Inside Android

Hey everybody!  This week we're gonna go back to basics and show our support to those who switched over to Android by picking up the HTC Droid Incredible on Verizon.  Now I know a lot of this is common knowledge to you salty Android vetrans, but think back to the first time you put your mitts on a G1 or the Motorola Droid.  Hopefully, there was someone around to help you get acclimated and into the swing of all things Android.  If not, then you know exactly why we do what we do here at Android Central.

So welcome newcomers, kick back and have a look to see just what you got yourself into, and I'll bet you feel even better about your choice when we're finished.

The Droid Incredible was one of the most anticipated handset launches in recent memory.  (Or at least in the six months since the Moto Droid launched.) It seems like no matter where you looked on the intertubes for the past month or so you could see and feel the Incredible calling out to you.... Buy me...You'll love me... Trust me...  To top it all off you get to sit and drool over walk throughs, software showcases, reviews and the like until the lust finally strikes home.  If the chatter at fansites for other phones and manufacturers is right, a good portion of you came on board from another platform.  Nice to meet y'all.  I'm Jerry.  I goof around with Android phones, write about them, and hang out
on the forum to talk about them.  Yes, life is hard ;) .

What is Android?

Android robot figurines

Android is an operating system for mobile devices.  But what makes it different? To start, Android is a project from the people at Google.  Yes, that Google.  Like all things Google, it's feature-rich and cutting-edge, but still pretty darn friendly once you get into using it.  Google also tries to follow a simple rule - "Don't be evil".  They don't mean evil like Lex Luthor or Apple, they mean the sneaky kind of evil.  Evil like hiding personal information in songs you buy and download.  Or evil like imposing crazy restrictions on application developers that seem to only maximize their profit margins.  As far as we know, they've done a pretty good job at it, and we have no reason to think they will ever change their ways.

Since they are Google, they have a huge pool of talent at their disposal.  They like to use this talent to improve Android, as well as the user experience with Google overall.  Some of their ideas are awesome, some not so much, but I doubt anyone will ever complain about too much development and enrichment, so for this we all thank them. If I were qualified to give Google a report card (trust me, I'm not!) I'd have to give them an A.  Even the ideas they come up with that I'll never find a use for are awfully darn cool.  Don't think we won't call them to the carpet when they screw it up though.  We love them, but not that much :)

So these guys at Google got together and started working with a group of developers who were pretty much like they were - smart guys who like to make things easy and waaaay cool for everyone else to use and enjoy.  Eventually the Android project was absorbed like a good many other things into the mother ship we call Google. Lots of times that wouldn't be such a good thing, but in this case they didn't make any sweeping demands for change -- they even left the entire operating system open source.  This means that not only do you have the geniuses in their Google cubes coding away at it, but you have a huge untapped resource that helps make Android better.  People like Steve Kondik, Paul O'Brien, Koushik Dutta and other awesome independent developers help make Android what it is today, and will help shape it's future.  Google see's the benefit of this, and is happy to work with these guys and incorporate their changes into future releases.  Android will never become obsolete as long as the code stays open and dedicated individuals keep pecking away at their keyboards to work on it. Think of it as the Amiga of the mobile industry.  Even the core of the OS is open source and anyone is allowed to modify it.  And they do.

Sense UI on your new HTC Incredible

The nerdy guys who live to code aren't the only ones who jump in and modify things, the big dogs do it too.  HTC found that its Sense overlay of the operating system worked well with Windows Mobile, but it fits Android like a glove.  Sense is the eye candy you're seeing on your new Incredible.  Some people don't care for it, some do.  Personally, I love it, and I'm gonna talk about why :P

Sense is effectively a replacement for the vanilla stock Android OS.  You can make a phone running stock Android look like a phone running Sense (and vice versa), but there are also changes deep in the core of the OS.  We've talked about that before, but I wanted to mention it here for the benefit of those new to Android.  Phil has done a beautiful walk through of Sense 2.1, let's re-post it here so you don't have to leave the page.

The biggest differences are what we're gonna have a look at.  Lets start with the home screens themselves.

HTC SenseUI Home HTC Sense - Leap

On all Android devices, you swipe left and right to scroll over to a new home screen.  Phones like the Incredible that run HTC Sense will have seven home screens, ready to fill with widgets and shortcuts.  Stock Android comes with three.  Don't feel bad for those that run stock, whether by choice or otherwise, as they can download any number of home replacements from the Market and run them over their stock setup with minimal overhead, and they can be made quite beautiful and very functional.  HTC does give a little extra with Sense that you don't realize just how much you love it until it's gone -- a dedicated phone button at the bottom of every home screen.

Next up would be the widgets.  HTC has done a great job creating a gorgeous set of widgets that both enhance the look of your phone, and give some extra functionality. 

HTC Sense - news widget HTC Sense - stocks

HTC Sense - Bookmarks

Once again, folks using stock Android can visit the market and grab some home screen widgets that look just as nice and offer the added functionality that Sense provides.  HTC has just packaged up a nice set of default widgets and included them in their custom flavor of Android.  Most stock Android widgets will run on Sense, but Sense widgets will not run on stock Android.  This is because of those changes deep in the system we talked about earlier.

