Review: Google Android on the HTC Desire

Mon, May 24, 2010
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (5 votes, average: 4.20 out of 5)
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What a time to be reviewing an Android phone! Google launched Android 2.2 to developers last week – and they are making no attempts to hide the fact that they have Apple firmly in their sights. With so much recent talk about Apple and its practices regarding app store censorship, restrictions on what API’s developers can access, what tools they can use to build apps and of course the very public quarrel between Apple and Adobe over Flash. Having spent the last two years with the iPhone I was curious about what it was like on the Android side of the fence.

So what’s the deal with Android?

As a phone it does a far better job than the iPhone. With multiple keyboards on offer (QWERTY, phone keypad and compact QWERTY) and a multitude of options for customising how they work. You soon come to realise Google built Android around adapting to your needs – you are not expected to adapt to theirs. For one instance: if someone calls you and their number isn’t in your phone – after the call is over the phone asks if you want to add the number to an existing contact, or create a new one. This kind of thoughtfulness is littered throughout the phone.

The HTC Desire has got basic social networking licked with the included Friendstream app – although it’s ambitious in its goal to merge all your social network feeds into one place. For most this will be an adequate solution to get a glimpse at whats happening in the status-sphere, but if you are a Twitter fiend, a Facebook junkie, or are using social networks to do business you will be left wanting more.

I’ve been using social networks for business for a while now, and the Facebook iPhone app has been an important tool for those that need to communicate with their customers on the go. I was disappointed to find that the Facebook app for Android doesn’t let you manage Fan pages, but I wasn’t surprised. It’s a common flaw I find all too often in tools built to work with the Facebook platform. Is it really too much to want a decent 3rd party Facebook fan page administration tool?

Twitter on the other hand is more than taken care of. I lost count of the number of Twitter clients I found on the Android Market. I tried using Twitter for Android, Twidroid and the included Peep over the past week with varying degrees of success, but the recently released Seesmic is the best I have used so far.

Foursquare is a service that I enjoyed using until recently. In March, Foursquare updated their iPhone app to include some new features, unfortunately these added features made the check in process, the whole point to the app to became an ardous process on my iPhone 3G. App speed halved and the steps needed to check in doubled. End result: I gave up on the whole thing. The HTC Desire and Android made the Foursquare experience enjoyable again. The Desire’s speed gets it through the app quicker and the customisation options that Android offers gets you deep into the app even quicker. You can use widgets to show where friends are at a glance and make shortcuts on the desktop of the phone to specific locations so you dont have to waste time searching and locating them when checking in.

So thats a little about the software – what about the hardware?

The first thing I noticed was the good size, light weight and the big 3.7 inch AMOLED screen. The screen looks amazing indoors, but is only okay outdoors. The iPhone screen is better outdoors and it also has a better feel under the fingers. My fingers didn’t slide across the Desire’s screen as easily as they did on the iPhone at first – but once I put a screen protector on the HTC, they glide across the screen just fine.

I had forgotten how much hardware buttons rock. The HTC Desire has volume, Home, Menu, Back and Search buttons. The Menu button lets you access contextual menus without those buttons taking up valuable screen real estate. The Back button takes you back to the  previous screen – even if it was another app which makes its multitasking capabilities even more apparent. Text selection in text fields was a bit tricky to start with, but once I got the hang of the optical trackpad it worked well. Text selection on content like web pages offers more than just copy and paste functionality. The ability to search Google or Wikipedia for the words you select, shorten selected urls and share them in email, SMS, or on Facebook and Twitter via the FriendStream app is all worlds apart from what the iPhone offers.

Sliding down on the lock screen was easy enough to get used to, but the one thing that even after a week of use still trips me up is the inability to wake the phone from sleep by any means than the power button on the top. Pressing the keys on the front won’t wake the phone – no matter how many times I mistakenly try. Muscle memory from two years of iPhone use is hard to shake off.

This last week I’ve been trying out the Desire whilst toting my iPhone around with me just in case  - but for the next week I’m going to go solo with the Desire to see how well I can do without the status quo.

I have been given a HTC Desire handset by Telstra to review. The comments expressed by me reflect my user experience and personal opinion. You see what others in the Social Media Review think of the Desire on Twitter and on the Telstra Exchange site.

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