Something that everyone loves about their smartphone is how easily they can be customized. If you don’t like the way a certain app performs, you just get something else that will do it better. Unfortunately, thoughts like this can often undo the best features of a device without even knowing it. I’m going to leave the thoughts on the iPhone out of this completely for one reason – they have it right. That’s right, they get the best app they can, and THEY bake it into the hardware/software/experience for the user. That’s what everyone needs at this point. After spending a few weeks with the ‘stock’ Windows Phone 7 HTC Surround, and a few weeks with the ‘stock’ Android powered HTC EVO 4G, something struck deep down inside with the term ‘stock’… What was really wrong with the program that came with the device?
The stock apps work better than any third party app for one reason – integration. At the hardware and software level, the manufacturer’s apps are burned in to the device – buttons work the way they are supposed to and everything is ‘almost perfect’ in phone land. Of course, the issue becomes when you see the Sense music player and like it better than the ‘stock’ Windows Mobile player and want a change. You see the gallery viewer on the HP/Palm Pre and want something flashier than that for your HTC Hero. You might even see something like Handcent SMS’s customized screens and demand that your new Droid Incredible 2 offer you the same customization. The problem is, there’s a price to be paid with that change, and each app will have it’s own ability to destroy your device in time.
Probably the most gaping hole in the HTC Sense program is the Messaging app. It’s bland, boring and on the bigger screens, huge. A simple tweak to allow color changes and font changes would have made it aces. HTC had a good reason not to include this option, the additional resources needed to load and customize said changes would have slowed Sense down. So, do we then have the right to complain about the device, customize it using another app, and then complain more about the lowly speed of the device because we add something that shouldn’t be there?
Mail programs are the same story. With the Samsung Moment, the stock email program drove us nuts – so on to K-9 Mail we went. But K-9 had issues of it’s own, and they degraded the quality of the device in different ways. All of the sudden email was downloading everything, battery life was down, data usage was up, it was a nightmare… So back to stock we go.
Browsers are another ‘fun’ one to mess with. Skyfire enables Flash, Opera syncs to my home machine, Firefox does the same and renders pages quickly and Dolphin is still the browser of choice for many out there. The bad part about all of these 3rd party apps is that they aren’t integrated into the phone. They are an after-thought. Sure, cut and paste will work, but how well? Why can’t we select a link and send it to someone from Skyfire like we can through the stock one? It’s just a shame that no manufacturers will pick up the slack and install these great programs from the start.
Music and movie players are another one that creates so many issues. Why can’t we just get Act1 and a good music player installed on all Android phones? Act1 plays everything under the sun, except for AVI files, which Rockplayer does quite nicely, so now do we put Rockplayer on instead? It’s a never ending cycle of, “Oh boy! Something new!” that kills our devices.
There used to be a saying with Windows Mobile devices back in the day, “When it slows, reset it go’s!” This really drove home a point about installing too much stuff. WM had everything you needed – as ugly as it was. Document editor, media player, email, texting (when phones hit), stupid games, and everything else to go with it. There was no need to install anything on top, because it did the job.
Today, these new devices being so customizable are more of an issue than anything else. The tech blogs are all about rooting, installing jailbroken or pirated ROM’s – say what you will about that statement, but when you ‘take the ROM from one device and start hacking it to pieces to reinstall it later, you are pirating it (even if it turns out way better than before!) – and making life terrible for the poor mother of 3 who’s husband said this is the way to go. Those mom’s and dad’s go into a wireless store to get their voicemail working again only to have the clerk tell them it’s broken due to the new ROM that was installed and they are out of warranty because their phone is hacked.
There is nothing wrong with keeping your phone stock. Stock is what sold you on the phone. Sure, hacking and slashing can make it go faster, but it can also make it go slower. By simple management of your resources, you can keep that device running like new for a long time. If it ever slows down too much, a factory reset will completely make it new again. But the simple things, keeping your text messaging box managed (maybe save the last 200 messages per conversation?), keeping your photos organized on your SD card (don’t have 1 folder with 400 images in it, break them down using a file manager), install only apps and games you will play (feel free to download that Amazon App of the day, but don’t install all of them), and for heaven’s sake, don’t feel you have to alter your device. We had rooted, unrooted and even ‘other operating systems’ running on the EVO and honestly, the stock experience is still great, even a year later.
So, take your time, if your phone slows, power cycle it. If your device lags constantly, check for apps that are always running. A bit of common sense maintenance and care to your device will make it last that full 2 years until your next upgrade. And whatever you do, don’t go to a wireless store unless you have to. Nothing makes your older device uglier than seeing that brand new 10G $650 device sitting all shiny and pretty next to that beat up one.