There's been rather a lot of talk about vulnerability in recent HTC Android phones, and rather less about the lock screen flaw on the Samsung Galaxy S II for AT&T.

The summary version of the former, for those who don't want to read that whole article or who don't understand it: recent HTC phones include an always-on logger which has access to pretty much everything on the phone. This logger can be accessed by any application on the phone which has the basic "internet" privilege, which is pretty much everything.

So it's a giant gaping hole just waiting for someone to exploit. As best I can tell from the discussion online it's not remotely-exploitable, if you have one of these phones it isn't immediate-panic-stations time, but it does mean that any application you install could be siphoning data off and sending it elsewhere, without needing to ask you first.

The latter requires physical access to the device and may only be relevant to the AT&T variant. It's a simple trick which lets anyone who can get their hands on the phone get in to it even if you've set a security lock.

Both of these demonstrate a risk that comes with Android: there are many fingers in the pie, and you can't be sure where all of them have been. Code on an Android phone will have come from a mix of Google, the device manufacturer, and your mobile operator. You have to trust that all of them get it right, and it is demonstrably true that this is not always the case.

It's an argument in favour of the Apple/Microsoft model wherein only the OS supplier mucks about with the internals, neither the OEM or telco can modify the system beyond installing simple apps with no elevated rights. It may be that Google wind up trying harder to dissuade OEMs from altering the system, we'll have to wait and see how that pans out.

In the meantime it's a pity that Windows Phone 7 isn't getting more carrier love. Obviously they don't like the "can't make mandatory customisations" thing Microsoft is insisting on, just how Microsoft are going to bootstrap to the point Apple is at where the carriers need them more than they need the carriers is another interesting question.

Such a shame the Nokia N9 -- which is even getting television advertising, rather odd for an end-of-line device like this -- is dead on arrival.

Launcher 7

Sep. 7th, 2011 09:46 pm
The tumblr experiment has been kind of a failure, pretty much the only response it gets is spammers. So, something here for a change.

I've been poking at quite a few Android launchers. Most of them are a variation on the same basic theme as the stock launcher: you have some number of home screens on which you place widgets, shortcuts to apps, folders, that sort of thing. You have a button on-screen which, when tapped, presents all your installed applications in some form, typically as a grid of icons.

One which moves away from this is Launcher 7. This is a pretty clear imitation of the basic Windows Phone 7 launcher interface. Last time I looked at it it was pretty unimpressive, but it's got a lot better.

The gist of it is that you have a home screen made up of tiles. When tapped these will typically open an appropriate application. Some of them are "live" tiles, in that they convey meaningful information, like the number of missed calls or unread text messages.

Here's a screenshot of my home screen:

Read more... )

This is taking advantage of two extra things I didn't mention above. The top two tiles are "widget" tiles. They contain Android widgets. The left one is Beautiful Widgets Weather 1x1 with the background disabled and a simple outline skin. The right one is DigiClock tweaked to look the way I want.

Immediately below this is a 2x1 calendar live tile. This cycles through my next couple of appointments. Tap it and it opens the Calendar application.

Below that is the dialler -- which is a live tile, but I don't have any missed calls -- and the contacts tile. The contacts tile is similar to the WP7 contacts tile, it cycles through contact images.

When you slide right-to-left the application menu comes up. This is a simple list of applications, sorted alphabetically. Press the "search" key here and you'll get this nice jump list:

Read more... )

Tap a letter, you go straight to that section of the app list. Nice and simple.

Launcher 7 also supports having a web page as a live tile, and you can create a tile which contains a folder of applications.

The author has some sort of Facebook integration and a proper clock live tile on the to-do list. These would be nice little extras. But basically, if you want something in a live tile you can work around this by finding or writing a widget to do the job.

Overall, it's a pretty nice launcher.
Nuked my Desire Yet Again™. I had been running CyanogenMod 7.1RC1 with all the GO replacement parts (Launcher, Contacts, SMS, Keyboard), but I found that occasionally GO Launcher would go unresponsive -- which was deeply inconvenient at 1AM when I wanted to change the alarm clock! -- and CM7.1 simply ate too much of the built-in storage, particularly given the number of extra widgets and whatnot I was using.

