Android Dilemma: Samsung Galaxy S III or Galaxy Nexus?

Google's demo of Android 4.1 - Jelly Bean - at I/O 2012 was awesome. Android has turned the corner, and the gap between it and iOS has disappeared.

Go pure Google: The Samsung Galaxy Nexus goes for only $349 is unlocked, contract free (if you choose). An unlimited data plan can be had for as little as $30 on T-Mobile so long as you don't need much talk time (only 100 minutes are included).
Go pure Google: The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is only $349 and ships unlocked, contract free (if you choose). An unlimited data plan can be had for as little as $30 on T-Mobile so long as you don’t need much talk time (only 100 minutes are included).

Here’s my situation- it’s likely the same for a lot of you Androids on the verge of an upgrade:

I’m contract free, still toting trusty OG Droid (2009) on Verizon, and on the hunt for the next big thing.

iPhone is not even in the running. With Ice Cream Sandwich, and major apps near par (Flipboard, Instagram, for example, are now available on the Play Store) Android is a heavy hitter, especially for a guy like me that runs the Google farm of apps such as Gmail, calendar, contacts, etc. Jelly Bean, in my estimation, pushes Android beyond iOS, at least until the iPhone 5 lands.

The clear Android daddy is the brand new Samsung Galaxy S III that ships this week (and is impressively available on all 4 majors: Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile). Hardware-wise it’s the one to beat. You’ve read the reviews, soaked in the praise. And millions of you have ordered one. Including me. Well, that is, until I cancelled my order, and changed course.

But why?

Namely: Jelly Bean.

According to reports Google is expected to add up to 5 OEM unlocked devices to the Play Store come Thanksgiving.

Google’s demo at I/O 2012 was awesome. Android has turned the corner, and the gap between it and iOS has disappeared. In addition Google has done a — ahem — sweet job of up-leveling its store, now called Google Play, and has added magazines, in addition to the devices section that was previously added. It looks as nice as it ever has. With JB and the content improvements, I suspect more than just a few iPhone users will be relishing the thought of moving bast an inflexible OS, with a tiny 4-inch display.

To get Jelly Bean, and to avoid the dreaded TouchWiz, there’s one clear route. Ordering a $349 unlocked, bloatfree, Samsung Galaxy Nexus direct from Google. It’s as pure as pure goes in terms of Android, with nary a skin in sight which is partly why it (along with the other Nexus devices such as the new Nexus 7 tablet) will see updates first. Partners such as Samsung, HTC and (even) Motorola, on the other hand, have to run a stable of tests, and update skins (TouchWiz, Sense, MotoBlur, respectively) before they can shower their users with the latest Android love.

So I cancelled the S III pre-order.

Not because it’s not a great, great smartphone. But because, by going pure Google, I get updates first, I get a phone that is free of contract, unlocked – and, can be activated on an unlimited data plan for as little as $30 via T-Mobile, so long as talk time is not critical for you. Also: Stock Android is bliss.

My decision: Freedom! Unlocked nirvana with pure Google Nexus. Only $388 out the door and no contract, no carrier commit. Hopefully it will ship with Android 4.1 – aka Jelly Bean.

Another not-often-discussed plus with the Nexus are the Pogo pins. They really shine when it comes to accessories. These three gold contacts mean you don’t need to fiddle with a micro-USB cable. Two accessories caught my eye on the Google site. One is the desktop dock; the other the vehicle mount (not yet shipping). It’ll be especially nice not having to attach cables for audio and charging each time I dock the phone in the car.

One potential roadblock in my decision was that I’m currently grandfathered for unlimited data on Verizon.

But watch for that red herring.

I pulled up my Verizon account records and realized that I was only using about 1GB-1.25GB per month of data. Not very much really. Then again, I don’t stream video. I primarily do check work mail, pull up stock quotes, and use Nav (Waze is killing it!). So, for me at least, unlimited data became a non-factor.

Word is that Google can get around the patent issue with Apple, which is primarily related to universal search, by upgrading Nexus stock to Jelly Bean. Those receiving this week or next may very well get it with Android 4.1 pre-loaded. Only God and Christopher Hitchens know when the S III will get it.

As I cancelled the S III order, and quickly submitted a Nexus order before Apple appeals and possibly wins another injunction against Google, I realized a few trends:

1. Unlocked is the way forward

Yes, unlocked phones are expensive. The RAZR Max, for example, commands about $600 for an unlocked version. Contrast that with only $199 for the brand new, flagship S III and you could get heartburn. But factor in the two-year costs into that equation, plus the fact that you won’t be able to upgrade (without penalty) for twenty-four months, and the subsidized deal isn’t so great as it looks on the surface. Once considered a black art, unlocked phones are becoming mainstream offerings. Newegg, Amazon and scores of other swap-based retailers offer them – eBay, of course, has plenty of listings. According to reports Google is expected to add up to 5 OEM unlocked devices to the Play Store come Thanksgiving. This is another reason why I didn’t want to enter into a two-year contract; I want the flexibility of selling my Nexus and up-leveling later this year.

2. With direct sales, Google’s hybrid model could one-up Apple

Apple is vertically integrated. It designs, manufacturers (via Foxconn), and sells its own devices. Years ago this type of model was verboten. You either had to be a hardware house (Dell) or a software shop (Microsoft). With a premium today on user experience, that thinking has been turned on its collective ear. Even Microsoft with its upcoming Surface tablets is dabbling in vertical integration. Google, begging once again to push the envelope, is having its cake and eating it too. Its both licensing Android to others, and selling direct with Google-centric devices such as the Galaxy Nexus. It’s an interesting strategy, and one, so far as I can tell, without precedent in the mobile space.

So there you have it. One man’s resistance against contracts, against carrier strangleholds. Granted, the S III is a superb phone. Pure GNex, and freedom from two-year commitments is too enticing an alternative. And the ability to get the latest and greatest Android updates (without bloat) is icing on the cake.

Follow Stark Insider on Twitter and Facebook. Join our 11,000 subscribers who read SI on tablets and smartphones on Google Newsstand. Prefer video? Watch us on Amazon Prime or subscribe to Stark Insider on YouTube, the largest arts & travel channel in San Francisco.