HTC has also changed some of the core components of Android. They have replaced the Android keyboard with their own version.

HTC Sense keyboard

Some love it, some hate it.  I'm in the first camp.  For a look at some of the differences check out the Keyboard Roundup

Next up is the calendar.  HTC has revamped the Android calendar application and its associated widgets.

HTC Sense calendar HTC Sense calendar widget

The changes are minor (other than the appearance) and you'll find that it's very functional.  In general Android still needs to work on the calendar application as a whole, but for an operating system that's still in it's infancy it's pretty darn nice.  Changes will come, but that's another rant for another day...let's keep this one upbeat :)

HTC has also added their own touch to the multimedia aspects of the phone.  The Music player, image and video albums, and online picture services are different.  They work well, and once again are still a work in progress.

HTC Sense - music player HTC Sense - albums

HTC Sense - Flikr

The biggest change (even though you don't see all of it) is the complete integration of the contacts.  Contacts are tied into the Dialer, HTC's messaging and mail applications, HTC's own Facebook client, and Flikr.  This is why I love Sense.  If you have a big contact list, the ability to see messages, mail, Facebook updates, or online image albums separated by each contact is great.  Combined with the people widgets, this equals productivity I've not seen matched by anyone yet.

HTC Sense - people widget

Setting up your new Incredible

If you went out and fought the traffic and crowds to buy your new Incredible from a brick and mortar store, this was probably done for you.  It's still nice to see it done, because I promise you'll mess with the phone constantly and at least once will have to start all over and set it up again :p

Phil has a video for us all that walks you through this.  Let's have a look at it.

As you can see, it's not hard at all.  No programming or anything like that, basically just re-signing in to all your online services.  There's much more you can do to customize your new phone, more than we could ever cover.  Some of the best ways to start (especially if your used to another platform) are outlined below.

Now that it's all set up, lets check out some apps!!

Applications

Android Market

The Android Market just hit 50,000 applications.  The last few months have been booming for Android and the Market.  With the Motorola Droid, Android became a major player in the mobile market.  Awesome superphones like the Incredible, the LG Ally, the EVO 4G and the Desire are going to fuel the fire even more. We're even seeing vendors debut and specialize applications for Android.  Companies like Sobees and The Weather Channel are showing the kind of love that has only been given to Apple in the past.  It's a great time to be an Android user :)

Of course all these applications aren't going to be winners.  That's just the nature of the beast.  Again, Android Central has your back.  Every week we have a showcase of our editors favorite applications, we try to spotlight new and popular apps with their own post on the front page, and there's a great little tutorial about smart filtering of the Market using AppBrain.  That's just the tip of the iceberg though.  Jeremy, Cory and Roy do an awesome job of managing and promoting the best way to find out about apps - word of mouth via online forums.  For news about apps, media, and customization do yourself a favor and check it out.  I do it daily, and you should too.

Some of the apps in the market are premium and must be paid for.  Again, Android gets high marks for user friendly practices here.  When you sign into your Android phone, your market account uses your Google credentials. The apps you pay for are ALWAYS tied to that Google account, so you only ever buy them once. Google Checkout is used to pay for apps, and some carriers are working on getting full carrier billing set up as well.  Word on the street is that PayPal has their usual magic in the works, and you'll soon be able to use your PayPal account to buy applications. It's all pretty standard, and is still evolving, but we haven't
talked about the best part -- there's a 24 hour no-questions-asked trial for anything you buy through the market.  If you find that the game or app you bought isn't something that you're really interested in, uninstall it for a full refund!

We can't talk about apps without mentioning the "P" word.  Yeah, that one -- Porn.  Regardless of what you may have heard, the Android Market isn't full of pornography.  Some of the apps may be lacking in the good taste department, but they are far from the usual definition of porn.  That's not to say you can't find porn.  Android is open, and gives users the choice to download application through other venues.  One of these venues offers pornography.  I'm getting old, and my body parts are immune to porn, but I love the fact that Android allows the user (You and I) to make their own choice.  This is the way adults deserve to be treated.

The swag

Last, but not least, are the accessories you'll want for your new phone.  Here at Android Central we try to get our grubby paws on all the latest gear and share our opinions of it with you guys.  I find that a nice little hands on review with a product helps me make my decision when buying.  Things like Bluetooth headsets, cases and covers  and multimedia stations often make their way into our hands and on the front page.  Of course, the Android Central store always has you covered.  There's a growing line of products that work great with your new Android handset,  and the users reviews and ratings can help you decide which ones are the best for you.

I know we went on a bit this week.  I just couldn't help myself, there's so much coolness surrounding the Incredible and the future Android phones and devices, and I want you to get as much enjoyment out of them as I do.  Of course we can't cover everything (even with huge wall of text blog posts :P ) so mull this over, and when you think of something we didn't cover, hit the forums, listen and participate in the live Podcasts, and most of all, enjoy your new phone!


Until next time,
Jerry