The Smartphone Round Robin is finally over! After a long trip through five other smartphone platforms, we're finally back on our own lovely Android. Having played with so many different platforms, we can say with full confidence that there's been no better time to be a smartphone user. Really, any smartphone you pick up is worth your time. We've come a very long way from maddening UIs and cruddy hardware.
And maybe we thank the iPhone for shocking the smartphone market alive, but it doesn't stop there. We sure have to thank Blackberry for continuing to build great devices and fine tuning their experience. Certainly thank Android & webOS for introducing fresh concepts and philosophies. And thank Windows Mobile and Nokia for staying their course while still modernizing. And we haven't even mentioned third party manufacturers like HTC & Motorola. Everyone is in some part responsible for the growth of smartphones. Even you.
But anyway, let's see what the other editors thought of Android in the Smartphone Round Robin! We've picked out some choice quotes from all of their reviews that highlights their overall theme. It's an interesting lot, to say the least, and we're glad to see such fresh perspective on the Android platform. Seeing it day-to-day limits our ability to see it as outside the box as these guys.
Read on to see what the other editors had to say about Android!
Week One -- Crackberry
All around good guy Crackberry Kevin was the first to review the Android platform. He's definitely been intrigued by the Android platform and adores certain features (he fell in love with Scenes in the HTC Sense UI for example), but there are shortcomings that just drive him mad. To quote:
The Motorola Droid makes me mad, but not for the reasons that you might think. It makes me mad because it's soooo close to being a really great smartphone, but then it falls short on little details that I think Motorola could have addressed from the start had they given it just a little more thought.
Obviously coming from a die-hard Blackberry user, his biggest complaint was the keyboard. And that's fair. We've grown used to the Droid keyboard and have become pretty capable with it (the outlines for AC's Round Robin reviews were written on the Droid) but it pales, simply pales, in comparison to any Blackberry keyboard.
In the end, he concludes that Android actually feels very 'Blackberry-like'. An evolution, if you will. We think he has a point, Android best imitates the Blackberry experience more so than other platforms, but to us Android feels a little bit like every smartphone platform that preceded it. Menu & back button like Blackberry. Big honkin' screen and touchable icons like the iPhone. Multi-device, form factor strategy like Windows Mobile, etc.
Android seems to do a pretty good job of making a positive first impression. It's strange. Speaking on the "Google Experience" Android 2.0 operating system of the Droid, I find there's almost something BlackBerry-like about it (I can't quite figure it out to put words to the thought - maybe some of you out there who have used both know what I'm talking about). There's still structure to it, there's still menu options and a back button, but it's more customizable and fluid than the current BlackBerry OS, which makes it come across as being a little more updated and modern. If you think about the Apple OS, Palm Web OS, and Android, it feels like of those three Android would be the one that RIM could most easily evolve the BBOS into, or just for the hell of it, throw onto BlackBerry hardware to see what would happen.
Week Two -- NokiaExperts
Matt Miller of Nokia Experts toured the friendly Android OS and loves it. In fact, he admitted to buying the original Android device, the T-Mobile G1, and said:
I purchased the T-Mobile G1 when it launched in 2008 and find the Google Android platform to be my second favorite after Nokia. My carrier, T-Mobile, has embraced Android and has quite a selection with more coming in 2010 so I may pick up another Android device next year. So much of what we see in Google Android is present in Maemo 5 that some think my N900 is an Android device. I would like to see Google start focusing a bit more on multimedia aspects to make Android devices even better.
We definitely agree with him, multimedia on Android is simply just okay. And since multimedia seems like a feature that once you get right, you don't have to change much to it (look at the iPhone), it's surprising that Android hasn't gotten it yet. It's serviceable right now, but nothing to write home about.
I am a bit concerned about the divergence of the operating system and custom user interfaces taking away from the coherent Google experience, but then again the smartphone user community is still quite small and there is room for lots of entries to compete. You cannot beat the Google experience on an Android device.
