All this talk about the Nexus One and the Droid has had two effects on me. For starters, after playing with the Nexus One, I am now 100% convinced that I want one. The phone is extremely impressive both in terms of its hardware and software. It is surprisingly thin and the screen is gigantic, relatively speaking. The entire phone is made out of some sort of rubberized material I have not seen before. In terms of the processor, the Nexus responds extremely fast, way faster than any other phone I have used, but then again, I have never used a Snapdragon device.
The software though is what convinced me that the Nexus One is worthy of all its hype. I have been using Android 1.5 on a Samsung Galaxy, and the phone’s 528mhz processor just prevents you from getting the full Android experience. After playing with the Nexus, I can safely say that Android is the future of mobile phones.
Besides leading me to the conclusion that I want a Nexus One, the other effect all the buzz had on me, was a curiosity to better understand the potential of Android as an open OS. Like I said, I have been using the Galaxy for a few months now, but not as my primary phone, due to a few disadvantages of the phone, the primary one being the relatively slow processor. However, after playing with the Nexus One, I decided to try and get to know my Galaxy a little better and to attempt and take full advantage of its open capabilities.
So, I started to customize the Galaxy in a way you can only do on an open platform, and sure enough, I fell in love with the OS. I am still not throwing away my Bold since I need the push mail and the Galaxy has some funny problems like a lack of lights on the hardware buttons, making it impossible to use at night.
Having said that, I am much more impressed with the Android platform and the Galaxy then I was a month ago, so I thought I would share the potential I recently discovered and how I did that.
So, let me start by saying that if you have been using Android and you have gotten to know the OS well, I am sure most of what I am going to say here will seem obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me.
First of all, one of my biggest complaints from day one of using Android was the keyboard. Comparing it to the keyboard on the iPod Touch, which is the only virtual keyboard I had ever used, left me very frustrated. I found the keyboard difficult to use, and I was unable to write a single sentence without errors.
I was, however, stuck in the mindset that a phone has one keyboard, and I would have to get used to it. I have Apple to blame for that Jail like mentality, so thanks a lot Steve. With Android, this is very much not the case, and when you are typing something on the phone, whether it is an email or a text message, a simple long press on the input field enables you to switch keyboards. Turns out my provider preinstalled a multi language keyboard on the Galaxy that was bundled with major issues, crashes, and a lack of proper corrective software. Once I switched to the default Android keyboard, life was a whole lot better, but still not as good as it was about to get.
As soon as I found that I can easily change the input method, I figured there has to be a downloadable keyboard that will one up the Android keyboard, and no surprises there, I was right. The name of the app is “Better Keyboard” and despite the lack of creativity is its name, that is exactly what it is, a better keyboard. Searching the Android Market for the words “better keyboard” will show you just how customizable this app is. There are approximately five hundred different skins for Better Keyboard, and each one makes the keyboard appear differently in terms of its size, color, and shape. I can’t help but think how this would never fly on the iPhone.
So my biggest issue was now solved and I was typing just as fast as I would on the iPod Touch if not faster. I was then curious to see what other fundamental features of the phone can be changed using a 3rd party app, and I quickly realized that there was almost nothing that could NOT be changed. I downloaded an app called Open Home, and this app really helped me realize what an open OS means. Forget the keyboard, Open Home provides an entirely new look to your home screen.
Android allows three home screens by default, which might not be enough for users that like to have all their apps on their home screen. With Open Home, you can have seven home screens, now we’re talking. However, that is not it. Open Home, similarly to Better Keyboard comes with hundreds of skins from which to choose. You can make your device’s home screens look like anything you want including any the other popular mobile device. Open Home lets you fully change the look and feel of your Android device, and I mean fully. The one issue I have with Open Home and the reason I am not using it exclusively on my phone (I switch between the default Android home and Open Home) is because there are no available widgets in the Market yet that are compatible with Open Home.
This leads me to my next point, widgets. Forget everything you knew about mobile phones and their settings. Forget having to go into Settings to make the screen brighter, turn on Bluetooth, see the status of your battery, or anything else you would do on your Settings screen. It is all available as a widget in the App Market. That means that pretty much any functionality you would need from your mobile phone is available with one press. You know how Apple’s main iPhone campaign is “There’s an app for that too”? Android’s should be “There’s a widget for that too”. Anything you can imagine is available in widget form.
My first home screen (not in Open Home) is full of widgets. I have a widget to turn the phone on silent and then back to loud in one press, I have a widget to enable and disable Bluetooth, adjust the screen’s brightness, turn on/off the Wifi, a post-it widget to quickly add any notes to myself on the home screen, a voice recorder widget, a volume widget, a battery status widget, and others. I think you get the point. Anything I would usually have to open the settings to adjust is available on one home screen.
Other widgets I have include Facebook, TuneWiki, Twitter, and many more. One more widget that deserves a mention is a picture frame widget. I have one on each home screen, which works out well since there are only three home screens allowed and I have three kids. Each home screen has a nice picture frame in the corner with one of my kids. It is the perfect size, not taking up too much room on the screen, but big enough to see the face clearly. The size, however, is also customizable. So that is one major advantage to the Android platform, fully customizable home screen widgets.
Moving along, there are of course home screen shortcuts too. I have forgotten what it means to dial someone’s number or even look for them in my contacts. You can add a shortcut to any contact as an icon on your home screen, and with one press, call or SMS them. You can also add shortcuts to web pages, which will open up the URL with, you guessed it, one press. Using shortcuts combined with widgets, I am not sure I would ever have to leave my home screen to do anything on an Android phone.
Then there are of course apps. You can easily drag any app to any location on one of your three (in the default configuration) or seven (using Open Home) home screens. The problem is, three home screens is just not enough for all the apps I would like to add especially given the large number of widgets and shortcuts I already added. Well, there’s a widget for that too.
I found a widget called Launcher Dock, which enables you to select seven apps, contacts, URLs, or whatever else you want to add, and include them in a dock that appears as an icon on your home screen. The dock is fully customizable including changing the fonts color, the way the dock appears and responds to your touch, as well as whether it provides haptic feedback when you press one of the shortcuts in the dock. So, now you have all the apps, widgets, and shortcuts on your home screen, plus an additional seven that can be accessed with Launcher Dock.
Other Android defaults I changed include the browser, which I replaced with an app called Dolphin Browser that provides a new level of browsing the Web. I also changed the SMS interface and how the phone notifies me of an incoming message. This was done using an app called SMS Popup, not a very creative name, but an amazing app.
I could really go on about the different things I did to customize the Galaxy and make it my own, but I think you get the drift. The bottom line is, all the comparisons across the Web between the iPhone OS and Android are in my opinion, ridiculous. While the iPhone OS is “What you see is what you get”, the Android platform is just a platform, and can be completely 100% customized to your needs. There really is no comparing the two.
I am going to continue to use the Galaxy and see what other tricks I discover, but all this Android playing just strengthens initial decision that I gotta get me one of those Nexus One devices. You hear that Google? I am at @hilzfuld if you need my address for shipping.