apps in iTunes. Syncing playlists, podcasts, apps (and pictures) with an iPhone is so simple I never thought about it until I had a Droid X.  The prospect of downloading a separate program to manage my music and podcasts (since the Droid X can't talk directly to iTunes) was not appealing to me. I'm sure there are other great solutions out there, but I wasn't ready to invest the time to download, install and learn them after investing so much time into iTunes. At the end of the day I decided I wanted to keep my seamless experience between my phone, music, apps and photos. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

4. The build quality on the iPhone is far superior. Metal and glass for the iPhone vs. plastic for the Droid X. If I ever drop my phone into the lake again, I give the iPhone 4 a better chance of survival.

5. The iPhone interface and user experience is far superior. Despite everything I've said above this was the proverbial final nail in the Droid's return box. I've been a mac user all my life, and have also logged thousands of hours using Windows computers. In my opinion, using a mac provides a far better user experience. I believe this is because Apple cares more about the user experience than the engineers and designers at Microsoft, HP, Toshiba, Sony, Dell, Compaq or the rest of them.  Having been spoiled using macs during my formative years, I feel constantly insulted while using Windows, because I can feel the lack of consideration the designers invested in the quality of my experience. All you mac users out there know what I'm talking about. It's like the difference between a BMW and a Buick.

Well I had the same experience with the Droid X. The menu design is ugly and too wordy, and the icons are ugly and pointy and awkwardly spaced. The built-in email application is clumsy-looking and the fonts made me feel like I was in 1995. It is clear that little thought has gone into designing any of these elements. iOS on the other hand remains meticulously groomed to provide beautiful screens, menus, fonts, and buttons throughout. I spend a lot of time looking at my smart-phone and after a week I started to get annoyed at how ugly everything was on my Droid. If  you (like me) would never ever buy a Windows computer based on the user experience alone, my bet is you'd be disappointed with the Droid X. I'm not sure if this is Google's fault, or the fault of Motorola, or both, but the bottom line is the UX needs a lot of work. (Note: the Droid X ships with Android 2.1 and I didn't upgrade. Perhaps newer versions of Android would have been as cool as iOS, or perhaps not).

Those are the 5 main reasons I turned in my Droid X for an iPhone 4. It was actually a hard decision as there were aspects of the droid that I really liked. The screen widgets were cool, the voice search on Google was cool, using it as an external hard drive was useful, and the anthropomorphic "Droid" ring turned into a funny joke with my wife. I'm sure I would have found other cool features if I played around with it more, but I couldn't get over the fact that I found it annoying to use and was starting to become jealous of my wife's iPhone 4.

In summary, I think Apple's iPhone 4 kicks the Droid X's butt everywhere that counts, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

TechnologyWill Sacks