So now it's Oxygen 2.1.6, which is a fairly stripped-back ROM based on AOSP 2.3.4. And I bit the bullet and paid for SBP Shell 3D. This is yet another replacement launcher for Android, and it comes with a bunch of rather well-designed widgets.

SBP made pretty much the best-regarded replacement shell for Windows Mobile, back in the day, so they've got a lot of experience doing this kind of thing. What they've done here is quite good, and I suppose once you consider the number of nicely-designed widgets they've included the $15 price tag isn't completely insane, even if it is pretty high by Android app standards.

And here's a screenshot of my "home" screen:

Read more... )
With the announcement that Telstra and HTC have decided between them to drop Sense from the Gingerbread update for the original Desire, I've opted to take another look at just what can be done with third-party tools.

This post is going to be a little screen-shot heavy, so I'll put the rest behind a cut.

Read more... )

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the results.
A fair while back I gave up on trying to use my Bluetooth headset with the stock HTC Desire build of Android. Then two weeks ago I gave it another bash, and figured out how to make it work reliably.

The basic issue, it turns out, is that the HTC ROM takes much longer to detect and then use the headset, and you must get the order right. Headset powered on first, then enable Bluetooth on the phone, then wait for it to detect the headset, then wait a little longer until you hear a tiny bit of static on the headset, and finally you'll have calls routed to it.

The process takes about a minute, compared to doing the same on other ROMs on the same phone. With CM7 or Oxygen this process is much faster and you can switch on BT or the headset first and it doesn't make much difference.

Disabling this after your call also has to be done correctly. Turn BT off on the phone, wait until the "Headset disconnected" message appears, then turn the headset off. If you don't get it right I've found my Desire sometimes reboots...

I did report this to HTC support a while back but they don't really give a damn.

Now, Skype... The current version of Skype running on the current stock ROM works, mostly, except for one "small" detail: when you trigger the proximity sensor to switch the screen off, then try to get the screen back, the Skype call screen goes black and stays that way until the call is disconnected by the other end. At that point it'll go back to the dialler.

Reported this one to Skype, and they cared even less than HTC. At least HTC could be bothered with more than a canned response which indicated they hadn't even read the message...
When I picked up the original Galaxy Tab on deep discount I stopped using my iPad because the Tab is significantly lighter, smaller, and more convenient for general mobile use.

But a few days ago I re-charged the iPad, bought a book from the iBook store -- something I've not done previously, on the grounds of not wanting to be locked in to using only Apple devices to read, but this was acceptably cheap and disposable -- and yeah, the purchase experience is about as smooth as you would expect from Apple.

Having had the two for a fair while now -- the iPad for about ten months, the Tab for three -- I have a few conclusions:

  1. The iPad is a nicer overall tablet experience. The hardware is slicker, the battery lasts longer, and many applications are explicitly supporting the larger display. iPhone apps work acceptably, too.
  2. The Tab is a much better portable. It'll fit in a large-ish coat pocket with no trouble, and it's the sort of thing you can pull out while waiting at a tram stop to check email or do a little reading, much as you might with a mobile phone.
  3. Android 2.x works okay on a 7" display, and all the apps I've tried have been fine, but very few are really intended to run on such a large screen. This will presumably get better with 3.x and 4.x.
  4. Comparing what's currently available, even Android 2.2 is a more natural multi-tasking platform than iOS 4.3. This will likely change once iOS 5 is released, though Android does allow rather more background functionality if you want or need it.


Removing the iPad from the leather case I bought for it, it stops looking like a clunky old beast and goes back to the "wow, this is a really nice bit of kit!" category.
The devices announced at MWC back in February are finally starting to come on to the market.

I had been thinking that the S-E XPERIA Arc was going to be the best of the bunch. If you want a really good camera in an Android phone and that's the most important thing for you, then it still is, but otherwise it's not entirely ideal. If it'd been released six or twelve months ago it would've been the best thing on the market, so it's still not a bad choice.

