The phone with the real flaw? It’s not the iPhone 4, it’s your Android

So Apple has made its defence. Whether right or wrong, wise or foolish, the media circus rolls on. This blog isn’t going to cover that. Instead, this blog will discuss the most consistent comment we get when we talk about the iPhone 4:

“Why don’t you buy an HTC Desire/Dell Streak/other-as-yet-unreleased Android handset? You can hold that any way you like!” [presumably accompanied by self-congratulatory smirk.]

In response to this, there’s one very simple reason why I won’t, at this point in time, be buying an Android handset, and it’s one that I consider to be more damning than a rare, entirely avoidable signal drop.

The story begins late last year, when PC Pro’s own Mike Jennings bought an HTC Hero. It ran Android 1.5. HTC decided to skip 1.6.

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In January of 2010 Android 2.1 was finalised and released to developers. At this time HTC assured Mike that his Hero would be receiving the update soon, acutely aware that major updates to an operating system are eagerly anticipated by consumers spending large amounts on these fancy handsets. Mike was excited, bless him!

A few weeks ago – yes, in July – Mike spoke to HTC again, and they told him they’d finished their work on Android 2.1 for the Hero. Hooray! thought Mike. An update at last, and it’s only taken six months!

So he went to Orange to find out how he could get the update. But Orange hadn’t finished its part of the Android 2.1 update process. In fact, Orange still hasn’t. So Mike’s Hero still runs an operating system that’s more than a year old, and he’s entirely reliant on both his handset manufacturer and his carrier to remedy that.

Get in line

He’s unlucky. Or is he? When the Hero came out it was a fine phone, earning five stars from us. It’s entirely reasonable to expect such an excellent handset to receive the full benefit of both manufacturer and carrier’s attention over its lifetime. You’re signing up for an 18-month (or more) contract after all. But each time HTC [or any other manufacturer] releases a newer, shinier and more popular handset, the rest move back in the queue.

How do you know, when you buy an Android handset, that you’ll get the updates you’re surely entitled to? When Apple updates iOS, I get it at the same time as every other iPhone owner. Being a closed shop has its huge drawbacks, which I can totally understand as reasons not to buy Apple – but it also makes updating the phone a breeze.

There are plenty of other examples. If you bought the original Acer Liquid in the UK back in January, you’ll have been updated to Android 2.1 only this month. If you bought the Samsung Galaxy Portal you should have had your 2.1 update in March; we still hadn’t received ours at the end of June, so we’re guessing you’re still waiting too.

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The Dell Streak arrived after a deluge of pre-release newspaper and billboard advertising, yet it was knocked for six by its reliance on Android 1.6. Don’t worry, though, buy one now and an Android 2.2 update will be coming “this summer”. Phew! Good job you’re not relying on HTC, O2 and Dell all getting their jobs done in that time…

As long as this scattergun approach remains a fact of Android ownership, I can’t see any good reason why I should shell out. Sure, we’re told things will be improving, and when (if?) the updates can finally be pushed to all handsets simultaneously, I’ll reconsider my stance. But right now?

The iPhone 4 has a design issue that affects a very small number of users – just 0.55% if Apple’s tech support figures are to be trusted. Apple has acknowledged the flaw and offered an admittedly clunky fix for those who need it. If, without even trying one for yourself, you consider that a reason not to buy the iPhone 4, then don’t. But please don’t try to tell me your phone is perfect.

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