State of the Android NZ Nation

Despite the bagging, I really do think Android is pretty damn awesome. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks with a bevvy of top-of-the-line Android phones, and am going to braindump some of my thoughts here for your reference.

The Phones

There are a couple of “new” Android phones being marketed by the carriers in recent months. Neither of them are actually new new – they’ve both been release in other markets for months.

Nexus OneThe Nexus One is Google’s “official” Android phone (despite the fact that they’ve stopped selling it directly). It feels wonderful in the hand, with a good weight and nice rounded aluminium edges. It runs Android 2.2 incredibly quickly, with the only noticeable waits when making significant changes like turning on WiFi. The touch screen is less sensitive than I’m used to with an iPhone. In many cases I have to press again where a tap didn’t register, but perhaps this is only because I’m used to the feather-light touch of the other phone.

The Motorola Milestone is a chunky beast coming from Telecom. At 165 grams it is by far the heaviest phone I’ve handled lately, but it’s not all bad. The build quality is great, and that weight feels more like a well-built machine rather than a pointless brick. Styling is trapezoidal, and I’m genuinely not trying to be sexist when I say it looks like a man’s phone.

The Milestone has a side-sliding full Qwerty keyboard, which would be great for people who send a lot of messages, but it is a bit fiddly to use. Personally I think you’d be better off experimenting with the various different custom keyboards on Android to find the one that works best.

Psst, watch this space. I’ve got two Milestones from Telecom to give away in the coming weeks.

Then there’s a couple of other phones that don’t have any release dates. The one that stood out for me was the Samsung Galaxy S. Incredible 4″ OLED screen, amazingly light, and very responsive. Fingers crossed Vodafone puts this one on the market soon.

The Nice Bits

Here’s some stuff you might like about Android.

Install anything. This is really fantastic. If someone has written some code that is able to run on your phone, you can install it. Either via the Android Market, or via a direct download (once you’ve changed a security setting to allow it). There’s nothing stopping you installing dialler apps, custom keyboards, fart machines, porn, or whatever else you want without big brother Steve looking over your shoulder.

Customisation. Do you like having more than just icons on your home screens? All Android operating systems allow you to customise your screens with “widgets”. Examples might include a weather forecast or Facebook updates form your friends. Right there at a glance, without having to open an app.

Phone choice. New Zealand carriers are finally waking up and providing some choice in Android smartphones. But even if you can’t get the phone you want from a carrier, you can bring in your own or check out a reseller like Parallel Imported, who have an extensive list of Android phones.

WiFi tethering. Brilliant, and perfectly implemented. Tick one box on the Nexus One (or most other phones with Android 2.2), and you have a wireless access point connected via the phone’s 3G connection. This means you can just slap your phone down and share your connection with friends, or with your PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, or any other wireless device.

The Faults

Just like the iPhone antenna fault, Android has a few issues of its own that you should be aware of. If you’re an Android fanboy feel free to just read this part of the article and then rant in the comments below.

Fault 1: I’m a nit-picker when it comes to user experience, so I hate the way that scrolling on Android devices is not butter-smooth like it is on the iPhone or Windows Phone 7. Note: scrolling on Android is probably better than any phone that existed prior to a few years ago, but today it’s just not up to scratch. What’s going on here? Is it a lack of hardware acceleration due to the varying specs of phones?

Fault 2: UI Inconsistency across phones. Yes, more nit-pickery. If for example I were to upgrade from an HTC Magic to a Samsung Galaxy S, thinking Android-to-Android would be a smooth migration, I think I’d be unpleasantly surprised. The Galaxy S makes some key changes to the core Android home screen experience. And the program screen layout – my god, why haven’t they been sued by Apple for incredibly blatant copying?

Fault 3: Poor upgrade support from OEMs, and OEM crapware bundled with phones. Android fanboys will argue that this isn’t the fault of Android. True, but non-geeks see the Sony Ericsson XPeria X10 as an Android phone. They don’t care if SE’s crapware is stopping the phone from being upgraded. They don’t care if the Droid X has a soft-lock on any other bootloaders. They wouldn’t know a “rooting” from casual sex. All of this reflects badly on Android.

Fault 4: Fragmented OS versions in the market mean some apps are unavailable for all phones. The new Tweetdeck application, for instance, only runs on Android 2.0 or greater. This means most owners of “official” Android phones in New Zealand (HTC Magic and Sony Ericsson X10) can’t run the application.

