When you work in morning drive time radio, as I do, you learn to go to bed early and turn out the lights. Or in my case, put on the plush blackout blindfold since 8:30 p.m. isn’t exactly my wife’s idea of a normal bedtime. So we live sort of overlapping lives.
The other night I was up ’til 9:30, in bed watching YouTube videos on an HTC Droid Incredible over Verizon’s 3G wireless network. After my earlier post excoriating the BlackBerry, Verizon Federal loaned me some Google Android phones to play with. And so one way to test it was to watch videos–specifically some really obsure ones of pipe organ recitals. The Incredible did a, well, nearly incredible job of smooth motion video. The pipe organ — which produces frequencies beyond the capabilities of even the most capable analog hi-fi systems of yesteryear — was at least recognizable on the Incredible’s tiny transducer. The Incredible could also drive my studio grade headphones with no trouble. But of course that was still a lo-fi experience, as is all compressed sound.
None of this would have occurred if Apple offered the iPhone on Verizon’s network, because I would likely have gone from Palm to iPhone. Funny, but just this week Steve Jobs, who knows his company is running hard on all 12 cylinders, publicly jabbed Google and Research In Motion for having inferior software.
Android phones have been on the market long enough that both the strengths and weaknesses are well known. Google’s OS is a powerful, multitasking environment that has attracted tens of thousands of apps, although not as many as Apple. 90% of the apps in either case are stupid wastes of time. The differences between it and Apple’s iOS have sparked the religious debates typical of these camp issues.
Let me say, I would buy a Droid except HTC Sync is incompatible with Macs, and I am an all-Mac guy. At least the Blackberry pulled in contacts from both G-mail and Mac Address Book. In general, though, the situation in syncing all devices is inadequate to integrate the sources of information people have. Some of my contact information is in gmail, some in the native Mac address book. Of all the things the super-smart phones do, basic organizing still hasn’t surpassed what a Palm could do five years ago.
For real working people, the ability to sync with Microsoft Outlook is a must. And although iCal on my Mac would not sync onto the Droid, some outlook appointments from the radio station mysteriously did.
I also tried the larger and heavier Droid X by Motorola. Both phones are packed with features. The Incredible is slicker, a delightful shiny machine, while the X has high definition video but a clunkier case with a kind of rear foot sticking out the back. The Incredible has touch-pads for its four standard front buttons plus a circular, optical cursor pad. The pad is too close to the other nav touch-spots so I ended up hitting the wrong function too easily. The X has mechanical front buttons. I haven’t yet tried the Motorola Droid 2 with a generously-sized, slide-out real keyboard.
The Droids’ browser was noticeably faster and crisper than that of the BlackBerry. And the pinch-or-flick finger motions on the touch screens let you zoom in much more finely than on the BB.
I’m not a total convert to virtual keyboards, but the on-screen keyboards of the Droids are okay once you get used to them. The Incredible, however, is almost too sensitive, and because of the software design of its e-mail program it is very easy to inadvertently touch a couple of wrong buttons that get you completely lost, unsure where, for example, a reply was lost, sent partially-written, or saved as a draft somewhere.
On the other hand, both the virtual and real keyboards have dedicated <.> and <@> buttons (with the virtuals also having <.com> buttons) — all shamefully lacking on the BlackBerry.
Beyond the feature details, the Droid experience is simply richer and more satisfying than that of the BlackBerry, which seems clunky in comparison.
Which gets to the philosophical question of which smart phone camp is best. Of the Big Three, the market is voting Apple, Google and Blackberry, in that order. Whether the new Microsoft Windows 7 phones catch on, it’s too early to say. All but Google share the philosophy of strict control over hardware so that the user interface is the same no matter which phone you choose. With Apple you get a choice only of how much memory you pack in the iPhone. Google has opted for the open strategy, which means hardware manufacturers implement the OS however they want. My feeling is, so what? Most people only use one phone at a time.
I felt good about the Droids immediately, whereas after months I still don’t love the BlackBerry experience. In my opinion both OS/application sets have a way to go, but the Google OS and the applications that come with the Droid are all superior. None of these machines, iPhone included, is as intuitive to use as the advertising would have you believe, but they’re still indispensable to a digital life on the go.