For top-end right now I'd go with a Samsung Galaxy S II. It's what I'd be buying if I were upgrading today. Big beautiful screen, Android 2.3, dual-core processor, and a gig of memory so it can handle running a bunch of stuff at once. Really the only drawback I can see is the lack of a shutter key, but almost all Android phones have this problem except the new S-E devices.

For mid-range, either the older Galaxy S or the new S-E XPERIA Neo. The Neo is probably the better bet, it's a newer device so it'll get updates for longer.

The update situation is looking a lot better. Most of the major manufacturers have agreed to do updates for at least 18 months after release. Whether they stick to that is another question entirely, but it's a good start.

If you want to hack your phone, go with a new S-E unit. Everyone else is locking down their bootloaders and not providing any ("legit") way around that. You'll have to buy an unlocked unbranded unsubsidised unit, but at least it's an option. Motorola have said they'll be doing something at some point, but so far S-E are the only ones to have been really explicit about this. HTC used to be great, but their latest phones are locked down.

As tempted as I am by the SGS II my Desire is only a bit over a year old so it's not really justifiable right now. The Desire is due for a 2.3 update soonish, and by the time it's two years old the landscape is going to be different again: I expect S-E will have dual-core phones, and Nokia's WinPhone 7 devices will finally be out. Maybe they'll be flops, but there's potential there.

And the iPhone 5 will have been out a while, so if there's anything genuinely revolutionary in it we'll be starting to see the droid OEMs responding.
My last post was all about what I don't recommend to random people these days: the iPhone.

So, how about something more specific than "Android"?

Of the devices currently available, the two I'd recommend are the HTC Desire and the Samsung Galaxy S. Both HTC and Samsung have fairly good track records when it comes to OS updates, and both of these devices are very well-regarded.

I wouldn't recommend the HTC Desire HD simply because it's known to have serious battery-life problems. Likewise the Sony-Ericsson XPERIA X10 variants.

I don't know enough about the LG devices to make a recommendation. Personally, I'd steer clear of the cheapest knock-offs, like the ZTE and Huwei stuff some telcos are rebranding. But if what you're after is super-cheap (and thus you weren't even considering an iPhone in the first place) then they may not be an entirely bad deal. Just don't expect to much more than you'd expect from a cheap feature phone.

The Desire is about a year old now, but still plugging along very nicely -- it's what I'm using, and while the shiny of some of the latest devices is calling to me, I reckon I'll be able to resist the siren song for another year.

If you want or need a physical keyboard, the two to look at are the Motorola Milestone and HTC Desire Z (T-Mobile G2 in the US), though those are probably the only options anyway. Not sure if any Australian telcos are offering these on contract though.

The Milestone is getting a little long in the tooth. I don't know anyone with a Milestone 2, so I'm cautious about recommending it. Motorola haven't been the best with updates, but far from the worst either.

It's harder to give a sensible recommendation on the 2011 batch of devices, because most of them haven't been released yet and those which have haven't been around long enough. But the ones to keep an eye on are the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Sony-Ericsson XPERIA Arc. For a device with a keyboard, the Sony-Ericsson XPERIA Pro is looking pretty good on paper.

Mobile gamers will probably want to check out the Sony-Ericsson XPERIA Play.

The main disadvantage of the first 2011 batch of XPERIA phones is that they're all single-core. This probably won't matter much for a while yet, but at some point the odds are that someone will come up with something really awesome which needs dual-core. My best guess is that this won't become important for at least another year, probably two, so the single-core devices are likely safe enough for this upgrade cycle.

For the particularly technically-inclined user, the newest S-E devices are looking really interesting as S-E have announced they'll be providing a completely legitimate bootloader unlock mechanism. You'll probably have to buy an unbranded device rather than from a telco on contract, but if you were wanting to hack the phone then you'd probably be doing that anyway.
Got sick of the bootloop problem on Oxygen ROM, reflashed the phone with the stock HTC FroYo install. There is one problem I have been unable to correct, though: while I can pair my Plantronics 590 headset with the phone, and audio works fine in most cases, it simply will not push phone-call audio to the headset.

