After reluctantantly saying goodbye to my HTC HD2 Windows Mobile 6.5 device earlier this year, I started an experiment. Grabbing a SIM Only Deal from mobile carrier, Three – I would, in turn, use an iPhone, a Windows Phone device and an Android device for a few weeks at a time each, using them in anger as my sole device for day-to-day activities, both business and leisure.
So how did I find it? Read on!
Firstly, this experiment isn’t about the handsets themselves – it’s more about understanding the capabilities of the various Mobile Operating Systems out there. That said, the HTC Sensation looks beautiful – with a large bright 4.3” screen, very thin design but comfortable enough in the hand – plus a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, making it really fast in use, and an impressive 8 Mega-Pixel Camera.
I initially felt uncomfortable using the catch to take the back of the case off to insert the SIM card, as the case does feel plasticky and flimsy, but got used to it over time. The Micro-USB charging slot is on the left hand side, which feels awkward too – and the power button on the top of the device doesn’t feel comfortable initially as it’s too thin, but again, you get used to it. You’ll hear that phrase “I got used to it” a lot…
The Sensation boots up quickly… sometimes. I’ve gone from pressing the power button to entering my SIM PIN and being at the home screen in as little as 5 seconds on most occasions, yet on others it inexplicably takes 30 seconds or more from the SIM PIN to arriving at the home screen. It’s still faster than most other Smartphones I’ve tried though.
Through the setup stage, and no surprise here, you’ll need a Google account. Everything revolves around a Google account, so if you’re going Android, get used to using Google.
On the home-screen, HTC have placed their HTC Sense interface on top of the usual Android UI. As a fan of HTC Sense, I quickly got to grips with this and was swiping left and right between the numerous home pages you’re offered to install Widgets and App shortcuts.
Talking of Widgets, which are small “always active” apps on the Android screen, HTC bundle a load of them out of the box – from Calendars to Agendas to something HTC call “Friend Stream”, a Twitter-like display of all your friends Twitter and Facebook updates. I found myself using it a lot. There are also a ton of widgets you can download for free. The home-screen may not look too impressive at first glance, but you can customise it to your own specifications very quickly.
Android gives the ability to create folders on a home-screen to contain Apps, but it’s far from intuitive to do this. I had to ask a fellow Android user to show me how. Once you’ve got it, it’s simple. Likewise adding App shortcuts and moving them between folders is simple, but clunky. This was the start of a number of indications that Apple’s iOS is simply easier to jump right in and get working with when compared to Android, but that Android is more customisable. Another running theme in my findings.
Getting back to Social Media, and I was blown away by how well Android and HTC Sense integrates with not just Twitter and Facebook, but LinkedIn, Google+ as well as Exchange, GoogleMail, Flickr, Foursquare and seemingly anything else you wanted to use. Once you’ve setup an account for each of these platforms, the HTC Sensation pulls all the updates and any other information from them and presents it in a unified fashion within your contacts screen. It *can* get messy, the Sensation occasionally got confused with duplicate GoogleMail and Exchange information – but on the whole it’s fairly amazing to be able to see all your friends latest Facebook updates, their Mobile numbers (whether pulled from Exchange or Facebook), Flickr pictures, Twitter updates and everything else in one location. Of course, you can use the individual apps for Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. as normal – but if you’re a heavy Social Media user, then you’ll love Android.
Android is hot on notifications. It’ll automatically notify you of new e-mails, voicemails, SMS, Facebook messages, Google+ updates, software upgrades, patches and… just about anything it can. All of these are present in a non-obtrusive way in the notification bar at the top of the home screen, which you slide your finger down to open and view. Initially, all these notifications can become a distraction – constantly sat winking at you from the top of the screen. Over time I learned to quieten the Sensation though – turning off notifications and learning to resist the temptation to act upon others. Android is *very* customisable from this perspective. Out of the box it can blow your mind with all the info it presents, but as you become comfortable you can tailor it to your own liking.
As you’d expect, GoogleMail is supported very well under Android. It’s very easy to setup and you can easily archive messages, read HTML messages, and do just about everything you’d do in GoogleMail.
Microsoft Exchange support was just as easy to setup, and reading and responding to e-mails was a pleasure within the Android GUI. Frustratingly though, Android (like iOS and WP7) doesn’t support Exchange Tasks and Notes. Again I’ve got to ask, if Windows Mobile 6.5 supported these features years ago, why don’t modern SmartPhones? Bizarre. There is a 3rd Party app called Touchdown which brings Tasks and Note support into Android, but it feels a standalone app rather than integrated into the Android experience, and so I couldn’t find myself comfortable using it. Google – as well as Apple and Microsoft – please support Exchange Tasks and Notes in your Smartphones!
The SMS client was very easy to use, with threaded messages and the ability to forward SMS to other contacts. I did notice that Android grouped together conversations though, so if you sent a group SMS – then your inbox would show that conversation separately, but not under individuals SMS threads. I’m guessing this can be changed, and I can see why this would be of benefit to some people, but I occasionally found it confusing.
Wi-Fi is a breeze to setup. You’re instantly notified (see the pattern here?) when an Open Signal is available, and it’s a few clicks to setup your favourite Wi-Fi connections. Once you’ve set a number of Wi-Fi connections up, Android automatically and seamlessly connects to them as you move around. However… this hammers the battery something rotten. I found that using the HTC Sensation as a web browsing device killed the battery life, and it wasn’t unusual for me to require a charge after 90 minutes or so solid use. Not good.
As with all the shortcomings in Android though, there are workarounds. I installed an app called Green Power Free that turns off Wi-Fi when the device isn’t in use. It helped, but the battery life on the Sensation is still really poor – I couldn’t get a full days use of it without some charging in between.
