My old cell phone, a Nokia 82, lasted me 2 years and is still a very capable phone, but with the Symbian60 Operating System (OS) reaching the end of life and the appeal of a large touch screen display with much better web browsing became too much and I had to upgrade.
Years ago buying a phone was a process of seeing which one suited your needs best, it did not particularly matter what company made it as these were the days before apps. Nowadays I tend to find the decision is more Operating System or platform based, at least when buying a smartphone. It’s a bit like many years ago when buying a computer. Should you get an Amiga, Amstrad, PC or Mac? Each had advantages and disadvantages, but once you made your choice you had to live with it for a while.
Most of the main platforms ask you for some email details when you first run the phone. So if you have a WP7 unit it will ask you for a Live account then it makes it easy for you to sync with the Windows Cloud, Android asks you for GMail logon, Nokia an Ovi login and I am guessing Apple asks for an Apple email account. Then the phone will setup really nicely for these associated servers in the cloud. However cross platform may be tricky. I am a heavy Google user and have up till now had Nokia phones and this has worked with the help of 3rd party apps. But if you have a rival phone to cloud setup you may experience problems. Something else to think about when buying a new smart phone.
As far as I can see there are 3 platforms in the running, the omnipresent iOS from Apple, Nokia’s Symbian^3 or Google’s Android. It will be interesting to see what Windows Phone 7 does when it finally gets launched, but for now we can ignore it. Some early WP7 review can be seen here.
The New N8 from Nokia which uses Symbian^3 looks extremely interesting and has a superb camera, sporting Carl Zeiss optics and a real flash, I am also familiar with Nokia and most of my past phones have been from them. However Symbian^3 is very new and I don’t like to buy any first generation device plus there are not a lot of apps out for it. You are taking a bit of a risk with this phone, if the new OS fails to entice developers you could end up with a smart phone with no apps. If this happens you have a very expensive phone that’s no better than a standard phone. I think Nokia have screwed up big time in being so late out with this new OS. Had they of done it 2 or 3 years ago the marketplace could be very different. Hopefully they will succeed, but we wont know for a year or two. It’s a real shame because I think technically the N8 is the best phone out of the group I was considering.
The iPhone is very slick and has a HUGE app market and I think is the top selling phone worldwide. However I don’t like Apples iron clad, bolted down and closed approach to everything, they even reserve the right to disable apps remotely on YOUR phone. They vet any add on or application and sometimes reject an app for no good reason. Recently Apple has attacked Adobe’s Flash (rightly or wrongly) and does not allow it on there phones. OK Flash is a pig but a hell of a lot of sites run flash and by not including it you are limiting your ability to browse the web. Surely the end user should be able to make a choice on what to install on YOUR phone? Apple seem to treat their customers like children in this respect. It does not end with Flash, Apple have blocked quite a few apps saying it ‘Duplicates Functionality’. Most of the time they do this because they lose revenue by allowing this feature, not because it’s in the users best interest. There have been some reports of poor reception with iPhones, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. There have also been stories of these phones exploding which I’m sure is a small number, but instead of Apple being open about it they seem to be busy placing gag orders on people. Recently it came to light that the new iPhone has some reception problem if held a certain way. Apples response to this problem was not good, first they denied there is a problem, then they acknowledged it is a problem, but it’s the user that’s at fault, they are holding it wrong! Nice.
There is a solution, buy an iPhone bumper. It’s essentially a rubber band that wraps round the edge of your phone, yours for only £19 ($29)!!! However as the front & back of the new iPhone is glass it’s probably good to have some protection. Why not try this ghetto solution. Mind you, I am guessing that the kind of person to covet a phone made of glass that you can’t hold, won’t display most web sites properly & costs a shed load of money won’t find the £19 rubber band an extreme purchase either.
This whole closed system and the ‘My way or the highway’ approach puts me off of this company & it’s products. In the words of Princess Leia ‘The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers’.
Then there is the Android OS, only a couple of years old now but growing rapidly, plus there is a wealth of phones out now using the Android OS. It’s also very Skynet Google friendly, as you would expect from Android. In fact, it is so Google orientated I would not recommend this platform to people who do not like Google. As I use Google Mail, Docs, Reader & Calendar etc it made sense to use this platform. Lastly it has a shed load of apps, pretty much anything you can think of is available in an easy to use app store. So that was the decision for going Android OS and the HTC Desire just seemed to be a very capable phone at a reasonable price, it was either that or the Evo. HTC Desire specs can be seen here.
The phone itself is very fast thanks to the 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, it zipps along and having now had the phone for 3 weeks it has never locked up on me once. I have had an application or 2 stop responding for a few seconds then the phone shuts it down. This has happened perhaps 4 or 5 times in total, so don’t consider that bad, especially as I tend to have a lot of apps running at once.
My Desire is running Android v2.1 AKA Eclair, for some reason version releases are named after delicious foods in alphabetical order, Mmmmm Doughnut. Android v2.2 AKA Froyo will be out soon and as if the phone was not fast enough already; then new release claims to be 2~4 times faster. In various tests this has been proven to be true, it also runs rings round the iPAD for speed.
Navigation is either by the optical trackball at the bottom center of the phone or via the touchscreen. The onscreen keyboard is a joy to use and I can get pretty fast at typing on it, I’m looking forward to testing Swype when it comes out to see if this enables me to type any quicker. The screen can be turned 90′ to enter landscape mode and typing with thumbs then is the way to go.
When you first enter your Google login details on the Desire it starts syncing contacts, Mail & Calendar information. This is superb, it works so very well that your phone and within seconds you are set to go. This process would have taken hours on an old phone, transferring and converting data via third party apps, ugh! Plus you would tend to end up with duplicate events, contacts etc. None of that here, just fast and pain free.
