Geo-Restrictions: The Biggest Problem for Android in Non-Recognized/Supported Countries

Geo-restirctions for apps in the Android Market is something you won’t hear many people talk about probably because they live in recognized countries where these apps are available. Basically what this means is that when you search for it in the Market app on your Android device, you will not find any results to install. If you use the Android market on the web you get the “This item cannot be installed in your device’s country” message when trying to select your device. This hugely detracts me from trying to recommend Android to users. While I guess many will search for the apk file online and install it, I must stress that this can be a very dangerous thing as it can be malware that you are installing on your device. You must trust your source of applications, if it is not the developer distributing the file, it could be a modified apk installer with malware installed in it.

Some notable apps that are absent from the Market here in Brunei are

As stated in their known issues under “Can’t find app” section, it states the following:

Some users are reporting that they can’t find specific apps on Market. If you can’t find an application, first try editing your search terms; the publisher may have changed the name in the application.
If you’re still experiencing this issue, please make sure that the following conditions do not apply to you:

  • Priced applications availability: Priced apps are only available to buyers in these countries. If you are not in a buyer-supported country, you will be unable to view priced applications.
  • Location: You may only view the version of Market for your country. For example, UK users may only view the UK version of Android Market from their devices. If a developer has not targeted his app to your home country, you may be unable to view it.
  • Mobile service provider: In addition to targeting for location, a developer may also target their application to specific mobile service providers. If a developer is not targeting your mobile service provider, you will not be able to view the application.

From time to time, applications will become unavailable. Publishers might remove their applications from Android Market, or applications may also be removed for policy violations.

I believe this stems from the following section when developers upload their app into the Market. If the developer does unchecks “All locations” (it is checked by default), the list of countries will be shown and the app will not be available for any country not listed below, i.e. Brunei and others.

What can Google do? They can make Brunei (among other countries) as a supported/recognized country and I presume that would require some business discussions with Brunei banks/mobile carrier/ISP. As a supported country we would probably get access to paid apps as well, but I feel that is unlikely at the moment. Alternatively they can put another check box for “Other Countries” in the listing above so that developers can choose to exclude certain countries but include others.
What developers can do? Where possible make sure “All Locations” is checked, if not host their apk installers on their own site (something that WhatsApp! does)

For an Android fan I feel pretty annoyed about this restriction and is certainly an obstacle as I can’t fully recommend Android devices to people if they have to do ’round-about-things’ such as finding an unofficially distributed apk just to install Skype. Another big issue is with tablets that are able to run Flash but don’t include it out of the box: thus the tablet is neutered to iPad Flash-less status which is sad. I had a Flash apk and installed in on the Acer Iconia A500 but because it wasn’t the latest version it could not run the videos we tested. Also without a recognized country, you can’t even update apps that have been installed previously: we couldn’t update Flash via Market post-install.

There are workarounds as listed below but some aren’t pretty:

Workaround 1: Alternate Store
This is the easiest and I suggest to find a reputable app store such as Opera Mobile Store (I managed to download Skype from here, although it was an older version), but it doesn’t have all the apps I want and thus those need to be sourced from elsewhere. If you know of any other reputable stores that have apps like Skype, do let me know.

Workaround 2: Switch SIMs to a Supported Country
I’ve done this with a Australian Vodafone SIM, and I was able to download Skype. I may even use this to download apks and self-host them for all Android users (as long as I don’t get copyright take downs)

Workaround 3: Root and install Market Enabler
Root your device and install Market Enabler which should allow you to access the apps. I presume this does in software what switching SIMs does in hardware.

Workaround 4: Buy an iPhone / iPod Touch
Yes, I said it. It is a sad but true state of affairs that it is easier on iOS if you register with a US iTunes Account. The hardest thing of registration is is just using the right US address (use Google’s address as there are no taxes in their state according to @mfirdaus). The biggest issue is getting iTune gift cards, something I am still trying to find out for a reasonable price (Places in Brunei that sell them: AV, Incomm & QQeStore). But once that is all setup, it’s all easy sailing.

So Google, I hope you can sort out this problem or Android users will be severely limited in countries that aren’t recognized/supported and would prevent them from recommending Android unless they want to start pirating apps. App developers, please show some love for Android users and host the apks yourself.

