My Next Android!

This was a tough one. Really, after buying the Acer Stream S110 earlier this year, an Android phone which would happen to be refused an update to Gingerbread not much later; and even more so after testing the Samsung GT-I9100 for a while, I felt quite disappointed with Android phones.

Not that both were such horrible devices – the Galaxy SII being good enough to sell really well, making it the Android phone you spot the most out there in the streets. Still, I hadn’t been overly enthusiastic with the Galaxy SII, I hadn’t really liked it, finding it too wide to hold comfortably, disliking the rather low pixel density and the placement of hardware buttons. Then, on the other hand, all competing Android headsets had there own flaws. LGs dual core “Optimus” superphones, the Speed (P990 / T-Mo USA P999) and the 3D (P920) seemed nicer to me because of their LCDs and overall button layout, but had obvious flaws of their own. Flawed were all the other devices, such as the Sensation, maybe the least flawed of the aforementioned, but being out of the game for me because of HTC Sense, or the Motorola Atrix, which while really cool seeming with its Laptop Dock suffered a lot from its (albeit featuring qHD resolution) PenTile-LCD screen and Motorolas slow software updates, a few variants of this device are still officially stuck on Froyo.

In addition to the hardware, I felt that the software had real problems that didn’t make it quite likable to me. I started to really dislike Android’s menu button, a relict carried over from the days, when Android was being imagined as a Blackberry-competitor running on devices that itself resembled the classic blackberry formfactor: A small, maybe 2,6” sized display, placed on a rather wide candybar in a landscape position atop a full QWERTY keyboard. This form factor had never been really popular with android, even the old and famous G1 (HTC Dream) had looked very difficult from this because of its vertical slider. But with the G1 the menu button hadn’t been much of an issue, as you had a trackball and thus weren’t really forced to use the touchscreen at all with the early iterations of Android. With the 4,3” WVGA Galaxy SII this had fundamentally changed, and it had become totally obvious to me, that Android was a land of usability horror, partly due to the aforementioned problem, partly due to apps that didn’t fit into the problematic way Android did things, resembling iOS-Apps instead.

Being frustrated with all that, and reading that Honeycomb was still overly complicated (BTW a few issues, that aren’t so problematic with smartphones because of their smaller size will likely remain on tablets even with Ice Cream Sandwich), I felt like going webOS wasn’t the worst idea ever. This turned out to be wrong the night Leo Apotheker killed webOS, rendering the really promising HP Pre 3 an unannounced device. (HP may try to revive webOS, but I doubt that they can undo the damage done, rendering what was ahead this announcement an uphill battle a battle that is virtually impossible to win…) As we know now, the HP Pre 3 will likely never ever receive more updates, rendering the non carrier branded Rest Of the World version of it stuck on basically the same version it shipped with. This version has a load of bugs, the whole Skype integration doesn’t feel matured at all, and you happen to run into “Too many cards”-Errrors way to often. That aside, the accelerometer is effingly shaky, doing very abrupt orientation switches, making the device a rather painful thing to use as you can’t even switch that thing of. There simply is no patch for that. (You see, I really should update my review of the Pre3 and make it more negative.)

The most promising Linux platform out there not yet mentioned had been killed ahead of the launch of its last device. Maemo 6 as you should call it, as it hasn’t really much in common with the MeeGo open source project (which was cancelled and will come back as “Tizen” rather soon), made a good to great impression on the Nokia N9 anyway, because of physically stunning hardware (even though the SoC is clearly old and dated) and great usablility concepts. However, it is simply to expensive, being higher priced than the Galaxy SII, making it no real option for me.

Frustrated as I was, I bought the N900 in an attempt of escapism. Well, that thing is nice, but it is an awkward thing, being nowhere near a modern smartphone in its design and much rather a downsized Nokia Internet tablet that can do 3G and phone calls. While the N900 is insanely cool because of all its geeky features (FM sender, Infrared, the debian based package system), it is also fundamentally flawed by it’s landscape forcing software and form factor, its thickness, the resistive screen and a web browser, that doesn’t show you most of the great mobile webpages that were released since the rise of the iPhone and Android – some of these are so useful, that I use them on the desktop, because they are just a lot simpler while delivering all the important parts.

So I finally had to realize that it was time to get a decent smartphone, as I can’t carry my iPad everywhere. Not that it is too big, it is really OK and has an outstanding battery life, but you get awkward looks with it on the subway and in the rest of real life. Way to many people start asking you questions about it, its way to “Show Offy”, while all this doesn’t happen if you carry an “iPhone like device”.

I had been waiting for the Galaxy Nexus. While Ice Cream Sandwich looked really stunning, I simply hate a few details about this device. One is the SoC, which doesn’t seem to be the best choice. I don’t really understand why this isn’t an Exynos device. However, this doesn’t make enough of a difference to kill it for me. The camera is said to be decent. Be that as it may, 5MP isn’t what you expect in late 2011. Another downside, the very one that kept me from buying the Nexus S, is that you have no microSD option. And last, but not least, there’s the same button placement (volume and power button) that drove me nuts with the Galaxy SII. I know, I am just holding it wrong, but that kills it for me. Seriously.

