Tom's Two Cents

10 months with an Android

10 months with an Android

Back in October 2008 I started using Google’s first Android phone, the T-mobile G1. By the end of January 2009 there were 800 Android apps compared to over 15,000 iPhone apps. Of course, the iPhone had been around for well over a year at that point. But I think 2009 will be the year that Google Android really comes into its own as more than a dozen new models of Android phones are introduced. There are definite pros and cons to going with an open platform like Android, and I hope I can offer a realistic view of the good and the not-so-good that I have experienced with my Android G1 phone so far.

New Favorite Apps

I am still very happy overall with my G1. Especially now that I have root access to my phone I can do even more, like tether my laptop to my phone’s Internet connection via wifi. At the 1-month mark I made a list of my top 20 Android apps. That list has changed quite a bit, so here is my new list of top 20 Android apps. Interestingly, only 5 of these apps were on my first list 9 months ago. They are marked in bold. All the apps below are free unless marked otherwise.

  1. Where – Displays movies, weather, etc. based on your location. It also has voice recognition and Yellowbook search, which presents you with address and phone numbers of businesses based on your location which you can then call or look up on a GoogleMap with a click or two.
  2. BeyondPod ($2.99) – A Podcast app that allows you to manage podcasts and even update them over wifi. (So iPod Touch, why can’t you do this?)
  3. Sky Map – Allows you to see stars, planets, and constellations just by holding your G1 in the direction you want to look (including the ones beneath the horizon). The digital compass, accelerometer, and GPS to move your phone around and see different areas of the sky. A very cool example of what augmented reality (AR) apps can do.
  4. Wikitude – This is another great augmented reality app, but this one lets you “see” cities and landmarks close to you by holding the phone in front of you and turning in any direction. Selecting the names on the screen pulls up the web page for that city or point of interest in wikipedia.
  5. Places Directory – Google’s version of Where. I can’t decide which one I like best so I use them both. Places uses you location to look up restaurants, shops, parks, and other points of interest. You get addresses and phone numbers you can use to locate or call whatever it is you are trying to find.

  6. Twidroid – Still the best twitter client for the G1.
  7. Toggle Settings – A great app for dimming the screen and turning off the ringer, etc. (Keeping the screen brightness down is a great way to save your battery.)
  8. Locale – Uses your location, time of day, and other conditions to automatically adjust ringer, volume, wifi, and other phone settings. You can even have it change your phone’s background image based on where you are! (I was thinking of having a nice, sunny landscape appear everytime I leave Logan. Then when I get back in town, it would revert to a picture of a cold, snowy mountain.)
  9. aTrackDog – Keeps track of your updates. Also lets you list all your installed apps and email them to others or yourself. A good app to have especially if you are going to root your G1 or change your ROM frequently.
  10. ShopSavvy – The barcode scanner app that allows you to compare prices and read reviews
  11. Shazam – Analyzes and (somehow) recognizes songs being played on radio, TV, anywhere you can get a 10 second sample.
  12. Meebo IM – A nice IM app that works with most IM clients. And, unlike the built-in IM app, this one doesn’t cout each message as an SMS.
  13. JET CET PDF – ($0.99) Still one of the only PDF viewers currently available.
  14. My Maps Editor – If you don’t use GoogleMaps much then you can skip this app. My Maps Editor lets you create and save custom maps right from your phone. It also lets you access maps you have created and saved from your computer.
  15. Orienteer (displays compass and GPS coordinates — a must for geocaching)
  16. GeoBeagle – Fun for geocachers. Uses you current position to identify the closest geocaches in your area via a search on geocaching.com.
  17. Linda File Manager – A good file manager for browsing your files on your phone and microSD card
  18. Meridian – One of the best video players out there.
  19. Voice Recorder – Allows you to record audio using a very small format (.3gp) that plays with any quicktime player. Even a 30 minute recording is small enough to email to someone – and this app has email functionality built-in.
  20. Camcorder – This is the only app I will mention of the ones included with the phone. It’s not that the video even looks very good on my G1. But the new cupcake version of Android allows you to upload video directly to YouTube. It won’t be long before the hardware is good enough to leave the camera and camcorder at home. (For example, here is Sony Ericsson’s version upcoming Android phone. 1 GHz processor. 7 megapixel autofocus camera. Enough said.)

