My Droid/Android 2.0 Experience

Introduction

As of the time that I am writing this article, I’ve been using the Android 2.0 operating system on my new Motorola Droid phone for 4 days now. The one thing I wasn’t expecting, and most of you probably weren’t as well, is that Android is an operating system. I would consider it a full blown Linux distribution. I never expected there to be such a learning curve with a phone. This is not just a PDA with a phone built in. Even though technically there are other smartphone OSes such as Windows Mobile, Palm and even Apple’s the only real comparison is to Apple’s and even that is a bit unfair because Android 2.0 is more and that’s what I want to focus on: the OS.

Desktop

When the OS boots up you are greeted by a Terminator or Cylon like red pulsating eye followed by a robotic voice that says “Droid” which reminds me very much of the old arcade game Berserk.

From there you are taken to your “desktop” which contains a basic assortment of applications. In the Droid OS there are 3 fully customizable desktop screens that you can switch from. You could have one desktop full of the apps that you use at home, one with of the apps that you use in the car {while someone else is driving, right? -ed}, and one with the apps that you use in the office. You can set it up however you want though. Myself, I have one desktop with all of the most used apps and one with nice looking analog clock and a weather widget. I have yet to make use of the third one.

Applications

While on the topic of the desktop and widgets: The widgets work just like your widgets in other OSes work. They can reside anywhere on your desktop. You’re not limited by anything but screen real estate. Just download them from the Android Market.

Nice segue eh? Yes, Android has an app market. Some try to call it an app store but I don’t think Apple would like that very well. The app market works very similar to what the package managers in Linux do, but better. By better, I mean there are no interdependencies to worry about or files to configure in order to point to the latest repositories. It’s uncomplicated which is how the general public likes it. You pick the app or widget from a list of categories or search for what you need based on keywords. The apps are very small and download quickly. That’s great in that you don’t spend a great amount of time waiting and testing. Download the weather widget you’re looking for, launch it and keep it, or if you don’t like it go into the application manager and remove it.

An app manager you say? Yes, Android 2.0 has an app manager. I haven’t had it happen yet but suppose I had an app hang on me or act generally goofy then I could go into the app manager and kill it. From the app manager I could also totally uninstall it as well. The areas of the app manager are separate and labeled as to where one cannot be confused for the other. If you want to kill an app, just go into “Running Services” vs “Manage Applications” to uninstall it.

Across the top of the screen is a nice little system tray. The usual suspects reside there. There’s a clock, a battery meter, a signal meter, a 3G indicator, a Bluetooth indicator, a WiFi indicator and icons representing your currently running apps. It is very neat and well organized.

Interface

The whole screen acts almost as an LCD trackpad, but no double tapping or buttons are required. If you want to switch desktops just place your finger in a blank area and slide it to the left or right to bring up your next desktop. Tap an app icon or widget to open it. Place and hold your finger on the app icon or widget to bring up a menu of available options (like a right-click). Place your finger on the app icon and slide it in any direction to move the icon to a place of your preference. Hold your finger on a blank area of the screen bringing up a menu to switch wallpaper or create a file folder.

Android OS

Since Android is Google’s OS, naturally the Google integration is top rate. Google Docs, Gmail, Google Voice and Google Maps are all seamlessly integrated into the OS. You can turn on the voice recognition and say or use the keyboard to type “Thai food near me” and Google will use the phone’s GPS to pinpoint your location, search for Thai restaurants nearby, give the phone numbers and addresses, give the restaurant ratings and if you wish, plot a course for you with turn by turn directions. Beautiful. Hit the search button and it searches everything in your phone from your contacts list, documents, e-mails, music or whatever you have stored on your phone for the keywords you are looking for as well as using Google to search the internet for it as well. Sure, none of these things are groundbreaking or earth-shattering, but the ease and speed with which they are done on this small device is. One oddity though is the web browser. It’s functional and decent but it just doesn’t seem to be quite as polished as Chrome. I really expected a Chrome browser with Android 2.0 .