So I instead opted to buy two devices that are said to even be officially updated to Ice Cream Sandwich. One is the aforementioned LG Optimus Speed (P990), which I got because it is an official CyanogenMod device – I really want to have this again, as this project prolonged my G1 use by about a year. The other is running the only Android skin I might be able to like: It’s the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pro, the best spec’ed full QWERTY Android Smartphone available in Europe.

One of these (or both) will be my next Android smartphone(s). I will share my impressions!

100! … MWC!

While this is the 100s post on this blog which I wanted to kill a few weeks ago in favour of brimborium.net, I will not fuss about why it is so great to have written 100 entries in bad english, but try to summarize what I like about all these new great MWC devices and announcements.

Let´s start with the latter. MeeGo. Nokia and Intel join their forces (Maemo and Moblin, respectively), to fight against Android reduce fragmentation and create a strong platform for mobile devices from smartphones to netbooks. Of course nobody knows how this will turn out, but anyway, Nokia and Intel both are pretty strong companys in their markets so this might become a strong platform. I believe it will, there have been some uttering that Nokia and Intel were rather late, but I don´t think that this is true, platforms (and markets in general) appear, evolve and become abandonned – there is nothing like an “end of history”, at least if there´s enough momentum behind a new player. BTW: The first MeeGo release will be what would have been Moblin 2.2.

That´s it with platforms, isn´t it? No, it´s not. I should mention Samsungs bada (meaning ocean in korean) and of course Windows Phone 7 Series, Microsofts new platform for mobile devices. Both are non-PC like operating system (as the old Windows Mobile was), but made for todays social smartphones, which are always connected to social networks – if you are interested in Windows Phone 7 Series, I recommend to read this engadget article. And bada? We know what it is, but we don’t really know what the software stack looks like. There might be a Linux kernel, but it might be RTOS, or whatever. The UI is likely to use some librarys used as well in a project which we know as “Enlightenment”, as Enlightenment’s lead Carsten “Rasterman” Haitzler has been working for Samsung lately. I said that we knew what bada is, but did not explain? Well, it is a part of Samsungs strategy to make smartphones more affordable, so one might think of it as an operating system that works on rather poor hardware, something like a “smartphone operating system for dumbphones”. But the hardware of Samsungs first bada phone, the Samsung Wave, tells a different story. Samsung is creating it’s own platform with an application market of it´s own, to monetize these smartphones even more – if you earn you money while the device is being used, you can sell it at lower price points, a simple equation that is, though I believe it is a mix of both strategies mentionned before, the Wave is just high end to get attention for the new platform. We will see how this will evolve, maybe Samsung will abandon some platforms as they have got Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian in their smartphone portfolio, but you never know. Let’s just hope that bada gets a bing widget (or application) ;)

Let’s talk about devices. I already mentioned the Wave, we are told that bada runs super fast and that the screen is pretty cool, apparently “Super AMOLED” has a fine daylight readability (AMOLED sucked at that), but the Samsung phone I would in fact prefer is the Android beamer phone called, guess it, Beam. The inbuilt beamer might be more of a fun feature, but as this beast has a huge battery, it might be interesting, even if you do not plan to use the beamer frequently. BTW, I personally will not get any Samsung phone in the near future, as the SGH-i780 was delightful in terms of build quality, but Samsung was lazy (and is e.g. with the Galaxy) with software updates.

HTC didn’t manage to get me surprised, they have announced the “Desire” which is, as Android hacker Cyanogen stated, a “Nexus One done right”. Ok, it has Sense (which I do not really like), but this thing is unlikely to sell bad. In addition to that there is one more Android phone, the “Hero” follow up “Legend”, which isn’t that legendary.
Of course all these were leaked before, the only thing we were missing were the names.

Motorola.. Did they announce anything really cool for the western markets? I guess they did not, and hey, the Droid/Milestone is still pretty cool and there is plenty of time to replace it later this year by another top offering.

Sony Ericsson announced more than one Android phone, having launched more than one new XPeria phone, the X10, X10mini and X10mini pro, which all run a customized UI on top of “Donut”. Still the form factor of the mini devices is definitely interesting.

That should be it for smartphones.. Oh no, I forgot the upcoming Intel Moorestown based MeeGo beasts, like the Aava Mobile x86 smartphone. Aava Mobile is stating to offer “The World’s First Open Mobile Device” – and while we know that this is not true, it is still a pretty cool thing.

Then: Loads of tablets, the first ION2 Netbook, and a device that is my favourite 2010 device until now: The Notion Ink Adam tablet. But this post is too long right now, so I will write about that later.