Nexus One

I used to be the guy who hated cell phones. I never ever wanted to own one. I used to actually get annoyed when people would send me SMS messages. Of course, I had a RAZR so the idea of typing something out using T9 just seemed so not worth it. Now I can’t shut the hell up about my Nexus One.

The Sprint Hero didn’t last. I returned it. At the time Sense UI was really buggy, but I’d have been content to wait for an update if only Sprint had any service anywhere in Athens. None at work, none at home, so back it went. I’d purchased the phone through a local reseller. The sales guy really went out of his way. He lent me his phone so that I could check the service levels at the places I’d be. Sadly I only checked voice, not data. When I returned the phone, I unfortunately got a big guilt-trip from the guy. He seemed to expect that I’d stick with the phone even though it didn’t work anywhere. I also got a lovely 80 dollar bill for a phone I had for 9 days.

I was sad to have to pull out the old iPhone again, so I rooted it. The most interesting thing that allowed me to do was theme it a bit. The themes looked a lot better, but made the phone slow and buggier. The two alternate app stores I tried were slow and buggy and as difficult to browse as the App Store.

I ordered a Nexus One the hour they came out. I subsidized it through T-Mobile. It arrived and it was great. Sadly, T-Mobile didn’t have any service at my home or work either. In contrast to Sprint, and really just in general, T-Mobile was great to deal with. When I called to ask if there was any way to increase their coverage, the guy I spoke with on the phone genuinely seemed like he wanted to help (I have a great bullshit detector and it wasn’t going off.) When I called to return the phone, they were equally as nice. Later, when faced with another 80 dollar bill, I called and they reduced it to zero as I’d only used the phone (from their perspective) for 2 minutes. Man, I wish I could be their customer. As disappointed as I was that I couldn’t keep the phone, it was the best corporate experience I’d had in a very long time. Kudos, T-Mobile.

I loved the N1 so much that I was tempted to put my at&t SIM card in there and just live with EDGE (crappier “2G” network speed.) Ultimately I figured there was no point in having a mobile computer if the data connection sucked. So I went back to the iPhone again. I’d kept my at&t account active through all of these experiments as I was on contract anyway.

I ordered my at&t N1 the hour they were released. Slipped the SIM out of my iPhone and haven’t looked back. I even sold the iPhone to a co-worker. Sucker. (Or maybe not!)

In my previous Android post, I complained a lot about buginess. Thankfully that was all SenseUI (a fancied up “skin” for Android.) My N1 has been rock solid. The battery life on the T-Mobile branded N1 was pretty terrible, but I’m guessing that was entirely related to it never having a good signal. The battery life on my N1 is phenomenal. I can go 2 days with lots of use and only get to 30%.

I bought some apps while I had the T-Mobile N1. When I got the at&t version, I signed in and not only did all of my contacts show up, all of the apps I’d purchased showed up too. Contrast this to the 4 times that the iPhone deleted my data (the 4 times I upgraded the firmware.) Sure, I could get my apps back on the iPhone for free, but I had to remember what they were and install them one-at-a-time by hand. Android 2.x also (optionally) syncs pictures I take on the phone up to Picasa magically in the background.

The other huge wins over the iPhone continue to be huge wins. My data comes to me, I don’t go to it. Multi-tasking is awesome. Not having to use any special software to access the data on my phone is still great. Widgets are completely kickass. Making ringtones/alerts/alarms on the phone still rules. Being able to set up specific notifications per SMS sender is a god-send for someone with my job. Having stats on what exactly is using your battery is very handy. Completely kickass turn-by-turn voice-enabled navigation for free isn’t bad either.

The non-wins are basically the same. Both the Android Market and the App Store continue to be terrible. Searching is especially terrible given that it’s a Google product. It (Android Market) doesn’t even do sub-word searches. It’s 2010!!! WTF?! It’s only wins over App Store are that you can keep “shopping” after you tell it to install something, you don’t need a iTunes-only-create-able account, and a new one I learned since last time: If you buy an app and you uninstall it within 3 (or 4?) days, you get a refund. That just rules. The real huge win is that you can install apps from places other than the Android Market. But don’t let that get in the way of your celebrating Apple raising the chocolate ration from 40g to 35g per week!

I hear a common complaint from iPhone users that Android’s UI is “clunky.” I find it anything but. For example, the Notification Area is vastly superior to the modal dialogs of the iPhone. I get monitoring alerts from work on my phone. I had the same setup on my iPhone. Once, during a particularly bad day I got a bazillion SMS messages while leaving a voice mail. I couldn’t hang up the phone until I said “OK!” to all of these messages. It was the most annoying thing ever. On Android, I get one indicator in the Notification Area. I still get multiple audio and visual(trackball color) alerts, but the rest of the phone is still usable through them.