State of the Nation

The state of our nation is strong, if a bit outdated. The local carriers need to work harder to get updated phone models to market. 

If you’re a geek or a tweaker in any sense of the word, and you feel stifled by the iPhone’s lack of customisation, Android is your phone. If you’re a regular Joe who doesn’t like Apple’s locked-in business model, then Android is your phone too. If you don’t care about either of those things, then it’s really up to you to decide.

One thing I’ll say before you decide: make sure you do some research about Android OS upgrade availability and commitment from the manufacturer. The last thing you want is to be stuck with an out-of-date operating system on your phone. It’s a mixed bag, but Computerworld has a handy reference list of recent phones that might or might not be upgradeable to Android 2.2.

26 Replies to “State of the Android NZ Nation”

  1. Excellent write-up. I’m getting very frustrated with the whole Vodafone/Apple iPhone 4 stock issue, so I’m contemplating replacing my 3GS with either an HTC Desire or a Droid 2. Definitely keen on what’s coming out of the official channels.

  2. I think a workmate of mine summed it up best when he said Android is the Linux of the cellphone world. I’ve just bought my wife an iPhone 4, as I think this is still the best smartphone for less geeky users, but if I was in the market for a new phone, I’d be quite keen to try an Android based device.

  3. Its a shame how the nz mobile market is plagued with nimrods that know nothing other than the iphone. That said, its a shame that Vodafone openly expects the public to purchase technology which is no longer in production, as if the NZ mobile market is the waste bin for end of line products, which sadly is true, when our carriers openly boast the wonders of phones that are 3+ years old and still running andriod 1.6

  4. I’ve had my Nexus One for about 4 months and it’s fantastic. It’s easy to modify and I’ve now got it running at just over 1.2Ghz which a bevy of tweaks and cool applications, including some fun stuff I’ve created myself (Tasker is genius!). Google have just launched their voice-control app which lets you do almost everything by talking to the phone (as long as you’ve got a data connection).

    Apple’s hardware is very nice, but it’s horrendously overpriced, and iOS as it currently stands is too slow, and too limited in functionality, although there’s some brilliant apps available for it. As an actual phone it’s not a good device, but as a gadget it’s great due to those self-same apps.

    Thankfully, the N1 is a good phone and while it’s a bit behind in the apps race, at least it’s WAY more customisable and versatile!

    The Desire is also available from some parallel importers which is the same as the N1 essentially but it has HTC’s much prettier Sense interface which I actually quite like, but I’d glady have the speed of Vanilla Android on my N1 than the prettiness of Sense.

      1. Seems fine to me. It does have an occasional problem, particularly when the device gets very cold (as can happen in this weather) where the screen calibration goes a bit out, just turning the screen off & on again forces a re-calibrate and it’s fine again afterwards, not everyone has this issue so it may just be my device, doesn’t worry me as it happens rarely.

        The UI isn’t quite as smooth as the iPhone, but that’s hardly surprising considering how simplistic (yet clear) the iPhone UI is. It’s pretty close though, and with iOS4 on an iPhone 3G and FroYo on an N1, then the N1 wins easily, with iOS3 it’s a closer race.

        Bare in mind, I’m using LauncherPro instead of the default homescreen which is significantly smoother & more functional too.

  5. I have the LG GW620 from Telecom which was the first Telecom Android phone. Worst mistake ever! It was advertised as the latest and greatest Android phone, but as it is currently running Android 1.5, Its hardly the latest and greatest with no confirmed updates from either LG or Telecom.
    Still love Android though…

  6. Nice article, I wrote up a similar article (plus an update) to this a little while ago http://bit.ly/bkQXQz http://bit.ly/aTTJKb.

    I’ve been using a HTC Desire for 4 months and I can agree with the scrolling issue, but with the 2.2 update his has disappeared. Also agree with the point about research, would never get an SE Xperia because of their sluggish update schedule. I would recommend HTC though, only took several weeks to push their 2.2 update out and their sense UI is generally regarded as the best android experience.

    The faults you mentioned are more of the platform i.e. a general phone user wouldn’t notice them as they wouldn’t switch between phones as regularly.