Related Links

A First Look at the Acer Iconia Tab A500

The Acer Iconia Tab A500 is the first Honeycomb tablet I’ve seen here in Brunei and is the first proper 10″ Android tablet. As with most Android tablets the specs are somewhat typical: 10″ (1280×800) with dual cameras running on the nVidia Tegra2. @mfirdaus and I managed to play around with the device for over an hour and below is the video overview we took of it. Below the video are further thoughts of the device and sample photos and videos from the device itself.

Full specifications (from Concepts and Acer specification pages)

  • Android Honeycomb(3.0)
  • 10.1” (1280×800) HD Touchscreen
  • 10.24″ x 7″ x 0.52″
  • 10 points Capacitive Multitouch screen
  • 1Ghz nVidia Tegra2 Dual Core processor
  • 32GB built-in capacity
  • Dual Camera (2mp front, 5mp back)
  • GPS, E-Compass, 6-axis Gyroscope G-sensor (auto rotation)
  • Long life 3260mAh x 2 battery
  • Dual display (HDMI output) (micro HDMI port)
  • microUSB expansion slot (up to 32gb)
  • Physical USB port (Full-sized USB port)
  • Dolby Mobile dual speakers
  • Acer Clear.fi app
  • Acer Social Jogger app
  • Acer Photo Browser app
  • Preloaded games (NFS Shift, Let’s Golf, Hero of Sparta)

Weight & Size
I have always thought 10″ tablets were a bit bigger than an iPad but in fact they are similar sizes: The A500 is longer and thicker but narrower than an iPad 2 (A500: 26cm x 17.7cm x 1.33cm, iPad2: 24.1cm x 18.6cm x 0.88cm). However the A500 is relatively heavy at 765g (iPad 2 is 601g), thus if you’re holding on the device it can get tiring.

Screen
The 10″ screen was responsive and we didn’t feel at real / noticeable / annoying lag or unresponsiveness. At a resolution of 1280×800, that is the same resolution as a lot of 13″ or 14″ laptops and is of higher resolution compared to an iPad: this means when browsing you should see more content. Speaking of browsing, with the great browser which has tabs and the ability to install Flash, this would make a great web browsing device.

Honeycomb and Apps
Refer to the previous post on A First Taste of Honeycomb (Android 3.0): in short there are not many apps optimized for Honeycomb and the large screen, but regular apps can still run.

Connectivity
The killer hardware features are the microSD card slot, full sized USB port and micro HDMI.

The microSD card slot enables you to add storage without buying a new device. If you’re on a budget, just buy the lowest capacity device and add microSD cards for your media (do note that microSD cards could be slower than internal storage on device, but is probably cheaper and can be transferred to other devices in the future).

The full sized USB port means you can connect a regular USB keyboard to the device and start typing straight away if you really need to type out of an email / do word processing. This will easily make the A500 into a productivity device with the proper applications. The USB port also means that you can copy files to and from a regular thumb drive like a regular computer which is a great feature. I’ve heard that USB card readers do not work, but I have no confirmation on this.

The micro HDMI port means you can connect the device to a projector / HDTV with display mirroring (display on both device and projector/TV). While this is a great option, I still think an iPad 2 trumps with the VGA dongle because VGA is still very widely used and HDMI is not. For people wishing to use the device for presentations, I would think an iPad 2 with the VGA dongle would be much easier to work with. I don’t believe there is an easy way to convert an HDMI signal to VGA without an external box, which means added cost and added items to bring.

Cameras
The front facing camera is a 2 megapixel while the rear camera is 5 megapixels (and also has a flash) however the picture and sound quality wasn’t stellar: samples below. Do note that the device was covered with clear plastic which would affect both the video and audio quality but I wouldn’t expect quality to be much better than what we got. Audio quality is pretty disappointing. Photos are stored in JPG format while videos in 3GP (H264/AAC).

Photos (jpg)

  • Rear: 5 megapixels (2592 × 1944)

  • Front: 2 megapixels (1600 × 1200)

Videos (3gp format with H264 video and AAC audio)

  • Rear: 720p (1280×720)

  • Front: VGA (640×480)

Battery Life
We could not take the device home to test the battery life of the device but below lists battery tests from other reviews but most reviews say you can easily get an full days worth without issue.

Price
At B$728, the 32GB A500 is priced cheaper than a 32GB iPad 2 (B$798), but do note that a 16GB iPad 2 is cheaper (B$668). IMHO Concepts should have brought in the 16GB version of the Iconia Tab to undercut all iPad 2 prices because with most Android tablets you can add expansion via microSD cards.

