Why I Won’t Recommend a *insert-manufacturer-here* Android Phone

There is nothing worse that seeing a person get new gadget only to be disappointed in it after a while. While this post only covers a few aspects, I hope it helps inform of some things to look out for. This post is targeting more of the mid-range / high-end Android phones for several manufacturers based on some observations I’ve seen repeated over and over again.

HTC

  • Typically only dual band UMTS support: meaning you may not be able to get 3G when overseas depending on the frequency used. There is nothing worse that having a great phone and not being able to get the maximum potential out of it, just because the manufacturer decided to save a bit of money by not giving you a better radio supporting more frequencies. Acceptable for budget devices, but not for midrange / high-end ones.
  • They seem to make a new flagship phone very quickly after one another or that their flagship phone is not really clear. For other manufacturers the flagship phone is typically the highest-end phone with the most capabilities and it is pretty clear which device it is.
    • Samsung – Galaxy S, Galaxy SII.
    • Sony Ericsson – Xperia X10, Xperia Arc.
    • Motorola – Droid / Milestone, Droid 2, Droid 3

    Based on Wikipedia Announced dates of previous HTC phones which I consider their flagship device:

Sony Ericsson

  • I won’t recommend higher end phones because they have only 320MB for app storage (Arc, Neo, Pro, Ray). For budget phones like the Xperia Mini or Mini Pro this amount will be pretty good but not for mid-range or high-end phones. I think HTC has solved this problem with their higher end phones, but ask any HTC Desire owner now, and I bet they have been utterly annoyed at the meager 140MB+ free after a factor reset (now only 128MB after the Gingerbread update). Other competitors have at least 1GB, which I think is the absolute minimum acceptable.

LG

  • Bad support: i.e. no updates. As an owner of the LG Optimus One there was first talk of it not being able to be upgraded to Android 2.3 a.k.a. Gingerbread, but then in December they said it would get the 2.3 upgrade. While it seemed to be rolled out in Romania at the start of July, it is still not available to me. Note that this is their budget phone and according to the Facebook note the higher end models like the Optimus 2X will receive the update only after the Optimus One update is completed. So would this continue in the future? Higher end LG phones get updated after the budget ones?

Acer

Any Manufacturer that doesn’t use stock Android

  • This is mainly due to the fact official updates will take longer if they do not use stock Android, meaning that they have customized things such as the launcher or interface (e.g. HTC’s Sense UI, Samsung’s TouchWiz). This is due to the fact that they would have to update their customizations before pushing the upgrade. There was a long delay for the HTC Desire to get Android 2.2 which would aid the lower app storage space by allowing moving apps to the SD card.

Samsung, Motorola and Huawei are the other main Android manufacturers that I don’t really have any beef against. There is a mention of Samsung breaking some core functionality but that is for any non-stock Android device and so far there doesn’t seem to me much complaints / responses to the post so may be an non-issue or affects a small minority (or people just think Android is broken), but is is something to note.

All being said and done, while some manufacturers have issues with their devices they can still be recommended based on price and your usage scenarios. Below are some phones I do recommend based on the different price ranges.

B$200 – B$300: LG Optimus One @ B$250 (a bit old, don’t expect updates)
B$300 – B$400: Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro @ B$368 (my current budget phone recommendation)
B$400 – B$500: HTC Chacha @ B$418 (no competition in this price range)
B$500 – B$600: HTC Desire S @ B$562, Samsung Galaxy S Plus @ B$578 (no flash)
B$600 – B$700: HTC Incredible S @ B$612, Samsung Galaxy Tab @ B$648 (a tablet and phone and thus bulky)
B$700 – B$800: HTC Sensation @ B$758
B$800 – B$900: Samsung Galaxy SII @ B$858

The HTC Flyer

We managed to get our hands on the HTC Flyer at Yappe Computer, Serusop, and it seems like a good 7" Android Tablet: an alternative to the older Galaxy Tab. It’s selling for B$859 (cash price) / B$886 (credit card price) for the 32GB model.


