My Droid/Android 2.0 Experience

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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. good article. I have had the phone since .. a week after release and So far i do really enjoy it. nothing major on it sucks. though i never had an issue with the battery cover. My only trouble spot is finding a way to make sure things don't start back up.. and kill my battery. I cant seem to place it but my battery doesn't last a day now. when I got it it would last 2.
    I've been using the Android (t-mobile version) for several months now, it's been just great!
    My only trouble spot is finding a way to make sure things don't start back up.. and kill my battery.

    I use Advanced Task Killer to get rid of unwanted programs from running down battery life. It works really well in my experience...battery life on conservative use can be 2-3 days.
    The OS seems so intuitive to me and easy to use. My sister just got the Droid (Verizon version) and she, not being a huge techy, absolutely loves the thing! Way to go google!
    i have that app. but crap just restarts. example alarm clock..
    like today took it off the charger at 8:45am est, its now 1:15 and has about 10% life left. only things running are gmail, voice dialer, settings, trap(app game), email, alarm clock!, corp calender, messaging, and task killer.
    I have had the G1 for over a year. I would not trade it for any phone out there.
    1. Remember this is a mini computer and so the battery will not last as long as a typical cellphone. The G1 has a 1140mAh battery stock, so it usually runs about 8 hours with minimal use of apps/texts/gps and so on. Tmobile recommends dimming the display/turning off sync and gps or wifi when not in use. With Heavy use I could kill the battery in an hour or so.
    2. I recommend looking for an extended battery. I have bought a Extended 2300 mAh battery, which as you can expect lasts me twice as long. You do sacrifice a slim back, but after what I hear about the droid, that is a problem in and of itself.
    3. If its not availablet yet, I am sure it will be soon, so sit tight. Some G1s have upward of a 3600 mAh battery, but I don't think you will be needing that. The extended back makes it a little difficult to use hard shell protectors, but I have no problem putting it in my normal cell case.
    As I said before I would not give up my G1 for any phone on the market currently.
    P.S. As of yet I have not been able to kill my cellphone before I would NORMALLY be home or in my car and could plug it in.
    i agree it that it will die faster. but today zero use from the times i stated and the battery went down 90% percent? not good. I do need to get a car charger.
    Just a note - front page missing summary
    Please insert a summary of the article, or the first few lines of the article here. This is what will appear as a summary of the article when displayed on the frontpage, below the article title.
    Sorry to be offtopic but why the '98 join date set when there was never a setup like this for linking articles in the forums? Seems kinda cheesy, why not just have the editor post it?
    That's weird that your having such problems with battery charge. I'm at 54% from charging yesterday (although use has been reasonably light). Have you made sure that your updated to the most recent (2.0 I think)?
    joedymueller
    i agree it that it will die faster. but today zero use from the times i stated and the battery went down 90% percent? not good. I do need to get a car charger.

    That is a quirk with android and reading the battery. Some of the Apps will read smaller increments of voltage change on the battery, while the android phone reads it and can be 10% off. For instance anything between 91% and 99% could show as 90%. Additionally, you can also try to calibrate your battery as follows: Fully Charge - Drain till phone turns off. (leave turned off) Plug in and fully recharge to 100%. Repeat. Repeat.
    What this does is lets your phone know what the voltages are of your battery because its not always linear. This will help calibrate what the phone reads for percentage of voltage.
    Also to note: a friend had a phone that the battery stayed at 99% till the phone shut off. (The battery charge was fine, just the sensor was off). Once he changed to a extended battery, the "guage" started reading again. So apparently the "sensor" is in the battery.
    Brutal-Force
    That is a quirk with android and reading the battery. Some of the Apps will read smaller increments of voltage change on the battery, while the android phone reads it and can be 10% off. For instance anything between 91% and 99% could show as 90%. Additionally, you can also try to calibrate your battery as follows: Fully Charge - Drain till phone turns off. (leave turned off) Plug in and fully recharge to 100%. Repeat. Repeat..

    That's exactly what I did for the first two weeks of owning the phone. Worked great :cool:
    I'm not sure what's going on with your battery. I text like a maniac on mine all day at work and run Pandora to stream music to some external speakers as well and my battery usually lasts until I dock it on my nightstand before bed.
    On Battery Life:
    CDMA Hero- out of the box battery life was atrocious. However, a month into owning the phone i can easily leave the phone off the charger overnite and then some with no worries (only charged it once over the weekend). I know these batteries aren't supposed to need a breakin but it seems that time did make a huge difference.
    Different phone hardware, but similar platform. just thought i'd share.
    Oh and I love android, best phone I have ever owned :)
    Ben333
    Sorry to be offtopic but why the '98 join date set when there was never a setup like this for linking articles in the forums? Seems kinda cheesy, why not just have the editor post it?

    I thought the same thing.
    alfredara
    Has Google's Android been ported so that it can be installed on an iPhone? I have an iPhone and I like the UI on the iPhone OS, but I like developing on Android better. Has Google's Android been ported so that it can be installed on an iPhone?

    No and most likely never will be even though it is possible because they both use an ARM cortex A8 CPU. You can skin the Droid to look like an iPhone's interface although it already does for the most part.