Now everything is not all chocolate kisses and roses. While there is really nothing negative to say about the OS, there is a learning curve and for some it will be steep. There wasn’t really an instruction manual that came with it so you are left on your own to explore things, and when trying to find an answer on how to do something even the almighty Google still forces you to wade through unrelated crap and off-topic forum posts in order to find the answer. Even then some of those answers are misleading. On the second day of owning the phone, I was simply looking for a way to connect the phone to my Windows 7 or Snow Leopard machine and transfer files over USB and just plugging it in via USB did not do the trick. Searching Google led me back to the answer that I had to buy a data management package for $50 that included some driver CD and a USB cable. Well thanks to one of the posters here, I found that was a bunch of bologna and that I had to actually hold my finger on the USB icon in the system tray and drag down a menu in order to get to the option to mount the phone as a drive. Such a simple thing was not an easy answer to find even for somebody who has been a user and developer for 16 years. I suspect this will get much better with the gains in popularity that Android 2.0 is going to achieve in the coming months. For now, it is sort of fun to be messing around with the phone and have an “Oh wow! Look at what this can do” moment. I know that I have one about every time I visit the Android Marketplace. The Marketplace is where you are going to have most of those moments as well and that is a good thing. The OS will wow you for a couple of days and then all the wonderful apps can take center stage. Soon you will get used to using the OS and just forget about it, and that too is a good thing because you know that it is working and working well. You’ll be reminded of it though every once in a while when your friend with an iPhone shows you a cool new app that he paid $ for and you go to the Android Market and download it for free.

Update 11/14/09

Wow, how time flies. I’ve had the phone for over a month and its already been through a system update. Now, it’s time to reflect upon that.

The system update changed two things that I can notice so far, the Google Voice search bar can no longer snap and lock to the taskbar at the ton of the screen. I liked it better when it could but people complained that they’d touch one and accidentally open the other, so no big deal.

They also changed the answer/decline method from tracing your finger in a semicircle like an old rotary phone to sliding left to right to accept or right to left to decline. Again, I liked the old method better and wish they would’ve given us an option on which method we wanted.

Unfortunately, I have one negative thing to report with the phone. It’s the battery cover. There are countless threads on the web regarding this too, so I am not alone in this. The battery cover falls off very easily, especially when pulling the phone out of your pocket. I can imagine a few people have probably lost a battery cover on the go. There are two do-it-yourself fixes for this and an iffy one from Verizon. The two do it yourself fixes involve either shimming the batter cover with a piece of folded paper and scotch tape or by bending the cover-catch slightly with a mini screwdriver. I chose the screwdriver method. Needless to say though, these redneck-engineering methods should not be required on such a cool and pricey phone. Some people have reported success in contacting Verizon and asking for a replacement cover. The cover allegedly has a thicker pad on the back thus replicating the redneck paper shim method. I tried contacting the Verizon store where I got the phone and they were clueless that this was happening (yeah right) let alone being offered a replacement cover.

I have had a couple of apps not close gracefully or hang up to the point of needing to reboot the phone but I can honestly say that it has maybe happened only twice and never in the middle of a call, so it’s not that big of a deal.

As expected, the Google Android 2.0 OS is nearly flawless and the real strength or weakness of the phone lies in the Android Marketplace. So far I am not disappointed. I keep discovering new posts on some of the tech related websites I visit where somebody is touting a new app and then I try it and love it. Again, most of the apps are free and the ones that require payment usually have a free alternative so there is an instant cost savings over the iPhone in just the apps alone. Some of the apps seem to have numerous unwarranted updates though. A particular example is a game called Jewels. It seems to be updated twice a week and for no real reason. It’s kind of irritating when an app update constantly pops up for that little game.

Well, that about sums it up and after more than a month with the phone, I still love it and have no buyer’s remorse.

- FudgeNuggets

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Discussion
  1. Make sure you look at the options tho, there are possibilities, but operationally they may not be quite the user experience of online navigation from the sounds of it.
    I.M.O.G.
    Kinda a non-issue if you want the device and you want to make this work for you:

    http://androidforums.com/android-applications/6368-offline-gps-navigation.html

    Basically google for "offline navigation droid" and you'll at least know what your options are.


    NICE!

    I knew there was a reason why I kept my login details for this forum. :santa2:

    TYVM I can now sell my GPS and old phone.
    Droid running at 1Ghz, cool and stable.

    Well, WiFi and GPS both heat the phone up, but the overclocking doesn't seem too noticeably affect temps.

    Which are read in the battery, unfortunately.

    Ran at 1.1Ghz for a while but the phone was NOT stable.

    Rooting a Droid has now become a nearly painless process- http://www.sholes.info/

    But please note that the latest version is not.... reliable yet.

    I have had no (major) problems, and methinks most others have not either, but a large number have.

