This time last year I was trialling Nokia’s premiere camera phone of the day across Asia. For 2010 an altogether different handset has passed the far and away test — Google’s Nexus One, sold unlocked in Canada by upstart carrier Mobilicity.
With a few important caveats Android has impressed me enough to usurp Symbian as my primary mobile OS. It’s that good. Yes, the camera on my Nexus One is sub-par; ditto for the battery. But when everything else works so fantastically well neither of these issues really amount to much.
Other Android converts will already know what I’m talking about. For everyone else, here’s what you’re missing:
It’s Not Slow
This was by far my biggest revelation. Apps launch almost immediately and there’s enough horsepower remaining under the hood to support animated wallpapers, of all things!
Getting Organized is Easy
Though lacking a proper file browser by default the five available home screens on my Nexus One — each supporting up to 16 shortcuts (more if you use folders) — means that up to 80 apps are a maximum of three taps away. And the shortcuts automatically snap to a position within a 4 x 4 grid, a feature that Maemo could really use, by the way.
Consistency is Key
The four main navigational elements on my Nexus — back, menu, home and search — are put to good use in every Android app I’ve tried so far.
A Usable Browser
For a couple of years now I’ve been singing the praises of Opera Mini, mostly because Symbian’s stock browser is so bad. Not so on my N1; the on-board browser is a joy to use. Mobile versions of sites — notably Flickr, Wikipedia and Google’s own Reader — look fantastic, and for everything else the stock Android browser does a great job of formatting columns of text to fit your screen, just like Opera Mini.
K-9 is Also Fine
With the possible exception of BlackBerry’s global inbox, K-9 is hands-down the best mobile email client I’ve ever used. Actually, scratch that — K9 has a unified inbox of its own. And though not correctly labeled it even supports IMAP send, just like Thunderbird does.
WiFi Works With You
On Android WiFi is treated like a resource, there if you need it (and understand the potential security risks) just a few clicks away. By comparison WiFi is almost a nuisance on Symbian, as connections have to be initiated manually and explicitly.
Other Surprises and Delights
I’m still discovering thoughtful little touches that make Android such a pleasure to use. My most recent example: Clicking on a restaurant listed in a calendar appointment instantly drops you into Google Maps and searches for it. Pleasant surprises like this just keep on coming.
Now the Bad Stuff
My biggest concern about Android remains the privacy thing, given that Google’s core competency is targeted ads via data mining. That other mobile platforms have their own privacy issues is cold comfort. At least with Android I have the opportunity to not subscribe to the “Google Experience” via custom ROMs like CyanogenMod and Replicant — once I get my Nexus rooted, that is.
Speaking of which, why is rooting necessary to get screen grabs off of the device?
What Smarter People Say
This ex-Symbian engineer puts it best, I think, in a long diatribe on TechCrunch wherein he makes the distinction between PDA phones and Internet ones. Android is clearly the latter — without a usable data or WiFi signal its utility goes way down, but with 3G service and a fat data plan the world is your oyster.
Now it may not be entirely fair of me to compare Google’s reference handset with last year’s non-touch Nokia, and as luck would have it there’s a gently-used N8 apparently on its way for yours truly to trial.