9 June 2010

HTC Desire – Android rocks!

by Anton Piatek

I gave in to the whole “smart phone” thing on the a week ago and ordered a HTC Desire online. The phone arrived last Tuesday and has barely been out of my hand since.

The hardware is fairly similar to the iPhone in shape, but a matt-black back casing and sort of purplish-metallic looking trim. The screen may be slightly taller than the iPhone, but only just.

Android is quite a cool OS, though I cannot tell how much is core Android and how much is “HTC Sense” which comes as part of the phone. One thing to say is that while an iPhone feels like a phone with lots of pages of buttons, the Desire is somewhat more like a computer. Technically it IS a computer – It is running a 2.6.29 Linux Kernel and you can hack a root account on it, though I have not done so (yet? Yeah, I surprised even myself here – I thought I would be hacking it and upgrading it to the latest Android straight away, but I am just enjoying all it can do right now)

I have 7 desktop screens, and swiping left or right moves between them. Each one can be filled up with application icons or shortcuts, or many applications also have “widgets” such as a clock with weather forcasting on it (clicking on the weather opens the weather app showing the weeks forecast).

Similarly I have a calendar widget showing me what is coming up from my Google calendar, and clicking on it takes me to the Google calendar application.

The touch-screen is a capacitive type and behaves wonderfully, though typing on the keyboard does take some getting used to.

The integration of the phone is quite incredible. Adding a twitter account and setting to get alerts whenever someone mentions me and now my phone beeps, vibrates and shows a twitter update in the pull-down status panel alongside text messages.

Facebook and Google integration however are far more impressive. Setting a Facebook and Google account and once it syncs I can see all the people I know in Facebook and all my Contacts in Google on my phone. Not only are they visible, but if it can it links the accounts (you can manually set links too) so that all the data shows up together. So for example, I have friends that I only had a mobile number in my phone, and email address in Google, and now that all shows up together along with their Facebook profile photo and more details from Facebook! (If only I could then force all that data back into my online Google address book)

I suspect the iPhone appstore is slightly better stocked than the Android Market, however there are still plenty of very good apps out there, and many are free (yes, there is a free lightsabre app if you really need it)

Google Maps is rather cool, and even has “Navigation”, which gives voice directions while driving (or walking) – It even pronounces the names of streets, though not particularly well.
If you are walking the route, at the touch of a button you can see the route through Google’s street-view so that you can see where the turns really are, though I suggest not trying this while driving.

As I am with 3 as my provider, I fought my way through their website to get the MSN and Skype applications, which once found were easy to install. One odd thing is that both Skype and MSN only work if you have good 3 signal AND have turned off wireless. It seems strange to me as there is no harm in letting you use wireless, but I guess they have their reasons (I believe that the Skype app actually uses a GSM phone call to do the voice to their server which should be easier on their network than VOIP, but that doesnt exaplain why wifi couldnt be used)

Google Earth is pretty cool to see running on a device in your hand, but perhaps even cooler is the Google Sky app which not only uses GPS to work out where on the Earth you are, but also uses the Compass to work out which way you are facing, and the tilt/accelerometer thingy to work out which way your phone is facing. Holding the phone in front of you, as you would taking a picture, it shows the stars, planets and constellations that are visible in that direction. As I know almost nothing about star constellations this is rather interesting to me.

Okay, so Google have influenced the apps a lot, but they did write a lot of the OS, and it is perfectly fine to use without a Google account (it does POP/IMAP and Exchange for email), but I think you get more out of it if you use Google already.

One thing I have yet to try is application development: I’ve only had it a few days – come on!
Looking at the developer docs it looks pretty straightforward – Eclipse IDE, Java classes provided, you should even be able to debug your app running on your phone via the USB cable. The only downside I have heard is that the GPS libraries require licensing, though apparently it will work in debug mode on your phone. It also appears that there is a $25 signup fee for the Android Market, but that doesn’t seem too extreme (especially when you compare it to $99 per year for the Apple app store)

One thing worth checking: I found (as did many other people if you search for it) that having the Twitter account enabled for updates (for example in Friend Stream) caused the calendar to continually poll for updates. This uses lots of battery (and probably bandwidth). It seems that calendar is the task responsible for nearly all background updates, so don’t just assume that it is your calendar using all your power or bandwidth, it is probably something asking calendar to do lots of updates

If you think something is using too much battery power, download the app “Spare Parts” from the Android market, and in it select “Battery History->Partial Wake Usage” and see what comes top. Mine used to show Calendar, but after removing the flickr account settings from the core OS “Settings->Accounts & Sync->Flickr->remove” and restarting the phone the bars are all very much smaller (and Calendar barely features on the usage)

Spare Parts looks incredibly useful, as you can also track bandwidth usage.

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tags: Android - mobile - phones - Technology