I'd had a little play with one when Voda first launched them, but in the few seconds run-through I received in the Vodafone store I'd not really had much of a chance to get into it - and I came away feeling slightly "meh". That all changed when Mr Hugman won one of the little beasties in a promotion that Vodafone have been running on Twitter, and I had a closer look.
I won't bore with a full review - there are plenty of those out there - but some highlights for me:
- Build quality seems good. It feels nice in the hand (I never liked the heavy and bulky feel of the G1), and is small enough for one-handed use;
- Flipping between horizontal and vertical use is extremely smooth, and most apps seem to allow horizontal use. In particular the on-screen keyboard works much nicer horizontally, with a bit of extra space to play with. That said, I find the keyboard usable in vertical orientation too;
- It's *fast* - subjectively, I think it's faster than an iphone. Switching between applications is very smooth, and I find myself doing this routinely to a degree that I never have with an iPhone;
- As you'd expect, syncing with Google is seamless. We're using Google Apps a lot at FP, and I had my contacts, calendars and emails on the phone within 5 minutes. They've stayed synced beautifully ever since;
- A decent camera, at last. Whilst the iPhone had me accepting a poorer-resolution camera in exchange for the rest of its loveliness, I don't feel that compromise here. Picture quality is good;
- There's some real innovation in the UI - the notifications bar which can be pulled down wherever you are to see recent emails, messages, alerts, tweets, etc., is incredibly helpful: no switching between applications necessary. I can be browsing, receive an email, and make a decision as to whether it's worth bothering with without breaking my flow of concentration in the browser. I suspect that this is the kind of thing the Palm Pre is aiming for, too;
Beyond the above points that stand out for me, everything else seems to work just fine.
It's not perfect, of course: battery life is poor, though post-iPhone I somehow accept that 1 day of usage is acceptable, and I'm told that if I disable GPS and 3G I can get massively improved battery life. In strong sunlight I can detect what looks like some faint burn-in of pixels (a ghostly outline of an on-screen keyboard), but only faintly. The headphone socket is mini-USB not a jack (remedied using one of these). And a flash for the camera would be nice.
But those are niggles; this is a lovely piece of kit which has already changed the way I'm using email (I find myself checking and reading email on the phone, even when I'm sat at my laptop). And I've yet to play with the development kit or get into that side of things, all of my experiences so far are as a consumer.
My experiences with the device, married with news on numbers of Android launches in the coming 6 months, are making me think twice about Android as a platform. Subjectively it feels about 90% as good as iPhone (though in some areas a little better, and there's lots of very visible improvements being made), and I suspect that Apple will maintain their position as the best overall product. Let's not forget that as a percentage of overall mobile ownership, iPhone is *tiny*, leaving plenty of room for Android to take a chunk of the rest.
The only two downsides I can see for Android as a platform are:
- It may not be easy for vendors using Android to differentiate their products from those the competition are launching. AT&T appear to be doing a much more customised version of the OS than anything we've seen so far for an upcoming handset launch; it'll be interesting to see how deep this customisation goes. My gut feeling is that differentiation won't be difficult (or at least, it'll be cheaper and easier for a manufacturer to differentiate Android than maintain their own OS or license an alternative). And let's not forget that differentiation isn't much use unless it leads to a product which is at least as good as the competition - at a time when the telecomms industry is being redefined by new entrants, can we assume the alterations that incumbents want to make will be the right ones?
- Anecdotally, I'm hearing that the Android Marketplace isn't generating equivalent sales of applications, when compared to the iPhone App Store. I think that this will improve over time; I don't see why, as it moves beyond early adopters, Android will appeal only to a customer-base who think everything should be free and won't pay for applications. But I also think Apple have done a great job of creating - and let's not forget, heavily promoting - the economy of the App Store. This is where I think Google may have more trouble; not all Android phones will include the Android Marketplace (many will no doubt include pale App Store imitations from operators), and unpopular though they are, the editorial decisions that Apple makes regarding what makes it into the store do act as some sort of quality filter.
In any case, interesting times... and once again I'm driven to kick myself into remembering that we're still at the beginning of something incredibly exciting.