Summary
As a consumer device, this is a great device for web browsing, reading and watching movies. If you have TVs/monitors with HDMI input, this is a possible media center device with a purchase of a microHDMI to HDMI cable or a microHDMI to standard HDMI converter. As an office device, this is a viable option is you have HDMI monitors / projectors. The USB port option is great for using external keyboards and transferring of files. Overall Honeycomb is still maturing and is hard to convince people with an Android tablet unless there is a particular function that they need/want that is available on Android or a specific tablet as the iPad, with iOS, has the advantage of apps. Would I get one myself? I doubt so, as I’m looking more of a 7″ device with USB host, VGA out (highly unlikely thus maybe HDMI out) and possibly 3G to wirelessly tether via a wireless hotspot so I may even look out for the Iconia Tab A100 which is a 7″ version that is coming out in a couple of months.

Other Useful Links

A First Taste of Honeycomb (Android 3.0)

**Update 1: added “Other Notes” section**

So last Friday I when I saw the Acer Iconia Tab A500 lying there in Concepts, I just had to get my grubby paws on it and experience Honeycomb first hand. I’ve read about it, seen a few videos of it, but there is nothing like playing with it in person. I had to say that I was pleasantly surprised and felt that I wanted to get a tablet. Take a look at the Honeycomb Overview video that mfirdaus and I manage to take of below:

Honeycomb is Google’s attempt to make a version of Android desgined for tablets and it gives Android a very different and fresh feel to it. It took me a while to get comfortable with it after getting kind of lost initially using the device (i.e. it’s not as simple/simplistic as iOS on the iPad). It has the typical Android homescreen which can be populated with applications shortcuts and widgets which all quick access to information right on the homescreen. With the Android 3.1 upgrade providing resizable widgets would allow users to fill a homescreen full of your emails, Twitter timeline and Facebook wall: it’s like your own Tweetdeck columns for all the stuff that is important to you.

Browser & Flash: A fuller web experience
The browser seems superb with tabs and looks like Chrome/Chromium (my browser of choice). The possibility of playing Flash is really great to me as it provides you a fuller web experience compared to Flash-less browsers where you may come to a page that just doesn’t have HTML5 video or some random Flash navigations. Do note I said the ‘possibility’ of playing Flash because it isn’t available in the Market. This is due to a geographic location restrictions where the developer does not select the app as available to all countries (more of this in a future post). You can always find the APK installer online, but that is always a dangerous option as there is a possibility that the APK is malware or has been modified to include malware on it. Thus it is important to download it from trusted sources.

Connectivity: USB Host & HDMI
The 3.1 update to Honeycomb is especially interesting as it provides better USB host support. This will provide Honeycomb tablets will a greater possibility to replace laptops because you can transfer documents to USB drives and hook up standard keyboard and mice to it. I can imagine going to work, docking your tablet and using it throughout the day for work and when you’re done, disconnect everything and head back home. Currently Android 3.0 on the Iconia Tab supports USB drives and keyboards and I presume that this will be the same for other tablets with USB ports. With most tablets having HDMI ports, they can even be used for presentations and at home on your HDTVs. The only problem I see here is that projectors will typically always have a VGA port, not an HDMI port so this could be limiting.

Apps
A lot of the success of a platform is in the apps and since Honeycomb is still new there aren’t many Honeycomb optimized apps that take full advantage of the bigger screen and the Honeycomb action bar. This should fade with time as developers start taking advantage of Honeycomb devices. Do note that the older non-Honeycomb optimized Android apps still can work with Honeycomb (however this is not a certainty) and when they do work they would probably stretch to fill in the space depending on how the interface was design.

Stability & Usability
I’ve heard that Honeycomb can be a bit unstable with applications, such as the browser, crashing; however I did not experience such crashes in over an hour of playing with the device. Honeycomb is still new and maturing as they work out the kinks and tweak Honeycomb to be a better experience for the user: I found that there was quite a bit of finger/hand travel just to activate and navigate around the system which I guess could get annoying and tiring after longer periods of use.

Other Notes
The low application storage problem seems to be gone in Honeycomb as the whole 32GB of the Acer Iconia Tab A500 that we played with, listed the entire 32GB as available for applications and files, as opposed Android devices that have only a certain much smaller space dedicated for app.Forgot to show it on the video / take a photo but this is a very welcome change and solves the biggest problem with Android for devices with internal memory.

Summary
All in all, I’m excited to see what Honeycomb matures into as it tries to be a competitor to iOS on the iPad. While I feel iOS on the iPad is a better experience for now, I feel Honeycomb will be better for the future. I just hope that it doesn’t always stay in the future and that the future and come quickly to fruition.

