July 30, 2010

Life on DROID

About two months ago, I switched from a Windows Mobile smartphone to a DROID from Motorola (and from AT&T to Verizon—more on that below).

The best way I can sum up Android is that it makes a nice handheld “iPad-like” device with a mediocre phone app. Oh, the sound quality is fine once you are in a call. That is, when you have a connection (oh yeah, more on that later). But it’s that phone app that bothers me.

On my Windows Mobile phone, the ill fated Samsung Epix (I had less trouble than most people as it got mine after some fixes), it still felt like a phone first and a computer second. From an idle phone, begin pressing the number keys of the keyboard (without needing to hold ALT key) and it would start dialing. If a call came in when it was locked, I could answer with the touch of the screen. Not so with the DROID. It’s a handheld PC first and a phone second.

Want to make a call? There’s an app for that!

First push the power button to wake. Then swipe to unlock. Then run the phone app. Then dial. Whew.

My wife and I both got DROIDs when we could finally, contractually, combine on the same phone plan. She was coming from a BlackBerry. I used to make fun of the BlackBerry—it was a command line compared to GUI. But, guess what, for communicating by phone or by text email, that thing is highly optimized. And it’s designed for one hand use. No wonder busy bankers and the like are stuck on it. It’s pretty foolproof too. I’m talking about the older BB with the track ball, not the keyboard-less ones that suffer from the same “smart” phone problems as Android and the rest. Smart means Finicky, I suppose.

So, as much as I’m annoyed by the DROID phone app—my wife is ready to chuck it out the window!

But wait, there’s more

Okay, it’s not 100% bad. Like I said, as an iPad-like “thingy” that actually fits in your pocket, the Android and DROID are pretty cool. All the neat swiping and gesturing. Nice media apps like New York Times and such that are really cool ways to consume your news and entertainment. (C’mon B&N, let’s get that Android e-reader, please!) For sitting anywhere and reading news or entertainment, it’s a great device. Very good for email and social media too.

For all the other things you can do, the Android is at least as good as an iPhone. Okay I admit it; I’ve only seen other people use the iPhone. But the apps—especially the media readers—look just as good on Android. And the DROID has a decent size screen to view all.

I got the DROID for the hardware keyboard. However, I recommend you not be scared off of no-keyboard Android phones as I was. With the phone held in landscape position, the virtual keyboard has large enough keys to work pretty well. I’ve taken to holding it one hand and typing with the other.

Unfortunately, I had only briefly tried the no-keyboard models like DROID Incredible in portrait mode and found the virtual keys too narrow for my liking. Now I know that next time I can go without the hardware keyboard.

Email? Works for me

I read about a lot of trouble with email, especially Exchange. Settings would disappear and other such tragedies. There are some good tools like Touchdown that are workarounds that do indeed work.

However, by the time I got the DROID it was running Android 2.1, and the Exchange function has been fine. I have my Yahoo! Mail, my personal Exchange account, and my work Exchange account all running in my Combined Inbox. Android has never lost the settings as users originally experienced. I only miss direct access to my Windows Live email. (Android can't get Live Mail? Go figure!)

AT&T: it’s not you; it’s me

What about those map commercials and the “Can you hear me now?” ads from Verizon. Well my experience only confirms my suspicion that Verizon runs the more misleading ads. More on that here.

Particularly, where I live, AT&T works. Sprint works. Verizon … well, Let’s just say, “I can’t hear you now!”

My fault, I suppose. When asked for carrier recommendations, I always tell people find out what works at their home, at their work and at points in between. Forget loyalty or brands or customer service or a few dollars a month. Go for coverage!

Well, I should have listened to myself! I went for the best price on a family plan and saved $120 a year. But that's not worth it if I can’t make calls from home!

DROID quirks

Some other DROID quirks I hope they fixed in the new DROID X:

On DROID, the 4 Android keys (Home, Menu, Back, Search) are touch sensitive buttons that don’t depress (yes, there’s probably some technical term like capacitive resistance buttons). It’s far too easy to accidently close programs as you adjust your grip on the device and move past the soft buttons. You are working away and then, "Hey, where’d my app go?”

The virtual keyboard has, I suppose, a good feature where you can initially land on one key and then move and release over a neighboring key. It accepts the last one touched. That's good a lot of the time. But often, when I intentionally type a combination such as “er”, I only get the “r.” Trust me, “er” is used a lot in English!

The phone is not great at handling the switch from portrait to landscape. For instance, if I start a text edit with on screen keyboard in portrait orientation, and then swing to landscape, it drops out of the virtual keyboard. This is a pain if I rotae the phone when I am editing in mid-paragraph, because it ends up with the cursor at a different place. It is not easy to place the cursor with your thumb or finger. I miss my Windows Mobile stylus for those exacting cursor placements, selections and edits.

Forget cost, remember value

As it was, for purely cost reasons, I decided to try Android and Verizon while I waited for Windows Phone 7. Most people have written Microsoft off in the phone OS market. Personally, I think WP7 will be at least as good as Android and iPhone. And I hope it’s not too late to grab some market share. They will need one hell of a launch campaign.

And yes, I miss AT&T service. I miss being on a call and browsing at the same time. I miss the better coverage and faster data. From my experience, AT&T has the best and fastest 3G with excellent voice and data coverage.

While I’m not totally disappointed, a big part of me wishes I’d simply stayed on Windows Mobile 6.x on AT&T while I waited for Windows Phone 7.


Waiting to Upgrade in California