[This is part of the Android Diary.] To be precise, seven months in. I couldn’t live without an Internet phone now. I might be able to live without an Android, but on balance I’m very happy with my G1.
Basics · I find it an extremely good phone. Coverage, audio quality, dialer, call log, bluetooth, picking a number out of a web page or email and dialing it, all that stuff. Maybe my last few Nokia and Samsung dumbphones were anomalously bad and lowered my expectations? Could be, but I can’t imagine anyone being left too unhappy.
Oh, a minor gripe about the dialer: There are certain situations where you pick a phone number off the call log or somewhere and it’s painfully obvious from the context that you want to call it, but the stupid dialer always asks if you want to call or SMS it; one extra tap.
I think everyone agrees that the battery is weakest link in the Android/HTC/G1 chain. If I’m hitting the net heavily and having extended conversations on Bluetooth and using the GPS and playing music, it’s just not gonna get through the day. This is an unusual scenario — with my typical load of talk and Twitter and email and calendar and alarm clock and maps, the phone’s good for two or three days. But when it happens, it’s a problem.
I solved the problem by purchasing an extra battery (I forget how much, $40 and change I think). With that, I’ve never once been inconvenienced by the phone running down. I also carry around the phone’s USB cable; it’ll charge through that and there are very few days indeed where I don’t spend some time with my computer plugged in. So yeah, the battery life is lousy but it’s not actually much of a problem.
Other phone-basic kinds of things: I am entirely dependent on the alarm clock, SMS, contact-list, and calendar functions. None are perfect but they all get the job done and, most of all, they seem rock-solid reliable. In fact, the phone’s reliability as a whole is outstanding, in the seven months it’s locked up on me exactly once, except for a couple of weeks when I had what turned out to be a defective SD card installed.
One thing about the calendar: only the single-day display mode is any use.
I’ve already talked about how nice it is to have more hard buttons than for example the iPhone. On consideration, the T1’s six (green phone, red phone, home, back, rollerball, and menu) could be reduced to four; accepting and hanging up calls can and should be done on-screen.
Cupcake & the Web · The big news in the last few months was the arrival of Android 1.5 AKA “Cupcake”. This brought us an on-screen keyboard (which has been OK the two or three times I really wanted it), video recording, the devilish feature where you can shoot a really bad video and have it on YouTube right then, and a whole lot of fit-&-finish improvements.
The big deal for me was something they didn’t talk up too much: the whole geolocation subsystem is a lot better. Better first at making a smart guess as to where you are using the mobile network, and (it seems) snappier and more accurate in using the GPS.
They also claimed that Android as a whole and the browser in particular would be faster. Well, for me, it all feels a little slower, and the browser in particular. Since Cupcake, it’ll sometimes take a couple of dead-time seconds to switch between apps, and when I’m in the browser and click the “menu” key, once again it takes a couple of seconds to pop up; a function which should really be instant.
Music · The Android/G1 combo is a pretty nice music box. I switched from a second-gen iPod shuffle (the teeny square one with a clip), and while that was a nearly-perfect device at doing the small number of things it did, I’d find it hard to go back now. To start with, the music lives on the SD card so if you want more space, buy a bigger one, they’re damn cheap. So I’ve got oceans and oceans of music.
Also (and this means a lot to me) the sound through my Shure 3C’s is improved by the addition of a lot more bass, and something subtle but important that makes voices and pianos sound better. Occasionally I wish it would play a little louder (I could never turn the iPod up anywhere near its max).
Syncing music is an only-partially-solved problem. I use doubleTwist, which lets me pull the songs out of iTunes’ losslessly encoding onto the G1 with good old drag-and-drop. There’s one big problem and two small ones. The big problem is that the doubleTwist UI for pulling music off the Mac is pretty suckalicious; won’t show me the artist/album hierarchy that iTunes knows about (even though the music arrives on the G1 with the album structure intact), and doesn’t make it easy to look at both the G1 and iTunes to remind you what you’ve already dragged over. Oh, and it doesn’t bring along the album art, even though the Android music player would like to show it.
