Google Androids tackle Apple iPhones in Canada
Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business
July 21-27 2009 issue #1030
High Tech Office column
This column has looked at a
variety of would-be iPhone killers: smartphones with large
touch-enabled screens for web-browsing, music-listening, photo- and
video-viewing and more, from a variety of manufacturers. None has
captured a large share of either market or public attention away from
Part of the problem is that competitors have
focused on the hardware. The iPhone, however, has been successful
because the hardware is just a piece of a larger whole, integrated with
the on-phone user interface and a network expanding out to Apple’s
wildly successful AppStore (“over a billion sold”).
surprisingly, Google is challenging Apple’s iPhone success. Not being a
hardware manufacturer, it doesn’t directly produce or market phones.
Instead, Google has sponsored development of a pocket-sized Linux
variant, Android, making it available to smartphone manufacturers. A
pair of models – HTC’s Magic and Dream – became the first
Android-powered smartphones available in Canada on the Rogers/Fido
network this spring ($99 with plan).
The biggest difference
between the two: the Dream features a slide-down relatively large
QWERTY keyboard; the Magic, like the iPhone, uses an onscreen virtual
keyboard. The Dream is similar to the HTC G1, which has been available
on the T-Mobile network in the U.S. since last fall. Rogers loaned me a
Dream for review.
While much of the iPhone’s utility comes from
its integration with Apple’s ecosystem, the Android phones’ biggest
strength comes from their integration with Google’s range of services:
Gmail, Google Maps and more. As a Gmail user, I was immediately in sync
with my mail, contacts and calendar. There’s another e-mail program for
everybody else – usable but more setup required than for Gmail users.
built-in GPS integrates nicely with Google Maps. The 3.2 megapixel
camera includes video – a feature just matched by Apple. Like the
iPhone, but unlike, BlackBerry’s touch-screen Storm, there’s Wi-Fi,
allowing free Internet when in range of a wireless hotspot.
alternative to Apple’s iPhone AppStore is the Android Market for easy
download of add-on applications direct to the phone. Despite the name,
nothing’s for sale at the Market. Everything, at least for now, is
free. There are about 5,000 programs available – a fraction of what’s
listed at the AppStore. (But as Mac users like to point out to Windows
users, more software options doesn’t automatically equal better
While Apple’s iPhone has built-in
unexpandable storage and comes in eight-, 16- and 32-gigabyte models,
the Dream and Magic models use the widely available MicroSD memory
cards. A two-gigabyte card is included. Most users will want to buy a
larger capacity card. Memory cards up to 16 gigabytes are supported.
The Dream/Magic’s battery is replaceable; the iPhone’s isn’t.
unlike the iPhone, the Androids have no support for touch-screen
gestures like pinching or spreading two fingers to zoom in or out. And
turning the unit 90 degrees doesn’t automatically change the screen
from portrait to landscape. Despite this, I found the interface
straightforward and easy and enjoyable to use.
In some respects,
Android is a more powerful operating system than the iPhone’s, with
more advanced multitasking and copy/paste that Apple has only
implemented in its most recent update. Expect to see Android-powered
netbooks on the market soon.
Business users may be pleased with
the provision of support for Microsoft exchange servers – something
that was missing with the Android G1 model released in the U.S.
Battery life, however, is not great. Plan on getting in the habit of
charging these every night.
The pull-down keyboard makes the Dream bulkier than either its Magic
sibling or the iPhone.
Despite this, it’s a better way to input long messages or other text.
you fancy a physical keyboard in a smartphone, and especially if you’re
already a user of Google’s e-mail and other services, it’s the best
iPhone alternative I’ve seen. It’s ironic that it’s only available in
Canada through Rogers/Fido, who also have the lock on the iPhone. •