Getting back to Apps though, and this is where Android excels. The Android Market isn’t quite as nice an experience as Apple’s AppStore, but it is packed full of apps – some good, some shockingly bad. Whereas Apple vet all apps that appear in their appstore, Google don’t place the same restrictions on. This becomes self-regulating though as you find yourself using apps based on Word of Mouth recommendations or the ratings other users have given the app in the Market.
I couldn’t find a single App that I used on iOS missing from the Android Market. What’s more, I found a few Apps that I would have loved to have used on IOS but couldn’t find, available on Android. Overall, I think I prefer Android’s Open policy to Apple’s vetted apps policy as it allows more variety.
You might think that all these 3rd party apps (especially the poor ones) affect stability. Well, during a months use the Sensation crashed and rebooted just one time. Throughout the rest of the time I noticed one or two inexplicable slow-down’s, occasionally, but overall the platform was really robust.
Moving between Android Apps is fairly easy – pressing and holding the Home Button on the HTC Sensation brings up recent apps for you to browse through, and pressing the back button sometimes takes you back to your previous app. I say sometimes, because other times it didn’t seem to work and I had to manually go and find the app to re-visit it. With full multi-tasking support for all apps though, this wasn’t a problem as every app was presented in exactly the same state you left it.
Web Browsing is a great experience (battery life problems, as we’ve discussed, apart). I installed the free Dolphin Browser HD to replace the built in web-browser, and didn’t look back. It’s a pleasure to use, with the ability to pinch and zoom in on screens with text being wrapped automatically, and share content with any of the Social Media sites integrated into Android.
Android supports Adobe Flash, and there are great apps for both YouTube and BBC iPlayer. If the HTC Sensation had a more resilient battery, you could easily use this as your one and only media device.
The HTC Sensation has a physical Search button, and was context sensitive. Press it from the home screen and you’re presented with a Google Web Search box. Press it within Facebook, and you’re presented with a Facebook friend search. Very neat.
There is no physical camera button though, which is irritating if you’re a Social snapper like myself. The camera app is pretty amazing though, taking good quality shots and offering you the ability to easily tidy them up with crops and auto-enhancements, before sending them directly to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter or any other 3rd Party app you’ve installed. It doesn’t just blindly send the picture either – the Facebook app allows you to tag people, the Twitter app allows you to add Hashtags – just a really good experience.
One feature that did have me going “Wow” was the Google+ app feature that automatically captures and uploads any photos you take on the camera to a private location on the web, and then easily allowing you to share those pictures on Google+. A great way to both backup your snaps and share them.
Again, if you’re a Social Media person, you’ll love Android.
You don’t really need a PC to use this ‘phone, as it sets up out of the box and it’s easy to install apps and run Android updates over the air. However, if you do connect it to a PC then you can browse the device as a drive, or install software to use the PC’s Internet connection from your ‘phone – a useful feature I used whilst avoiding Roaming Data charges in Europe during the test.
I didn’t play a lot of games on the Android, but there are tons to choose from. Likewise, I only used the Android to listen to Podcasts (using the great Doggcatcher app) and the occasional tune via the integrated FM Radio rather than lots of music, but it was intuitive to use, and I felt comfortable leaving behind my iPod Touch in favour of an all-in-one device like the Sensation.
By this stage you’re probably getting the impression I liked Android. You’d be right. It isn’t as intuitive as iOS, nor does it have the clean style of Windows Phone, and for that reason I didn’t pick up the ‘phone and become instantly “Wowed”. But for every irritation I came across, I found that Android’s customisation ability allowed me to overcome that irritation. What’s more, time and time again I came across instances where I thought “It’d be nice to be able to do this…” and investigation showed that Android allowed me to do that.
You’ll gather I think that Android’s Social Media integration is incredible. I thought iOS was good in this area, but it can’t hold a candle to Android – which offers an amazing choice of options to remain connected and share content.
It’s been a month since I began using Android, and a strange feeling has come over me. Unlike Apple iPhone users, or even Windows Phone users, I don’t feel voraciously defensive about Android. If I’m asked how Android is, I won’t staunchly defend the Android platform against the sticks and stones of others. I just smile and say “Well, I like it”.
Unlike the Apple iPhone – it doesn’t “just work”. It takes a bit of time to get used to, and for the non-techy this will be a challenge, but once mastered, you can customise it to the hilt to do everything you want, exactly as you want it.
Unlike the Windows Phone – it doesn’t blow your socks off the first time you see it. But it feels very much like Windows Phone in that it’s challenging the way you’re used to doing things, and offering you new, more efficient ways of doing stuff on a day-to-day basis.
But you know what? After a month, it feels comfortable and it works just how I want it too – both as a business device and a consumer device for a Social Media addict.
I really don’t want to give the HTC Sensation back. If I had a choice of which Mobile Operating System I’d like to use tomorrow, it’d probably be Android, but oddly I’m sure I’d begrudgingly live with a Windows Phone or an iPhone too.
I’m aware the HTC Sensation is a pretty kick-arse handset in terms of capabilities and has a ton of HTC customisation goodness to it. To this end I’m going to grab another lower spec HTC Android handset to see how that performs, and I’m also going to grab a non-HTC Android handset (the Samsung Galaxy S2 springs to mind) to see what the non-HTC Android experience is like.
Since I started the experiment, Windows Phone’s latest update – Mango – has also been released. As promised, as the next part of this experiment I’m going to revisit the Windows Phone platform with the Mango update to see what has changed there.
Despite having tested the three main mobile O/S from Apple, Microsoft and Google – this experiment is far from over. I think it’s fair to say you can see my clear favourites emerging though.
Watch this space.