Last week I joined the smartphone revolution. Previously I was one of those people that loathed mobile phones, using them only out of necessity, but my iPod nano’s battery was dying and it looked like getting a budget android smartphone would be a cheaper option than buying a new iPod so I decided to take the plunge.
Originally I didn’t like phones because until the last few years if a phone had any special features, such as mp3 playback or internet access by and large they just didn’t do these things very well. The nokia phones that played mp3’s didn’t have a standard headphone jack and wanted you to buy something extra, you needed to buy a special branded cord with software to connect your phone to your computer or something and internet surfing of possible tended to be the technological equivalent of cans with a bit of string. You get the idea. Then the iphone launched and it really was the first phone that made web surfing and music playback less frustrating than untying knots in shoelaces. Thankfully this made other phone makers pick up their game. Some of them adopted Google’s Android Operating System, which borrows more than its fair share from iPhone’s ioS but is much more customizable.
After reading a whole bunch of tech forums and blogs I decided on settling for a Huawei Sonic. It runs the latest 2.3 version of android and spec wise it seems to be about on par with iPhone’s 3gs. Its got 256mb or ram and a 600mhz processor. Hardly cutting edge compared to the iPhone 4 or HTC Desire HD but as I remember back when those were good specs for a desktop computer so I’m not complaining, plus it was only 188 bucks outright and not simlocked to any particular carrier.
So I’ve been using it for a few days and here are my thoughts on my first smartphone experience.
What I dig.
Although speedwise it isn’t up to scratch with the latest superphones I really haven’t had much or a problem with it. More graphically intensive apps like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja seem to run without any problems. It probably wont run the unreal engine like the iPhone can, but I have my PC and xbox for serious gaming anyway. Most bottlenecks I experienced with apps seemed to be more due to the patchy nature of the 3G network in my area rather than any limitations from the phone itself. So for basic smartphone stuff it seems more than capable. I’m sure the techheads will scoff at the extra second or so it takes for an app to load but for normals it seems perfectly fine.
This is where Android has a clear advantage over iOs. I can choose the general layout, the way things load. 3d backgrounds, weather and other assorted widgets and so on, not to mention a whole bunch of other nerdy crap which isn’t limited by google because non google market programs can run on the platform. So no need to “jailbreak” and risk bricking my phone (though there is something amusingly called “rooting” the phone that does something or other similar to jailbreaking, but I have no idea what that is about).
One of the best things about the customization was a typing interface called “Swype”. It uses the standard touchscreen keyboard which as anyone has used usually results in a lot of errors due to small keys and large fingers. With swype instead of tapping each key you swipe your finger across the keyboard for each word and it figures out your intended word based on where your finger changes direction, or something. It sounds weird but after using it for a few minutes I thought it was easily the best way to type on a small touchscreen and there is no way I will go back to the standard touch keyboard. It’s not perfect however, and it relies on having the dictionary to predict what word you are typing, so you have to add more and more slang and other non dictionary words to make the thing more workable, but that’s a small problem.
From what I’ve read swype isn’t available on the iPhone because they need access to some things on Apple’s end for it to function, and Apple being as anal as they are aren’t willing to do that. Sucks for iPhone users, you don’t know what you’re missing.
This is a feature in the 2.2 version of the Android OS I believe and it works brilliantly. Tethering for the uninitiated is using the phones net access to connect your computer to the internet through your phone. All it takes is a press of a button in the settings and I can set up internet tethering through USB connection or make my own wifi hotspot. No fiddling or anything difficult and it seems to work brilliantly.
Replaceable batteries and memory cards
One of the most annoying thing about apple’s products is that they don’t let you remove the battery of their iphones or ipods by yourself. They want you to send into official Apple people and pay an exorbitant fee to get your battery changed. It seems like these large fees are designed so that most consumers will choose to by a new product instead of a new battery. That shits me, but thankfully this phone has a replaceable battery that I can take out and purchase replacements for myself without going through the phone manufacturer. Also it has a microsd card slot which I can add more storage space up to 32gb. Not too shabby.
What I didn’t dig
The market isn’t bad, and it seems to have most of the things that are available on Apple’s appstore but there are a few things that let it down. For a company that made itself in organising information, the market isn’t set out very well, it has categories but it nowhere near as well set out and arranged like apple’s store. Also as there is no official synching software ala iTunes the downloading must be done through your phone rather than through your PC then synched through your phone. I also had a problem where a 99 cent app I bought didn’t download properly after I downloaded it, so I clicked “install” in the market again and surprise surprise the fuckers charged me twice for the same app. I figured out later there was another way to redownload the program without paying for it a second time, but the market should be set up so you cant buy the same app twice on the same device and account accidentally. It was only 99 cents wasted, but if that was a $5 app that would have really shit me up the wall. I’m sure Apple’s appstore wouldn’t make this amateur error. Google, fix this shit.
On my phone there is internal memory that is quite small (180megs) and removable memory via the microSD card. For some reason some programs only give the option of installing on the limited internal memory and have restrictions on being moved to the removable memory. This really limits what I can load on my phone because some developers for whatever reason insist on putting programs where I don’t have room for them.
Not the fault of Android but of the phone manufacturer. 3 megapixels doesn’t seem that bad, but as it has no flash it seems impossible to take any photos that aren’t dark smudges. It doesn’t really bother me but I just downloaded a barcode scanner app and I cant even get that to work because the barcodes are too dark for the camera to read. So I’d avoid the Huawei sonic if you want to take reasonable quality photos.
So yeh, overall my first foray into the smartphone and the Android OS have been quite positive overall. A few problems but on the whole I’ve been quite impressed.