First impressions of an Android smartphone

Scott Lowe, whose device of choice is an Apple iPhone, lists five major points that he discovered during his initial use of an Android smartphone.

I write about smartphones here at TechRepublic, and my team supports them at work. My device of choice has long been the Apple iPhone, but I am fully cognizant of two very important factors:

  • There are a plethora of other devices from which to choose
  • The bring your own device revolution is clearly upon us

IT no longer has the luxury of testing each and every possible device that comes on the market. There are simply too many. As such, at Westminster College, we've agreed to support pretty much anything that includes ActiveSync. After all, if it supports ActiveSync, it will connect to our Exchange system, which is generally what people are looking for. However, I should note that we do not support Blackberry devices.

In order to make sure that I provide at least a semblance of unbiased opinion, I've added a new device to my personal arsenal. Joining my iPhone 4 is an HTC Inspire 4G running Android version 2.2.1. Having used an iPhone for a number of years, it was time to explore alternatives, particularly since users bring them to campus.

Here are five major points that I discovered in my initial use of the Android device. Bear in mind that it also took me quite some time to warm up to the iPhone -- initially, I truly hated it, but now I love it.

No native screenshot capability

This is, perhaps, the most frustrating aspect of my experience with the new device. It seems that some Android devices do have a process by which screenshots can be taken. If I rooted the device, getting screenshot capability would be a snap. But since I decided to play the part of a normal user, who most likely would not want to root the device, I've kept it pretty much stock.

On the HTC Inspire, I have yet to figure out how I can take screenshots. Lack of this ability makes the device very frustrating to use and almost impossible to create quality documentation, unless I jump through a bunch of hoops. Sure, I could install the developer's kit or could root the device but, again, would a normal user go through this pain?

In my opinion, Google needs to add a common method by which screenshots can be taken. It's entirely possible that something exists to make this happen, but I have yet to find it. I even tried to download an app from the Android Market, but the app expected to find a rooted device.

Non-intuitive email folder handling

This was also one of my earliest complaints about the iPhone. Fortunately, Android is better than the iPhone's earliest attempts, but it's still a bit frustrating. These days, switching folders on an iPhone is easy, but under Android, I have to go to the Menu, choose the Folders option, and then select the folder I want to view. It seems like a small thing, but with all of my email sorted into various folders, it's a bit of a hassle.

However, one key benefit of Android is the ability for third-party developers to replace default apps with better versions. Apple doesn't allow the replacement of core functionality. So, a third party can come along and create a killer mail app that corrects every single flaw in the default apps on the device. For example, I've also tried the free Moxier Mail app and like it better than the default app that came with the HTC Inspire, although it's still not quite as intuitive as I'd like it to be.

It's important to note that these minor issues are easily overcome once you get used to the differences.

Well designed home page (HTC device)

HTC is known for creating nice interfaces, and the one on my Inspire 4G is no exception. With Android devices, manufacturers are allowed to take great liberties with the interface and it shows. The default home screen on my device gives me a lot of quick information, including the time, temperature, weather status (clear, sunny, raining, etc.), and quick links to common apps (such as mail). I can easily change the apps that appear on the home page too. For example, I can add a one-tap link to my calendar.

Again, the fact that the Android is more customizable is a strong point. It's easier to truly personalize an Android device to meet a user's needs.

Calendar looks nice, but...

I really like the way the calendar looks on the Android device. From a little graph that shows which parts of the day are booked to an easy-to-read list of daily appointments, I find the calendar superior to the one on the iPhone from a visual perspective.

From an operational viewpoint, not much is really all that different. I can create meetings and appointments and invite people, view event details, and perform tasks related to calendar management. From this perspective, the devices are just about equal.

Overall impressions

These items may not seem like big deals when you consider the plethora of apps and capabilities that are available for both Android and Apple platforms. However, when conducting daily business, they are critical -- and as users adopt mobile devices, these will be the items that result in the brunt of the calls to the service desk.

Overall, while I believe that the mail app needs some polishing, I can certainly understand Android's popularity and find it to be a very capable platform so far. Stay tuned for future Android articles, where I'll dig in to details about daily tasks.

Do you have hands-on experience with Android? If so, what was your first impression?

By Scott Lowe

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...