(YouTube link to video)

Specifications

  • 7" 1024×600 multi-touch capacitive screen
  • Stylus for use with the active digitizer screen
  • Android 2.3 with Sense 2.1
  • 1.5GHz CPU
  • 32GB storage (~7GB available for apps, ~20GB available as storage)
  • 1GB RAM
  • microSD card slot
  • 5MP rear camera with auto focus (no flash)
  • 1.3MP front facing camera
  • Standard micro-USB (no HDMI out)
  • Wifi: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • Audio supported formats:
    • Playback: .aac, .amr, .ogg, .m4a, .mid, .mp3, .wav, .wma (Windows Media Audio 9)
    • Recording: .amr, .aac
  • Video supported formats:
    • Playback: .3gp, .3g2, .mp4, .wmv (Windows Media Video 9), .avi (MP4 ASP and MP3), .xvid (MP4 ASP and MP3)
    • Recording: .3gp
  • Battery: 4000 mAh
  • Supports Adobe Flash

(Specifications from HTC Flyer Website, GSM Arena)

Notes on the Stylus

  • works in apps that support it otherwise touching the screen takes a screenshot that you can annotate
  • cannot be used to ‘touch’ all controls / buttons only digitizer palette brought up by touching the icon with the digitizer (not your finger)
  • requires a single AAAA (yes 4 As) battery which I have not seen in shops
  • has 2 buttons: 1 highlights text, other erases

Bundled HTC Apps

  • Notes application syncs to Evernote and allows infinite vertical scrolling. Allows text input, photo embedding, handwriting annotation as well as voice dictation
  • Reader application is a reading app linked with Kobo for in app purchasing
  • Watch application allows renting and buying of movies (but doesn’t seem available in Brunei, thus can only watch previews/trailers)

Other Notes
While it is a 7" Gingerbread (2.3) tablet instead of Honeycomb (3.x, which is the tablet optimized version of Android) it seems to be the better choice at the moment as apps will run on it with the only issue may be the way it looks. Currently is only one 7" Honeycomb tablet: the Acer Iconia Tab A100 and it was released yesterday. It is the first device to have Android 3.2 which is supposed to provide better support for 7" tablets compared to the regular bigger 10" Honeycomb tablets. However there seem to be some force close issues and app incompatibilities reported by This Is My Next and ZDnet (i.e. more work for the developer to fix problems).

On the entertainment side it supports 720p video playback, supports quite a few file formats and codecs but there is no HDMI output unless you get the dock to use with the extended microUSB connector on the flyer. The HTC Watch app is a nice feature but not being available here makes it of no use. For office use, there is support for Microsoft Office documents that allows editing with normal text entry and even the stylus (however, not all file formats are editable). Battery life seems a bit mixed with the Engadget review being impressed by it while TechRadar and CNET UK rated it has having bad battery life. BGR and Android Central give it decent battery life with typical use of 2 days per charge.

Summary
While I wished they didn’t remove the calling ability of the device, the usability of the pen to annotate and take notes is pretty appealing. A good alternative to the Galaxy Tab if you don’t plan to use it for calling. Smaller and more portable than an iPad it is made more for mobility. The main reason to get this device is the active digitizer and stylus combo or if you just wish for a tablet faster than the Galaxy Tab whose age is showing. Nice to see HTC innovate with the Flyer and hope to see more with the upcoming Puccini, their shot at the 10" tablet category.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro – a Great Budget Android Phone?

Among my usual habits, I will check availability and prices of phones on Incomm and I was surprised to see the Xperia Mini Pro going for B$378.

This phone seems to be a phone I would buy, if I didn’t buy my LG Optimus One, as a great budget Android phone which seems to have the least compromises. Check out the video that I managed to get at Incomm as I played with the device.