This works fine on the various CyanogenMod and Oxygen builds I've used, so it seems to be specific to the HTC ROM. Probably the HTC Phone.apk implementation, even.

So, does anyone use an alternate in-call screen app that they can recommend? As you can imagine it's not an easy thing to search for, because what one winds up with is an assortment of call screening applications. There may well be a specific term used in the Android world that'd be more helpful, but I have no idea what it is.

Ultimately if needs be I guess I'll switch back to CyanogenMod, but the HTC mail application is rather better than the stock one, and I do quite like some of HTC's widgets, so if I could solve this one problem I think I'd be happy just sticking with the official software.

Other than that, though, with the wireless sleep policy change plus Locale turning off 3G data when I'm at home, battery life has been really good. And there's a backport of the Android 2.3 keyboard for use on 2.2, which is great because the 2.3 keyboard is much better than the HTC Sense one.
Following advice given in response to my last post, I changed the wireless sleep policy on the phone to "Never". Combined with Locale being configured to completely disable 3G data and enable WiFi when at home, battery use has gone way down. This even with the GPS overhead of running Locale.

Today has been very quiet -- no calls in or out -- and it's used ~15% of the battery. In the past it would've used more like 30-40% with the same load.

The next big test (tomorrow) will be to see how badly Skype kills the battery. At 3-10% of the call cost and some old Skype credit still on the account, it seems worth trying it out for the work conference calls. The test call service wasn't noticeably any worse than a typical overseas call, so here's hoping.

Only one complaint about Oxygen 2.0RC6/Gingerbread so far: there's a bug which causes a runtime crash followed by boot loop. This is apparently also in the AOSP 2.3.1 upstream.

Otherwise, Oxygen has been pretty nice. I've been running it for about a week now and it hasn't exhibited any of the annoying behaviour re: Exchange that I'd seen with the HTC and CyanogenMod 2.1 and 2.2 ROMs. Hopefully this means that whatever was causing the problem is fixed in 2.3 more generally.
When I sleep I have the radio on. It's been a habit for probably the last twenty years. In particular, I have ABC Newsradio going, which effectively means BBC World Service retransmission. Without this I have a very hard time getting to sleep.

This past week Newsradio has instead been retransmitting ABC Queensland local radio. Not particularly unreasonable, they do this whenever there's a major natural disaster going.

Unfortunately for me, though, this is not the soothing voices I'm used to, so I can't get to sleep while it's on.

So I installed "TuneIn" on my Desire, hooked up the speakers, and had it stream BBC World Service. Over WiFi of course, because I'm not crazy and don't have some sort of "unlimited" data service on the phone.

And what I discovered this morning is that it's still using 3G data to stream the audio. This should not be, but presumably the WiFi is occasionally dropping out, so it's falling back to 3G and sticking with it.

Thus I have had to re-enable Locale and add a plugin to control 3G data service. Now, when the handset is close to home, it'll turn on WiFi and shut down 3G data. Here's hoping it bloody well works!
This afternoon I installed Oxygen on my Desire. To quote from that page:


"Oxygen ROM is an AOSP source built ROM (ie. not a mod of any sense based ROM), it's minimal, it's superfast and mostly bugfree."


So far, so good. Gingerbread doesn't seem any less snappy than FroYo was, possibly more. It has a bunch of little interface tweaks and small bits of polish -- various widgets look a little different, there are some extra animation effects, and so on.

This particular ROM comes with a different launcher, a thing called "Zeam". The dock is a little different to the standard one, and there are some handy gesture shortcuts, for example if you swipe down anywhere on the home screen it'll bring up the application menu. The dock icons are more colourful than is usually the case with LauncherPro or ADW.

I've also re-installed Beautiful Widgets -- which I had previously misidentified as a performance killer -- and a new (to me) calendar widget: Agenda Widget. This has the customisability I'd been wanting, and which is completely lacking in most of the calendar/agenda widgets I've seen, including those from HTC and LauncherPro.

