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Google Android Dev Phone Review

By  Sean Reifschneider Date January 21, 2009

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.

Summary

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.

Overall Impressions

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 application.

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 check it.

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.

Battery Life

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.

Detailed Points

Here are some of my more detailed points about the phone:

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