Honorable mentions

  1. Nav4All – Currently this is an app without a user interface. They say it’s coming. I haven’t used it much because it’s still so clunky, but Nav4All is an example of the potential the G1 has to be a voice-enabled navigation system. The good news is that Nav4All is free (for now, at least). If you want a more developed system and have $35 to spend, try CoPilot Live. gNaviHelper is also an option at $9.99. (I haven’t tried either.)
  2. GPS Tracker – This app allows you to post your current position to hidden or public URL — even has a Facebook plugin. I have young kids, but I can see lots of uses for this app coming soon. The only problem with this app (other than the creepiness of broadcasting where you are all the time) is that it uses a lot of battery to keep it running.
  3. PF Voicemail – A nifty app that replaces your regular voice mail, allowing you to see who has called and let you listen to only the messges you want. I would like to see voice mail transcriptions similar to Google Voice. The only issue with this app is that you have to set your phone to permanently forward voicemail to a new location. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it would be a pain to change it back to regular voicemail. (You would have to call your carrier to have it changed back.) Fortunately the app works great, so this switch worked out fine for me.
  4. BarTor ($1.49) – If I were a pirate (and of course I am not) — I would buy the G1 in a second for one app and one alone. BarTor (aka Torrent Droid). While there’s no denying the legal, um drawbacks, the ability to scan a barcode somewhere and have it magically sent to your home computer where it starts a BitTorrent download while you are still out “shopping” is enough to make you want to talk like a pirate and run around wearing  a fake eyepatch.

Root apps

5 more apps for those with root access (from my last post):

  • Wifi tether (free here) — This is the single coolest reason to root your G1 phone. It allows your to use your G1’s data connection as a wifi access point. This is great alternative when staying in a hotel that charges for wifi. For those on a 3G network, this is actually pretty fast (a little less than DSL speeds). The G1 will prompt you when someone is trying to connect, so you can control who uses it. (It also works via Bluetooth, if you prefer that.) I’ve used wifi tether to create a mobile access point in the car. My wife used it to surf around on her iPod Touch on a recent road trip. Very cool.
  • Backup for Root Users (free on Android market) — Backs/restores all your apps and settings to your micro SD card. Even compatible with App2SD.
  • SetCPU ($0.99) — This app overclocks the G1 up to 528 MHz (384 is normal) when you are using it or when it’s plugged in, and can also “underclock” the processor down to 128 MHz when in sleep mode to save battery life. No reported problems with this level of overclocking. Very cool!
  • App2SD ($0.99) — This app partitions the micro SD card of your G1 so you can install and run apps from there. It seems to have some compatibility issues with JF 1.5.1, so unless you really need the extra space for apps, you may want to wait until the installation is a little easier. Here are some folks who seem to have figured out a workaround for anyone who is feeling adventurous.
  • JF Updater (free on Android market) — Since you can no longer receive OTA (over the air) updates, this app does the same thing for rooted G1s. When a new JF update is available, it will offer to download and install it for you.

A Caveat

In all my praise for the G1 I should point out that my experience with the Android phone includes some long pauses and a few “not responding” messages too. This probably has as much to do with all the programs I run at the same time as it does with Android. Besides this and the woefully short battery life, my only other complaint is that the processor they chose for the G1 is really not adequate for many of the apps that have been showing up on the Android Market. I’m frankly disappointed that the G2 does nothing to remedy this problem. I have been able to overclock my processor, so for now this is not a major problem for me.

So while I have quite enjoyed the first 10 months of using Android, I am not claiming that this is the perfect phone for a businessman at this point. My old Blackberry was definitely more solid for the basic email and the few other things it could do. But Android phones do so much more that it’s hardly a fair comparison. And don’t be too quick to judge Android as a “geeks-only” system. I think this cell phone OS is poised to give the iPhone (and every other smart phone out there) are real run for its money.

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