It is so far satisfactory. The medium-term tests will be battery use and whether the Exchange sync falls over. Those will probably take a few days to clarify.

Phone-fu

Nov. 20th, 2010 03:19 pm
I've been using the HTC Desire for about six months now. It's not too bad.

But. While the spec claims 360 hours standby (on 3G) and 6.5 hours talk, the reality is that the battery is getting close to drained after a day of not-particularly-heavy use. One can only assume that the 360 hour standby is based on having no polling of anything and the phone left completely untouched.

It's also a bit unreliable. The official HTC ROM has crashed on me a few times. The Exchange support has been a bit wobbly: it gets particularly confused by multiple-time-zone appointments and timezone changes, to the point where it was necessary to nuke a recurring appointment and recreate it once the AU and US daylight saving changes were all done, because it insisted that a 9AM Friday AEDT appointment was actually at 9AM Thursday AEDT -- I think because it was originally set up to be at 6PM Thursday US EDT and all the changes got things horribly confused.

Unfortunately, while iOS is better about the Exchange stuff at least, experience with the iPhone makes it pretty clear that the shinies kill the battery on that just as effectively. While the platform has some neato-keen accessibility stuff you don't find anywhere else -- I particularly love the screen-inverse on triple-home-tap and the screen magnifier -- it's all a bit too locked-down and battery-killing if you actually use the device.

And so I find myself contemplating the merits of a simpler phone that has decent battery life and knows how to be a phone really well. I'm required to have Exchange email on-the-go for work, so it can't be too simple, but I do recall the Nokia E71 doing pretty well on the battery-life thing. I am very curious about the later Symbian phones and am about to go into crazy-research-mode: I know they're not as shiny as Android or iOS, that Symbian itself is pretty much a dead platform, but Nokia did do a really good job of the Exchange support and they know how to build good hardware.
The official update from HTC came out over the past few days. It's not being made available OTA, if you want it you'll have to grab it from the HTC support site. Given that this wipes all data on the phone it's probably a good thing it's not OTA...

The first big downside is that you can only install it from a Windows box. I believe there are leaked copies floating about that'll install from Clockworkmod Recovery, but I just opted for using Boot Camp and doing it the "official" way.

Initial impressions are good. It's FroYo with Sense on top, as you'd expect. My one big annoyance with the 2.1+Sense build -- the use of the system-default input method for the PIN unlock screen -- has been fixed, it now uses a dialpad-style keyboard, just like stock Android.

Not noticing any obvious differences in Sense from what was previously running on the phone.

The official install process blows away the recovery partition, so if you were using Clockworkmod Recovery you'll need to re-do that. Unrevoked^3 works just fine.

I did however get a bit of a scare after installing Clockworkmod Recovery: the phone was working Just Fine, then I rebooted into Recovery, did a nandroid backup, and rebooted. At this point the phone got stuck in a reboot loop.

Tried a few things to fix it, including removing the SD card and removing the SIM. The fix turned out to be to boot into Recovery again and restore the phone from the backup I'd just made. Now it's working properly again. Weird and scary, but at least it's working.
My conclusion after a month of traveling, plus a couple of weeks at home, is that the iPad makes for a fine e-reader, better suited to my specific needs -- particularly around lighting -- than the Kindle or any of the other e-ink readers I've used.

I don't much like that there's still no single consistent standard for e-books and e-book DRM, but at least using the iPad I can get at content provided by pretty much any of the stores even if it does mean remembering which store sold which book.

Of the e-book readers available on the platform, my preference is for the Kindle app. I know iBooks is prettier, but it again comes down to my specific needs: the Kindle app works in landscape without going to a dual-page view, and I find it easier to hold the iPad in two hands in landscape.

The iPad also makes for a really neat email device. I've been using it for work email when I'm at home (I only have the WiFi model) and while there are some things for which I still need to do the VPN+RDC dance (Nagios goes batshit, need to do a massive batch-delete) it is in general more than sufficient for keeping an eye on things and responding to short queries.