Notable Specifications

  • Android 2.3 Gingerbread: the current major version of Android of phones
  • Connectivity: 3G (HSDPA 7.2Mbps, HSUPA 5.76Mbps), WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1
  • 3" HVGA (320×480) screen: a bit small in size but good resolution that is widely supported by all apps
  • Slide out landscape QWERTY keyboard
  • 1GHz Snapdragon CPU with Adreno 205 GPU
  • 512MB RAM
  • 400MB for apps (according to GSM Arena): a bit small but acceptable for a budget phone and sadly (for Arc users) it is the same amount as the Arc based on Sony’s specs which says up to 320MB (Arc vs Mini Pro)
  • 5MP rear camera with autofocus, flash and 720p video recording (auto focus while recording video, recorded in mp4 encoded with h264, aac)
  • VGA front facing camera for video calls
  • Supports Adobe Flash
  • Plays 720p videos (mp4 encoded with h264,aac)
  • Can open PDFs and Microsoft Office documents (doc,docs,xls,xlsx,ppt,pptx)
  • microSD support up to 32GB
  • 1200mAh battery

Full specifications at Sony Ericsson or GSM Arena

I really like that this budget phone seems to have practically no compromises for a budget phone: there doesn’t seem to be any major show stoppers. Most budget phones will have no front facing cameras and won’t have cameras that can record 720p. A budget phone won’t have a keyboard nor a 1GHz CPU. The CPU couple with a GPU and sufficient RAM should ensure this device is smooth and usable for the regular user.

The main issue is the small 3" size of the screen (iPhone: 3.5", Optimus One & Wildfire S: 3.2", Galaxy Mini: 3.14"): a small size coupled with a high resolution may make some text small to read and will make using the onscreen keyboard a bit difficult. Thankfully there is a physical keyboard on the Xperia Mini that should help alleviate this (as long as the keyboard is good and usable). Also the smaller 1200mAh battery (vs 1500mAh of the Optimus One) may give it less battery life, but that also depends on the amount of work being done: with a better CPU, the same amount of work may require less energy from the Xperia Mini. I guess we’ll just have to wait for more in-depth reviews with battery life scores and this is the main unknown factor at the moment. Another compromise would possible be the UMTS frequency band support with it only being dual (900/2100) or triband (800/1900/2100) depending on where it is purchased but I don’t think this will affect many. Most of these issues/compromises are acceptable for a budget device.

With that said, I think I could tentatively highly recommend this phone to users but only after they take a look at it and try to use the keyboard and check to see if the text is too small on the device; and also after some battery life tests are published – all the features are of no use if the battery life is bad. From my use with it, the screen and text size seem fine but my fat thumbs did have a bit of an issue with typing. It could play 720p video, Flash video and even edit office documents. Overall a snappy device and I’m just very impressed at what Sony Ericsson managed to pack on this device hitting all the right check boxes giving the user minimal compromises. Great job Sony Ericsson, now improve your higher end devices!

Sample Photos (note front camera was covered with a thin plastic film):

Sample Video from rear camera:

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

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)

The Biggest Problem with Android: Low Available Phone Storage

LG Optimus One's Available Internal Phone Storage of 172MB After a Factory Reset

So after obtaining an Android phone for an extended period of time and exploring Android and the applications, I found what I feel to be one of the biggest hinderance / annoyance / problem with Android: available phone storage. For many people they may think, just adding a large SD card can solve this issue, but this is not the case. All Android phones have RAM and ROM figures in their specifications that are listed on the manufacturer website or websites like GSMArena but the figure may not be accurate for ROM storage.

RAM (Random Access Memory) is needed to store temporary application data/information and helps a device multi-task smoothly. ROM (Read Only Memory) is where the phone operating system and applications reside and each device comes with a base set of operating system features and applications that cannot be uninstalled. This will take away some of the available ROM from the user leaving them with less than the figure stated on the official ROM amount. A good example is the HTC Desire which has 512MB ROM according to the specifications page but according to PCMag there is “only 117MB of available internal storage“. 117MB isn’t much and this is the main reason that hinders me from recommending a Desire. It is a very good phone but this is a major issue that can’t be solved.

Android 2.2 helps alleviate this problem by allowing applications to be moved to SD cards however this will only work on applications that support this feature and even if they do, they cannot move the entire application to the SD card; there will always be some part of the application on the internal storage. When you get low storage on your phone things get uglier and the phone may not function properly. I had about 20MB of available phone storage and I tried to add a phone number to an existing contact and was greeted with an “Memory Full: Not enough phone storage space”. I was adding a single 10 digit phone number to a contact and there isn’t enough space to process / store it.