Acer Iconia A500 Debunking Misinformation from Brunei Times

I’m pretty happy that @denogoh likes to cover Android but I was pretty sad to see that some of the arguments he made regards to the A500 where just wrong or could be misinformation. This article came out in the Brunei Times on Wednesday 18th May 2011. Below is a screenshot of the E-Paper version

the A500 has a proper-sized USB slot. The list of things you could do with this fabulous gadget include transferring files from pendrive or external harddisk, plug a dongle for Internet wherever you go in the world, very easily find a cable to connect to whatever you want to connect it to)

Just because there is a USB port doesn’t mean it will support any USB device: it needs the necessary drivers for the OS to communicate with the USB device. For instance, there is no mouse support yet (but is supposed to come soon with an over-the-air upgrade). It seems some people are working to get a 3G USB dongle to work with some success but it doesn’t look like something for a regular user.

not to mention it’s quite light (lighter than the iPad 2)

But it is not lighter than the iPad 2 which according to Apple specs is 1.33pounds (601g) for the Wi-Fi only model and 1.35 pounds (613g) for Wi-Fi+3G model. The Acer Iconia A500 is “0.4 pounds heavier than the iPad 2” according to Laptopmag.com while Gigaom reports the weight to be 1.69 pounds and Carrypad reports: 765g. All 3 different sources say that it is heavier.

The video capabilities of the tab is not something to boast about as well, but you do get 1080p later this year

While it does not support extra codecs, the standard H264 in MP4 format, AAC, MP3 should all work fine and they are the typical formats available: similar to the iPad 2. Otherwise software decoding could be used though players like RockPlayer Lite to play files that is not initially supported. Currently 720p output is available with 1080p output to come in the future.

Currently the A500 32GB version is going for B$728 at Concepts which is cheaper than a 32GB iPad at B$798 (however there is a 16GB iPad2 which is cheaper, currently it seems that the 16GB A500 is not brought in). @mfirdaus and I will try do a (possible live stream) video later doing an overview of Honeycomb and the device itself

LG Optimus One: Many Months Later Review

I’ve covered why I chose the LG Optimus One and with that I’ve experienced first hand the biggest problem with Android. After a few months of usage as both a 3G data device and now as a phone I would like to give share a some what in-depth review / thoughts on the LG Optimus One.

Specifications
The specifications are not mind-blowing and I didn’t expect it to be stellar, but I have to say that it exceeded my expectations: mainly due to a processor with sufficient power and the ample amount of RAM. You can check your devices specifications using Android System Info

  • 3.2″ HVGA screen (480×320)
  • 600 MHz CPU with Adreno 200 GPU (same GPU as the Nexus One)
  • 418MB RAM
  • Android 2.2 (Froyo) (supposed to be upgradable to Gingerbread this month, May 2011)
  • 172MB of available phone storage
  • 3 megapixel rear camera (no front camera)
  • Micro SD card underneath the rear cover (can be hot-swappable)
  • 3.7V, 1500mAh 5.6Wh battery

Some notable things absent from the Optimus One

  • No camera flash
  • No front-facing camera
  • No auto brightness sensor

Hardware
The screen is small at 3.2″ but it has a good HVGA resolution of 480×320 which allows good compatibility with applications and offers a better experience when surfing as it shows more content. The downside with a high resolution screen and small physical size, is that some text can appear small (e.g. name of application under their icon). It is a capacitive screen with the ability to detect a maximum of 2 points and does indeed have multi-touch (pinch-to-zoom works in applications that support it).

The screen is pretty responsive and the OS is smooth most of the times. I believe this is thanks to the combination of a capable enough CPU, optimizations in Android 2.2 as well as the ample amount of RAM. The biggest problem with this small screen is possibly the keyboard, especially in portrait QWERTY mode, where the keys are small making it hard for those with fat thumbs/fingers to type well. The lack of a trackball/trackpad makes editing mistakes harder due to Android’s primitive way to selecting text and moving the keyboard caret is only possibly by touching the screen. This is a current Android issue for all devices but devices with a trackball/trackpad can use that to easily move the caret accurately. However this is solved in Gingerbread (2.3) as seen here.

