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.
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.
The 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.
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.