One of the most common questions I get is two-fold: should I upgrade? And if I do, what should I get? While there is really no simple answer, I’d like to try and address that.
The age-old tech battles used to be fought with IBM, AOL, Apple and Microsoft; but in recent years, we have seen more of a trend that it has been the race to become the mobile giants in this Tech Savvy world.
Even at that, the big shot on the playground has changed in the last ten years. Do you remember when there really wasn’t a term “smartphone” because Blackberry dominated the market? All of a sudden Apple, using technology they had begun in the iPod, exploded onto the scene with a user friendly, graphically beautiful and fun mobile smartphone called the iPhone. Non-CEOs everywhere rejoiced; suddenly here was a phone that offered email access, internet browsing and now everything was housed in a sleek, touchscreen body that really looked like something you wanted to own. At the time Apple proclaimed the device to be at least five years ahead of anything else in the market. And they were right. The release of the iPhone prompted a mad dash for every other handset maker to find something to compete against this powerhouse. Apple’s exclusive deals with carriers and their business expertise made the platform virtually untouchable and propelled them into record sales.
As iOS was taking the world by storm, there were really four other OSs to keep in mind: Microsoft, anxious to get in the game; Blackberry, which was nonchalant (And would regret it later); Nokia which was relying on numbers and European dominance to float it; and a relative newcomer, Android.
Within a relatively short time it quickly became clear that there were really two competitors in the market — iOS and Android. iOS relied on the rabid fan base that Apple is known for, along with offering a system that anyone and their grandmother (don’t laugh, it’s true isn’t it?) could pick up and begin using immediately. Android, on the other hand, was the geeky kid that had all the answers, Android seemed a little clumsy at times, but when push came to shove the job got done.
The remaining companies all began to flounder, finding that in the new world physical keyboards, rock solid hardware, and other mainstays of the past, really didn’t count for as much as they should. It’s true, Blackberry is making strides to get back in the game, but at this point it looks like they might be a day late and a dollar short. Microsoft has been dubbed the one to watch in 2013, with Windows 8 (mobile and desktop) coming to market, and their Lumia phones have been making a splash. Nokia is still in the wings, but has seemingly become more of an internet meme for it’s indestructible phones than a cutting edge smartphone option.
And that’s just the mobile side of the table. So let’s break it all down.
So you’re looking at a mobile phone. What do you need to know? How do you keep all the facts straight on screen size, processor, GB of internal storage, MB of RAM, the ABC of the XYZ and all the other three-letter combinations in between?
First and foremost, what I encourage people to ask are three questions.
1. What are you planning on using your phone for?
2. Once you determine your type of phone (smart or standard) ask your friends what they think of theirs.
3. Ask yourself what your tech proficiency level is.
Wait, wait, wait. Shouldn’t you know all the three letter combinations and do hours of research into all of the different features? Not necessarily. The importance of understanding what you want to use your phone for will not only help you find the best phone for your needs, but may also save you some money so you aren’t looking at add ons you don’t need. Determine if you are looking at a smartphone, or a standard phone. Here’s the easy test — if you want to do more than make a phone call and send and receive text messages, you’ll probably want to look at a smartphone. If you’re just looking for a phone that can make phone calls, you can probably skip the rest of the page and not miss much.
So, identify what you want to do with your phone, are you going to play games? Run your business? Keep track of your family’s activities throughout the week? What you plan on using your phone will help you determine the features you may find appealing in a phone.
Now that you know what you want to use your phone for, find your friends who have smartphones and use them for the same activities and gain a consensus. The odds are that your friends will be able to give you a better idea of the extended experience once they get the device home. They may point out things that you may not have noticed or considered when you make your selection, and sometimes just a simple “I like it” goes a long way.
At this point you’ve basically completed your background checks. A solid piece of advice I always give is when it comes to hands on tech, find a place that you can actually touch, sample and use the gadget and also purchase at a store where you can speak with a knowledgeable representative. It’s easy to think that sometimes those sales people in the stores are only there to sell you the most expensive handset in the store and nickel and dime you for everything under the sun. In the ten years I’ve had smartphones and the countless devices I’ve purchased I have never felt pressured into these situations. Again, ask your friends if they can recommend a store representative you can ask for, or stop in to a couple different places you are thinking of shopping and get to know the store employees, or the manager- they often attend community events to promote their business and it is an easy way to identify a sales representative that understands your needs when it comes to tech. The people who work in these stores and sell these devices are experts in them; use that to your advantage.
Finally, ask yourself what your tech proficiency level is. If you can only handle knowing what one button will do, or if you can’t get used to the idea of typing on a touchscreen, it will affect what you will be happy with. You will find you are going to be far happier with a device that you are either immediately comfortable with, or one that you can learn to use in a short amount of time. Buying a device that has all the bells and whistles but not knowing how to use any of them is a waste of your time.
