Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Android vs Symbian

I've been using an Android phone for a few weeks now, and while mostly good, my experience hasn't been without its problems and frustrations. Coming from a Nokia and Symbian experience, it's impossible not to make comparisons.
The phone I'm using now is definitely not one of the best examples of Android available, but I expect many of my thoughts are generic. The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini is very much an entry level smartphone, but its most limiting factor is that it is still running Android 1.6 (Donut). Hopefully that will change before the end of October, when the upgrade to 2.1 (Eclair) is due. Anyway, to put it into context, my previous phone was a Nokia XpressMusic 5800, Nokia's first effort at a touchscreen phone. However, I have also spent some time with an N97 Mini, so I'm fairly familiar with the S60 V5 software, and its capabilities and limitations.
As a Google self-proclaimed fanboy I really want to like Android. However, it's lack of polish came as a big surprise. The OS, certainly in 1.6 form, feels unfinished. Considering the speed at which update are being churned out, maybe this version should be considered unfinished! But worries me is that maybe this is the Android Team's approach, and all versions will be like that.
So what am I talking about? Mainly, it has to do with the features available natively on the phone. For example, Nokia have long offered the option for an ascending alarm ringtone. There's nothing worse than waking to an alarm at full volume! Such a basic feature, you'd think it would be standard on every phone. For sure, if I was developing a new OS, it's just one of the things I would have on my list of essential features. But not Android. Sure, I was able to download a free app (AlarmDroid) that includes that feature, but that's exactly what worries me about the success of Android in the market. Most of the people I know don't want to be bothered with trying to find an alarm app to download; they expect it to come standard, and if it doesn't they'll tell their mates about the lack of features! The Android Team shouldn't be leaving it to the app developers to supply the features for their phones; they should be building those features into the OS.

Of course, the alarm feature isn't the only example. I've had to download an app to monitor data usage (NetCounter), another to add an alarm and pop-up notification for calendar events (Android Agenda Widget), and a third to pull my calendar events into a widget on one of the homepages (Calendar Snooze). These features are standard on Nokia's phones.
Of course, there's a huge amount being written by how important apps are in the post iPhone world. Apple and Google are even adding App Stores to their desktop OS's. And there are some fantastic apps available; many for free. Apart from the obvious Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare ones, I've been very impressed with the likes of Endomondo and CardioTrainer (both for sports tracking via GPS), doubleTwist (music and podcast syncing and playing), and Google's own Google Goggles (search via photos taken on your phone). My point is that many of these, or variations of these, are also available in Nokia's Ovi Market. 
In my opinion, Nokia isn't quite as dead as many tech journalists would have you believe. Apps alone will not make a great OS! 
However, I will pursue with my Android phone for a while longer, and I hope that upcoming upgrades (Gingerbread, Honeycomb) will add the polish that Android needs.

Thanks for reading!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini

I've long been a Nokia fan, but over the last few years they seem to have lost the plot. Ever since the original iPhone was launched back in 2007, Nokia have steadily lost market share in the smartphone market. Nokia's loss has been Android's gain; in less than 2 years the Google developed mobile operating system has gained substantial footing in this competitive market.

As a self-proclaimed Google fanboy, the attractions for any Android phone are numerous. Above all, the auto sync with gmail, calendars and contacts. After years of wrestling with Mail for Exchange and apps like Emoze, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the real deal!

My chance came this week in the form of a Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini. I have this phone on a short term loan from my girlfriend, but I already dread the day I have to go back to my old Nokia 5800. Anyway, back to the phone: this is the smallest Android phone available, and comes in at a very competitive price. It offers the convenience of a touchscreen smartphone, without too much complexity or any of the bulk, weighing in at a featherweight 88g. An ideal handbag phone. The interchangeable coloured backcovers should also appeal to the style conscious. But that's not to say it lacks oomph, I've been very impressed with how smoothly the phone has handled everything I've thrown at it. The 2.55" capacitive screen doesn't offer the highest resolution either; at 240 x 320 pixels don't expect the "retina" display.

The biggest problem with the X10 Mini is shared with its big brother, the X10. Both phones are still running Android 1.6 (Donut), and the update to 2.1 (Eclair) has been pushed back to the end of October. Judging by the reaction on the various forums, everyone is desperate to get their hands on the upgrade. However, its still not clear if or when the Mini will get 2.2 (Froyo). We can only hope...

My other problem has been the battery capacity. At first I couldn't go a whole day without recharging. However, after a weeks use, and several charge/discharge cycles, performance has improved slightly. On the advice of several forums members, I installed the JuiceDefender app. The free version doesn't offer many features, but by reducing the length of time the phone accesses data in the background, the battery life is extended substantially.

Another useful free app is Timeriffic. This allows you to set various 'profiles' for different times of the day. For example, an essential one is to switch off the notification at night. Getting woken up every time I receive an email is not an option!

The X10 Mini has a number of homescreens that can be set up with widgets, one for each page. Flicking through these will give you instant access to your calendar, weather reports, Google Search, etc. Set these up as you like. A vertical flick across the screen reveal the icons for any apps you have loaded. Again, a horizontal flick takes you from page to page, with 9 icons per page. This system works very well, and makes good use of the limited screen space.

The one feature I haven't mentioned is Timescape. This Sony Ecicsson app combines your Twitter and Facebook stream with your text (SMS) messages, MMS and missed calls, into tiles that flow chronologically on the screen. The effect is awesome, but due to concerns about excessive data usage I disabled it almost immediately!

So, as my introduction to Android, what do I think? Did it live up to my expectations? Definitely! Android highlights how dated Symbian has become. I love that almost everything can be modified or adjusted, if not natively, then by using one of the thousands of available apps. As of right now, us South Africans do not have access to the paid apps in the Android Market (although that will apparently change shortly), so it was a nice surprise that almost every app I wanted has been available for free. The Market itself could use some work, especially on discovery, but compared to the Ovi Store it's been fantastic! Looking ahead, I'm thinking about what phones will be available when my current contract comes up for renewal in the new year. One thing I know for sure: it'll be an Android!

Thanks for reading!