First, if you are not a “phone person”, this post is for you – please read on.
Over the years, you’ve likely had something like the Motorola V551 or RAZR back when phones were phones, and tried to be more:
Now, in these days, there was a “browser” in the phone, and you had some basic, primitive functionality. I talked about cellular-based bandwidth, which back in these days was like the Edge network which was a little faster than dial-up. But those “browsers” sucked, bad. Companies were trying to make a “handheld computing device”, and the technology just wasn’t there yet.
For me, I dabbled with several Windows CE devices, and eventually had a few Windows Mobile phones, including the AT&T Tilt, Motorola Q, and most recently the Tilt 2 (which is an HTC Touch Pro 2). I’ve been becoming increasingly frustrated with Windows Mobile. I stuck with it because I could easily dabble in phone development. Windows Mobile 7 makes more promises, but I’m not particularly hopeful. Microsoft doesn’t do it often, but when it comes to mobile, they’ve simply missed the mark.
I’m pretty anti-Apple for a few reasons, and I wasn’t interested at all in the iPhone, but acknowledged that “something was stirring”. Meanwhile, my Tilt2 was almost like my enemy. The UI is about 1/2 second slow for EVERYTHING that you do. When the phone rang, it about hung the UI for a second or two, then showed this stupid, stupid, stupid interface – and I would always end up denying the call accidentally. Not only was the UI very slow, but it was really designed to be used with a stylus, not my big fat fingers. That, coupled with a relatively small screen makes these sorts of phones very clumsy and frustrating to work on.
Some of the things that compelled me to consider this phone were:
- Very snappy/fast UI that seems very responsive to touch (versus my old phone, which was sluggish)
- 8 (EIGHT!) megapixel camera and ability to record 720p hi-def video
- Mobile hotspot capability – you don’t just tether to 1 computer, you create a mobile wireless access point (up to 5 computers)
- Screen size is huge
I decided to pull the trigger, switch carriers (from AT&T to Verizon – because that’s where it’s offered), and I got a Droid X. I couldn’t have known how my eyes were going to be soon opened. So, if you have a Windows Mobile 6.5 or earlier smartphone or if you have a “regular” phone that just makes calls, let me explain the new reality that we’re in.
I’m not even sure where to begin, so let me just do this in bullet-point form:
- WiFi: If you don’t have a “data plan” (which costs extra), most things will just work over Wi-Fi, which is faster anyhow. So just sitting on my couch, I first explored the Android Market….
- Android Market: this is a extremely similar to the Apple store thingy. This is an application you run, and you can download or buy applications. To be clear, there are thousands and thousands of free applications, and useful ones! You can search or browse, then click to download – it downloads and installs to your phone, in the background. Here are some of the free apps that were cool/interesting/fun:
- Adobe Reader – just like it sounds, very nice/smooth interface for reading pdf’s (e.books)
- Amazon – quickly search and buy from Amazon, very nice interface, fast.
- Bank of America – (if you have a BofA account), let’s you do all sorts of banking things, very nice interface. Designed for a handheld device, versus trying to use a browser to do the same thing. This gets right to the nuts and bolts of what you need – very nice.
- Barcode Scanner – scan any barcode and search for the product (worked on EVERYTHING I tried it on!! very cool!)
- ConvertPad – convert any unit of measure to any compatible unit of measure. Has every single unit of measure i’ve ever heard of.
- DLNA – share or consume media from other DLNA devices like Windows computers, XBox360, etc – very simple, yet powerful interface
- EBay – another app built specifically for the phone. Very nice UI and easy to use.
- Free Dictionary – Say or type a word. Yes, I said “say”. The speech-to-text engine is remarkably accurate, I was extremely impressed. Many/most apps allow you to say or type.
- Google Goggles – take a picture of something, and it will search for “what it is”. Take pictures of landmarks, logos, barcodes, book covers, etc. Really quite amazing – and very easy to use!
- Google Translate – just like it sounds. Say or type words/phrases and it translates, and can optionally “say” them back to you with text-to-speech – really impressive!!
- IMDB – again, made specifically for mobile, easier to use than the website
- Kindle – I’m considering getting a Kindle, and this is a nice mobile version of it, where you can read any of your Kindle purchases from your phone. On this phone, with a 4.3” screen, it’s actually not too bad. Not ideal for long hours of reading, but certainly not unreasonable either.