One smaller problems is that doubleTwist isn’t well internationalized, so (glancing at my playlist), items such as éthiopiques and 96° in the Shade get mangled. And finally, the transcoding process, even on my 6G Mac Pro mofo, is slow.
The ringtone management is kinda klunky. You have to go into the music app to pick a song as a ringtone, and only after you’ve done that can you select it for use in your alarm clock or attach it to a particular caller.
But I’m assuming all these problems will get better; it’s a great little music box as it stands.
Apps & The Market · Everyone seems to agree that the apps are the wonderful, miraculous thing about the iPhone, and in principle I agree. Maybe the fact that I use hardly any on the G1 is just because there aren’t as many? Or because I’d already structured my life mostly through a Web browser? Here’s the list:
I suppose I should check out the Android Market more often, but I’m busy. I get some games to play on airplanes and as for connectivity and messaging and so on, the stuff that comes with the phone pretty well does it for me.
I am watching with fascination, though, the astounding success and continued growing pains of the iPhone App Store. Consider Serious doubts, where a developer emits some very compelling cries of pain over App Store failures. He’s got a point, but I’m totally unconvinced that it’s possible even in principle to apply the Apple flavor of steely control to something running at the App Store’s scale.
Gruber’s got a point; it’s fairly unlikely that the problems are even visible to Apple management, blinded as they are by the glow of the App Store’s success. What might well save Apple is that management of the App Store’s potential competitors are probably similarly blinded.
Storier · That’s the name of the little app I’ve been sketching in bits and pieces, maybe four weeks’ work over the last seven months. If you want to find out the details, as well as How I Did It, come see my OSCON session next week.
It’s hard for me to talk about Android programmability without dropping into gushing-fanboy mode. If you can imagine something useful to do with a little device that has a GPS and a phone and a microphone and a speaker and a good mapping library and a camera and a decent Internet connection; if you can imagine such a thing, I say, and you’re even a moderately competent Java programmer, you can build it. And pretty damn quick too. The implications of that seem bloody huge to me, but hey, I could be wrong, and that’s OK, because we won’t have to wait long to find out.
Syncing · It’s OK; could be better but getting there. I use Spanning Sync, and as a result my iCal, my Google calendar, my address book, and my phone are more or less in sync most of the time. Many of my repeating events don’t make it across, and something in the chain is really bad at deleting events on the phone, so often there’ll be things showing in the phone calendar even though I junked ’em days ago.
[Update]: Sometime in the last month or two, this got a lot better. My contacts, my schedule, and my calendar are all consistent in OS X, up on Google, and on my phone, it’s now in seems-to-just-work territory.
Spanning Sync has a competitor called BusySync, but no consensus out there that it’s clearly better or worse than Spanning Sync.
Temptation and Work-Life Balance · If you haven’t had a real Internet phone before, and you’re a wired kind of person, there are social stresses. If you can always glance at your email or Gtalk or Twitstream, the temptation to fill any otherwise-blank moment by doing so is considerable. Your mind may find itself classifying a lull in conversation with your spouse as an “otherwise-blank moment” which turns out almost always to be inappropriate.
Intangibles · What happened that I didn’t expect? I can amuse my kids on plane rides by letting them take pictures and play silly games. I can do emergency maintenance on Web properties with ssh. I can post dorky video to YouTube. I can get un-lost with the help of Google Maps. I no longer need a watch or an alarm clock.
The fact that it’s really multi-tasking feels like a big deal to me. I can be in the middle of debugging my application and the phone will ring, and I’ll pick it up, and then switch the call to speaker and switch over to Gmail to pull up a date or number or something. It all Just Works.
What’s Next? · I really actually can’t say. Something a lot like the current G1, only with some terribly obvious improvements (faster, bigger screen, better-than-3G networking) could keep me happy for a long time; particularly assuming the application ecosystem picks up steam.