Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Great HTC vs. iPhone debate

The question of "iPhone or HTC?" is much like the question of "Imperial Star Destroyer or Millennium Falcon?"

The Star Destroyer is bigger, sleeker, faster, stronger, more pant-wettingly beweaponed and has the overwhelming backing of the establishment. The Millennium Falcon is slow, clunky, jerry-rigged, weakly weaponised and overshadowed by an enormous, all-encompassing Empire.

Of course, the Millennium Falcon is where any self-respecting geek would head without hesitation. It's infinitely more customisable, making it easier to express your own individuality. There's also the aspect that, even though it's not quite up to facing the competition in terms of blueprint specifications, it's a brilliant showcase of the user being the biggest aspect of any battle, regardless of the tools at his or her* disposal.

Any manufacturer that wishes to compete with the iPhone must also compete with what the iPhone can do. Now, I'm a champion of underdogs. I'm a fan of the background and the shadows (largely because this is where I habitually reside, and there are all sorts of interesting things and people to be found there). I shy away from the iPhone partly because it's too cool***, but also because the competition (and I'm talking about Android, specifically with relevance to my HTC, here) does what it does so well, in most cases, whilst managing to be cheaper and have less of a we're-not-going-to-let-you-have-these-settings-'cause-you'll-break-it attitude.

But the iPhone** defined, and is continuing to define, what a 'smart phone' is capable of doing. Maps, with location awareness, checking your email, social networking - oh, and making phone calls and sending text messages - check. HTC can do all that pretty well (and some of it better than the iPhone, in my opinion. But what the iPhone excels at, is built around, is being a personal media player as well as all the rest.

And this is where HTC (I can't talk about other smart phone brands, though I know they're there) is shockingly poor.

Trying to get my computer to recognise my HTC phone in order to synchronise things is a chore at its most cooperative****. Luckily, most of what I want synchronising- contact details and calendar items- are done wirelessly via 'The Cloud'******. Unfortunately, though, getting my music onto my phone is beyond a chore. Whilst my iPod and iPad plug into my computer and synchronise without complaint so that I can get on with my day, my HTC (and, as I understand it, most HTC phones) suffers from the following problems:

  • Built-in storage space is pitifully small, so you have to buy an extra storage card. This isn't too bad as the combined cost was (for me) less than that of an iPhone.
  • HTC-Sync, as a piece of software, is almost entirely pointless, in that it struggles to notice that my phone is plugged in, and so won't synchronise with it.
  •  On the rare occasions that the stars are aligned so as to enable HTC-Sync to accept my phone's presence, it denies the existence of the installed 32GB SD card and so refuses to copy any music to it (my computer has no problems seeing it, and I can root around on the SD card to my heart's content using Windows explorer).
Yes, I can manually copy my music over, but with my iProducts, iTunes just does it all for me each time, automatically updating only those things which have changed since last time. This is so much more user-friendly. There are products available which claim to synchronise your music between your PC-based player of choice and your HTC phone, but I'm yet to find one which, if it does it at all, does it any better than appallingly badly: I haven't yet found an option which is more convenient than just doing it myself.

This, it seems to me, is an area which could prove a deciding factor for a lot of people in the market for a new smartphone (given that most of the other stuff is pretty much up to scratch), and it feels to me like HTC aren't even trying. Yes, they've introduced iTunes sync support to their latest update of HTC-Sync, but if the software itself can't find my SD card, or even my phone most of the time, then what's the point in that?

* Leia plays her part, even if it is arguably overshadowed by a spot of incest.
** Did you notice that gear change from metaphor to literal exposition? The engine barely leapt out from under the bonnet and spread bits of itself over all four carriageways at all.
*** I could be a hipster, but I'm not skinny enough and I don't own any corduroy.
**** At its least, it's an impossibility.
***** A concept, incidentally, that Apple have only just caught on to.