Friday, February 11, 2011

a week with a robot

sometime last week i bought my first Android phone. i've never owned an iPhone so i can't compare it to that, but i have owned S60 and Windows Mobile phones, so we can start there. this is the LG Optimus V from Virgin Mobile.

pretty much every carrier except AT&T has a version of this phone now, and i personally think this one looks the nicest. you can probably get it for free on another carrier by getting a contract, but the phone only costs $150 without a contract, making it (afaik) the cheapest android phone on the market. with month to month plans with unlimited data and texting starting at $25, this is the cheapest smartphone and plan in the united states. but since the price is so low, there have been some problems.

the battery sucks. the damn thing could hardly stay on for 8 hours after the first charge. after killing the battery 3 times the battery slowly started to gain some extra life (after about 4 or 5 days). some forum browsing had me try a few tricks like turning on airplane mode or turning off data, and this has something to do with the "cell standby" battery-sucking thing in the phone's battery use screen. i haven't measured the battery life since the last charge, but if the phone is alive when i wake up in the morning it will have lasted just past 12 hours on standby. this is HORRIBLE standby battery life for any modern smartphone, but to be honest if i can just make it stay alive for 3/4 of a day i will live with the crappy battery life. (this is all with gps, bluetooth, wifi and google syncing turned off and brightness set to the lowest setting)

the keyboard (both android keyboard and swipe) lock up randomly in some apps like the browser. like 4 times in a day. i installed the "gingerbread" keyboard from android 3.0. it doesn't do swype (which is kind of annoying) but at least it isn't freezing up all day now. it seems like portrait typing is a lot more accurate than landscape which is kind of the opposite of how i thought typing accuracy would go.

google navigation is *amazing*. it's like i finally have a real car gps. even if you're not looking at it, you can listen to it and follow the directions just fine. kind of hard to hear it over music in the car but i'll figure out a way around that eventually.

the phone as a whole is very fast and i never see anything lag or skip really. considering this is a "slow" 600mhz processor i'm kind of impressed, and it's definitely worth the money speed-wise.

what the hell is with Android that you can't close apps? there's a way to "force stop" applications in android, but it's just dumb to me to clutter up your OS with applications you aren't using. some of the apps when you "background" them don't do anything, but some definitely do, robbing you of battery life and using data. just let me close the damn apps android. it makes me feel better.

the "market" feels just like s60 app downloading: a bunch of shoddy, not-quite-trustworthy developers making useless apps for free and requiring you to fork over access to practically the entire phone to do something like download news updates.

it's difficult to do something trivial like just set a black background or select an MP3 as a ringtone. they were nice to provide a tutorial for things like Swype but everything else is a clunky learning process. i think at least once there was some simple action i wanted to do but i had no idea how to do it in android and had to go digging around in google and knowledge bases to no avail.

the camera and video are pretty decent. there's no flash of course, but beggers can't be choosers with a cheap thing like this. it's nice to have 30fps video again.

it's also nice to have a standard 3.5" headphone jack and mini-usb connector for once. i've settled for proprietary connectors most of my life and now i can actually go get a giant microsd card and listen to music with a normal headset. of course there's no media buttons anywhere on the device, but there's a headset with media controls that i might be able to get for it, or make for it.

oh yeah, and i was right about touchscreens: they're shit for texting while driving. you have to look down all the time for what you're typing and correct it, unlike a real keypad. with swype i'd have a pretty good chance of just getting words out a few letters at a time, but since i have to use the gingerbread keyboard there's a high likelihood i'll screw up and it'll take a lot longer to finish just one word.

they tell you some crap in the reviews about "it doesn't have tethering or flash." you can use a browser that transcodes flash to html 5 (skyfire or something), and the tethering is just hidden; a free app download will "push the button" for you and enable it. you can also root the phone but so far i have no need to do anything that requires rooting.

in general i think the Android OS is immature and not as useful as something like s60 or sony ericsson. they're still behind the curve, trying to provide the same user experience that has sat there for years in other more "common" devices. hell, just the "main menu" is awful: 100 different apps crammed into one screen and if you want to separate them you have to do it yourself on one of the 4 or 5 panes of the main workspace screen.

i'm going to terminate my AT&T account and go with just this phone and virgin mobile. the price can't be beat. and now that i have an android phone, all of my texts and calls both come from and to my google voice number, so it appears to everyone that it's "my real number." no more of this 2-phone-numbers crap people had to figure out with me before. it's beautiful.

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