We've mostly been using pretty low-tech phones, using them for little
more than phones. A clock, looking at the calendar, a calculator, an alarm
clock... Not much more than that. For anything more than trivial uses, we
all have laptops and cellular cards.
However, recently we've been trying out some smart phones. Kevin's
been looking at the Open Moko, and I recently got one of the G1-like
Android Dev phones.
I got the dev phone because I didn't want to commit to changing our
cellular carrier yet. With the Dev phone, I was able to use our existing
carrier, and just stick in the smart card I had.
I think the Android platform shows great promise. The software is
solid, it's quite usable as a phone. The add-on applications are a mixed
bag, but this is the first phone I've had that matches the notification
abilities of the pager I had 14 years ago. However, the real issue I'm
struggling with is the battery life. Literally, if it were any worse I
think I'd have to call it unusable.
The biggest thing that is likely to be an issue is simply the battery
life. The Razr I could easily go 2 to 3 days, even on a year old battery,
before I needed to charge it. The Android Dev phone I pretty much have to
charge it at least daily. Read below for more about the battery life.
Evelyn has decided she doesn't want Android because her current solution
(Razr+Nokia N810) only needs to be charged a couple of times a week.
On the other hand, the integration with Google applications is pretty
compelling. Having my real calendar on my phone is pretty nice. Being
able to directly update my calendar is nice, but my previous solution
(calling my assistant's voice-mail box and leaving a message with calendar
changes) worked as well or better. Being able to view my calendar on my
phone, to check my schedule at random times is very useful.
The additional applications are a very mixed bag. The biggest issue
being that there are no "close application" buttons so it's kind of a
guessing game whether opening an application is going to kill your battery
over the next couple of hours. Some of them are good, like I really like
the RPN calculator. Some are awful, like the Remember the Milk
I was hoping for the ability to connect to our IRC proxy, but the only
currently available IRC client doesn't support server passwords so that's
not going to be an option right now. I may just set up a web application
that views the IRC logs so I can do a quick check on what is going on in
the company IRC channel.
One of the biggest advantages I see with it is from the dgAlertPrefs
application. We get a lot of SMS messages from our monitoring system about
sick computers. A decade ago when I had a pager, it had the option to do
an annoying set of beeps and vibrates for a minute, and then do a reminder
every minute after that. So if I'm in the shower or something when an
alert comes in, I will get a beep shortly after I get out to tell me to
None of my cell phones have had this option (though I know some do).
The default set of ringtones for SMS messages on the Android Dev Phone were
not really suitable for waking me up in the middle of the night. They were
all rather short. But I was able to use the "Rings Extended" to record my
own minute-long ringtone which was very effective at waking me up.
Then I found dgAlertPrefs. This lets you set all sorts of things
about alerts including now often it re-alerts if you haven't acknowledged
the alert, the LED flashing pattern and color, vibration pattern, and
more... It is awesome, and is shows some of the potential that I think we
can achieve with the Android Dev Phone or a G1.
I do think that the Android Dev Phone is one of the closest
options for us as far as a smart phone. Between the source being open, the
marketplace and availability of applications, and the integration with
google applications we already use, it's a compelling tool.
If I literally do nothing with the phone, the battery will last maybe
2 days. Using it for occasional phone use, which is my typical use, it
doesn't really impact it. This is with the GPS off but wireless on.
However, if I start running applications, it really chews through the
battery. Using it for browsing or running the applications it will just
run right through it. For example, once using the browser for an hour
drained half the battery.
That's the clear part of it. The unclear part is if you run
applications from the Android Marketplace, they may continue running in the
background, apparently, and eating up battery. So sometimes it looks like
the phone is just being a phone, but it's really drawing down the battery.
There is apparently a slightly increased capacity battery available
that fits in the same form-factor as the original, for maybe a 10%
improvement. There's also an extended battery that dramatically increases
life, but also increases the size.
I guess this is the price you pay for a smart phone. It's just a bit
hard to take coming from a phone with a standby time of a week. One thing
that worries me is how the life will be after the battery ages a bit more.
If it's struggling to reach a day on a new battery, is it going to be
acceptable in 6 months?
It will charge over USB, so it's quite easy to charge. That's one of
the saving graces of it. While it may need power much more than I'm used
to, it definitely won't be as much of a burden to charge as, say, a Nokia
770/800/810 was, because of it's inability to charge over USB.
Here are some of my more detailed points about the phone:
Touchscreen while charging: One of the only real bugs I've found
is that when the phone is charging the touchscreen is basically useless.
I've taken to unplugging it when I get a notification while it's
charging and need to acknowledge it. However, the little trackball is
able to be used instead of the touchscreen.
Physical form factor: It's slightly larger than our previous
phones, so I think it's a quite reasonable size. The phone is
comfortable to hold and use, with a big, bright screen. The keyboard is
more usable than I expected.
The dialer: I'm used to dialing based on touch. With the touch
screen you don't get any feedback on where the buttons are. So, until
we get a dialer application that will use gestures to dial, it's a bit
of an inconvenience at times. The beauty of the SDK and Android Market
is that it should be possible to make such a dialer.
Dial-pad during calls: When you make a call the dial pad goes
away. Which means that you won't accidentally dial a number on a call.
But it also means that if you are calling a touch-tone service you have
to manually bring up the pad. Additionally, the screen tends to go
blank regularly in the call which makes touch-tone services hard to use.
Accidental re-dialing: I've accidentally called more people on
this phone in the last month than my previous phone in 3 years. The
problem is that the "Dial" button brings up the call log, and pressing
it again will dial the last called number. My biggest problem seems to
be with fumbling with in in my pocket and unlocking it, then the dial
button getting pressed.
Alerts and dgAlertPrefs: The default ringtones for calls and
notifications are ok, but for notifications (SMS messages) the default
just isn't enough to wake me up. Enter applications from the Market,
and I had both the ability to record my own MP3 ringtone, that was very
effective at waking me up and the ability to repeat the ringtones until
The RPN calculator application is delightful. As someone who grew
up with HP calculators, but no real need to have one with me all the
time. It's nice to have one for calculating tips and the like.
Open Source: I think the OpenMoko is showing some of the power of
an open source stack for a phone. There are a number of different
customizations available for it, and allows the opportunity for
different distributions to meet different needs. I think that's going
to show itself as a powerful benefit over the long term.
GPS: The GPS seems to work quite well. It picks up quite quickly,
and even if you don't enable it, it is possible to use the location of
the cell tower you are using to get a rough location as well. Using the
GPS with the Google maps, while it is no turn-by-turn navigation system,
but it is useful. It also has Street View, which is useful for seeing a
destination you are navigating to.
Google calendar: We are using Google for our internal calendars.
The Android calendar works beautifully with our existing calendars.
Unlike the Remember The Milk application, which is totally useless.
The "contacts" phone book is stored on the Google account side, so
a phone loss or upgrade will preserve this information.
Bluetooth: It is only really able to talk to Bluetooth headsets.
The API in the initial software release is incomplete for Bluetooth.
So, for use as a music player it may not be that useful currently.
USB port: In particular, the little cover for it is captive.
Unlike on my previous phone, where I basically just threw it away
because I knew that I'd end up obsessing over it until I lost it... The
Android Dev phone USB cover is always tethered to the device. Nice
The Alarm Clock: This application is usable but not that great.
It's just a usability issue. Again though: it should be something that
can be easily replaced.
The home page: You can customize the location and selection of
applications that show up on the home page. The previous phone I had
allowed me to customize menus and application shortcuts, which I really
liked. The Android seems to be just as useful in this case.