A few months ago I was asked what sort of mobile phone I would recommend for a journalism student. Knowing how tight student budgets are, and that any choice should have as much of an eye on the future as on the present, I recommended getting an Android phone.
The reasoning went like this: iPhones are great at certain things, and currently benefit from a wider range of applications than other mobile phones. But the contracts are expensive, the battery life poor, and Apple’s closed system problematic, for reasons I’ll expand on in a moment.
Currently, BlackBerry smartphones (apparently you can’t say ‘BlackBerries’) and high-end Nokias are probably the most popular phones for journalists. Both have excellent battery life and BlackBerry smartphones (yes, it gets annoying after the first time) have a particular strength in the way their email works.
But these are also expensive, and Symbian (the operating system for most high end Nokias) does not have a long term future, while its replacement, Maemo, has yet to build a present.
Which brings us to Android – the ‘Google’ phone – and the most affordable option for the student journalist looking at a multiplatform future.
- With Google behind the technology, Android phones have excellent email integration – not quite as strong as a BlackBerry, but more than good enough.
- Android’s app store – the ‘Market‘ – competes with Apple’s – and is catching up fast. Most of the must-have apps for journalists are already in there, and on this score it’s much stronger than BlackBerry or Nokia.
- The biggest weakness is Android’s battery life, which is around the same as the iPhone (some tips on that here).
- But apart from their affordability it is the openness of the Android platform which presents the strongest case for being the student journalist’s mobile of choice.
Computerworld’s Jonny Evans (an “Apple Holic”) compares the situation to the struggle for the PC:
“[Apple’s] insistence on a closed system means partnership deals aren’t open to it in the hardware space.
“So, where Android can deliver multiple devices for multiple niches at multiple price points to the market, Apple delivers a limited number of devices, hoping the quality of its software will make a difference. It seems to attract customers that way.
“As fellow blogger, Sharon Machlis, noted last week, the result of that strategy during the PC wars enabled Microsoft to seize monopoly-level market share on the desktop.
The same post, however, notes that “Apple’s key advantage against Android is its developer community”:
“Despite criticism of the way it curates its store, Apple does have an App Store that works, where 95 percent of apps are approved fast.
“This means developers already have a reliable and profitable route to market at 100 million iOS users – set to climb with the addition of at least 24 million more iPhone 4 users this year.
“Android developers may be able to develop more openly, but development is fragmented by the need to develop for multiple devices.”
Apple alienated parts of their community earlier this year when they released a new developer agreement. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Google provided a platform for a whole new community when it announced the launch of a tool that can only challenge Apple’s dominance: the App Inventor for Android:
“To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a developer. App Inventor requires NO programming knowledge. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app’s behavior.”
For the student journalist, this tool also offers an opportunity to experiment with mobile journalism and publishing in the same way that Blogger allowed you to experiment with online publishing and distribution, or Yahoo! Pipes allowed you to play with mashups (TechCrunch’s MG Siegler compares it with GeoCities). Tony Hirst has already written a series of posts exploring how the tool works (it’s currently in invite-only beta), which are worth bookmarking.
This tool seals the deal for me – it’s the difference between doing the job now and redefining it for the future.
But what do you think? What features do Android phones lack? What advantages do other phones hold?
For the record, I use an iPhone and an old N95. I use the N95 for phonecalls, texts and streaming video (because of its long battery life) and the iPhone for web browsing and apps – particularly RSS readers, Audioboo, editing blog posts and checking comments, Twitter, and email. Each handset is with a different operator, which gives me better 3G coverage options too. I also pay for an Android phone (a HTC Magic) in my household.
I have some experience getting an app through the Apple store procedure – and let me assure you that it is no easy task!
Blackberry phones are a lot more affordable these days. For example, with Orange on PAYG the Blackberry service costs £5/month which means you get your emails and access to the superb Blackberry Messenger for a small monthly cost.
Thanks Andy – presumably you have to buy the BlackBerry handset to go on PAYG though?
Yes, you do have to buy the handset, but a Sim free one can be bought for under £100 and the cheapest on PAYG with Orange is about £130. Without monthly contract charges (usually now over a 24 month contract length), it can work out a lot cheaper overall.
I had the one BlackBerry that couldn’t use apps such as Qik or Audioboo; when it came to upgrade my phone recently, I changed to an Android one that could do both of these. It’s cheaper than an iPhone, and smaller, so is more portable and less noticeable.
I love the idea of being able to make my own Android app – I’ll put it on my very long things-to-do list!
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I should be acquiring a HTC Desire late in the year. I can do a nice review of it since my study of journalism is passive, neverending, and steeped in slime.
Going for a SIM-Free one, and hoping the price will be closer to a ‘mere’ £300. That said if it’s not there’s always post-Christmas. The econo-Nokia will do the job for now.
A point to make in case we’ve any less circumspect readers is the amount of scammers who use even reputable merchants like Amazon to hock stuff they never possessed. That new users haven’t been blocked from selling electronics items over say…£100 is one of the few beefs I have with that store.
Mobile cams are a 20 years+ off being suitable as a photojournalist’s backup, and will probably never be an accepted primary device. At least not whilst anybody reading this is alive. That said journos aren’t a big market and photojournalists are outnumbered by hacks who don’t do cameras beyond holiday snaps.
Wait! Just watched that stupid video. Will put dough towards a macro instead; one to fit the DSLR…shows pores even through an aging face caked with foundation. Besides, giving stern retorts to smug sneers of ‘that’s an old brick you have there Pete Ha-ha’ is a pleasure too savoury to pay to discard. Prissy sods. You wouldn’t let a cat near your glass, and you’d certainly not put together some wordless, xylophone-backed vid about it either.
Pete, editor at dirtygarnet.com
FYI I’ve also done a hands-on writeup and screencast/video of App Inventor. I found that App Inventor is still a little rough around the edges and could use more features, but if Google continues to develop it, I think having such a visual programming interface will be a real attraction for power users to move to the Android platform.
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I love my android smartphone and use it every day. I am a geek and coder, so really love the open source atmosphere as compared to apple products.
As the portable web continues to become more important in daily life and transform how we communicate, I think its very important that we have the freedom to do what we like with it and have to power to experiment.
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