Searching for (Credible) iPhone Alternatives

I'm a Sprint subscriber and have been so since roughly 2000. I don't have an "all you can eat" plan but I have a family plan that one cannot buy today and it's very cost-effective. In addition, the Sprint network is faster than AT&T and Verizon's networks. I would like to stay with Sprint. However, I'm finding it hard to avoid the "gravitational pull" of the iPhone.

I have an iPod Touch, which I use on a WiFi connection. I love the device and I've become very "acculturated" to its features and functions. It makes browsing the mobile Internet on my HTC 6800 Windows Mobile 6.1 phone a poor experience by comparison, even with Skyfire or Opera Mobile. 

My HTC phone is roughly 18 months old and it's failing in myriad ways; I have to replace it. I could replace it with the identical phone at no cost under my Sprint  insurance plan but I don't want to because the phone has in many ways been superseded by others. This is why it's urgent for Microsoft to make Windows 6.5 a meaningful update and accelerate the release of WinMo 7. 

Yesterday I undertook something of an odyssey to find a meaningful alternative to the iPhone.

If I didn't care about the mobile Internet and just used the phone to talk and text there would be lots of choices. Conversely if I were part of a large organization that compelled me to use a BlackBerry device, I would also have several choices.

However if the mobile Internet experience is factored into the equation, my conclusion, from an intense and frustrating day -- several weeks actually -- of "hands on" playing with the HTC Touch Diamond/Pro, Treo Centro/800, Samsung Instinct and now the BlackBerry Storm, is that there is really no good alternative to the iPhone.

These other phones do provide Internet access of course, and some of them have features that the iPhone does not. But the overall quality of the mobile experience on the iPhone -- not to mention the applications -- cannot be matched by any of these other devices at the present time. Given all my iPhone posts, someone reading this might not be surprised. But I actually am surprised. 

I had high hopes in particular for the Storm and spent about an hour with one in a Verizon store doing everything imaginable with the device. The device looks good and has a nice screen, but it's awkward in may ways and nowhere near as intuitive as the iPhone. In addition -- and this is a major flaw -- the device has no WiFi capability. 

The Instinct is a poor imitation of the iPhone, notwithstanding Sprint's aggressive claims to the contrary

I also spent a long time with the HTC Touch Pro and its cheaper sibling the Touch Diamond (no slide out keyboard). These devices have been well reviewed in the press but they also fall short in myriad ways. This was a major disappointment to me because these devices were the "last hope," in many ways, for me to stay with Sprint and avoid the iPhone. 

In addition to being better than the new HTC devices, the iPhone is now also cheaper. I'm required to extend my contract for two additional years and pay at least $50 more for the less compelling HTC devices vs. the iPhone.

I'm not being flip about any of this, I wish I could find a device that is competitive enough to allow me to avoid moving to AT&T. I've briefly played a bit with the G1 and found it to fall short of the iPhone in most respects but it's still too early for me to be as dismissive of that device. I need more time with it. 

I've had no hands on time with the new N97, just announced and not yet out on the market. Despite many features that the iPhone doesn't have it's also already being called a weaker alternative

The iPhone in some respects has spawned all these competitors and that's good for the mobile Internet and they may well be satisfying for people less demanding than I am. But I was disappointed across the board. To be fair, I haven't "lived with" all these phones for weeks on end (as Mossberg would before making judgments). My assessments are based on several hours of more ad hoc "testing" in various retail outlets over a period of a few weeks (I've been doing this longer than just yesterday). 

Amazingly the Sprint retail employees seemed to be indifferent to the prospect of losing a long-term, loyal customer like me. They seem also to be unaware that Sprint is losing roughly a million customers a quarter. The company is now pushing the $99 "everything" plan very aggressively in the hope of retaining customers on price if it can't do so on hardware. 

I'm not sure what I'm going to do; I don't want to abandon my great family plan and the Sprint network. But it's looking more and more like I will.


Related: 300 million iPhone apps downloaded -- 100 million in the past 6 weeks.