Mario Aquilar takes a look at the first (terrible) Android phone, and asks what the first good one was:
And as others have pointed out, the whole point of Android, in the beginning, was not to be the operating system of choice for every human alive. In fact, during its early development, Apple and its iPhone weren’t even in the picture. Google was actually worried that Microsoft and Windows would dominate the mobile device space. So if the T-Mobile G1 isn’t a beautiful device that invites intimacy, that’s because it wasn’t supposed to be. This was a business and productivity gadget.
Earlier this year, we passed a more significant milestone than the G1’s 10th anniversary: Five years of good Android phones a rational regular person would choose to buy instead of an iPhone. To my mind, the first viable Android alternatives to the iPhone were the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One (M7), which were both announced in March 2013. Android Jelly Bean, the platform those devices ran, was the first truly usable iteration of the platform.
Young people. Windows Mobile was good enough for me! Okay, granted, I’d probably have a really hard time trying to use it today. I would still argue that Aguilar’s nominee is too recent. The answer is obviously Gingerbread.
My first Android phone was a Droid 2 that had version 2.2, Froyo, which was very much not ready for prime-time. Gingerbread was 2.3.5 and we know that it was ready because it was almost universally adopted and it remained the standard for a really long time in smartphone years. Enough so that iPhone fans would point to people still using that version as proof of a problem with the Android model (“None of the makers are upgrading!”).
Gingerbread wasn’t great, but it was every enthusiast’s worst nightmare: Good enough. If it still had support, I could probably still use it in a way that I couldn’t with Windows Mobile.
My next nominee would still be before Aguilar’s, which is the Samsung Galaxy S3. I lost that phone on a plane, but if I hadn’t and it still worked I’d still probably find a use for it (my Gingerbread phone, a Samsung Statosphere, is gathering dust). It’s main problem is that it runs KitKat, which was a uniquely bad version because it was the one where they removed a lot of SD card support, before realizing they had made a horrible mistake and adding it back to the next version. But phones that old are still relatively rootable.
I’ve never used a Galaxy S4, but I will say that Samsung pretty much had it nailed by the time they got to the S5. It’s four iterations old and it’s still a better phone than some of the discount ones being released now. (Buyer’s tip: You can get a flagship that’s two years old for about the same price as a new discount phone, and it’s a better phone.) The only thing that prevents me from recommending it is that hardware naturally deteriorates over time.