Now the CPU is not as fast as higher end phones but it generally sufficient for almost all applications. The limitations of the CPU are generally only seen when gaming: Angry Birds is playable and is generally smooth on simple levels. On more complicated levels where there is a lot of physics calculations, it’s CPU limit will be seen: it will generally take a while for the level to initialize and you can clearly see it as the movement is choppy or there is some slowdown. Games like Tank Hero are also playable thanks to the GPU but there is a lag when the first shot is fired: after that the gameplay is smooth.

Customized LG partsLG has customized the following parts of stock Android

  • LG Launcher
  • Keyboard: the LG keyboard has options to be QWERTY or T9 input in portrait mode
  • Notification drawer toggle butotns
  • Camera application

LG Launcher
The launcher has a 5 home screens by default, but can be customized to 7. They have customized the look of the home screen a bit but it’s nothing too drastic. There is also a customized application drawer that separates applications into “Applications” and “Downloads” by default. “Applications” is a category for applications that come with the phone (and can’t be deleted) where as “Downloads” as the name

Keyboard
There is a custom LG keyboard which has 2 modes in portrait mode: phone keypad layout or keyboard layout. I find the portrait keyboard too cramped due to the small physical size of the screen and I like the phone keypad layout as it makes it easier to type with a single hand. The lack of a optical/physical scroll ball is helped with the left and right arrows in the phone keypad layout allow you to move the cursor accordingly, but it is only available in the phone keypad layout.

When you rotate the device, a landscape keyboard will show (no matter which portrait keyboard mode is used) and it does take up a lot of space. It feel uncomfortable to use as the buttons seem too big and perhaps there is too much thumb travel.

At times, auto-suggestion slows the keyboard down and makes it lag behind your keypresses and can be annoying at times. Changing the keyboard doesn’t allow usage of the same dictionary so when I changed to the standard Android keyboard, auto-suggestion does not work the same. I’m not sure if this is an Android issue / keyboard issue / LG customization issue. I think the biggest problem could be the keyboard of this device, but could be changed to alternatives such as Swype, SwiftKey Keyboard,Better Keyboard and more to suit your specific needs.

Another keyboard issue has recently cropped up. When auto-suggestion is turned when in the phone keypad layout: When I press the “4” button to type “I” and press space for it to auto-complete “I”, it has started to insert a space instead, it seems to affect any single character words including punctuations. This get’s very annoying and I’ve tried deletion the dictionary and playing with the settings to no avail: perhaps a hard factory reset/full wipe is needed.

Notification Drawer Toggle Buttons
LG has implemented nice toggle controls on the top of the notification drawer allowing quick toggling of WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, 3G and Phone Silent.

Camera Application
The camera application has been customized and the settings are exposed on the left side of the screen allowing easy access for tweaking. In the camera app, keeping the button depressed will activate the focus but sadly there is no touch to focus and in video mode, the focus is fixed. Video recorded is saved as a 3gp file and picture/video quality isn’t fantastic but gets the job done.

Office Document Compatibility
The Optimus One comes with ThinkFree Office which supports Microsoft office documents: both old and new formats (doc, docx, ppt, pptx, xls, xlsx). The only issue that it does time some time to open a file. Some features that are supported are:

All apps: Document, Spreadsheet, Presentation

  • Insert images, photo, scribble
  • Font Size, Bold Italic, Superscript, Subscript, Colour
  • Text Alignment
  • Find in document
  • Add objects (pictures, hand drawn)

Spreadsheet

  • Worksheets
  • Formulas
  • Borders
  • Alignment
  • Cell Colour

Presentation

  • Create slides (with different template / layout)
  • Slide Colour
  • Slideshow

PDF viewing seems pretty good: it may take some time to load image heavy pages but it’s not really an issue. I tested with 300+ page documentation manuals and some 13MB+ comics and it was a good experience, with the only issue is the screen seems a bit physical small for reading things.

Browsing, YouTube, Videos
Browsing is generally good, the slower CPU may render pages slower than high end devices but it’s not much of an issue especially if you use Opera Mobile or Opera Mini. Sadly Flash is not supported due the device not meeting the minimum system requirements for Flash (to screen resolution too low & processor not fast enough).YouTube videos embedded on webpages can be seen on the page itself. Touch the embedded to watch the video in the YouTube application is good (it seems that this only works on some websites and I’m not sure what exactly allows this support on some pages). It can play YouTube videos in high quality smooth (the HQ button in the bottom right of the application is activated).