My Android phone -- a HTC Desire -- chewed through battery running CyanogenMod 6.0 at an unreasonable rate, such that on some days it came close to running out and generally wound up with under 50% left almost every day. I had assumed this was because AT&T sucks and it was having to work the radio harder, but it's been just as bad since getting home.

So I've "downgraded" back to the stock 2.1 plus Sense and will see how that goes. My one big gripe with this remains: the PIN-unlock screen uses whatever keyboard you have set as default for text entry, which is really not very efficient for entering a numeric PIN. Here's hoping they fixed that in the 2.2 update due to roll out soon.

On the bright side having Clockwork Recovery installed means I can screw around with firmware with impunity, always knowing I can roll back at any time.

Civilization V runs acceptably under Parallels 6 on the top-end Macbook Pro. I've only poked at the demo from Steam running under XP SP3, and at that not for more than about half an hour, but not only does it run, it seems to run okay. But Parallels eats the system horribly so I won't be doing that. I shall instead wait for the inevitable Mac port some time in 2012.
My new favourite Android tool is JuiceDefender.

It's not an interactive toy. It basically just does what the name implies: greatly extends the battery life of your phone.

In the default mode -- which is how I'm using it -- data service goes from being "default on" to "default off". When the screen comes on, so does data. When the screen goes off, data goes off, unless there's some active data session running, in which case it stays on until that completes.

Every fifteen minutes it brings data back online for a short while, long enough for any background processes to notice and use it. It then shuts data back off once there's nothing using it.

It seems to have approximately halved my battery use, which is rather helpful given that my Desire has been running out of power after a little over a day of use. Now I don't have to recharge every night.
Today I install CM6.0 RC1 on my HTC Desire, following the instructions on the CM wiki.

All worked okay, except for the bit where it wanted me to use ROM Manager to fetch and install the new ROM. So I did that part manually and it worked as it should.

Been running CM6 for a couple of hours now. Obviously all the HTC Sense stuff is gone. Bluetooth headset support -- the thing that was driving me nuts and made me try this in the first place -- works properly now, there's a toggle for the headset on the phone call screen. Haven't received a call to test that I can pick up using the headset, but am confident that even if that doesn't work properly I can always hit the toggle and switch to it anyway.

The GMail app in 2.2 is quite improved from that in 2.1. My biggest complaint with it -- not being able to change the message display font -- is fixed.

Mildly ironically the Email app doesn't seem to allow any way to change the message display font. The Mail app HTC shipped did. Will give K9 a try later and see if that's any better.

Swype is working correctly. The Kindle app crashes. Could just be a 2.2 compatibility issue. Not a deal-breaker for me right now, even if slightly inconvenient.

There are a bunch of places where Google opted for convenient functionality over spiffy animations, and as a consequence I'm finding things like the Contacts and Messaging apps much nicer than the Sense equivalents.

Am missing a few of the HTC widgets though: FriendFeed, their clock, and their calendar "next item" widgets were great and there's no real equivalents in stock 2.2/CM6.0. Shall have to poke around on the Market, see what I can find.

The stock unlock screen is far less annoying than the HTC one. With a PIN set, it gives me a numeric pad rather than trying to make me use a full keyboard. This alone is a major improvement for me.

Have noticed though that the notification bar likes to disappear on the home screen. Can still swipe down get the dropdown, but the bar itself has gone AWOL. Moderately annoying, probably fixed in the next release. This is after all a release candidate, a few rough edges are to be expected.

Overall, pretty happy.
Waiting on calls yesterday that I knew were coming I enabled Bluetooth on my Desire, powered up my headset, and the two connected happily enough.

But when the first call came, the phone continued using the built-in speaker and microphone. This was a fairly important call so I wasn't really able to futz about with making things work properly.

While waiting for the second, I once again enabled Bluetooth, powered on the headset, and poked around a bit. Outgoing calls used the headset Just Fine, no problems at all, but once again when the call came, the phone used the built-in speaker and microphone.

There doesn't seem to be any obvious way to tell switch device in-call. With the iPhone this was pretty simple, the screen would show which input/output device was in use and provided a simple tool to change that.