The AMOLED display on the Desire is gorgeous, it very bright and colours are very vibrant. The refresh rate is also very good, watching media on it is a real pleasure. In direct sunlight however it’s almost impossible to see the display, you really do need to seek out the shadows to use outside on a sunny day.
One of the main reasons for a new phone was to get a better web experience. As I am moving more cloud based my old N82 could not really hack it as the screen was too small and did not support touch. With the Desire’s large multi touch screen with a very capable browser, which also supports Flash, I think I have only come across one site that would not work properly. Even complex sites such as Sky news works very well on the browser.
Navigation is excellent and helped with a digital compass. The GPS locks up very quickly and with Google maps it’s hard to get lost. The turn by turn navigation is also excellent. The map zooms in when you get to a junction and shows you the turn on Street View, so you actually see the turn you need to make, way impressive. The voice is a bit robotic as it uses the inbuilt text to speech but this has the advantage of it being able to say much more than ‘in 500 meters take a left’, it now says ‘In 500 meters turn left into Goodge Street’ etc. Small thing but helps a lot. You can also talk to the unit and say ‘Navigate me to xxx’ and off it goes. As it has access to all the Google maps data you can pretty much tell it any destination of shop/restaurant/cinema etc and it will find it. It is however a shame you cant download the maps and use them offline. When I recently went to Sardinia I had to take my N82 which had TomTom. Had I of used the new phone it would have needed to download the maps over the air, and roaming charges make that infeasible.
The phone is very smart in how it handles media. It makes it a breeze to send a photo as a twitter or email etc. If you add a new app that can handle a photos, such as Evernote for example, next time you take a photo it will have Evernote added to the list of apps to send the image too. It also has neat tricks such as when the phone rings, as soon as you pick it up the ringer sound reduces. When the phone is up against your ear it turns the display off & if you flip the phone face down it will only vibrate and make no sound. Although not amazing these small features show how mature the Android system has become in that these small attentions to detail exist.
The camera on the Desire is OK but somewhat disappointing when compared to my old N82 which could produce some stunning images. The N82 also had a Xenon flash which made it great for use indoors, the Desire had a bright LED but is in no way a replacement for a proper flash. The face detection is a nice feature but it can take a while for it to work. I hate the fact that it uses the optical track ball for a shutter button. It’s totally in the wrong place. You naturally want to press something on the top right of the unit, not the back right. IMHO they should have flipped the camera viewer upside down so that the volume rocker would then be on the top right of the phone and that could be used to trigger the shutter. There is no front facing camera which is a shame, but not a great loss.
The phone has some lovely eye candy like the lens flare effect on the weather app, raindrops on screen if it’s raining. Live wallpapers are fun, you can have moving backgrounds such as long grass blowing in a breeze or some semi useful wallpapers such as a map showing your current location. I would imaging these will drain your battery faster so I have not played with them too much. In fact my biggest fear with Android phones was the battery life, they have had some bad press for endurance. I was however very pleased to find out that on a full charge the battery lasts approx 9~12 hours with a fair amount of use which is very good for such a powerful phone. If you are not using it much during the day I have gotten 16 hours out of it. This is WAY impressive for a smart phone with a huge bright and colourful display.
I bought 2 spare 1600 mAh batteries + charger & cable off eBay for £20. The spare battery easily fits in a wallet, so if ever I am on a long flight or journey where I can’t charge the phone I should get 3 days heavy use out of it before I need to recharge.
Another nice feature of this phone is that it has a standard MicroUSB connector for charging and data, so wherever there is a USB port you can charge your phone. If you have the cable of course.
I love the way the Desire handles data connections. If Wi-Fi is available it will use it, when not it backs off to Edge, GRPS or HSDPA. With a little app called Y5 – Battery this automatically senses where you are using the cell towers and turns Wi-Fi on if you are close to a known good Wi-Fi spot. Talking about apps; the Android Apps store works very well and is easy to use.
There are other features such as an FM radio, Video camera, Proximity sensor, Digital compass, Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Bluetooth, 3.5mm Stereo headphone jack etc. Pretty much anything you would need on a phone is here. There is a slot inside for a MicroSD card and it can take up to 32gig. It’s a shame the card slot is not on the edge of the phone for easier access, you have to pop the back off to get to it. The phone also comes with some headphones with a neat remote to pause/jump forward or backwards a track & answer calls.
Just like the iPhone there appears to be an app for anything you can think off, here is a list (in no particular order) of apps I have found very useful:
- Doubletwist. Loads onto your PC and phone and manages all kinds of media. If the phone cant play the file on the PC it will automaticaly get transcoded into something it can.
- Remember the milk. Useful to-do list that is location aware. So it will remind you about something when you get to a certain location.
- Listen. A Google podcatcher. Simple but elegant program. Like the options to only update if on Wi-Fi and on external power.
- PicSay. A very good image editor.
- Barcode Scanner. Point camera at QR code on PC screen and it takes phone to that link. Very handy for downloading programs.
- London City. Very handy Tube travel map with journey and service information.
- Endomondo. Very good Sports Tracker.
- eBuddy. Good IM client.
- LastPass. Good Password manager.
- Evernote. Cloud based notes.
- Y5 – Battery. Program that turns your Wi-Fi on when you get within range of a known network, then off again when you are out of range, thus saving battery life.
- Where’s My Droid. Helps locate a lost or stolen phone.
- Aldiko. eBook reader.
I summary if you need a smartphone and already have a Google email account then Android is a superb platform with a whole host of phones to chose from.