I notice slowness below 25mb free, and around 10/15mb free space, it starts rejecting texts. You’ll get a warning message when your space is too low, use that as a sign that you need to dump your old texts/mms messages, and maybe delete a program or two that you don’t ever use.(Source: Samsung Intercept Forums)

“App data including your call history, contacts, etc. contributes to your phone storage space as well” (Source: Droid Forums.net)

This will lead to Android users to ensure that they have sufficient phone storage and this in turn limits them trying new applications and exploring what Android has to offer. Some people may argue that you don’t need so many applications and that you should delete the apps that aren’t frequently used, but that isn’t solving the problem and if you’re testing out applications you can easily hit the over 200MB (I hit the Optimus One’s ~150MB ‘limit’ of 172MB after installing applications that I wanted to test and a handful of games). I found it very frustrating when I could have a huge SD card with 10+GB free that can’t be fully utilized for applications. It honestly feels like such a waste of space.

I think this is where Android could learn from Windows Phone 7 here where the SD card is fused/combined with the internal storage. This fusing would allow users to upgrade their internal storage at any time allowing users to be in charge of their device. This fusing would also solve the problem of applications not supporting moving to the SD card as the fused SD card would be treated as internal phone memory. This would give the opportunity of the user to upgrade their storage if needed, as opposed to putting the responsibility of the the developer to support moving the application to the SD card as it is now.

Perhaps this is an issue that manufacturers have not decided to take action upon or perhaps they feel that it isn’t a real big issue. Just due to the fact that it hinders exploration of new apps really gets to me. Newer phones come out with larger ROM sizes but how much is available to the users? I checked a friend’s new HTC Desire HD with only a handful of applications install and there was 0.9GB of phone memory still available (specifications of ROM state 1.5GB, thus assume ~1GB available for applications). Will this problem only be for budget phones in the upcoming future? The HTC Desire was by no means a budget phone when it was released (and still isn’t a budget phone) but it has a low amount of internal storage. Could current phones suffer this same problem in the future? Only time will have the answer and in the mean time, this is a big point of contention for me and makes choosing an Android device a bit more challenging. Follow up post on “Things to look out for when buying an Android phone/device” should come soon.

Hello Android: Why I chose the LG Optimus One

So I have an Android device as I recently bought an LG-P500 also know as the Optimus One from Incomm’s website for a great deal of B$338. I hadn’t heard much of this phone previous to buying it as it’s not one of the ‘super-phones’ with all the fancy features but albeit it is a great Froyo equipped device (by default) with enough RAM to let it have a fluid interface when using it. First and foremost the details on the Incomm website is wrong: it has a capacitive screen not a resistive screen and it also has multi-touch (and thus has pinch-to-zoom).

I’ve honestly been looking out for a budget Android phone that will Froyo and this is the closest to my requirements. I can’t justify, to myself, a phone that costs more than B$400, so phones like the HTC Desire are out of the picture. I was slightly interested Huawei U8230 that Bmobile sold recently but it seemed like an end-of-life device with 2.1 being the last firmware update. Other budget Android phones would be:

Another notable device that I didn’t really see or play around with was Samsung Spica (B$388) though at that price, there isn’t much reason not to go for the Optimus One

I wanted a device with an HVGA resolution screen (480×320) as it makes it’s easier for surfing the web without the need to be constantly scrolling through the webpage. That only left the GT540 (the X10’s and Wildfire both have 320×240 screens, and the Galaxy 3 has a 400×240 screen) which has a small 3″ screen with a resistive touch screen. While it was pretty smooth and sensitive when I played with it the small screen made typing pretty hard. The Galaxy 3 has a non-typical screen resolution and while lower than the Optimus One resolution, it is the same physical size at 3.2″ meaning text will look bigger on the Galaxy 3 when compared to the Optimus One.

RAM is more than enough at 512MB to allow smooth(er) multi-tasking and allows for more caching of data if reading large/graphic intensive PDF files. This plays a major part for the overall usability of the device. I can say the Optimus One is pretty snappy and never had an issue of being forced to close/kill tasks. I’ve never needed to use the task manager to close applications in order for the device to be smooth and snappy.

