The Bad News

How do you even begin to compete with Apple or Google? Both companies have a knack for identifying the wrong way to do something and doing the exact opposite. The latter tends to give away much of its innovation while the former somehow makes it cool to charge handsomely for it. In fact, Apple is the first company I've seen to take the pace of innovation offered by Moore's Law and pair it with an equally aggressive expected upgrade cycle. These are formidable opponents.

As much as I believe that HP, Microsoft or Nokia will step up to the plate and retake marketshare from these two, I just can't see it - at least in the short term.

I'd love to be wrong about this as I believe we desperately need competition to prevent the mobile web from turning into Apple's web and Google's web. But I'm afraid for companies like Apple or Google to lose significant marketshare at this point, they need to screw up. They have to do something very wrong. And no, antennagate wasn't enough.

In the early days of 3D accelerators NVIDIA caught up to and eventually surpassed 3dfx by executing frustratingly well. Like clockwork, every six months NVIDIA would have a new GPU and eventually 3dfx was left in an uncompetitive position. Coincidentally the past three years of AMD's near flawless execution has caused NVIDIA a similar sort of pain.

Apple has adopted a 12-month product cycle for its iOS devices. Every summer Apple drops a new iPhone and I'm guessing every Q1 we'll get a new iPad. Sprinkle in a yearly OS update and you've got the makings of a good execution plan. So long as Apple sticks to the formula of quickly adopting new hardware and improving software, the iOS platform will be a difficult one to dethrone.

Google feels a little less structured but we've seen a steep ramp with frequent software updates. If anything Google gets to enjoy an even more aggressive hardware roadmap as Android smartphone manufacturers have typically been the first to adopt new SoC IP. The first dual-core smartphones will run Android and the first Moorestown based smartphones will run Android. Apple has only been similarly aggressive with adopting high performance GPUs in its phones but Samsung changed that this year with the Galaxy S.

And then we have Microsoft. Windows Phone 7 was much, much, much better than I expected. I imagined it being more like iOS 2.0 and what I got instead was something within striking distance of iOS 4. Sure there are some missing features: Hack-free tethering, copy & paste, multitasking and faster hardware, but if you actually use a Windows Phone it's really not bad at all.

A New Hope

Ever since I flew to NYC to grab my first Windows Phone, I haven't had a desire to go back to my iPhone. Looking at the core OS alone, Microsoft did a wonderful job. The OS is easily just as smooth and as fast (if not smoother, and faster) than iOS. Even the lack of iOS style task switching isn't all that bothersome thanks to WP7's back button. It's not perfect, but Microsoft did a great job at creating an appliance-like smartphone. Which, I might add, is impressive for a traditional PC company.

The shortcomings are enough to make me want to keep an eye on the platform, but not fully commit to it yet. As I concluded in our Windows Phone 7 review, the app story is disappointing. There are far more big name apps than I expected, but almost all of them are slow and none of them support background operation, notifications or anything that could make them feel like a part of the OS.

The performance of some 3rd party apps is particularly troubling. I'm not sure whether that's part of the developer learning curve or inherent to the current instance of Windows Phone 7. Either way, if you depend on a lot of 3rd party apps you're better off looking at Android or iOS today.

Since our review posted I've met a number of people who aren't sold on Android but refuse to buy an iPhone. Every one of them has been impressed by Windows Phone 7. It's honestly the iPhone for everybody else.

The only aspect of purchasing a Windows Phone that's more difficult than jumping on the iPhone bandwagon is choosing hardware. While the OS may be polished, nearly all Windows Phone manufacturers took the safe route and launched relatively uninspired designs for WP7. I'm sorry to say that none of them quite live up to the total package of the iPhone 4. You make sacrifices in battery life, material quality, camera quality or all of the above. The OS may be solid, but there's still a lot of work that has to be done to achieve perfection.

If you are planning on making the jump before the next generation of Windows Phone 7 hardware, there are reasonable options today. While the perfect Windows Phone may not yet exist, there are some devices that are good enough.

Unlike choosing an Android phone, performance and UI aren't differentiating factors for Windows Phones. They all run the same OS and use the same 1st generation Snapdragon SoC. As a result, they all perform identically. There are no OS level carrier/OEM customizations. The best either can do is supply preinstalled apps. Other than that, the difference is all in build quality, battery life and the hardware in general.

Brian posted our review of one of the more unusual Windows Phone 7 devices a couple of weeks ago: the HTC Surround. Today I want to provide a quick look at two other options: the very popular Samsung Focus and the LG Optimus 7.