Here’s some general screenshots in case you’re curious. As I mentioned in my previous Android post, Android has virtual desktops. Those screenshots are 3 of the 7 on my phone. I’ve turned off the text that’s normally under the icons.


The blood it won’t wash off

So my Apple adventure ended yesterday. Five long months. I purchased a Sprint/HTC Hero yesterday. So far, there’s good and bad.

The Bad

It’s pretty buggy. Like the iPhone, the Hero has “virtual desktops” (to use a parlance I’m comfortable with, that’s not what they call them) but on the Hero each of the 7 desktops can be running what’s called a “widget” which is a smaller version of a given app. There’s a clock widget, a music playing widget, a browser bookmarks widget, twitter widget, etc. They’re good for info “at a glance” or whatever. You can also place application launchers on these desktops.

The configuration of these desktops, at least on the Hero, is called a “scene.” The phone ships with some scenes that are pre-populated and you can save scenes that you customize. Three or four times since I got the phone yesterday, my scene has completely disappeared leaving nothing on any of the desktops. Even one of the provided scenes (the HTC one) has lost its mojo and loads empty desktops when you load it. Not the end of the world, but pretty annoying.

Several times when doing text entry (mostly in the Marketplace) the text field I was editing would disappear as would the (not great) keyboard and I’d be back at the previous window with no obvious catalyst for this change.

The UI isn’t very responsive. It reminds me of our completely horrible DirecTV HD DVR, which will often take a long time to respond and when it does, it’s queued up every button you’ve pressed and does something you didn’t want because you thought it hadn’t seen your input. Same deal here. I find the “Phone” app really frustrating in that regard. I’ll try to hit the “make the dialer go away” icon and instead will click “Call” right next to it. What follows is a cycle of “OH CRAP END CALL…. END CALL…. END CALL… END CALL!!” only to have the phone see that as: end call, call, end call, call.

I’d read that the preview units were pretty sluggish and many of the video reviews demonstrated this by swiping around the desktops. I’d also read that the European version of the phone had some firmware update(s?) that addressed those issues. Those updates came out a while ago, so I figured that the US version of the phone likely had them. My phone has the most recent official firmware and I’m not ready to go unofficial anytime soon. It’s easy to blame sluggish performance on the problem I described above (queuing of events.)

Not that my iPhone (3G) had great performance, mind you. I finally got used to the fact that pulling the phone out of sleepyland and going into the SMS app would take 5 seconds of white-screen waiting.

The Hero supports Micro SD(hc) and the cards (as you’d expect) can be swapped with the phone up. You need to tell the phone to unmount the card, which I’m fine with. But, the Settings app is pretty clunky and it takes a while to find your way around to the menus you need for various tasks (this one included.) It also took me a while to figure out how to mount the SD card on a computer when the phone is connected via USB. You get a “notification” but the text wasn’t clear and I also didn’t know that clicking on notifications did cool stuff. Still beats the pants off the iPhone’s only supported method of connection: iTunes. Fucking iTunes. *spit*

I received the phone with about a 35% charge. I took it back to work and plugged it in via USB while fiddling with it thinking I’d be charging the phone. I didn’t gain much if any ground and later I found out why. Once I took it home and plugged it into my Lenovo a short while after messing with apps and so forth I got a message on the phone that said something like “The voltage from the power source is too low for current consumption. Please consider using the wall charger.” Wow! I was using more power than I was providing via USB. That was pretty surprising to me.

A friend has a G1 and he told me that he turns off WIFI and GPS in lieu of charging twice a day. I’d heard that the G1 didn’t have a great battery situation and that the Hero was better. I let the phone charge to 99% last night (wouldn’t go to 100) and I’ll leave everything turned on to see how the battery life is. I unplugged it 2hrs ago and it’s already at 87%, so I’m not hopeful.

On the iPhone, you’re protected from acci-dialing by the fact that there’s only one button (mac users aren’t too bright) and if the phone is asleep/locked and you press that button, you’re presented with a “swipe right to unlock” UI. The iPhone also has the option of a more complex “password” to keep unwanteds off your precious precious.

The Hero doesn’t seem to be able to lock without a more complex password. You can press the “hang up” button and the display will turn off. You can then press the Menu button and swipe down to get back to the phone’s UI. The sad part is that you can accomplish this same task by pressing Menu twice. If you carry your phone in your pocket like I do, that’s no good. I don’t want a more complex password because I like it that other people can get into my phone easily with a long explanation of how to enter a password. The guy at Sprint suggested that I could make my password be just like the iPhone non-password (just a swipe from left to right.) I don’t like that either because the user is presented with a password screen, not a screen that says “swipe left to right to use this damned phone!”

It’s entirely possible that the phone supports a non-password protected button-lock that I haven’t yet discovered in my less than 24hrs of owning the device.