    As to NZ carriers, I think they have completely missed a massive opportunity to capitalise on Android, especially in the wake of iPhone supply shortages. Compare the prices of an N1 and iPhone 4 subsidised on a $40 plan and the N1 is $200 more expensive than the 32GB iPhone. Why would anyone buy an N1? I know I wouldn’t. And the SE was a failure of a phone before it began, 1.6 with the promise of an upgrade in Q4 to 2.1? And Telecom releasing the Droid/Milestone which already has a successor out?

    lol mean rant but seriously its frustrating. Here’s what you do, sell the HTC Wildfire at sub $500 and you might see some success.

    1. That’s because someone is making too much money, I imported my N1 for NZ$900 including GST and the exorbitant shipping charges from the proxy company.

  7. Posted by unregistered user: David Clegg
    I think a workmate of mine summed it up best when he said Android is the Linux of the cellphone world.

    I keep seeing this, and while it’s true to a point, (Android IS a Linux kernel after all), I just don’t buy it in the way that it seems to be meant.

    Just what aspect of Linux is being compared here?

    The fact that Linux has yet to make any significant inroads into the desktop market share? How does that relate to Android, which has seen over 300% growth in the past few months worldwide?

    If what you are saying is that Android phones are too geeky for the masses in terms of market appeal, then how do you explain the sales figures?

    All over the place, and particularly in the U.S., Android based phones are outselling the iPhone. To a large part this may be down to smart pricing (on the part of T-Mobile, with the MyTouch 3G)and a beautifully conceived and managed marketing campaign (Verizon along with Motorola and HTC with their ‘iDon’t’, ‘Droid does’ and ‘No Jacket required’ and being first to market with a pretty fine 4G phone (Sprint with HTC Evo 4G).

    Thanks to smart subsidies from carriers in Europe, (Go have a look at the VF UK Website and get a clue local VF guys!) the phones are extremely popular.

    HTC literally can’t make enough Incredibles, Evos and Desires and the Motorola Droid X has flown off the shelves.

    The Samsung Galaxy S is also selling well and they can’t make enough Super AMOLED screens to supply their own needs, let alone anyone elses. (HTC are having to shift to Sony Super TFT LCD screens due to supply problems from Samsung).

    It only seems to be places like NZ where there is such a chronic lack of initiative and forsight on the part of the incumbents has led to all this FUD around android phones.

    A Verizon Droid X purchaser may be a geek, but they are also likely to be someone saying “I want that cool phone I saw in the awesome Ad!”

    As I posted elewhere, I think any teenager who pimps their facebook page,covers their Windows desktop with live wallpaper and gadgets and is generally used to configuring their online life to their own preferences will have no trouble whatsoever with an Android phone.

    My mother will probaby stick with the Nokia 3310.

  8. Even as I like a bodily keyboard, after handling the Samsung Captivate for approximately quarter-hour, it’s onerous to go back. Right now I am debating whether to go to Verizon for the Droid X, go to Dash for the EVO, or stick with AT&T for the Captivate…decisions, decisions.

  9. My Vodafone rep tells me the Samsung Galaxy S will be released by them late this month or early Sept.
    Sounds good too….

  10. Vodafone are finally moving in the right direction with the latest Android based Nexus One. Telco’s can’t hide their heads in the sand for much longer over Android. It is here to stay.

    Steve Jobs surely must be worried…his strategy of locking everything up to retain total control of the iPhone “experience” is surely going to bite Apple eventually as users get more sophisticated and want more ability to customise.

    Users are slowly waking up to this “nanny state” approach from Apple…and iPhones arent even cheap. I suspect it’s the abundance of “non techo” users still out there that are propping up the sales of iPhone. Once again, marketing hype gazumps technical superiority (anyone remember the Betamax vs VHS saga years ago???)…..for now at least! The next 6 months will be interesting….. Android Rocks!!! 🙂

  11. …oh, and by the way, does anyone else feel the same as me about the pathetic on-screen keyboard on iPhones???? My fingers arent THAT fat, but the standard “portrait” oriented screen keyboard keys are JUST TOO SMALL!!!!
    And it just defies logic why only SOME apps and config screens allow the keyboard to flip to the “landscape” orientation – at least in the apps that do, the touch keys are a bit wider and easier to hit.

    Give me a proper mechanical keyboard any day!!!!

    1. I have very recently taken delivery of a Samsung 5 GT-15503T and am very very frustrated trying to use the small touch screen keypad. It is definately not fit for purpose as far as my average mans finger use is concerned. I am astonished that Telecom can market such a product and not even warn consumers about these tiny touch keyboards. It was recommended to me by a Telecom representative which makes me wonder what sort of marketing policy Telecom are employing.