- MSN Talk – the WIndows Live Messenger for Android. Very nice interface, and easy to use.
- MyVerizonMobile – this is an app from Verizon that shows you usage (graphically), your contract, your bill, etc – all in a very nice, fast interface. In other words, you can see your cell or data usage, to the minute, by just clicking to launch the app.
- Navigation/Maps/GPS – many apps can take advantage of the built-in GPS. In fact, the built-in Google Maps is already extremely impressive. In addition though, is the “Navigation” app that is pre-installed. This is a turn-by-turn, text-to-speech GPS application. Dare-I-Say, this is way better than the Magellan I have in my truck! This is very easy to use, it says street names when you are coming up to them, shows points of interests, etc. In it’s own right, this is a great product – and it’s included for free!!
- NYTimes/ONN/USAToday – free news readers that all have great user interfaces
- PriceGrabber/GoogleShopper/ShopSavvy – more apps that let you scan, type, or say a product, then find the best price. Again, these find eveything I tried – quite impressive!!
- YouTube/Weather/tv.com/UPS Mobile – just what you think it is, versions of software specifically designed for handheld use
- Games – there are a couple of GREAT games like Robo Defense, and Heavy Gunner. Heavy Gunner in particular has remarkably good graphics, and you control it by moving and tilting the phone, and pressing on the screen with your thumbs to shoot.
- The user interface – this deserves a bullet point all it’s own. One thing that is remarkable and obvious to me, is that the Android OS and most of these applications were designed for thumbs and fingers. Windows Mobile OS and apps were designed for a stylus, which makes them clumsy to use with your fingers. There is also a really smart use of screen real estate too. For example, the top bar (the status bar) shows messages when they happen, then fade away and go back to showing you battery, signal strength, etc. However, if you click and flick-down, that status bar unrolls like a window shade and shows you all the messages. For messages where you can do something (like “SomeApplication installed successfully!”) – when you click on it, it launches the app. When you are done with this window shade, you can grab the bottom and flick-up, to roll it back up. Things like this show that a lot of thought went into how to best make use of screen real estate, and how best to design the interface to be used with fingers and thumbs.
So keep in mind, all the things I mentioned above are all FREE on the Android Market (although I did end up buying Robo Defense, the full version). I continue to be extremely impressed by the quantity and quality of applications that are available.
Next, you might think “I don’t want all that stuff, I just want to make phone calls”. You can – and it does a great job with that. However, what I like about all of this, is the notion of “being prepared”. Perhaps a remnant left over from my cub scout days?? No, what I mean is – let’s say you go to Staples to go pick up this printer that was on sale. You get there and the sale ended yesterday. You can scan the barcode, find stores locally or places online that have it cheaper like… in under :30 seconds. If you need directions, a dictionary, the name of a movie, showtimes of the local movie theater, or are bored in a waiting room – this incredible device helps solve that, in a very effective way. With such a large screen, and light weight – it isn’t awkward work with the way other phones are. See here for an idea of the size:
So I guess my point is, I’ve now realized that what many companies have been trying to do for years, and years, they’ve finally did it. This is an incredibly powerful handheld device that isn’t clumsy to use, at all. In fact, I wouldn’t really have messed with the Android Market, but the interface is so snappy, and easy to use. I see now that the iPhone and Android evolution truly do mark an entirely new way to view handheld devices. Companies have tried for a long time, but they’ve actually done it now – which changes everything, imho!
Is there anything I don’t like? Great question, thanks! Well, first I can’t take screenshots of the phone because the phone must be “rooted”. Remember that Android is *sigh* built on Linux. So without “hacking” your phone, there are some things you can’t do. Although, in it’s defense, I don’t think that’s even possible with other mobile phone OS’es? It wasn’t with Windows Mobile.
Aside from that, as a regular phone, using it as a speakerphone, and in every other way, I couldn’t be happier. The service from Verizon seems to be comparable to AT&T. I haven’t had any dropped calls or bad service from either – so that part is a wash. Anyhow, if you haven’t looked into phones in a while, I hope this helps give some perspective about just how drastically (for the good) that this whole phone market has changed. It’s like we’re living in the future!!