Android vs Everything else

I’ve been using smartphones since before the word was coined!  Right from the days of the first “palm pilot”, I’ve had the opportunity to use or try out almost every platform out there, from Palm and Symbian to Blackberry and iPhone.  What was missing was the Android experience.

Having tested the Android 2.1 quite thoroughly, thanks to my new HTC Wildfire, I only thought it fit to share some of the learnings I’ve gleaned from it.  As always, this will not be a review of the device (Wildfire) or the OS (Android 2.1), since there are plenty of those available on the wild wild web.  Instead, this post will try to highlight some of the aspects that you may not have thought about in your feature-to-feature comparisons.

The Android Experience

Form Factor – Android phones are available in a large variety of shapes and sizes from the X1 mini to the XL sized HTC Desire / Samsung Galaxy.  You can also choose from devices that sport merely a touch-screen to those that include a full QWERTY keyboard built-in.  Not to mention, a variety of software keyboards for all kinds of needs, including foreign language support.

Hardware – You can choose to buy models with low or hi resolution displays, right upto the gorgeous Super AMOLED screens of some of the newer models.  You can also choose from various processor speeds and RAM/ROM configurations, depending on your budget.  As of today, phones available in the market will sport various versions of the base Android OS, ranging from 1.5 to 2.2, with various manufacturers having different upgrade cycles (and built-in delays), so choose your device wisely.

UI – Since the Android OS is a great platform to build on, players like Sony and HTC have built their own UI enhancements on top of the OS to offer a richer visual experience to users.  Once again, you can choose from a variety of options like HTC’s Sense UI, Motorola’s MotoBlur, Samsung’s TouchWiz and Sony’s UXP.  Think of these as skins for your complete Android experience, and choose based on what works for you best.

Apps – The Android Market boasts over 50,000 apps that you can download, today.  Many of these are free, and include tools, utilities, games and reference apps.  Of course, for all the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, etc., you have multiple apps and variants to choose from.  By the way, unlike the iTunes app store which is very tightly controlled by Apple, the Android Market is an open, free-spirited entity with not too many dos and don’ts.

Integration – The Android OS is meant to live “in the cloud”, and offers very tight integration with Google (surprised?!) and other online services like Facebook and Twitter.  That means, your new phone can sync with your Google account for mail, contacts, calendar, rss feeds, etc. etc. etc.  Facebook contacts can be linked to your phone book (but maintained separately), and multiple calendars keep your FB events, Google events and Office events separately.  All this, of course, happens automagically and with minimum fuss, syncing with the “cloud” as per your specified frequency.  Incidentally, the 2.1 version of the OS also offers Exchange Server sync options.

All you need to do is pick up an Android handset of your choice, insert a SIM card of your favorite service provider, and you’ll start living in the cloud in a matter of minutes!  Oh, and did I mention that features like multi-tasking and folders that have only just been rolled out on the newest iPhone (iOS4) have been standard inclusions on Android for months?!

As an example, let’s take a quick look at the iPhone Experience.

– Very tight integration with Apple computers, software and devices
– Excellent, crisp display and silky-smooth touch-screen technology
– Hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from (many of which are paid)
– Almost no options to change the UI experience (unless you jailbreak it)
– Usually tied to a service provider’s talk plans (unless you unlock it)
– Oh, and it features a built-in iPod!

If you’re familiar with Nokia’s Symbian platform, you will know that it’s an extremely stable and capable platform for smartphones, but has lived its life to the fullest.  Blackberry users swear by their email capabilities, but there’s little else to talk about when it comes to a BB device.  It may also be pointed out that the whole “Android” phenomenon is just over a year old, and the technology is nowhere near its maturity.  Already, users are seeing first-hand how their Android 2.x experience is so significantly superior to some of the early alternatives.  I can’t even imagine how things will be when it reaches version 4.0 !!!

Enough said.

Read Also: Moving to Android: Essential Guide