    Unless you are brave, hit alldroid for other methods or wait a few days for the Sholes Team to get things straightened out. :)
    silent bob
    Has anyone overclocked it yet?

    I bought my bb storm2 just before the Droid came out


    C'mon guys, this the overclocker's forum! Where is the topic at? People have gotten the droid to 1.3Ghz and beyond. Im running 950Mhz stable & cool.

    if anyone has a droid check this out:

    http://alldroid.org/viewtopic.php?f=309&t=1553
    Maviryk
    That may be a no go for me. I need GPS coverage in areas with no cell reception such as the Rocky Mountains and BFE.


    Kinda a non-issue if you want the device and you want to make this work for you:

    http://androidforums.com/android-applications/6368-offline-gps-navigation.html

    Basically google for "offline navigation droid" and you'll at least know what your options are.
    tricknasty
    If the phone has time to download most of your trip once you put it into navigation then you can go in and out of coverage and never know. But if you have zero service the entire time then i dont think navigation will work.


    That may be a no go for me. I need GPS coverage in areas with no cell reception such as the Rocky Mountains and BFE.
    I have had the droid for 5 weeks now and by far the most impressive phone I have ever bought. I used to have the starcom 6700, treo 700wx & Iphone 3g. I would not trade this phone for anything else on the market. My battery last about 1.5 days while Facebookn and light web surfing. I am amazed on the battery life and charge time. My iphone would only make it 7-8 hours between charges and the starcom got down to 4-5 hours between.
    Maviryk
    Does the droid's GPS system work when you're in an area with no reception?


    If the phone has time to download most of your trip once you put it into navigation then you can go in and out of coverage and never know. But if you have zero service the entire time then i dont think navigation will work.
    I.M.O.G.
    Nice, thanks for the update.

    Makes me wish I didn't have a blackberry work pays for, makes it hard to justify buying a Droid.


    Just be lucky you have a job that pays for your phone. I used to work at a employer that paid for my phone but my "brand spanking new job" would laugh me out of the building if I asked them. It's true that more employers are going that way, especially if those employers are of the "on call" type. But out of all the places I worked, I wish I had more of them that gave me that option.

    Frankly, I am perfectly content with my two and a half year old Blackberry 8800.
    FudgeNuggets
    Yeah but all of this is with just downloading an update and not hacking anything.


    I would agree with you, this makes things easier.... except, I have had my G1 hacked for over a year. At this point, upgradeing roms is about a 10 second process, then reboot.

    Also, without a hack, you cannot wi-fi thether. I am currently typing this from my work on my laptop to which I am tethered over wi-fi @ 1Mbps download speeds.

    Edit: Please understand I am not arguing your point, I am just pointing out some of the benefits of Custom ROMs. They are definitely not for everyone, but I expect the average to above average OCForums member's ability to do this would be pretty simple.
    Brutal-Force
    So far there has already been the ability to have 5 desktops, as a matter of fact you can have up to 7 if your using the right ROM.

    Also, using Apps2SD the only limit on the number of applications is the size of your SD. Its been that way for almost a year on any number of special ROMs. Mine for instance has a 512mb partition for Apps.

    As far as google earth, If you mean sattelite view, thats been out for a while and you also have google Navigation (a full fledged naviagtion not just maps with a pointer) You can even Nav in streetview, its pretty cool.

    The moving wallpapers are the only thing we don't have yet. Also looking forward to Flash on Android, thats a long time coming.


    Yeah but all of this is with just downloading an update and not hacking anything.
    FudgeNuggets
    Just got word that Android 2.1 will be available in the next few days for any Android phone.

    Not sure what all it encompasses other than the following:

    1. moving wallpaper (there is one where you can touch a pool and make ripples)

    2. 5 desktops instead of 3

    3. Google Earth

    4. (the big one) no more limit on app installation space (whatever your SD can hold).

    Here's some better info:

    http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2010/01/a-visual-guide-to-android-2-1/


    So far there has already been the ability to have 5 desktops, as a matter of fact you can have up to 7 if your using the right ROM.

    Also, using Apps2SD the only limit on the number of applications is the size of your SD. Its been that way for almost a year on any number of special ROMs. Mine for instance has a 512mb partition for Apps.

    As far as google earth, If you mean sattelite view, thats been out for a while and you also have google Navigation (a full fledged naviagtion not just maps with a pointer) You can even Nav in streetview, its pretty cool.

    The moving wallpapers are the only thing we don't have yet. Also looking forward to Flash on Android, thats a long time coming.