Accordion Al - image by Ivy, age 10

Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Analyzing the increasing utility of Android smartphones

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2012 First published in Business in Vancouver February 21-27, 2012 Issue #1165 High Tech Office column

While Apple fans line up at dawn the day of an iPhone model launch, competing smartphones running Google’s Android system have quietly gained features and market share.

When the first Android-powered phone was released (late 2008 in the U.S., the following spring in Canada), it seemed merely an iPhone wannabe, in existence mostly so that mobile carriers lacking an iPhone franchise could cater to customers wanting a touchscreen.

Android software, however, has evolved more quickly than Apple’s iOS and because of the wide range of manufacturers developing Android-based hardware, new features – like support for fast LTE networks – come first to Android phones.

Some downsides: Android’s openness results in incompatibilities. Manufacturers customize the operating system for a range of hardware, which can make upgrading difficult as new Android versions are released. And while Apple keeps tight reins on its App Store, Google’s Android Market is relatively wide open, sometimes allowing low-quality apps and even malware to slip in. While many IT departments are starting to support iPhones and iPads, there’s more hesitation about bringing Android into large organizations.
In any event, there were some 200 million Android systems in use worldwide by late 2011, with an estimated 700,000 new activations every day.

While no single Android model outsells the iPhone, overall there are claimed to be more smartphone users with an Android model than an iPhone. However, I haven’t been able to find Canadian statistics. Recently, I’ve had the loan of three Android smartphones, one from each of the top manufacturers: HTC, Motorola and Samsung.

All feature big, attractive screens – larger than the iPhones, with fast dual-core processors and reasonably high-resolution cameras. Each can act as a mobile hotspot for your laptop on the go.

The HTC Raider (not to be confused with that company’s Radar – which runs Windows Phone 7) runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and is the only one of the three supporting speedy LTE speeds. My loaner Raider ran on Rogers’ network. (Telus’ high speed LTE network has recently “gone live” in Vancouver.)

Rogers is offering the Raider for as little as $25 with a three-year contract – or for $575 with no contract. It’s also available from Bell – while Bell’s LTE network has not yet been rolled out here, the Raider can also connect to existing 3G networks.

HTC’s Android models all feature that company’s Sense customization, which offers multiple customizable home screens and integration of social networks, email and other messages. The customizable lockscreen lets you view weather, stock updates or more without unlocking the phone.

Before the iPhone/Android revolution, Motorola sold 130 million of its original, stylishly thin RAZR, which is still a record. The company’s new RAZR is touted as the thinnest 4G smartphone.

Like the Raider, it runs Android 2.3 and boasts a back covered with a thin layer of rubbery kevlar. I doubt that makes the phone bullet proof, but it does make it less slippery than most other models.

Like the Raider, the RAZR runs a customized version of Android 2.3 – Motorola sometimes calls its customizations MotoBlur - again providing social media integration and screen customization. It also includes Motorola’s custom MotoCast software that works well for connecting to Mac and Windows computers for sharing music, photos, documents and more. Nice feature – data can be transferred wirelessly. Also nice – Smart Actions for customizing rules like “turn off GPS overnight” to save battery life. From Rogers: from $100 with a three-year term to $650 with no term. Note that a new, somewhat thicker RAZR Maxx with a larger battery is on its way.

I also had loan of a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, currently the only device available running Google’s newest Android version – 4.0 (code-named Ice Cream Sandwich or ICS). More about that next time.

Presumably, both the HTC Raider and Motorola RAZR will be upgraded to ICS, but neither company is saying when. As is, though, either is an attractive alternative to the iPhone juggernaut.