A large 1500mAh battery which seems to have good reviews. I’ve had a pretty good experience last Sunday with 3G on from 7am – 630pm (with no real configuration) but truth be told, I can’t seem to replicate this as of yet, perhaps as I’ve been using it quite a bit or could be some misbehaving apps / syncing issues (an inherent Android problem I believe). Though that being said I crave for Nokia battery life where it wasn’t really an issue to be concerned with.

Other notable features

  • Custom LG keyboard to enable phone keypad in portrait mode. I actually prefer this, especially coming from a Nokia background and I honestly love the Nokia seems to have single hand use almost perfect. On-screen left and right cursors allow moving the cursor left and right which is good option as the device has no physical / optical trackball for scrolling or text selection.
  • Froyo: with features such as performance tweaking, being able to move some data application to SD card and tethering via USB/WiFi I consider Froyo as a standard for all Android devices to come with. Lower versions of Android will typically have lower performance and even have application limitations (not having some applications available to install on the device). Make budget phones do not have 2.2 by default.
  • Accelerometer: so it auto rotates in accordance to the orientation of the device

Some issues / tradeoffs

  • 3.2″ screen: pretty small screen to typing on in portrait mode with the on screen QWERTY keyboard
  • No trackball/trackpad
  • No notification light
  • No auto brightness
  • No camera flash / forward facing camera
  • Limited space to install applications: the stock installation only has 170MB of space to install applications. Being able to move applications to the SD card (this will only move some parts of the application to the SD card and it can’t install the ) helps a bit, but this is another annoying Android issue where the device can’t use the entire SD card to install applications and only has a small section of it’s internal storage to install applications.
  • There is no / little LG customization of Android. They have a slightly customized LG homescreen & application launcher but it isn’t anything like HTC’s Sense, Samsung’s TouchWiz or Sony Ericsson’s Timescape custom user interfaces. These customizations and usability is always a personal preference and you can always install a 3rd party launcher (I’m currently using Launcher Pro)

With about a week using the device and Android, there are more things to be said about them both, and that will come in due time. Have a happy new year everybody!

B-Mobile’s Android Powered Huawei U8230

Huawei U8230 product image from GSM Arena
(image via GSM Arena)

So I just came back from Australia and I found out that B-Mobile was selling the Huawei U8230 at TechXpo 2010 for only BND$299 [Source Borneo Bulletin (Friday 5th November via Website)]. See the full specifications at GSM Arena. The phone was announced in June of 2009 so it is a relatively old hardware platform but at the $299 price point it is very competitively priced. It runs Android 2.1 and uses the same processor is the old HTC Hero so expect it to perform similarly.

Check out an unboxing video below:

Good Points

  • Large & high resolution screen (3.5″ at 320×480 vs other budget Android phones of 240×320 resolution e.g. HTC Wildfire)
  • Capacitive Display
  • Google certified thus has Market and other Google apps (e.g. GMail, Youtube, Google Maps)
  • Dual cameras
  • Accelerometer
  • Cheap!

Issues / Contention Points

  • 2.5mm headphone jack meaning you will need an adaptor for regular headphones
  • No multitouch (souce: Digital Versus)
  • Older processor and may not run more modern games smoothly
  • Not a lot of memory (192MB RAM and 256MB ROM)
    • RAM is required for multi-tasking so expect to close applications
    • ROM is used to store applications and since this is not Android 2.2
  • Possibly no official 2.2 (Froyo) update

I gave B-Mobile a call to see if they have any of the units on display to play around with but alas all the units are sold out and they are waiting for a new batch to come. Not surprising that it is sold out being so cheap and offering so much with Android. I applaud B-Mobile for pushing Android at such an affordable price and, in my phone call with them, they said that it is unlocked too. The phone is not a spectacularly fantastic phone but a solid mid-range phone with great potential with Android. The fact that it is Google certified with the Android Market for downloading applications makes it even more compelling. I would highly recommend this to people wanting to get an affordable smartphone as Android is a currently well supported platform and thus has many up-to-date applications unlike Nokia’s S60.

PS. Anybody in Brunei bought this? I would love to have a hands on.

Other related links: