Exploring Android – Part 1

With Nokia's decision to back away from an open ecosystem and freedom of choice for users with their future devices it's time I had a serious look for an alternative to Symbian. One doesn't have to look very far, Android is very open, their app store is not as tightly bound to corporate policy as those of others and applications can also be installed from SD card.

The one thing that is an issue for me is that I don't want to use Google's cloud services such as email, calendar and contacts for my private data. My data is mine and I don't want to see it in the cloud. Fortunately enough, Android has evolved tremendously in the past two years and from all reports I have seen it is now easily possible to use the built in applications or replace them with third party apps and not synch to the Google cloud.

So I've got myself a Samsung Galaxy S which is in about the same price range as my Nokia N8 to experiment hands-on with Android and see how I can use it abroad, i.e. how to restrict data usage to a minimum without shutting data services down completely and how I can migrate my personal data locally, i.e. not over the Internet.

As I will look at quite a number of things I've decided to write down my experiences in several parts. Note that this exercise is not about whether Symbian or Android is better. This exercise is about how to get Android up and running for my personal purposes and for my personal requirements (no cloud services, low data use while roaming, etc.).

That said I have not decided yet when I will make the switch to Android. I'm not quite ready yet for an Android device as my main mobile as there are still two things that keep me with my N8:

  • The 12 megapixel camera with unsurpassed optics and a Xenon flash
  • Ovi Maps with navigation, maps for all the countries I need worldwide downloaded to the memory card and hence usable without incurring massive roaming charges for large map downloads. Yes I know, there's a new Google maps version that can download maps material. Still, quite far away from Ovi maps functionality I'm afraid though.

Also, I'd like to say a few words on cost and hardware. The N8 and the Galaxy S cost nearly the same with the N8 being slightly cheaper. But as far as the hardware is concerned the Galaxy S lacks many features of the N8:

  • Only a 5 megapixel camera with a tiny sensor, indoor shots are light-years away from the N8
  • No flash, not even an LED
  • No 'alert' LED (at least I haven't noticed one so far) so I can see that new email is waiting.
  • The N8 has a permanent 24h clock on the display when it is switched off. A cool feature for me and I hope someone in the Android world does something similar soon.
  • The N8 feels solid in the hand due to the aluminum casing compared to the all plastic Galaxy S. When holding the Galaxy S my hand gets sweaty quite quickly due to the plastic, something that just doesn't happen with the aluminum casing of the N8
  • No FM transmitter built in like in the N8. Another must have feature for me now that I have used it in the car for a while.
  • No penta-band UMTS. Quite a pity when traveling internationally.
  • No HDMI out
  • I really like the fast lock/unlock slide button of the N8. Perhaps I will get accustomed to the lock button of the Galaxy at some point. Let's hope.

And with this all said now I will start looking into how I can make an Android based phone fit my needs starting with part 2.

5 thoughts on “Exploring Android – Part 1”

  1. The really great advantage of Android over other smart phone technologies is the ease with which you can develop apps for it. You need to know a little Java and a little XML, and you need to be able to find what you are looking for on the internet. You do not need to be an expert programmer.

    The big difference is the amount of memory on the device (compared to the N900, for example). Google really does intend for you to store things in the cloud, and you will run into the device’s memory limits pretty quickly. Of course, if you want to post a video you made on the phone to Youtube, Android makes it pretty seamless once you set up a youtube email destination. And you will need to set up a gmail account, if you don’t already have one.

  2. Since you are a genuine user of smartphones, I (and probably many other people as well) would be very interested in your reporting on how much effort you need to actually migrate your personal N8 configuration to the the Galaxy S. In other words, how much a hassle it is to transfer things such as contact lists, email settings (all those POP3/IMAP4 parameters), networking access points and preferences, application and UI configurations, WWW bookmarks, etc, from one device to the other.

    I harbour the strong suspicion that most people never face these issues because they actually do not configure their device, do not install applications (except for games), and let all their personal data reside in the cloud.

    There are already commercial tools to help in such migrations from Symbian to iOS, for instance, so the whole affair must be either non-trivial, or very tedious.

  3. Hi Martin,

    When I travel, I always use MapDroyd. You can download lightweight maps from small regions to country wide, and you can place yourself on the map with GPS. It works offline and the maps are stored on the SD card.
    The interface is not that good, but it’s more than enough to drive from the airport to the hotel without knowing any word of the language of the country you’re in. Never tried OVI though.

    I’ve been using Android for the past two years, with a HTC Magic and a HTC Nexus One.
    I think you picked the wrong handset. I personnaly hate Samsung devices, and I don’t think the SGS makes an exception. On my one year old Nexus One, compared with your drawbacks you listed:
    – a LED for notifications
    – LED flash (though I usually carry my DSLR)
    – the device looks strong and not cheap like a Samsung (not a single scratch after one year, that’s tougher than my N81 or E65)
    – 100% customizable software, which allows to fully customize the system (including the lockscreen clock, unlock pattern, LED alerts customization…)
    That’s enough for me to choose it over the Galaxy S, even if it has less powerful internals

    I think that you can have a better Android experience with a better terminal.


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