As some of you already know, I’ve been trialing a Motorola Milestone for the past two weeks. It was lent to me by Scott Weiss, the UI Technology Manager here at the Symbian Foundation (thanks Scott, if you’re reading this). Being a Test Engineer by trade I was interested to see how it matches up with Symbian in terms of quality. Lately the reputation of Symbian in this area hasn’t been so great. I know in my heart that this is little to do with the OS itself and primarily down to the Build & Test practices of the handset manufacturers, i.e. they aren’t up to scratch. The quality of Android as a platform never seems to get disparaged in the same way though, so I was curious to see if it’s as rock solid as Internet sentiment seems to suggest. I will of course talk about other aspects of the device in general, and the Android platform.
I obviously began with getting the device set up for communication. Since both my email accounts are GMail this was absolutely seamless, as expected. I can’t even get my work email on to my Symbian phone using anything other than Mail for Exchange or the built in client, both of which are extremely ugly. Though vastly superior to the solution on Symbian at the moment (it’s something we’re addressing), I was surprised to find a couple of flaws. One was that the attachment recognition is limited, so sending a vCard by email didn’t work. The other was that the reply options are just links at the bottom of the thread like in GMail. It’s pretty annoying to have to scroll down to the end of the mail to reach such a frequently used button.
One of my most used apps on my Symbian device(s) is Spotify, the music streaming service, and this was the first thing I downloaded from the Android Marketplace. I didn’t last very long in using this though for reasons which I tweeted about and which David Wood blogged about. To summarise, Spotify is basically impossible to use in combination with most other ‘intensive’ tasks on Android. Trying to shoot a photo causes it to skip (and affects the flash on the camera too, making it go out of sync) and playing a game such as the (admittedly entertaining) Robo Defense is impossible due to huge slowdown. Eventually I got some of my favourite tracks into the builtin media player and the situation (mostly) improved.
The second thing that I use my phone for is Twitter and I opted for Seesmic as my client of choice. It’s quite good, as easy to use as Gravity on Symbian but with fewer features. All in all Seesmic provided solid and reliable, which is pretty much what I want to see.
One of the most interesting episodes in actually getting myself set up with the Droid was trying to get my contacts on to the device. Coming from Symbian my most familiar way of doing this is with vCards via Bluetooth OPP. To my surprise this didn’t seem to be supported at all in Android. I then tried emailing vCards. As I mentioned before, Android doesn’t recognize these as an attachment. Finally, after asking someone who had borrowed it before, I was told that if I synced my contacts to my work GMail using Mail for Exchange on the Symbian device then Android would populate my phonebook with those contacts. It worked perfectly for me, a very pleasing experience, BUT what if I didn’t have this setup already? What if I’m migrating from a feature phone? I think it’s pretty dumb of Android not to support such basic protocols as OPP. But then I’m a huge Bluetooth geek so maybe it’s just me?
Speaking of contacts I was very pleased, considering my day job, to find a bona-fide bug in Android 2.0. If you’re editing a contact and typing into a text field using the portrait mode keyboard, and then decide to use the physical keyboard – turning the Droid sideways to do so – you’re all of a sudden back at the first field (i.e. the First Name field)! Despite all of the reboots and hanging that Symbian falls prone to, I’ve yet to come across such an issue.
The Droid hardware itself is pretty poor. Capacitive touchscreens (I thought) were designed to be sensitive. That’s the point – you lose the ability to use it with gloves/stylus in exchange for superior response. I can’t honestly say that the screen on the Droid was more responsive than that on my 5800 though. A big let-down. What’s more, the thing doesn’t seem to be calibrated right – I always needed to press a few millimetres higher than the thing I wanted to hit. This was especially annoying in the browser when trying to click text links. The camera is shocking – I could give an example but I forgot to keep a copy of the photos I took before wiping the SD card (which is NOT hot-swappable)! Really for the price of the Droid I’d want Motorola to be using better parts. Finally, the slide out keyboard was flat and had two empty spaces in the corners.
My original intent in borrowing the device was to look at the stability in terms of how often it reset, how often it hung and so on. One thing I will give it credit for is that it never locked up like Symbian phones can do (where even pressing the power button does nothing). That’s a frustrating experience and I hope that it’s something that is being addressed. However, it did reset a number of times. In the first 3-4 days when I was using Spotify it reset at least 3 times while I was using it. It also, over the course of two weeks, reset a number of times when it was just sitting on my desk (including twice in about ten minutes once). I would have thought that considering how tightly Google control this software it would have been more stable.
I really have nothing major to say about the Android UI itself. It is quite clearly designed as a touch interface from the ground up, with not even a smidgin of consideration for a 12-key interface. This is good, and combined with the fact that uses transition effects and buffering to manage everything it seems a lot more clean than Avkon. I’m hoping that the NGA in Symbian^3 will bring our UI up to this level, maybe even better. To be honest, how the UI looks is not something I’m greatly concerned about. I did like fact that the options are kept hidden until you press the standard ‘options’ key to make them appear – it leaves a lot more screen real estate.
To finish off, there were some random things that bothered me. There was no notepad application included by default, so I did have to go and get (a free) one from the Android Marketplace. No wonder they’re doing so well if every user who wants to make a note needs to download an application! Staying on the skewing of statistics, I had to get a 3rd party application to do mass photo transfer between devices. This app was free, but this was because it contained ads provided by (you guessed it) AdMob. No Symbian application that I’ve ever used contains such ads, so it’s little wonder that Symbian is falling in this ‘key’ statistic (sarcasm). Finally, I would really like to have included some screens from the Droid in this review, but apparently it needs to be rooted to do that! Since it wasn’t mine I didn’t want to tamper with it. Very annoying.
So that concludes my thoughts on the Droid. Overall, I have to say that I haven’t missed it even a tiny bit since giving it back. The hardware was poor and while there were things to like about Android, there were also things to hate about it too (just as it seems there is for any smartphone platform these days). It has made me want for a (decent) QWERTY slider, but if this is the best option Android has in that department and the N97 is the best Symbian has in that department then I may need to keep looking (I haven’t tried the N900 yet for any decent amount of time).