Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Android Annoyances, Yet ...

I had the opportunity to use a Google I/O phone for about a week. I found a lot of things not to like about Android, but I'm getting an Android phone anyway.

The I/O phone is the same HTC phone that is supposedly shipping later this month as the T-Mobile myTouch and is also known as the HTC Ion. It's a great phone -- rock solid hardware, quality touchscreen and buttons, a great shape for my pocket.

Google's Android operating system is pretty good too. I had played with Android briefly before, but this is the first time that I'd spent any significant time with it. Overall, I'd rate Android as comparable to the iPhone. There are some things I like better, some things I don't like as much. Here are some of the big things that I think are wrong with Android:

  • To turn the speakerphone on during a call, you have to press the Menu button, then choose speakerphone from the menu which shows 9 items. Since a big reason you might want to turn on the speakerphone is that you're driving, this should be an operation you can perform without looking at the screen. My suggestion: Pressing and holding the Menu button during a call turns on/off the speakerphone.
  • To get the numeric touchpad during a call, you have to drag up the touchpad, an awkward action when you're in the midst of a call (or driving). My suggestion: The menu button shows the touchpad. At the bottom of the touchpad is a More button which shows the other, less frequently-used menu items. Or, the menu button could cycle between neither, touchpad, menu, then back to neither.
  • The voice dialing is worthless. What's the point of voice dialing, if you have to look at the phone to see whether it recognized the name?
  • Did I mention that voice dialing is worthless? To start it, you have to unlock the phone and run an application. Why doesn't the button on my Bluetooth headset work like it does on most phones?
  • The messages that appear when you get a second call when you're on a call already don't actually tell you what to do. This is particularly odd since they did such a nice job with the main call UI. I figured out that the green (answer) button switches between calls, but what about the other functions, like hanging up the first call to take the second? There's no need to be subtle.
  • You can't put a button on the home screen that makes a phone call -- you can only put a Contact, so making a phone call is a minimum of two steps (after unlocking the phone). Fortunately, the third-party app AnyCut fixes this.
  • The Gmail application can't be configured to work with more than one email account. I know I'm far from alone in having multiple email accounts.
  • Android does include a separate Email application for other accounts. But, the second application isn't nearly as good, even when using a Gmail account. Setup is far from ideal. Although it automatically configures Gmail and Hotmail accounts, other accounts require you to select either POP3 or IMAP and provide server settings. I was not able to configure a Google Apps account properly, but apparently it does work. Why don't they provide a third option for Google Apps or, better, recognize Google Apps domains automatically?
  • When you save bookmarks to the home page, they all look alike. If the site has a large favicon associated with it, why doesn't it use that, like Google Chrome does? Or enlarge the small favicon? Fortunately, the third-party app Bookmark 2 has this one taken care of. It's not very elegant, but, for the most part, setting up home page bookmarks is something one does infrequently.
  • Why are the backgrounds of all the home screens the same? It would be great to be able to make them different as a means of instant orientation. Also, why are there only three home screens?
  • Android has a very nice predictive text feature while you're typing. It makes the touchscreen keyboard bearable. But, it doesn't work everywhere -- like when you're typing an email message.
  • When you swipe, sometimes things stay selected afterwards. I think they're not really selected -- it just looks like it. This one's just a bug.
Despite these complaints (and there are additional, less important ones), I'm planning to get a myTouch. For my purposes, it's better than the iPhone. I don't care about the iPhone's big advantages, like handling music really well. I have an iPod Touch for iPhone games (including the ones I'm writing). And, I think the myTouch is a better phone, though I know in these days of text messaging, actual phone usage seems to get short shrift.

Google has a good track record of updating their products and they already shipped one major upgrade in the first six months. I have confidence they'll fix these problems and, unlike older phones, I'll get the fixes and new features automatically. And, the fact is that my list of annoyances for the iPhone is just as long.

The final trump card is that the T-Mobile rate plan is $30 a month cheaper than the equivalent plan on AT&T. And that's not counting the fact that calls to my family are free on T-Mobile, so the AT&T plan might well turn out to be $40 or $50 a month higher. Over two years, that's an extra $720+ for the iPhone.

But, all this brings up the biggest issue that irks me about this phone: I can't buy one yet.

Updated: I had said that the Email application didn't work with Google Apps accounts. Apparently, it does, but the setup could be improved.