Ah, this is a great perspective and a problem that Android will continually have to address. Smartphone users looking for consistency throughout the OS will have trouble finding it when third party manufacturers add custom UIs like Sense & Motoblur on top of Android. There may be a time when someone using Sense doesn't even realize Android is behind it. And with Android 2.x having such a refined and usable 'Google Experience', we're finding less reason for custom UI's. Yes, Sense is wonderful and we love it too, but for consistency sake, we almost always prefer Google Experience devices.
Read Nokia Experts' Matt Miller's full take on Android here!
Week Three -- The iPhone Blog
Our good friend Rene Ritchie of the iPhone Blog loves his iPhone but found some time to love the Sense UI in the HTC Hero as well:
It’s widgety and beautiful, and works much better on the Hero’s capacitive screen than its predecessor did on the Touch Pro in last year’s Round Robin. The weather animation is still something I unabashedly hope Apple somehow integrates into the iPhone OS. It’s still slightly less intuitive and consistent to me than the iPhone UI — but the eye candy alone balances the scales.
He was very happy about the hardware of the Droid but thought the keyboard was subpar and was confused about the d-pad. Yep, definitely looks like the keyboard is the biggest flaw in the Droid so far.
And he also had some remarks regarding the growing disparity between Android devices. He recaps it all, ever so awesomely:
Google offers Android on a liberal, open-source license. Motorola makes MotoBlur for their Android devices, but not for the Droid which uses the Google experience. Actually, Verizon owns the Droid trademark and they also offer a Droid Eris, but that’s made by HTC and is otherwise called the Hero and runs Sense UI. HTC also made the G1 and myTouch which don’t run Sense UI. Oh, and the Droid off Verizon will be called the Milestone.
That's the beauty and crux of Android, it can be whatever, whoever wants it to be. For the end user, you'll get awesome devices that can almost be tailored to your liking. With Android having so many options, you're bound to find one device you like. It can be confusing if you try to trap all Android devices under one umbrella but if you think of Android as a tree with many branches, it gets a bit easier to understand. And if that paragraph sounded like we were convincing ourselves too, you're spot on!
Week Four -- PreCentral.net
Our good friend Dieter Bohn of PreCentral.net has used more smartphones than any sane man would, so to put it bluntly, he knows his stuff. He's also a die-hard Google user who loves widgets, customization, and homescreen experiences. Wait, why isn't he an Android user? This is how he sums it up:
I'm tempted to write the following review of Android from a webOS perspective: Different hardware, uglier but faster OS, better Gmail. G'nite folks!...because basically that's what it boils down to. I could be fairly productive using an Android device full time, but what the platform really needs is for Google give it some polish. Time will tell if they are able to overcome their engineering nature and do that - and then actually get that polished OS out to the masses in a consistent way.
Touche Dieter. Android 2.1 does come with a bit more polish but we're not at the level of webOS or iPhone yet. Almost there. Almost.
Here's a beef with Android that we definitely understand:
Something else I can't grok with Android phones is that nobody seems to be able to make a software keyboard that is in the same ballpark as the iPhone's keyboard, much less a real, physical keyboard. Google's stock keyboard on 1.6, 2.0, and 2.1 all fall short. HTC's custom version on their Hero devices are slightly better, but still subpar. Ditto the third party keyboard options out there. I don't blame this (entirely) on the lack of multi-touch, but whatever the problem is I'd like to see it fixed
Yep, the soft keyboard in Android is just okay. It could get better. We certainly wouldn't mind it getting better.
Week Five -- WMExperts
And Phil Nickinson of WMExperts sums Android up nicely:
The single-most reason I could switch to Android full-time? Google. Integration of Google's services -- gmail, Google Voice, Google Talk, Google Navigation and the like -- is near-flawless. It's the way it's meant to be. No third-party jankiness. No push e-mail alternative. To steal the line from Apple: It just works. I've asked before whether Google will properly implement gmail and its other services on other platforms. And the more I see Android grow, the more I worry that in spite of the platform's open nature Google may well keep its best products for itself, at least for a while. We'll just have to see.
We agree 100%. If you're heavily invested in Google, there is simply no better mobile platform than Android. Obviously that's not all you should base a smartphone purchase off of, but no one beats its Google integration.