A week of Android: grade - B

Summary:Exchange email sync is almost right on the HTC Evo I've been trying out since Google IO; almost is actually quite infuriating but still bad news for Windows Phone.I hadn't tried out Android 2.

Exchange email sync is almost right on the HTC Evo I've been trying out since Google IO; almost is actually quite infuriating but still bad news for Windows Phone.

I hadn't tried out Android 2.1 properly, so the large screen and free 3G connection on the Evo let me try out using it as my only phone for the last week or so. In many ways I've been agreeably surprised. The touch-screen is very responsive; I'm not a fan of capacitive screens in most cases, and it still tends to take two or three attempts to place the cursor where I want it in a block of text, but if you turn the Evo sideways the 4.3" screen makes a very acceptable keyboard and I can take notes in Evernote quite happily.

It works nicely as a phone - especially with the handy PhoneTell app to look up numbers online and tell me who's calling even if I don’t have their number in my address book. The kickstand is intended for watching video, but it's very handy for using the speakerphone for a conference call.

The screen makes Web pages look pretty good and while Skyfire on Android doesn't give me the cloud-based Flash and Silverlight I'm used to on Windows Mobile, it does give me the choice of telling the browser to pretend to be an iPhone or a desktop PC, which improves the look of some pages (the trendiness of the iPhone makes it more likely that pages will have been reformatted to suit) and lets me use the Office Web Apps on Skydrive to edit documents.

The built-in browser occasionally hangs though, leaving me with a grey screen and no easy way to kill or restart the app without restarting the whole phone. I also can't find a way to switch between more than the first few apps that are running (holding down the Home button when I'm already on the Home screen only shows me a handful of icons and the one I actually want is displaced from the list so often that I rarely bother trying it).

The 8 megapixel camera produces excellent images that are almost always in focus (although the lens isn't up to the resolution - this Lego logo in Lego is a good example); I'm looking forward to the on-screen camera controls in Froyo, depending on how HTC skins them. I particularly like being able to see images from Flickr alongside photos I've just taken. But the first time I snapped some photos and wanted to look at them in the Gallery app, all the image thumbnails were greyed out. Had my SD card got corrupted? No, it had just unmounted itself; rebooting the phone let it remount the SD card and after a remarkably long time (up to 45 seconds per image, by my count), the thumbnails appeared and I could look at the photos - at last.

I've had to restart the phone more than once for an even more irritating problem; mail sync that doesn’t quite. At least three times the phone has got stuck syncing from Exchange; new messages appear and the counter ticks up to, say 49/77 or 50/63. I try to open or delete one of the messages - which I'm used to doing on Windows Mobile while other messages are downloading - and the wrong message opens. I close or delete the message - and back in the inbox all the new messages have disappeared. Then they re-appear - complete with the message I deleted - but the counter sticks at 49/77 or 50/63 or however far the sync is getting. Cancelling and restarting the sync doesn't fix the issue; restarting the phone usually does but that may simply impose a long enough pause for the phone to finish the sync. With other devices that use Exchange Active Sync, if the sync is only partially complete I'm used to the device dealing with that gracefully rather than undeleting messages and generally waving its hands in the air.

Battery life is a day, counting from when I get up to when I go to bed; if I've been using GPS or directions, the phone will be wanting to lie down and recharge an hour or so before I do, if not I may have around a third of the battery left when I plug it in. That's with 3G, not 4G (Sprint's service doesn’t cover California), which is disappointing but only BlackBerry has significantly better battery.

Android 2.1 is a mix of very slick and not quite ready for prime time. There are things that Windows Mobile does better, like filing messages in a different folder (you can’t do it from the message, only from the inbox, and I haven't found a way of bringing up the on-screen keyboard so I have to scroll through the long list of subfolders I use in Outlook to get the folder I want). I miss conversation view being on by default (I always forget to switch to another view from the icon bar at the bottom of the screen). I'm used to press and hold for Copy and Paste, but it's infuriating that I don't seem to be able to paste into a text message I'm composing. But considering where Android was a year ago, most of these are as much niggles as serious complaints (if mail sync continues to glitch, it will count as a serious problem as far as I'm concerned but it seems to have started working normally). I miss having a OneNote client but soon I'll be able to use it in the cloud anyway (though there are times when I want my notes without being online). I've been using Windows Mobile since Orange brought out the first SPV and with all the phones we test it's always been Windows Mobile that I gravitate back to for the combination of mail, sync, Skyfire, CoPilot and OneNote. Despite finding more small rough edges the more I use Android, it would be surprisingly easy for me to switch - and as a keyboard lover I'm amazed how easy I find it to type on this touch screen.

This is bad news for Windows Phone 7, which looks beautiful but has already put me off by the lack of third-party browsers and arbitrary copy and paste (I copy and paste text on screen on my phone at least every other day) or multitasking. By the time it staggers onto the market, Android and iPhone will both be even better than they are now. Google's digs at IO were aimed at Apple because in the phone space, in the US, that's what they have to compete with (at least until HP brings Palm back from the dead again or Google gets enough business features to start competing with even-bigger-seller RIM) and Android is coming on apace. -Mary

Topics: Windows

About

Born on the Channel Island of Jersey, Simon moved to the UK to attend the University of Bath where he studied electrical and electronic engineering. Since then a varied career has included being part of the team building the world's first solid state 30KW HF radio transmitter, writing electromagnetic modelling software for railguns, and t... Full Bio

About

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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