You might be thinking, “How can we get this far into an article without a solid recommendation?” I can give you my thoughts on the big hitters. I have been an Android phone user from the start, and recently have been using an iPad on a daily basis as well, I can easily say that there are things that I really like about both, and I see pros and cons for both. Deep down I think I would still suggest looking more at an Android device for a personal device, for multiple reasons, some being: they are open source, meaning there will always be more flexible options that users and the development community can create on a faster time table, they have also been gaining market share, and when you hear about tech being developed for our lifestyle (washing machines, etc,) they are using Android OS components. That means that in the world of tomorrow, at least at this point, our households will be running Android, not iOS.
That being said, if you are a business and looking for a way to bring a bulk work force into this tech world, I would probably suggest looking heavily at iOS. The main reason being that iOS tends to be a really easy to pick up system (my 5 year old can run my iPad) that will be fairly easy to train on. They all work on the same OS level, whereas Android has multiple OS versions out right now that minutely change how you perform functions.
I really can’t stress the importance of getting to a place where you can actually play around and use the device. It also gives you a chance to see, physically, what you are getting yourself into. When I moved from a 3.7 inch screen to the 4.3 incher I have, you may think that half inch doesn’t sound like much, but it is. Do yourself a favor and do some hands on research when you make your next purchase.
The other side of the tech upgrades I wanted to cover was looking at upgrading your computers and laptops.
The big question right now is, should I get an iPad or tablet, and ditch my desktop or laptop completely? My answer is no. I really should say, not now. At this point, the difference in processing capabilities of tablets versus their larger counterparts is not comparing apples to apples. If you wanted to switch out now, if you’re like me, you would probably find yourself disappointed in the speed of your device compared to your desktop, along with storage options and everything else. I perceive this as a matter of mental training at this point — we are used to having multiple programs, dozens of windows, and so many things running on our computers at the same time, that if we tried to do that on a tablet, it would not be able to handle it and would be laggy and bogged down. If you can train yourself to use a tablet more like a smartphone, you will be much more satisfied. That being said I have recently made a couple of longer trips where I only brought my smartphone and iPad and left my laptop at home, and I was no worse for wear. I did make the conscious decision that I was not doing any presentation editing, web work, or audio/video editing on the trip, so I had to plan ahead for that. So not to get off on a tangent, yes there are apps for all those things, but no, I don’t believe they are at a point to replace your laptop or pc for really heavy work.
That just leaves the decision between three major players out there: Microsoft, Apple and Linux.
I was a PC user for my entire life up until about a year ago when I switched to using a Mac at work full time. I’ve also used dual boots on my laptop for Linux, using Ubuntu, which I started doing a few years ago.
To me there are two things to consider when looking at your options here. Function and price. The machine you choose should be based on the tasks you need it to handle, and it should do them well, and in a way you can control. Many graphic designers swear by their Macs and wouldn’t consider anything else. On the other hand many web programmers and business people have always used PCs and wouldn’t dare trust their information on a Mac.
Extremist fan bases aside, and looking at what each brand is capable of, if you take a Mac and a PC with comparable hardware, I would challenge that you would be hard pressed to find drastic performance differences in either. Both would be able to do the same things the other would aside from any exclusive software. There are some default programs that I like better than others, but when it comes down to nuts and bolts, you need to ask if it accomplishes your needs.
After using my Mac for a while now, and having used PC and Linux fairly extensively, and considering the above, for me it comes down to price, or rather value. What value for the price do these machines have? I like this Mac, it does what I need it to do, but at the same time, I can accomplish the same things I do on a PC that would cost half as much. If I was a graphic designer, I may find more value in paying the extra for a Mac for the large screen and built in high resolution. Anyone that wants to add on different components would not consider a Mac a valuable purchase. I like to joke that Apple doesn’t let you do what they don’t want you to, but there is a little truth to that. Apple has built a very user friendly, intuitive user experience, but to maintain that the user loses some degree of what they can and can not change about their machine. Especially compared to a PC or Linux machine.
Having experience will all three, and seeing some of the great things they can do, I would encourage that you research the item beforehand, to know the devices capabilities. I was comparing notes with Jason, our IT person, and we both admitted we were guilty of looking up operating manuals online of potential purchases to understand what the capabilities were, and that may be a reasonable route for you if you are interested in some of the technical details.
Also, check with the stores, or even with the manufacturing company, about some of the specifics of the machines you are looking at, ask them specific questions regarding the tasks you are performing and make sure the machine will accomplish what you need. For example, if you are running a home-based business and using VOIP as your business line, you may ask if there is a Bluetooth card in the machine so you can use a wireless headset so you can multitask.
In a nutshell, I’m going to end up giving you some advice you’ve probably heard before:
Do your homework, know what you’re getting, and look for value.
Good luck out there, it’s a tech jungle!