< Piro >
Friday - January 1, 2010
Thursday - December 10, 2009
Due to family, I found myself in sunny Naples over Thanksgiving. Florida, not Italy. While I was there, I finally got fed up with my crusty Sprint Katana phone. I decided it was time for a new one, so I went looking. Being the shameless gadget addict I am, I went for a smartphone.
I knew already that I didn't want an iPhone. They're nice phones, but there are major aspects I don't like. I don't like Apple's stranglehold on the App Store, or having to jailbreak to get around it. I don't like the way AT&T treats their customers. I don't like being limited to only running one application at a time.
So an iPhone was out, but the Android phones caught my eye a while ago. With the recent ad blitz from Verizon for their Droid line, I thought those were worth checking out. The Motorola phone was prices at $200 with a contract, and the HTC Eris at $100 with a contract. Both sounded like good prices.
Once I got to the mall, I went to the Verizon kiosk and asked about contact rates. The response blew me away. The man behind the counter said it would be $150/mo for basic voice with unlimited text and data. I looked at him like he was crazy. Then I went over to the Sprint kiosk.
Sprint wanted close to $300 up-front for an HTC Hero phone, with $100 mail-in rebate. Obviously, a lot more than Verizon. However, Sprint offered me a plan at the very attractive price point of $70/mo. That plan would include unlimited text, unlimited data, unlimited calls to mobiles... pretty much everything I wanted, for less than half the price Verizon quoted me. I shelled out and walked away with the phone.
The Sprint people were nice enough to import my contact from my old phone, so I was spared that pain. As I walked away from the booth, I was already filling in social networking site logins - twitter, facebook, flickr, google account, that sort of stuff. It immediately synchronized with my google contacts. I was soon arranging widgets on the seven (seven!) home screens, and was happily using them.
The built-in camera is a solid five megapixels. I'm no photography buff, so it suits my needs pretty well. The flickr and facebook integration makes it very easy to upload photos right after taking them, avoiding the need to synchronize and upload later. This is done in the background, so you can do other things while your pictures upload.
The array of applications is broad. Predictably, the very first thing I installed was an SSH client - ConnectBot. In case I feel the sudden urge to administer a server from an improbable location, maybe. Still, I feel better for having it. Should I ever need it.
Look, it's cool, OK? Don't judge me.
RingDroid is a fun and practical little application I grabbed early on. It lets you take any bit of audio and convert it to a ringtone. I now use VNV Nation's "Nemesis" as my default ringtone.
To make good use of the ability to run programs in the background, I grabbed an IRC client. After trying several, AndChat seemed to offer all the features I wanted at no cost. A lot of other programs use the background process ability offered by the Linux origins of the Android platform to good effect. One that comes to mind is DealDroid, which monitors a variety of websites and informs me of important events like woot.com offering a new item.
Far and away the coolest app I've found is Google Sky Map. Now, stargazing is fun. Stargazing is more fun when you have a starchart. A computerized starchart is even better, because it eliminates the need to manually compensate for location and time. Google Sky Map use GPS and time data and then adds accelerometer data to determine which direction the phone is facing. The net result? You point the phone at a patch of sky, and it tells you what you're looking at. Pretty damn cool, in my book. I know I'm going to get a lot of use out of it on some clear nights.
There's also the predictable array of social networking and local search apps. I use a few, like GigBox and UrbanKite, but most of them aren't worth making a fuss about.
The Android has a few shortcomings. The on-screen keyboard takes some getting used to, and I still tend to fat-finger it a bit at times. There is no unified email inbox, so I have to monitor three or four different accounts distinctly. Not every application let me turn it sideways for easier typing.
Battery life isn't all that great, but that obviously depends directly on how much I use it to do interesting things. The SDHC card it came with is a measly 2 GB, but that's upgradable easily enough. HTC hasn't finished porting their user interface - Sense - to Android 2, so my Hero and I are stuck at Android 1.5 for the time being.
The Android browser has some odd bugs. There's an issue I'm aware of - but haven't identified yet - where it renders some PNGs in a degraded state. This can be a problem the PNGs are your favorite webcomic. Interestingly, I know this bug exists in Droid phones too. No idea what it is.
When all is said and done, I like my phone quite a bit. It does everything I need and want from my phone, including making lightsaber noises and playing "Duel of the Fates". I look forward to the Android 2 update, when my phone will do even more cool things.