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4 Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate LG Optimus 7 Samsung Focus HTC Surround
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 106.17 mm (4.18") 125 mm (4.92") 122.9 mm (4.84") 119.7 mm (4.71")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 63.5 mm (2.5") 59.8 mm (2.35") 65 mm (2.56") 61.5 mm (2.42")
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 9.91 mm (0.39") 11.5 mm (0.45") 9.9 mm (0.39") 12.97 mm (0.51")
Weight 137 g (4.8 oz) 127 grams (4.5 oz) 157 grams (5.54 oz) 119 grams (4.2 oz) 165 grams (5.82 oz)
CPU Apple A4 @ ~800MHz 1 GHz Samsung Hummingbird 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250
GPU PowerVR SGX 535 PowerVR SGX 540 Adreno 200 Adreno 200 Adreno 200
RAM 512MB LPDDR1 (?) 512 MB LPDDR1 512 MB LPDDR1 (448 system, 64 GPU) 512 MB LPDDR1 (448 system, 64 GPU) 512 MB LPDDR1 (448 system, 64 GPU)
NAND 16GB or 32GB integrated 2 GB, 16 GB microSD (Class 2) 16 GB integrated 8 GB integrated 512 MB integrated, 16 GB (Internal Class 4 microSD)
Camera 5MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 5 MP with auto focus and LED flash 5 MP with autofocus, LED flash, 720P video recording 5 MP with autofocus, LED flash, 720P video recording 5 MP with autofocus, LED flash, 720P video recording
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 4" Super AMOLED 800 x 480 3.8" LCD 800 x 480 4" Super AMOLED 800 x 480 3.8" LCD 800 x 480
Battery Integrated 5.254Whr Removable 5.55 Whr Removable 5.55 Whr Removable 5.55 Whr Removable 4.55 Whr

If you haven't read our Windows Phone 7 review I'd encourage you to do that before going forward as I won't touch on anything we've already covered there.

The LG Optimus 7
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  • omega12 - Friday, December 3, 2010 - link

    "Apple is the first company I've seen to take the pace of innovation offered by Moore's Law and pair it with an equally aggressive expected upgrade cycle."

    Last time i checked their hardware was not exactly up to date so I don't think you can say they are the kind that follows Moore's Law closely. Aggressive upgrade cycle they do have though.
    Maybe you meant that with each upgrade they usually change their core hardware? But then again that's hardly the case. I don't get it.
  • sprockkets - Friday, December 3, 2010 - link

    I think Moore and his law need to die. This isn't even cpus we are talking about, and Anand even referenced the stupid law when referring to SSDs.

    For that matter, if they really were following Moore's law they would upgrade like every 18 months, not 12, and others upgrade like every 6 months. And those ARM cpus are not getting upgrades solely based on litho process improvements either.
  • foolsgambit11 - Monday, December 6, 2010 - link

    Moore's Law is often used a simple shorthand for referring to the rapid pace of technological innovation, and that's how it was used here. But given that, Moore's Law originally only said that the number of transistors that can be fit on a given size of silicon will double roughly every 18-24 months (Moore used different numbers at different times). So it applies equally well to SSDs.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, December 3, 2010 - link

    I meant from an end user standpoint. The typical PC upgrade cycle is 3 - 5 years, Apple's sales strategy seems to be to shorten that cycle fairly aggressively.

    The holy grail a decade ago was selling PCs like cars - a new one every model year. Apple has effectively done that. It's great for Apple's bottom line for sure.

    Take care,
  • StormyParis - Saturday, December 4, 2010 - link

    Indeed, the car model-year explanation makes a lot more sense. People like getting stuff that is "new", it's an easy-to-grok upgrade cycle, and, thanks to technological progress, PC model-years mean more than cosmetics changes, which are what most car model-years are about.

    I'm wondering why most brands don't go with the yearly line-up refresh, probably towards the end of summer. I'm guessing PC companies still mainly see themselves as tech-driven, or even component-driven, which kinda explains why Apple is making a killing.
  • Pirks - Sunday, December 5, 2010 - link

    "why most brands don't go with the yearly line-up refresh, probably towards the end of summer"

    That's because most brands are run by the Mototrolls and frobitches of the world.
  • wyvernknight - Monday, December 6, 2010 - link

    Wow, its pirks, the persistent apple-lover from dailytech. Long time since i read one of your comments!
  • Exelius - Monday, December 6, 2010 - link

    Apple's hardware was pretty up to date when it was released; which was quite a while ago. The trick for Apple is that they underclock everything to achieve excellent battery life.

    Mobile hardware goes out of date pretty quickly; but I still wouldn't say the iPhone 4 is exactly ancient. They release one hardware upgrade and several software upgrades per year.

    If you mean stuff other than the iPhone, then sure. But I'm not really sure they need to be the latest-and-greatest; the MBP is still easily the best selling laptop in the world and when you compare the MBP to truly comparable laptops, it's not poorly priced. Try to find a laptop with high-res, quality 15" screen, discrete switchable GPU, i5 or i7 and 5+ hours battery life... The entire package is what's important.

    It's almost to Apple's advantage to sell slightly out-of-date components, so you buy a new one every year... Compare this with a company like Dell, HP or Acer where they release a new product every week, so the end-users know that whenever they want to upgrade, there will be a new product there for them to buy. With Apple, you try to time your purchase right after a major announcement.
  • mfenn - Friday, December 3, 2010 - link

    The Youtube video on page 9 is marked as private. :(
  • tipoo - Saturday, December 4, 2010 - link

    Works fine for me, but not in the embedded player. You have to double click it to open it in youtube.

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