Sunday, January 11, 2009

More feedback on Android/G1

Here's a more complete review of Android/G1 vs. the iPhone (after just 4 days using it).

  • The packaging is a bit cumbersome, and you have to install the battery yourself. Compared to the iPhone which works straight out of its nice packaging, this doesn't contribute to give a good 1st impression.

  • The global look'n'feel is not as good as the iPhone, although it's definitely orders of magnitudes better than alternatives I've already seen/used (such as Windows Mobile). I think the iPhone is more intuitive / easier to use, generally speaking. It's hard (impossible?) to beat Apple in terms of GUI.

  • The form factor of the G1 is not well thought. First off the handset is not flat (the bottom side is curved out a little bit). Secondly when you hold it in your right hand, you can't easily reach the buttons at the bottom (it's virtually impossible without relocating the device in your hand, which is very inconvenient). The iPhone has the same problem but to a much lesser extent since you can reach the only button below the screen more easily. The Camera button on the G1 is useless most of the time.

  • No multi-touch screen. I'm not sure whether this is a hardware limitation of the G1 or a software limitation of Android or yet something else. Also the screen of the G1 is a bit smaller than that of the iPhone. It's also a less responsive. Especially with slide bars (e.g. when playing a YouTube video) which I find rather hard to scroll. EDIT: Someone apparently found a way to have almost iPhone-style multi-touch with no kernel change!

  • The G1 has no standard headphone plug.

  • Unlike the iPhone, the G1 seems to be unable to automatically adjust the brightness of the screen depending on the amount of ambient light.

  • Overall Android is much more responsive than the iPhone OS. Most applications have a lower latency, even (surprise!) network-bound applications such as Maps or YouTube which are far more responsive on the Android.

  • Unlike the iPhone OS, Android has pretty good support for multi-tasking, background applications and daemons. For instance I was pleased to discover that my handset was notifying me and showing me the Gtalks messages I was receiving as I walked away from my desk. In a single tap I could reply to the messages that were showing up in the status bar.

  • Some apps have the same caching problems I reported in a previous post about the iPhone. The YouTube application for instance doesn't properly cache videos (if you watch a video and click "Play Again" at the end, it re-downloads the entire video!). However in several cases it was able to resume the video even after I used some other apps in the mean time.

  • Speaking of YouTube, the search results for "Britney Spears" don't match at all what I get when I search YouTube on my desktop. The search results on the Android are incomplete and have a much lower quality, weird. Also let's note the lack of auto-suggest (which has been enabled by default on YouTube for a while).

  • I often have problems finding my location on Maps. It just doesn't find me, even when I enable the GPS while outside. As I already noted in my previous post, however, the Maps application is at least one order of magnitude faster on the G1. That's hard to explain given that I use both my G1 and my iPhone on the same wifi network so they should both be able to load map tiles at the same speed. Yet on the iPhone I can see each tile loading slowly one after another, whereas on the Android it's blazzingly fast.

  • Hooray! The Android has 2-way synchronization over the air! You never need to plug it in a computer, except to recharge the battery (but then you can use a power outlet as well). The integration with Google services (Gmail, Calendar, Gtalk, etc) is just awesome. What I liked about the iPhone is its level of integration with Mac OSX (and iLife), however it's constantly behind (unless you sync it with iTunes very frequently). The Android beats the iPhone hands down here.

  • The Chrome-based browser in the Android is not nearly has good as No double-tap to easily zoom in on an element of the page, that makes me sad. Past a certain zoom level, some images get heavily pixelized while you scroll (e.g. try on XKCD). The browser is missing the "find text in this page" feature, too bad (but then the iPhone doesn't have it either). Hopefully this should be fixable much more easily given the openness of both Android and Chrome.

  • The G1 (well, at least my G1) comes with a SD-card of only 1G and virtually no internal storage space. Moreover it seems you can't use the space on the SD card to install apps, so you're heavily limited by the internal storage. Compared to the 16G of my iPhone, that's nothing. I'll have to buy a much larger SD-card if I want to store a reasonable number of songs and movies in my Android.

  • The Android integrates with all the Google services by asking you to log in to your Google Account, however it does not support to have multiple Google Accounts! Very disappointing. I signed in with my address but now I'm unable to easily access things with my account. I hope they'll fix this huge oversight (although I reckon it may be something non-trivial).

  • The camera on the G1 is a joke. But that of the iPhone is a joke too anyway.

  • I played Quake on the G1 and I'm amazed by the quality of the 3D graphics. I think the iPhone already has Quake although I haven't tried it, so I can't compare. At least the G1 has a real keyboard, which makes that kind of app much more usable.

  • Gmote is pretty cool. It doesn't integrate as well with iTunes as Apple's Remote application but it has more cool features, such as the ability to stream the music to your G1 instead of playing it on your Mac. It can also control other apps or control the mouse pointer remotely (handy for presentations!). However you have to install the Gmote server on your Mac, which freaks me out since I know have an untrusted server listening to an open TCP port.
So all in all, I think Android is a pretty good platform and it's on the right track to become a real iPhone killer (although we're not there yet). I doubt Android (or anything else) will ever succeed in having the iPhone's elegance and usability, however it looks like to me that Android is already technically superior than the iPhone OS. And given that Android is an open platform, there's hope that it'll improve much faster than the iPhone.

The G1 handset is disappointing compared to the iPhone. It's not well designed (at least compared to the iPhone) and the touch-screen is not as good as that of the iPhone. I could be wrong but to me it also looks a bit more fragile than the iPhone (especially the "nipple" under the menu button). I'm probably being a bit harsh against the G1 here. Don't mistaken me, it's a great handset, but Apple has set the bar very high with both its handset and its system. The cool thing about it all is that unlike the iPhone OS and the iPhone, Android is not tied to the G1. I'm sure we'll see much superior handsets on the market pretty soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

1st feedback on Android and the G1

Some feedback on my shiny new G1 handset Dream-Edition. I've used it for a couple of hours only so I'm utterly unable to answer the question I had in mind ever since I heard about Android: Is it really an iPhone killer?

Anyways, after two hours of using it, I can tell:

  • It boots pretty darn fast. Much faster than the iPhone. I expect it's gonna get worse since early versions tend to be more lightweight. Let's hope this won't change.

  • I had troubles joining the open-wireless network at Google. It tried to grab an IP for several minutes and that really frustrated me. Hopefully it eventually got an IP and could become more useful than a brick. It's amazing how these new phones are useless without Internet connectivity. It was very frustrating to see the G1 failing to grab an IP when my iPhone worked just fine.

  • The Google Maps application kicks ass. It's much much better than that in the iPhone, especially in terms of latency. On the iPhone the map tiles load one by one and very slowly (even on the WiFi with a high-speed Internet link). On my Android it's blazingly fast.

  • The Alarm Clock application is a joke. That of the iPhone is much more complete and serves as a World Clock, Stopwatch and Timer.

  • There is already a whole bunch of cool free apps on the phone!

  • edit: When you hold the G1 in your hand, your thumb begs to have a button on the right side of the handset. Alas, there is no such button and the buttons below the screens are unreachable without changing the way you hold the handset. Too bad. This is really an usability oversight.

My main concern right now is that the G1 is unable to see the SSID of my home WiFi network and I have no explanation for this. It's a standard WEP network and works just fine on my 2 MacBooks and with my iPhone. Yet the G1 doesn't even show its SSID in the list of available networks (it does see the networks of my neighbors however). Very frustrating. Some other Googlers who use the same ADSL-modem-router seem to experience the same issue.

Anyways right now Android looks very promising to me!