Some background info
Shortly after getting my iPhone 3GS, I was able to get my hands on a HTC G1 Android phone. I wasn’t about to pass this up for the price it was offered to me at. My original plan was to switch my SIM card between the two devices every few days so I can play around with both my iPhone 3GS and my G1, however AT&T put a major damper on that when I discovered placing the SIM in the G1 did not convert the data plan from the iPhone to the G1. What does this mean? I need to call AT&T each time I switch phones and have them switch the plans (since you can’t do it online either). This also makes the bill look strange. Due to this I decided one thing: I would keep using the G1 until I got tired of it, and man did that time come quickly.
What I was looking forward to before I got the phone
When I first started my foray into the world of Google Android I was very excited. There were quite a few things about Android that I looked forward to:
- Backgrounding of applications
- Notification bar for new text messages, email, and applications
- Dedicated home screen with widgets
- Physical keyboard
Because Android had all of these features that my current phone (the iPhone 3GS) didn’t offer, I was fully prepared to switch to the G1 full time. But in the end, I just couldn’t stick with the phone. Why couldn’t I stick with the G1 despite it offering all of these intriguing, desired features? I will touch on each feature as well as its downfall.
The idea of being able to stay online while using other applications seemed perfect to me. The thought of being able to bring up the browser to look something up then return to a game I was playing, or an application I was using seemed perfect. Think about it, we all do this every single day on our desktop and laptop computers. There is almost a 100% chance you are using multiple applications right now, so why wouldn’t you want that on your phone?
Backgrounding on the G1 works as intended. You can seamlessly switch between applications. Want to send someone a text in the middle of a game? Go do it. Want to return to that game you were playing? Hold the home button down, toggle to the game, and boom – back in business.
Start by playing a game:
Then go send a text message:
Then go back to your game:
Easy as pie. When your game resumes, it will be exactly where you left it. Unlike the iPhone which takes you back to the applications main menu, Android backgrounds the app like a minimized program on your computer instead of closing it like the iPhone does. Slick.
But backgrounding comes with a price: system resources and battery life. As applications start to accumulate in the background, Android slows to an absolute crawl. How do you close these programs to free up resources? You need a 3rd party task manager. Ugh. I found myself rebooting the phone a few times a day just to speed things back up.
Then we have battery life. The battery on my G1, under moderate use lasted me about 13 hours before I needed to charge it. So when I leave for work at 7AM, by 8PM I would need to charge it again or it wouldn’t last me through the rest of the evening (8PM-1AM). Thats the absolute definition of poor battery life. And this is with location services (GPS), and wifi turned off. Also, since the G1 doesn’t work with AT&T 3G, I also had 3G turned off. There is absolutely no excuse for that horrible battery life.
Apple: thank you for not letting us background. The G1 is a backgrounding nightmare after you run a few apps.
The notification bar is another strong part of Android. Pictured below is the desktop of my Android device, with some notification icons in the top left:
The notification bar alerts you when you get a new text message, email, when your apps have updates available, and more. Various applications can also take advantage of this notification area. For example a twitter app can alert you when you have new unread tweets. A chat program can alert you when you get a new message. It is very, very versatile and powerful. And to get more information about a notification, or to clear active notifications you just put a finger on the notification bar and drag it down.
The only problem with this bar is that too many apps feel like they deserve a place in this bar. It becomes overly crowded very quickly. Besides that, it is slick and very well implemented. Kudos Google.
As you can see a few pictures above, the Android desktop is not a home for all of your application icons like the iPhone is. With Android, you slide up the application menu, and can put select applications on the desktop. Also, you can put widgets on the desktop like the analog clock, google search box, battery status, SMS preview, weather, sports scores, news updates, and more.
In this respect, the Android home screen is very, very flexible. This is something I would love the iPhone to have. I really don’t like how when you unlock the iPhone icons are thrown at you. Android offers a nice change of pace, you can have select icons readily available, as well as widgets to quickly show you information.
The home screen implementation is great. The only problem is the email and SMS applications don’t have badges. So you need to rely on the notification bar to see if you have new emails or messages, and you won’t have a quick glance count of unread messages and texts.
Apple: I want this on the iPhone!
The G1 has a great physical keyboard. Really, its great. While I like the iPhone on screen keyboard, the G1 physical keyboard is very easy to type on, and offers that physical feedback the on screen keyboards cannot offer. Android 1.5 also offers an on screen keyboard but its horrible (read: absolutely horrible). I do like the physicalness of it all, but having to slide the keyboard out to hammer out a quick text is a bit of a pain. Oh well, what device has a good on screen AND physical keyboard?
None. This was a review of some of my favorite features (being an iPhone user) but it was not supposed to be an iPhone vs. G1 post. Worry not, I will eventually do a VS post and pit the iPhone against the G1 in the ultimate showdown of the jesus phones.
For now, take away this: the G1 is a capable device with Android, but the device and the OS both need some fixing before it becomes a permanent part of my daily supplies.