When you first set up the device, it presents you with a bunch of social apps that it knows about (twitter, facespace, etc) among them is Gmail. I set up my Gmail during the initial setup and then when the phone was set up, I clicked the Email app and was presented with a choice of imap/pop or exchange. ??? Turns out there’s a separate Gmail app, but that wasn’t obvious.

Sadly, the Gmail app can only handle one Gmail account. I have an @gmail account, but I also use Google apps for my domains. Some of us also use Google Apps at work to avoid Exchange, and I can’t get to that either. Kind of a drag.

My work uses that atrocity Exchange and I wasn’t ever able to get my calendar to sync to it. It just said something like “Failed to create the account. Try again later.” Ah, later. Later is good. Maybe it was a Microsoft error.

Sprint bundled an NFL and a Nascar app that I can’t seem to delete. I hate having to see those icons.

The Good

Everyone else on the entire planet knew this, but I didn’t. When I bought an iPhone, I thought that I’d never ever pay for an app, but I was still curious about the applications. I went to install a free app, and was presented with a password dialog. What password? WTF are you talking about? Well I probably wrote all of this in my iPhone post, but here’s a quick recap: You need iTunes to use your fucking iPhone. You need it to set up a credit-card backed account that you can’t set up any other way… even if you only want to install free apps. When you do install an app, the AppStore app quits and you’re ejected to the apps menu so that you can watch your download progress.

In the Hero’s Marketplace app, you install free apps with no account. I’ve yet to purchase an app, so I don’t know how that works yet. What’s more, the Marketplace will tell you what “stuff” the app you’re installing has access to, saying that a given app will use the GPS or the network or hooks into how you make calls or SMS messages or whatever. It’s a nice touch. Further, when you click the install button, the phone tells you that your app is being downloaded in the background and you’re free to keep on shopping or do whatever you like. You know, what you’d expect in 2009.

Everyone knows that Apple is the king of multimedia. Everyone knows this, but it’s complete BS. I’ve made a few code-swarm/gource videos at work and my Mac-using co-workers always have trouble playing them. The guys using Linux never do.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to make a ringtone for the iPhone, but I feel sorry for you if you have. It’s a 652 step process that involves changing the extensions on files to “trick” fucking iTunes into letting you do something they’d much rather charge you for.

On the Hero, I can go to any music file on the device and with 3 clicks have it be the main phone ringtone. A couple more clicks and it’s a specific contact’s ring tone. It can also “crop” a song for a ringtone right on the device. I haven’t done that yet, but it’s there.

A reviewer I saw talking about the phone commented that it was much more “data oriented.” I have to agree. The Notifications area is spectacular. When I get a new email @gmail, the phone knows a few seconds later. When someone mentions me on Twitter, it lets me know. New IM’s, same deal. On the iPhone I’d have to launch each of those apps to know if there’s new data to be found for them. Short paragraph, but a big deal.

The phone synced my contacts from Google without me doing anything special. iPhone can do the same thing (although via iTunes! *SPIT*) Generally, the contacts handling on Hero is much nicer than the iPhone. The People app has an incremental search at the top. You can associate pictures from your photo albums to a contact. If you’re a Facebooker, you can see that person’s events. You can see a call history for a given contact and even email them and see emails from them.

This isn’t really the phone per se, but with Android, the users decide what’s a good app for the marketplace, not some evil corporation. There are also multiple marketplaces if that’s your thing. Maybe it means nothing to you, but having someone else decide what I can and can’t run on a device I own really bothered me.

A common dig at Android is that the Apple AppStore has way more apps. How many Fart Generators and Mr T Soundboards do you need? I’ve yet to not find an app I wanted. Many of the apps I paid for on the iPhone are free or have free equivalents that are just as nice on Android. I think I’ve read that 90% of the Android Market is free.

I can replace my battery if it wears out.

I can have unlimited storage via MicroSDHC cards. I don’t need a horrible application to put/get data on/from my phone.

My phone plays a wide variety of audio formats, including Ogg/Vorbis.

The display is brighter and the camera seems better (especially with low light) than my iPhone 3G. I recorded a test video and it looked pretty decent.

The Same

Both the AppStore and the Marketplace are HORRIBLE. Even with search they’re horrible. Why is it so hard?

When someone would rattle off the number of apps available for the iPhone, I’d always respond with “Yea, and you can see maybe 50 of them!”

For one thing the categories are way too broad. For another search results should show you how many results in each category so that you can make use of the categorization while searching.

On Hero, I searched for ‘better keyboard’ and had to wade through pages and pages of themes for the app before I got to the app itself. Exact matches should always float to the top.

Anyway. I have 30 days to decide if I want to keep this phone. It’s a bit of a gamble to keep it, as I’d guess that no updates will be released in that time. We’ll see what happens.