Android

I’ve now had my trusty HTC Desire for around 6 months. In that time I’ve also upgraded it from Android 2.1 to Android 2.2. With Android phones becoming a major player in the market, and Android tablets starting to appear as alternatives to the iPad, I thought it might be interesting to put down a few thoughts.

I got my Desire on day of release in the UK. I’d previously had (and been very happy with) a Blackberry Bold, but I felt for my next phone I really wanted something with more of a consumer slant, with a better web browser and stronger app market than the Blackberry.  To my mind, the Blackberry was (and probably still is) the king for email, IM and that kind of thing, but the web browser (since replaced by a new WebKit based one I must point out), was never that brilliant, and despite being built on Java, and having had a third party developer community for years, the apps that were being created didn’t seem to tick the same entertainment boxes as those on the iPhone and Android.  I’ve always felt that the enterprise nature of Blackberry was very apparent in even their more consumer-oriented devices.  They’re by no means bad phones, and I was very happy with my Bold.  Its just that when I came to upgrade, the HTC Desire ticked more of the boxes in terms of what I wanted out of my smart phone.

I’ve been very happy with the device. And very interesting to me is just how many of them I’m seeing on the streets. Several of my friends now have the Desire as well as some of my work colleagues. Bit even on my daily commute they’re a common sight on the train. I guess this is, for me, because its been the first really sold competitor for the iPhone. It looks nice, the software is polished and, probably key to the mass adoption I’ve seen, unlike the iPhone it tends to come free on contracts.

Checking back through my blog, I discovered I’ve never really talked about my phone or Android since I got it.   Right from the word go, I was quickly won over by the phone and its OS.  The experience is slick and responsive.  The call quality was noticeably improved from my Bold and the Google integration was great for me, since I was already using Google Calendar and had Gmail storing all my contacts (and being synced to my Blackberry).  Granted, some people may dislike having to sign up to all the Google services in order to get the most out of the device, but if you’re one of the millions already using Gmail and the like, the phone just provides a more convenient way to access them on the go.

Of course, with these smart phones, the app store or marketplace is a big focus.  The Android takes a different approach to the Apple effort, by being much less regulated.  This has advantages and disadvantages (as some of the recent stories about malicious apps have proven), however I’ve been incredibly happy, and despite Apple’s app store having a larger array of apps to choose from, I don’t think I’ve ever struggled to find what I’m looking for.

What is really nice, is down to the more open nature of Android.  If there’s an element of the OS or its behaviour you’re not happy with, then its worth taking a look on the app store, as Android allows apps which hook right into the UI.  For example, by default, when text messages arrive, there’s a notification, and the “Messages” icon will get a number beside it displaying the number of unread messages.   Alternatively, by going to the app store, you could get SMS Popup, which brings up a nice popup dialogue when a new message is received that can display the message, a picture of the contact, and give you quick options for replying or deleting.

Another example would by the keyboard used for typing.  Again, if you’re not keen on the one that came with your phone, you can download a new one from the Marketplace.  I’m personally using Smart Keyboard Pro as it offered more customisability than the stock keyboard, however other keyboards, like Swype can completely change the way you input text into your phone, replacing the traditional typing.

Aside from those apps that change the UI of the phone, I’ve also downloaded various others.  From great mobile games like Gem Miner and iPhone-favourite Angry Birds to more practical (well, sort-of 😉 ) apps, like the official WordPress app, that lets me work on posts for this blog on the move, as well as view stats, approve comments etc.  Various Twitter clients let me keep up to date with those goings-on, and I’ve got c:geo, a geocaching application that pulls information from the geocaching.com website and combines it with maps, and the phone’s GPS and compass to help me find and record Geocaches.

It really has turned out to be a really handy device.  While I did have my email, IM and calendars syncing previously, sitting on the couch being able to quickly check websites through the web browser has been a breeze, and I find myself using the Google Maps and Navigate software quite a bit as well (Google Maps is great on a nice big touchscreen device).  Another great thing has been related to the uptake of Android I mentioned above.  As more of my friends start using Google Calendars through their phones, and sharing them, then I can pick up those other calendars through my phone, as well as sharing my own.  Very handy for making sure you’re keeping up with events and arrangements.

The only real downside I’ve found with Android has been its fragmentation.  I mentioned above that I’ve upgraded to 2.2, but its a downside to the Apple approach.  As Apple control everything, in general, when they announce a new version of iOS, you can jump straight onto iTunes and get it.  When Google released 2.2, there was then the wait for HTC to release their version of 2.2 (with their own SenseUI sitting on top of it), and then I had to wait for my network to release their version of the HTC release.  This can be frustrating when the other networks (and thus other people you know) get their releases sorted out faster and so you’re stuck waiting on it.   That being said, I was perfectly happy with Android 2.1 and it was ticking all my boxes, so even if I’d been stuck on it it wouldn’t have been a bad thing.  The only downside would be when Google releases version-specific applications (like Navigate which needed Android 2.1), if you’re stuck waiting for that latest release and can’t get the new software.

As you can probably gather I’m incredibly positive on Android.  I’ve been incredibly happy with my phone, however I know people who aren’t even as tech-saavy as I am who are similarly addicted to their Android smart phones in the same way I’ve described I use mine above.  And with sales of Android-based Smart Phones ever increasing, and Android-powered tablets now starting to appear, things look very rosy for the OS.

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