What to look out for in an Android device

Android Robot from Google via Wikipedia

Want to get a new Android device / phone? Here are a few things to take note of that should be helpful in making your decision.

CPU & RAM

Sadly I cannot deny that this is true, especially for the lower end of the Android device market. Basically this combination will dictate how smooth the device feels. The 600MHz on the LG Optimus One is fine because it is combined with Android 2.2 and 400+MB of RAM. I think the LG Optimus One is an ideal candidate for base specifications of and Android device. It’s fast enough for the device to have a smooth and fluid appearance. Cheap Android devices may give low end CPUs and low amounts of RAM leading to a sluggish Android experience: thus I would suggest anybody looking at cheap devices to actually test it out to see that it’s not too sluggish for your liking. A lower CPU will cause webpages to render slower as well due to it requiring CPU power to process Javascript or just plain HTML to render the page.
Recommended: at least 600MHz processor w/ 300MB RAM

OS Version

Android 2.2 also known as Froyo is what I would recommend the device to have and ideally have it installed by default. Froyo has been optimized so that it will run faster than Eclair (Android 2.1) on the same hardware. It also has extra features like moving applications to the SD card and also Flash if the hardware supports it.
Recommended: at least Android 2.2

Screen Resolution

I say that an HVGA screen (480×320 resolution) is the minimum resolution you should look at for a phone size device as (1) it provides a better browsing experience by displaying more of the content on screen & (2) there will applications that won’t support lower resolutions. Typically applications that won’t support this resolution will just be games but I feel a better web browsing experience is much more beneficial. Do note that screen size may be important too as a high resolution on a small screen size makes default text pretty small, so it is something to consider. For a 7″ tablet device, I think WVGA (800×480) is sufficient. Higher resolutions typically just make things look crisper and although that is nice, personally I don’t think it really makes much of a difference (I only recently realized that the HTC Desire has a WVGA screen, didn’t really notice it until I found out about Flash specifications that require at least a VGA screen, more on that later).
Recommended: at least HVGA screen (480×320 resolution) for a phone size device & at least WVGA (800×480) for a 7″ tablet size device

Available Phone Storage

This is a very big problem that I outlined here and may be something relegated for only budget devices but it is always something to be aware of. You don’t want a brand new device only to find out you are limited to install a limited amount of applications. I think 1GB would be the ideal amount as currently I’m struggling with my LG Optimus One’s limited 172MB of storage. While I do have 60+ self installed applications (only about 12 games), for a power user I think 500MB should be the minimum.
Recommended: at least 500MB for power users / gamers or 150MB for casual users

Android Market & Google Applications Availability

This is not a big deal for most phones as they typically have the Android Market, but due to Googles requirements not all Android devices can have Google applications and the Market. This means the device will have to use a 3rd party application store (there are several) but they may not offer all that is offered in the official Market. This problem will be mainly seen in tablets. e.g. Archos 70, Archos 101, Toshiba AS 100. There are ways around this, but require the community to provide it. This may work for the Archos devices but may not work for other tablets (e.g. those manufactured in China as seen on Shanzai.com). There are alternative app stores such as SlideME, AndAppStore and AppsLib or you can just download apk’s from GetJar or the developer’s website if available.

Flash Availability

If having Flash is important to you (for the sake of just being able to view certain sites), do take note that there is a minimum hardware requirement for Flash 10.1 on mobile. It requires Android 2.2 and and a hardware vector FPU. For VGA devices: Dedicated Cortex A8 (ARMv7) 550MHz App Processor with Neon for A8. WVGA devices: Dedicated Cortex A8 (ARMv7) 800MHz App Processor.

Battery Life

This is if you want your device to last throughout the day or just for regular use. Lots of the cheap China tablets have pretty bad battery life (~3 hours maximum) and give for a generally bad usability experience of having to be near a power outlet. Do note that WiFi usage is much less power hungry that 3G, so when possible use WiFi. My Optimus One can last the entire day on WiFi and be over 60% of the battery level at 6pm (unplugged at 7am with 100%) but if I’m on 3G it will practically die by 3pm (10+%/hour) (Note: The Optimus One has a 1500mAh battery).

Updates / Firmware Updates

Updates for new Android versions are totally dependent on the manufacturer of the device, so even if Android 2.3 Gingerbread is out now, it won’t come to your device until the handset manufacturer prepares a firmware specifically for that device. There are ways around this by installing custom firmware but that is unsupported by the manufacturer and could be harmful to your device (check out XDA developers, MoDaCo or CyanogenMod for custom firmware). According to this article HTC has the best track record followed by Motorola and Samsung with Dell, LG and Sony having 0%. For the Optimus One, I feel that it doesn’t have to have an update: 2.2 is sufficient and if I have a device with 2.2 being the last update I could live with that.

Launcher / Home Screen

HTC devices come with HTC Sense which is HTC’s custom UI launcher, Samsung has something similar with their TouchWiz UI and Motorala has their Motoblur. While these may be a consideration for some as they have special widgets and features, don’t be let down if your device doesn’t have any of these because Android has many launcher replacements that are just as good, if not better. Popular ones are LauncherPro, ADW Launcher and Go Launcher EX; and what’s best about these launchers is that they can be used on any device, giving you a consistent feel on all devices.

Conclusion

I hope the information helps you decide on a good Android device for you or just informs you a bit more about the Android platform. The Android platform is a good one and offers great things like multi-tasking and notifications which iOS does not have. There are some annoyances or issues I have with Android that makes me wish for a Symbian (S^3) phone due to some extra functionality such as true multi-tasking, but more on that in a future post.

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2 thoughts on “What to look out for in an Android device”

    1. Yeah. Initially I wanted to title the post “What to Look Out for in a Budget Android device” but, back in the days the Desire wasn’t (and still isn’t) a budget device, yet it has the lower “available phone storage” issue

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