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How I divorced my iPhone and ran off with a cellphone named Desire

My iPhone and I had been together for close on two years, when an SMS from a total stranger made me think the time had come to move on.

It’s not as if I was unhappy with my iPhone – although every now and again, I had to listen to someone yelling “Hello! Hello! You’re breaking up!” in my ear – it’s just that there comes a turning point in any cellular relationship. It’s called the upgrade, and you know it works.

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Every two years, when the time comes to renew your vows, you are offered a brand-new cellphone for free (terms & conditions apply), and – this is the part I really like – you get to keep your trusty old cellphone in the bargain. What a business model! The world would be a happier place if the same principle applied to cars, houses, laptops and politicians.

In any case, the SMS invited me to pop into my nearest Vodashop and claim my upgrade, and I knew exactly what I wanted in exchange for my loyal custom. I wanted an iPhone. The 3GS, smarter, faster, and roomier than the 3G I had held and cherished for so many months.

But then, suddenly, there was Steve Jobs, holding an even smarter, faster, roomier, and – gasp – more gorgeous-looking model in his hand, brandishing it like a blazing torch, and I was mesmerized. iPhone 4. I want an iPhone 4. I want an…September? I have to wait until September? But I’ve already waited two whole years!

I stood at the counter, sighing, dismissing every other cellular suitor with a wave of the hand. And then the salesman said, “Wait, I’ve got something that’s better than an iPhone.” Ha! I had heard that line before. “Okay”, I said. “Show me.” And a few minutes later, I walked out of there, holding in my hand a cellphone named Desire.

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Now the first thing you need to know about the HTC Desire is that it looks a little like an iPhone, in the same way that Lady Gaga looks a little like Madonna. It is sleeker, slimmer, more contemporary in design, but it has the same alluring touchability, diverse range of applications, and breathtaking versatility in performance.

Both are “smart” devices, not just in appearance but in multiple functionality: they are cameras, voice recorders, FM radios, direction finders, electronic book-readers, music and video players, internet browsers and more. But after two weeks of living with the Desire – yes, it’s been a whirlwind – I am happy to confirm that the salesman was right. It is better than an iPhone.

I use the indefinite article, because I cannot say for sure that it is better than the iPhone 4, or even the 3GS. But I have compared it with my Apple, now lying sim-less and dusty on the side, and yes, it is better. How? Let me count the ways.

It is snappier and more responsive, with the silky-smooth touch screen complemented by three physical buttons – Home, Menu, and Back – as well as an optical trackball.

The trackball is ingenious: you whisk a finger or thumb across it, for speedy navigation on a webpage, or precise cursor placement when you’re typing on the virtual keyboard. Which is also better than an iPhone’s, if only because the built-in predictive text is much more intuitive and quicker to learn your own spelling preferences.

The Desire’s screen is big, bright, and sharp, making reading a pleasure on a webpage or in a book. It is the best hand-held web-browsing device I’ve ever used: you just tap once on a block of teeny text to bring it smartly into alignment, laid out in a single, legible column. No tap-tapping or thumb-and-finger skating required.

It’s a Google phone, so it gets you online in a flash (and you can even use Flash when you get there), and it syncs seamlessly with your Gmail, calendar, and contacts. Despite the “i” in iPhone, which of course stands for “internet”, the Desire just seems a much more internet-savvy device, whether it’s pushing mail for your attention or loading a site. Yes, I tested: I held a phone in each hand, simultaneously thumbed the same link, and waited. The Desire, consistently, was entire milliseconds quicker.

But the area where the Desire really leaves the iPhone standing, is its ability to appease the attention-deficiencies of the modern mobile multi-tasker. You open an application, hit the home button, open another application, hit the home button, go back to the first application, open another, and so on, as the Desire quietly juggles its processes in the background, keeping you in the loop with little icons in the notification bar at the top of the screen.

It’s an elegant, intelligent system, and once you get used to it, it’s hard to go back to a handset that allows you to do only one thing at a time. As for the applications themselves, suffice to say I have found an identical or equivalent app for every app I have loved using on my iPhone, from Shazam, the magical music-identifier, to Instapaper, the read-it-later storehouse for newspaper and magazine articles, to Runkeeper, the GPS-enabled walk-or-run tracker that allows you to retrace your epic route on Google Earth.

You get apps for the Desire from the online Android Market, and therein lies the real key to the revolution. It’s an Android. That means it runs on Google’s Android operating system, which is open-source, giving software developers far greater freedom to explore, build, and distribute, in stark contrast to the walled garden of Apple’s iPhone OS.

And in that spirit of openness, let me now confess that the Desire is not better than the iPhone in every way. Its screen, for instance, suffers from the Vampire Effect: outside, on a bright day, it fades to a cold, ashen grey, and you have to shield it with your hand or pump up the brightness to get some colour back.

And the battery life, quite frankly, is terrible, thanks to the Smartphone Paradox, which says that the more things your smartphone can do, the less things your smartphone can do, because the battery will run out as you are doing them. Also, to be honest, I would hesitate to use the Desire as an actual phone. Sure, it is a phone, in the same way that Lady Gaga is a lady, but the quality of reception is so middling, that I would rather send someone an email to tell them that I’ll call later from a landline. Still, all of this is moot.

Thanks to the wonders of the upgrade path, it is possible to enjoy a happy and productive polycellular relationship, popping a sim into each phone and a phone into each pocket, and consorting with them as you please.

Why only be a Fanboy when you can be an Andboy as well, carrying both an iPhone and an Android on your person? So don’t worry, iPhone. As soon as my little honeymoon with the Desire is over, I’ll get right back to you. Until the next upgrade.

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