Saturday, October 15, 2011

Smartphones Part 2: A Review of Android

I'm writing this for all of you late adopters wondering why or if now is the time to buy a smartphone. My motto is "wait until the last possible moment". For me, that time has come.

A smartphone is now necessary for you to work with the twenty first century world of adults who were born into the computer age. Just as we can't think of not having a computer at work or home, so it is becoming with smartphones. Like early PC's and Apples, they aren't perfect. But they sure as hell are changing the game of life.

So here is my take on what makes the popular Android platform work on today's smartphones, and what you get.

1. Connectivity 

Your current cell phone is great for talking, and maybe you've even tried a text or two. What else could you need? The true answer is: sure you can get by without the web. For that matter, you can get by without a mobile phone at all. But the connectivity of the web brings with it a new level of information that has shaped everything else that you come into contact with. Let's start with that front page:

2. A choice of input

The most obvious difference between the dumb and smartphone is the lack of real keys. And for some of you, that's a deal-breaker right there. Even the staunchest geek will admit in their heart of hearts that navigating a virtual touch screen is a mixed bag.

For me, that led to my purchase of a slider phone with a real keyboard and a touch screen. And guess what? I'm actually getting along very well with both types of keypads.

The way it works in Android is you press in say the google search bar, and a virtual keypad comes up. If you want to use the real thing, just slide it open and let the phone reorient. Your virtual pad goes away and you are in keyboard mode. You can still use touch onscreen just like you would a mouse. (Remember those?)

3. Those things called apps
The little chiclet icons on the home screen are called apps, and they are different from the applications you're used to in computers. Another speedbump to get over in your transition to a new age, right? Not nearly as difficult as you think. In fact the difference is fundamental to today's smartphones, and explains the whole new world of the 21st century.

Your wonderful smartphone has a very limited memory. So apps are tiny.They download in seconds from the Android Market (one of those chiclets on your home screen) and a lot of them are free.

Many apps are pre loaded with your Android phone, and some of them work pretty good. You'll probably find others you want. For example, there's an app called browser that works pretty much off of Google. But you can download one called Opera Mini for free that has advantages. If you don't like it, then delete it. It's that simple.

4. Slide and touch

You'll get used to sliding and tapping your finger on the screen pretty quickly. You can also pinch and open your fingers to zoom, and some phones have different other finger movements you can use. Remember, all of this is designed so a middle schooler can use it. If you've worked on a pc, Android will be a snap.

5. What about all those crappy reviews? And lousy battery time?
Hey, every consumer item gets crappy reviews. What you really are worried about is getting stuck with a useless brick. Well, I got the cheapest Android I could find, and it works ok. Snob appeal it hasn't got, but I don't really look for those things. I'm a practical guy. Most of the issues you hear about, like phones freezing and such are rare, and when I had this problem early on, it was because my battery got low. So what about batteries getting low?

There's two things that use up batteries. Running apps in the background and having wifi on. Keeping them off saves battery. As it is, I have a mini usb on my phone and I just plug it into my computer if it starts getting low. So it's really not any more of an issue than your old phone was.

6. So what's the big deal? 

I've got a few other reasons that it took me so long to get a smartphone, and discuss them here:

Cost. Not much of an issue anymore. My Virgin Mobile Android cost me $99.00 and the monthly fee for unlimited everything except only 1200 minutes of talk is $45.00. About $10 dollars a month more than my non-web phone service was.

Quality. Aren't month to month phones a gyp? No. They're not as fast as the top of the line phones, but I've learned that Android is Android. And really, its not any slower than my older XP was. Glitches, sure, but the only perfect technology is Apple, right?  ;-)

There's really no reason not to get a smartphone. Your kids won't have to laugh at you any more, and they'll be wary of putting one over on you now that you're part of the real world.

In my next installment, for those who are still scared of jumping in, (and trust me, that's the only way to go, because the technology is so different) I'll look closely at individual apps, namely a browser app and a couple of social apps.

Good luck!

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