These days, your typical smartphone anyone talks about costs between $600 and $750: even the ‘cheap’ iPhone 5C is $549+tax. After it’s been out for a while, you might get it for $450 or so. But I wanted to see how little money you have to spend to get a modern functional device. Mind you, I’d been rocking an HTC Inspire 4G, vintage 2010, long dropped by its maker, but a hacker’s favorite. The beauty was, there was a perfectly functioning Jelly Bean 4.2 ROM for it, voice recognition, GPS; a little slow, but with the exception of the latest version of Maps (older is just fine), a solid daily driver. Since I switched to NET10 I was free to experiment.
First purchase was a used HTC 8X, a Windows Phone 8 device with a dual-core A15, 1GB RAM, 4.3″ 720P screen in a beautiful slim package. It set me back $120, but looked brand new, with even an Otterbox case thrown in. I took the screen protector off and it is gorgeous, in a simple, almost childish way with the bright blue plastic. It took me a while to properly configure the thing for data (tip: DON’T use the proxy they want you to!) and with LTE on my unlimited for $46 per month plan, it’s FLYING! The OS is excellent I must say, snappy, clear, perhaps a little too simple, but the next update is imminent and adds some much needed functionality. Physically, this thing is a joy to use: it’s light, thin, great audio quality, beautiful screen. It seems you can find these unlocked brand new in the box for $150…..
Round two, involved Android. I’ve had three phones and 1 tablet now with it, and I’m somewhat invested in the ecosystem. What impressed me about the Windows phone was that I could very easily connect it to my Google Calendar and Contacts, synced two ways! People in the world of the fruit are in a much more difficult position; Apple does everything in its power to try to lock you into its world. After reading up, my choice was the Motorola Moto G, with the same 8GB storage it cost $195 shipped, brand new from the maker. It has a quad-core A7 chip, 1 GB Ram, 4.5″ 720P screen, very similar in horsepower actually. After opening the tiny box (no charger included!) it looked good to me, although it’s noticeably thicker than the 8X. After logging into my Google account on it, downloading apps and syncing data commenced and a little while later it felt like I had an updated version of my Inspire! Almost the same dimensions, very similar software, but what a difference in speed! Oh my god, this thing is as snappy as Dave’s Note II, a phone that still costs $300 used. The lack of LTE doesn’t seem to be hurting it, everything works brilliantly. It’s always listening when the screen is on, so you say “OK Google” and then a command; “navigate to the baked potato” starts turn by turn GPS in 3 seconds. A thing of beauty, for less than a third of an iPhone 5C!
Honestly, either device is perfectly fine and perfectly modern really. I just checked on Ebay and brand new 16GB 8X’s are going for $180 shipped. Unless you need something only available on Android, the HTC is the winner here: thinner, lighter, more elegant design and LTE to boot. The Moto G is more flexible of course, and because it didn’t come from a carrier, WiFi tethering works without notifying your provider! There are better apps for musicians (Drummer’s Metronome anyone?) and the screen is a litle bigger. For me the biggest thing is still Google Maps and Google Navigation. On Windows Phone you can now get Nokia Drive for free and there’s Waze, but neither is as complete as the Big G’s implementation. The former does include the option to download maps to your device, which is very handy. Nice to have a map of all of California right on my phone, and GPS works even when you have no data connection. Boy, it’s amazing what $200 buys these days…..