  12. I think the choice of handsets that the NZ carriers have made is poor overall.
    Google have a habit of – bless their starry eyed optimism – releasing stuff somewhat early in the development cycle. The upside is that us geeks get excited about being able to use all of these neat features so far ahead of the competition. The downside has been the prodigious release rate of the Android OS, making it difficult and frankly not worth the while for many handset manufacturers to keep up. That means that many handsets are already languishing in the more buggy and jittery iterations of the Android OS before it got up on its feet. By choosing primarily those handsets that have been ‘proven’, the NZ carriers are dooming themselves by releasing imminently obsolete equipment (or at least equipment in danger of losing further app developer support), which will surely cause a damaging first impression of Android in NZ once the first wave of smartphone buyers find out. No phone is a better example of this than the Sony Ericsson X10, with its horrible jitters and Android OS1.6, which interestingly is the one phone being sold by both Telecom and Vodafone.

    The Nexus one, Samsung Galaxy S and the Motorolla Milestone are all, I would say, sufficiently up to speed, but the rest of the offerings are behind.

    This is not even a matter of only the expensive phones being up-to-date; there are a number of mid-price-range phones such as the HTC wildfire running Android 2.1 that the carriers could include in their offerings and which do not suffer from the out of date Android curse.

    The carriers need to have a flagship Android device to put out with lots of marketing, otherwise it’s in danger of being ignored. Verizon did this with huge success in the US with the introduction of the Motorolla Droid (a.k.a Motorolla Milestone which Telecom is soon to release). What’s more, to add to what Android_Rox said, Android should trumpet loudly in its launch its advantage as the most open and versatile platform, compared to the capricious, “nanny state”, censoring dictatorship, led by its legal department, that is Apple. If the carriers don’t push the Android brand, then all they have is a bunch of nameless “things trying to be an iphone”. At the moment, to someone who takes a passing glance, that is what it looks like.

    1. The carriers are somewhat limited by what the manufacturers offer them

      For example, HTC will only sell a carrier a minimum 10,000 units if they want a particular model. If either carrier buys but can not sell 10,000 units, they’re stuck with a very expensive batch of mobiles.

      Its the price we pay for living in a very small market, and believe me, we are small.

  13. I think its improving overall. Orcon are now offering the HTC Desire (should immediately upgrade to 2.2) and the HTC Legend (Not sure about upgrade but at least 2.1)

    I wouldn’t call the Milestone a cutting edge phone though, it’s a generation behind the Nexus, Desire and Galaxy S and is being supeseded by the Milestone 2. It will be interesting to see if Telecom pick up the new version.

    At long last, Sony X10’s are starting to be seen in the wild with early pre-releases of 2.x (not sure which yet) so official upgrade may not be far away.

    The Rogers HTC Magics in Canada have just got their update to 2.1, but I don’t excpect the Vodafone 32b Magic to get it, as it has a lot less RAM than the 32A version Rogers has.

    So, by year end, we should have the vast majority of Android phones on at least 2.1
    (European HTC Hero’s have it now). Given that in terms of app compatibility there is not much difference between 2.1 and 2.2 that should go a long way to sorting out version imcompatibility issues.

    It will be interesting to see how long v3.0 takes to get out into mainstream, but I wouldn’t expect much before Q2 next year, in time for new 1.5 Ghz processors and Tegra dual core goodness.

  14. So…a few months on, do you feel a bit silly for statements like “Just like the iPhone antenna fault, ” 🙂 The fault never really eventuated in NZ, there has not been a single returned phone with this “fault”. It turned out to be something on the AT&T network you see. I have played with all the Droid phones currently available through official partners in NZ, and there is just no comparison. The Droid phones need quite a bit of work before the whole “i can install and customize (and break) my phone any way i want” thing makes up for the lack of performance, stability, features, and overall user experience that the iPhone delivers.

    1. Not in the slightest. I had to return my iPhone 4 because the reception was simply atrocious in Auckland city. The HTC Trophy I’m using has none of the same issues.

  15. Major diff between 2.1 and 2.2 is the wifi hot spot in 2.2

    Do not get fooled by the market place stuff as well, most Androids in NZ will not support Googles market place, but they will support the larger, and non regulated open market place.

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