For videos it can play 640×360 MP4 video encoded in H264 with AAC audio (the typical Revision3 video format) smoothly without transcoding. FLV files (files from Youtube downloaded via the DownloadHelper extension in Firefox) can only be played using a 3rd party video player. I used Rockplayer to test playback and it only supports software decoding which results in smooth playback of only the lower resolutions as it relies on the CPU which won’t perform well for this. (400×166 resolution Tron trailer played fine encoded in flv video, mp3 audio played smoothly. 640×266 resolution trailer encoded in h264 video, aac audio in did not play back smoothly).

Battery Life
I can say the LG Optimus One has pretty good battery life if you only use WiFi as using 3G data really uses a lot of power. With 3G on and with account syncing enabled the phone will typically last from 7am-3pm but if you keep it on WiFi it can easily last the entire day. I’ve used the device for over 24 hours when only using Wi-Fi both at home and in the office. I did find a minor issue for power users: the device will not charge via USB from a computer when tethering 3G over WiFi or Bluetooth: it will instead just slowly discharge. However, if you use the supplied charger connected to a wall plug it will charge which is not ideal but at least it is possible to act as a MiFi as get charged (tethering used about 20% of battery per hour).

Other Issues / Problems
Main Issues:

  • Low application storage space
  • Sometimes the screen gets unresponsive and usually happens when the phone gets warm. Usually pressing the power button to switch the screen off, then on again resolves this problem
  • Sometimes the keyboard response lags behind pressing the buttons when it seems like it is trying to compute the auto-suggested words. This can get pretty annoying especially if you type fast. A work around for this is to disable XT9 or autocomplete meaning that you will have to spell all the words correctly. If you don’t you will have the pain for trying to edit words that you have previously typed. This is made harder with the lack of a trackball/trackpad to move the caret easily

Minor Issues:

  • No (optical) trackball: scrolling requires flicking on the screen
  • No notification light: this forces the user to switch on the device just to view if there are any notifications
  • Cannot charge via computer USB while tethering
  • Bluetooth tethering problem: the tethering would sometimes disconnect giving an error and I would not be able to enable 3G on the phone after that. Powering the phone off and back on resolved it but this stops me from being able to use Bluetooth tethering reliably
  • No Flash in the browser
  • No front-facing camera
  • No camera flash
  • Image/Video quality not that great

Summary
All in all, I think this is the best budget Android phone around at the moment. The HTC Wildfire S may be a good alternative offering the similar specifications but will have HTC customizations which some people are a fan of. However the Wildfire S is still not available in Brunei but will probably be more expensive. If the on-screen keyboard is a possible issue, the Samsung i5510 for B$369 seems like a good alternative, although it has a slightly smaller screen resolution.

LG Optimus One P500 Video Review

This is a long overdue video that has been sitting in iMovie for a long time. I decided to just publish it as I don’t think I have the time to do a ‘perfect’ video review. Will do a more complete text review in the near future.

Video mentions/shows:

  • Overview – Hardware / Experience
  • LG customizations
  • Angry Birds playability
  • Video playback
  • Office document support
  • PDF reading

A more complete full blog post and follow up videos will come in the due time. Overall it’s a great phone with the main shortcoming of the low/limited app storage space and some keyboard issues (to be detailed in follow-up text post)

DST APN for Android: Set your Internet and MMS APNs easily

Ever have trouble setting up APN settings (or just being too lazy to type in all the configurations) for your Android device, especially for MMS? The DST APN app will help you out. Just install it, click a button and your APN settings are set and you should be able to surf via the mobile network as well as receive MMS’s.

Download links:

  • DST APN on the Android Market (web version for computers) (seems WordPress.com won’t let me put a link to the Android Market app link for Android devices, so you’re going to have to use this or just search the Market manually)
  • Direct APK download

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.

EasiDial for DST Easi Card Users

So yesterday I decided to do some Android development. I wanted to learn the basics of creating and app to be used for the SMARTER app that will be developed shortly. This idea for the app has been in my mind for quite a while and was spurred on when my brother who went on holiday outside Brunei asked me how to make phone calls using Easi when roaming. I knew that you couldn’t just do a normal call but had to dial a special USSD code to dial (the code being *101*Mobile Number#). Now, it’s not a hard thing to do, to jot the short code down but having a dedicated app lets you have some piece of mind knowing that it has what you need to make the call.

It’s not much: basically all that it is, is a graphical representation of all the *100# code functionality. Note that this is a beta application so there may be some issues. I have yet to try “1. Call Back”, “3. Recharge”, “5. Credit Transfer” and “7. Top up any Easi” but will try do so, in the next coming days to make sure they work. You can downoad the apk file here or get it on the Android Market (computer link)