These Android phones are coming out fast and furious. Late last year I got to touch a Motorola Droid. It was a little heavy compared to the iPhone and it had a built in keyboard that nobody liked. Next up, the Nexus One was sold by Google early this year with quite a bit of fanfare as the tech pundits predicted how Google was going to disrupt the cell carriers distribution model. Less than four months later Google pulls the plug on their online sales strategy. Despite all these fits and starts the Android phone, independent of manufacturer, is gaining fast on the iPhone. Obviously people are looking for an alternative and the competition is good for the smartphone marketplace. What I like about Android is how Google and the carriers are willing to try new models and offerings. Some things work, others don't, but innovation continues. In spite of its clunky keyboard, Verizon Wireless and Motorola are now pitching Droids for a special two for one sale. Over the past two weeks, Verizon Wireless loaned me a demo HTC Incredible to play around with. I will admit, I am a staunch iPhone fanboy but am a little infatuated with the Android operating system. Its Google app (Voice, Goggles, Maps, Gmail) integration and open architecture are enticing. And now, with HTC's streamline design I am about to come out of the closet. The HTC Incredible does not have a hardware keyboard making it a very light unit. Lighter in fact than the iPhone. Anybody used to typing on the screen will easily adapt to the Incredible. The 480x800 touch screen is very sharp. Some of my geek friends complaint about HTC Sense, the overlay UI (user interface) that connects you to Android, but I found it quite responsive. The power/lock button on the top of the unit is slight to the touch (compared to the iPhone) and I found myself putting the device in sleep mode inadvertently. I love the 8 megapixel camera that comes equipped with a flash. The addition of an FM tuner was also a nice treat. What I did not like about the HTC Incredible was the lack of Mac support for syncing. I connected the USB cable to my Mac Mini and the unit indicated it was recharging. Outside of that there, was no recognition by my Mac of the device. Others on the HTC Forums seem to have similar problems. One person suggested a third party application for syncing to the Mac but paying for an app that I think should be a basic feature with the phone goes against everything I believe in. All in all a nice job engineering the HTC Incredible in to a compact package but still lacking elements that make it ready for prime time. If HTC/Google fixes the syncing problem I might reconsider, but for now I am sticking with my iPhone. Update: 6/1/10 - I got a chance to talk to Verizon Wireless today and found a way to connect to the phone's disk drive. Forget what they say in the Quick Tips Guide. To get to the drive you need to plug the USB in and watch the top menu bar on the phone. You can drag that bar down to reveal additional options. One option is "Disk Drive". Once selected you can see the unit in Finder and it also automatically launchs iPhoto for picture downloads. Not too intuitive but it does work. My appreciation for this phone just went up a notch.
For the past week or so I've had the pleasure of using a Motorola Droid courtesy of Verizon Wireless. It's a loaner so I have to return it shortly. As these are my first impressions, I am going to make the obvious comparisons to the iPhone 3GS which I will admit I am in love with. The first question I have is without an iTunes like interface, how does one sync all the content to the Droid? At first take it is not intuitively obvious. Neither is it on second take. I thought I might be able to drop content into the Droid if I plug it into my laptop but Finder on my MacMini did not see any Droid device or storage. The Droid did recognize the Mac as a power source, though. So loading music and podcasts will have to wait. The next thing I did was search for applications. The Droid menu includes something called a Market launchable from an icon that looks like a little briefcase. Clicking that brings up the Android marketplace. From here you can search and select from thousands of Android apps. The big difference from the iPhone is Google is not restricting any apps from being made available for the Droid. The vetting process that Apple subjects all the apps getting into the iTunes Store is a big sore point for many developers. As will all things there is a plus side and a downside. For Google Android it is open to anyone wanting to develop for their Droid phones. The downside is that there exists the possibility for some nefarious applications to be downloaded to your phone. In the Apple case, they control access but with the promise that it will be a user friendly environment. Once you find an application you like in Market you just click on it and Install. The app gets downloaded directly to your phone from the Verizon 3G network. I tried a few of the popular titles like Seesmic for Twitter access, Yelp for restaurants and ShopSavvy for barcode reading. All worked fine except Yelp did not have the augmented reality feature as found on the iPhone version. I did like the Google Goggles app just announced last week. With it you can snap a picture of a book, a product, a landmark, even a face. Goggles will then scan the image and return search information based on your image. Very cool. The Motorola Droid phone is solid, even a bit heavier than the iPhone 3GS. I've heard a lot of people complain about the physical keyboard but people complained about the iPhone screen keyboard when it first came out. My only comment is since the Droid has a screen keyboard, it could do away with the physical keyboard and reduce some weigh and complexity. The screen for the Droid is very crisp making for clear images. I also like the Voice activation capabilities with the Droid. I must also mention, last week there was an upgrade to the Android operating system to 2.0.1. The phone automatically prompted me of the update and proceeded to download it. Quite seamless. All in all a very nice phone. One that will be a major player in the smartphone market. Right now though IMHO, the Droid is more suited for the early geek adopter. The true test is the Mom test. Moms are more incline to get immediate benefit from the iPhone before the Droid. I'll update this post as I get more information. Unfortunately I will have to return this phone shortly. Stay tuned to the Dec. 30 edition of Bytemarks Cafe where we will have a couple of gadget geeks on to talk about their impression of the Droid.