Google Android “HTC Dream” phone review

Wednesday, 25 February, 2009

The Google Android, or HTC Dream as it is also known, is a mobile phone, camera, and mini-computer, and is Google’s response to the iPhone.

Powered by the Android open-source operating system, the handset also features a 480 by 320 pixels tilt screen, with 65K colours, and full five row QWERTY keyboard.

Also included are numerous Google applications: web browser, Gmail, Talk (instant messaging), Maps, Calendar, plus YouTube and a music/MP3 player.

Additional applications, similar to those available for the iPhone – which can either be functional or fun – can be downloaded from the growing Android Market.

I was given an Android handset to try out for a week or two, and have put together some observations made in that time. Note I am NO tech geek, plus I have NOT used an iPhone so cannot make direct comparisons between the two devices.

Desktop

While the Android’s screen dimensions are 480 by 320 pixels, the desktop scrolls from left to right increasing its total width to 960 pixels.

Default desktop features include an analogue clock, Google search bar, and an application tab which opens up to reveal all installed software. You also can create desktop shortcuts to your favourite applications.

Touch-screen

Despite having a keyboard, most of the phone’s functions are activated by touch-screen commands, including the phone dialer and text messaging, while all applications are opened using the touch-screen, or the trackball.

Trackball

Besides the touch-screen commands, you can also navigate Android using the trackball, which is a point and click device located just below the “menu” button on the front of the phone. Like a laptop computer pointing device it takes some getting used to but is fine once you have the hang of it.

Keyboard

While the Android features a full five row QWERTY keyboard, it is very small. Despite this, and my occasional “fat fingers” affliction, I had very few problems with the tiny keyboard, and it becomes easier to use as you become familiar with it.

Phone and Internet

Using the “dialer” function, phone numbers are entered via the touchscreen, not the keyboard. While I have read of a few gripes with the iPhone’s call quality, the Android’s reception was usually clear, and I had no problems with calls to or from the handset during my use of it.

Likewise accessing the internet was hassle free, and most websites I looked up usually loaded very quickly.

Text Messages

To send text messages select the “messaging” icon from the list of installed apps, and enter the number of the person you are messaging into the “to” field at the top of the screen. I did find the full keyboard much easier to use for composing text messages than the multi-character mobile phone keypads.

Camera

Android comes with a 3.2 megapixel camera which takes photos of a reasonable quality. It’s not for the serious photographer obviously but is certainly fine for snapping days and nights out with family and friends.

Browser

The web browser is simple to use, and is much like Google’s Chrome browser. With the browser open, simply type in the URL of the website you wish to visit and press the enter key.

For web searches again type in your search term (again with the browser open), press enter, and a list of Google search results will be returned.

As an aside, there are still very few websites that offer a useful mobile version (mine included). Devices like Android and the iPhone are making mobile web access available to more people than ever before… web developers are you reading this?

Battery life

The one major gripe I had with the Android was its low battery life. I needed to charge the phone almost daily, even if it spent long periods on standby mode only. If I was away from base for the day, and making heavy use of the handset, this could pose problems.

And once the battery reached 15% charge, the handset almost demanded to be recharged immediately. As a result I would recommend carrying the charger at all times.

Other issues

I did find the touch-screen a little difficult to use at times and had to rely on the trackball to open applications sometimes.

The Android’s proprietary mini USB connector may annoy some people, though incorporating a standard USB plug would be a problem on a device this size.

Twitter

What fun would a mobile mini-computer be without having access to Twitter while on the move? There’s a number of Twitter applications for Android – and doubtless more to come – but I tried Twidroid which I downloaded from the Android Market.

While it only stores the last 80 tweets of the people you are following, it is still a fine substitute for using Twitter in the absence of your usual computer application.

Summary

Overall I enjoyed my Android experience. For what is effectively a mobile phone sized “mini-computer” the Android packs quite a punch.

It will especially suit anyone who requires both computing power and phone and web connectivity while on the move or away from the office.

In Australia the HTC Dream handset is currently distributed by Optus.

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