[Op-Ed] Why can’t I find the right phone?

So – my wife and I have Verizon Wireless and our contract(s) are coming due right after the 1st of the year.  We both are grandfathered into unlimited 4G plans, so as we look to replace our phones, we are considering buying off contract to preserve this precious data commodity.  I have the Galaxy Nexus LTE on Verizon and as an Android enthusiast, I love it.  So when I’m looking at all the new phone tech that is coming out these days, I take careful stock of it.  And at the end of the day, I am stuck with one question:  why is it I can’t find the phone I want to replace my beloved Galaxy Nexus?

Buying the first generation of anything can pose certain challenges.  And while I love my GNex, it does have some shortcomings.  The screen isn’t terrible, but better screens have come out in the last year or two. Processor power and speed are always going up, and most importantly, battery life has taken a good jump forward since the GNex was released.  So in my next phone, I know I want certain things:  I want long battery life on LTE, a fast processor, good to great camera, big beautiful display, and an unlockable bootloader.  This would normally all add up to a “Nexus” device, but Verizon will not stand for another Google Nexus product.  Apparently unlockable bootloaders will bring down Verizon’s network or start the zombie apocalypse or something.  So this means that I’m left with a list of slightly imperfect options that force me to choose between the lessor of all evils.

The contenders right now are:  Droid Maxx, HTC One, LG G2, Motorola X (Moto X)

Droid Maxx Pros:  super large battery, solid Moto build quality & radios, futuristic appearance
                   Cons:  locked bootloader, physical buttons, only 720p screen, Verizon bloatware

HTC One Pros:  beautiful design, great screen, good speakers, good specs, potentially unlockable
                Cons:  smallish battery, physical buttons, Verizon bloatware (stop me if you heard this before)

Moto X Pros:  great design, decent camera, unique software features, stock Android (mostly)
             Cons:  smaller battery, only 720p screen, mid range specs, excessive price point

LG G2      Pros:  large battery, cutting edge specs, great 5.2″ 1080p screen
                 Cons:  unusual design, locked bootloader, Verizon bloatware, LG skin

After going to the various AT&T and Verizon retail stores and visiting all these phones in person, I’m torn.  The Moto X and HTC One feel great in hand – both with a premium feel.  The HTC One has a nice camera, but the Moto X’s camera has been universally panned by every person to review it. The One is a little bigger, the Moto X a little smaller – but the 2300mah battery on the One gives me pause, as the 2100mah on my GNex doesn’t last a full day (albeit with an older gen, dual core processor running it) and the Moto X is a little too small for my taste (and its “only” a 720p screen to boot).   I’d really like a screen somewhere in the 5″ 1080p range, which would naturally push me in the LG G2’s direction.  But with hardware buttons on the rear of the device and a locked bootloader, I’m not sure if this is really the device for me.  The 3000mah battery and cutting edge specs are otherwise very attractive.

The Droid Maxx is, in a word, frustrating.  What on paper would seem like the clear winner is held back those annoying physical buttons (which should never appear on a smartphone, IMO) and the decision to use a 5″ 720p display panel.  The Motorola X8 computing system does have some neat features (always on listening, Active Notifications) but while I’m fond of its footprint and kevlar backing, the wife informed me (her words, not mine) that “we wouldn’t be getting because it looks like an ice scraper.”  While I’m not 100% sure what that even means, she’s obviously not fond of the devices overall appearance.  Which leaves me back at square one again.

The rumors of the Nexus 5 are intriguing, and its hard to argue against something that looks as good as the below (alleged) pictures of the device:

But with the very real possibility that this next Nexus will NEVER come to Verizon, I’m circling back to the beginning again.  And I didn’t even consider other devices (such as the Galaxy S4 from Samsung, which is locked down tighter than a drum from a developer standpoint) that I knew weren’t going to meet my needs right up front.  Can’t these carriers and phone makers see – put out a great phone with a big, clear 1080p screen, great rear camera (with a quality 10-12MP sensor), and give it a battery that will last all day with LTE, and then let folks unlock it to let it reach its full potential.  I long for that day to arrive…but I fear it will be a long, long while coming.

**UPDATE:  I have in fact chosen my new device, and I couldn’t be happier!  A full review and the thoughts on my decision coming soon…

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