Paul McAleer

First Thoughts on Android

Paul McAleer

Last week I took possession of a Samsung Intercept. It is not the fastest, most glamorous Android phone on the market but it has one clear advantage: it’s available on Virgin Mobile’s prepaid service, and the monthly cost with unlimited data is $25. Prepaid has been my mobile phone service of choice for a few years now; an iPhone is likely in the future, but not for a couple of years.

As you can imagine, then, it’s been interesting working with this OS versus iOS. My wife has an iPod touch, and I’ve used enough iPhones to know what they’re like, so I wanted to get a few of my first impressions about Android out. (Note that some or all of these items may be specific to the phone instead of Android but, for my purposes, the phone and OS can’t be separated.)

First, animations and scrolling are not terribly smooth. On the iPad, even under iOS 4.2, animations between apps and panels tend to be buttery smooth. On the Intercept, they are usually herky-jerky. It’s a little thing but very noticeable and was maybe the first thing I caught.

The app paradigm is a little different. The default app launcher has a drawer which contains all of one’s installed apps, and a user can have multiple home screens with customized app placement. If you delete something off your home screen, the app isn’t really gone - it’s just back in that “all apps” bucket. I haven’t yet found a way to delete an app I haven’t installed myself. I suspect this is a stinky carrier limitation. One nice thing about the platform, though, is that I was able to totally replace the home launcher app with a nicer one. It still has an all apps drawer.

Android leans very heavily on contextual menus, accessed through a “menu” button. Many tasks are hidden away here.

The aesthetic is rather stark, mostly dark, and feels like it has taken on qualities of BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone.

The Intercept has a physical keyboard which can be used in lieu of the on-screen one in landscape mode. It feels natural to use the physical one, which naturally takes up no screen space. The portrait software keyboard is surprisingly good.

Some apps have explicit quit commands, like Pandora, and others do not. This looks to be a crapshoot.

Being able to pop in a microSDHC card for media is lovely. I’m looking to use the Intercept as my main media player - replacing my 5-year-old iPod - so once I have the new memory card, I’ll note my thoughts on that use case.

All told, Android is quite different than iOS. It has a different set of core ideas and definitely begs for more “tinkering” time. With the iPad I synced it to my Mac, grabbed some apps, and was good to go. With the Intercept, I don’t yet feel like I can just go with it; I feel that I need to spend more time making it more personal. This is a trade-off, and it’ll be interesting to see how I feel about this in six or twelve months.