For those of you who have been reading my reviews since the beginning, you'll know that I've done smartphone reviews before. Since the last one, the Smartphone world has changed enormously. Last time, I asserted that carrying a smart phone can be a viable alternative to carrying a bulky laptop on your trip, which is even more true today. People have finally started treating their phones like little computers and manufacturers are adapting to the needs of consumers. The new generation phones are more like full-featured computers than their predecessors and sport features such as large screens, integrated mapping solutions, high-speed data connections, excellent browsers, and multi-touch controls. Today, I will look at the Android operating system by Google and phones from three of the four major US carriers to give you a feel for what's out there and what to expect in a modern smartphone.
The Android Operating System
Several years ago, the web was on fire with rumors of the so-called "Google phone" which was supposedly a secret project at Google. It turns out that there was a secret project, but it wasn't a phone; it was an operating system designed to compete with Windows Mobile and the later iPhone operating system. Basically, it was a software package that manufacturers could use for free that would do anything its competitors would do. Now, two full generations after its release, the platform is mature, stable, and probably the most powerful one out there.
A good Android phone will do just about anything your computer will do and some things it won't. Included with all current Android devices are mapping and navigation software with Google Maps, integration with your Gmail account including push email capabilities, full Facebook integration, a good web browser, a voice recorder, video and picture viewers, and a whole host of other applications. Other apps like book readers, games, and so forth can easily be found and downloaded through the Android Market app or be installation from your computer.
All this may sound intimidating to the non-technically inclined, and definitely some portions of an Android can take time to adapt to. However, most of the functionality is very user friendly and simple to access. A great deal of effort was put into getting the interface to be accessible to everyone. When first turning on an Android, it walks you very easily through the setup process, advising you at every one of the several steps needed. When you're done with the setup, you're ready to start using the phone and customizing it.
The folks at Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T were kind enough to loan me review phones so I could examine their latest and greatest. These super-phones were all pretty amazing in their capabilities, but naturally each has its merits and flaws. You’ll notice that all of them are manufactured by HTC. This is not due to any preference on my part, but by the fact that at the time I contacted the carriers their premier offerings were all HTC products. Unfortunately, as none of the phones provided were made to withstand excessive force, I had to avoid the harsh durability testing I normally prefer. I promise to make it up to you in the next issue.
What they have in common
All of the phones I looked at have sharp screens, high levels of responsiveness, decent cameras with LED flashes, a full range of built in applications, and the HTC Sense interface which is what shows you the clock and widgets to access everything you want. They also all come with music players, calendars, contact managers, full-featured web browsers, integration with Gmail, Google calendar, Google contacts, Facebook, access to local weather and world time, and twitter clients among other things. In addition, each one has its own set of media options specific to the provider like Sprint TV or Verizon’s video options. They all access the Android market for access to hundreds of thousands of applications, both free and paid.
Physically, all have a certain level of similarity, having been made by the same company. They also have four touch-sensitive buttons along the bottom, a rocker on the side for volume control, and a power button. All have cameras and speakers on the back, micro-USB sockets for synching, and standard 3.5” audio jacks. They’re also all thin and sleek as you’ll see below.