Maybe I'm just missing something here, because it seems like a really stupid thing for the phone to not do properly. I don't recall having this problem before the silent update.
I've had the Desire for just on two months now, so it's a reasonable time to reflect on the choice.

I was really happy. And then a software update was silently applied -- or at least I think that's what happened -- and now FriendStream is completely broken and the ActiveSync stuff is behaving weirdly too. Nothing changed on the OMA server, and all the non-Desire clients are working just fine (a colleague with a Desire is having the same problem), so either it's the software from HTC/Google or it's something in the Telstra network.

The browser also started behaving annoyingly, with pinch-zoom broken and replaced by cut-and-paste. Power cycling the phone as per recommendations on random forum threads discussing the FriendStream thing seems to have sorted that, at least.

I am perhaps more productive with FriendStream dead, as the Facebook app uses a font too small for me to read and thus I look at that much less often.

All this aside, and assuming I can get it satisfactorily resolved...

The phone itself remains really good. I am particularly liking Swype. I got into the beta programme when they opened it up, doesn't seem to be available standalone any more.

It's a replacement input method. Presents an on-screen keyboard, which can be used in the usual way, but which has an alternate trick: put your finger on the first letter of the word you want, "swipe" it over the keyboard so you cross each of the letters in the word, and it'll figure out what word you wanted. It does reasonably well and is faster than the usual approach once you're used to it.

My biggest gripe with the phone is the input method stuff. What I want is for applications to remember which input method was last used with that application, but it seems to be a system-wide setting. This is particularly frustrating with the PIN-lock system, because what one really wants is a numeric keypad, not a QWERTY keyboard.

Would I make the same choice of phone today? Probably. The iPhone 4 doesn't seem to have worked out so well, it looks like the Desire will be getting the next stable CyanogenMod release, as well as an official Froyo build, and it's now available on a $59/month contract. I might be tempted by the Samsung Galaxy S if Samsung didn't have such a bad reputation for software updates and it wasn't going to be on a shoddy network, and if I had a lower budget I might hold out for the HTC Wildfire next month. But otherwise, pretty happy with the Android choice
I've had this thing for two days now. Not enough time to be claiming a deep understanding but enough to make some initial comments. The primary comparison will be to the phone it's replacing, a 16GB iPhone 3G, but I'll try not to repeat too much of the obvious stuff every random reviewer mentions.

I have not used any Android device before, so I'm going to comment on the overall "HTC Desire experience" without trying to draw too many distinctions between what's part of this device and the HTC Sense overlay, and what's part of Android proper.

Physically it feels pretty good to hold. Enough heft to feel solid. And it looks very shiny, have had quite a few comments about that at work from people randomly passing my desk.

Hard-button-wise, there's the power button at the top, volume rocker on the left side, the four "standard" Android keys at the bottom, and an optical trackball in the lower-middle. Those "standard" keys are "home", "menu", "back", and "search". They do what you would expect pretty much everywhere, so for example in any application where search is a relevant function you hit the search button and off you go.

For those who've never touched one of these devices before, the home screens (there are seven on the Desire) are a four-by-four grid. Widgets can use more than one square, of course, but they all fit into this format. So, for example, my "home" home screen has a four-by-two clock showing the current location's time and weather at the top, a pair of two-by-one digital clocks showing the time in Hong Kong and New York immediately below, and then a four-by-one calendar widget showing the next item.

Generally tapping on a widget will take you into the application it relates to. A few are very single-purpose -- toggling a phone setting like WiFi -- so they just do whatever it is they're supposed to do when tapped. It's reasonably intuitive.

The web browser is, for my purposes, better than mobile Safari. It does the double-tap-to-zoom thing, but if you zoom further it makes the text larger and reflows it. I cannot being to describe how helpful that is with sub-par vision. Otherwise it's basically just a browser, it does what you'd expect it to do and works just like every other half-decent mobile browser.

The Mail application -- as distinct from the GMail application -- is both more flexible and frustratingly dodgy than the iPhone equivalent. The message-viewer has the same nice reflow as the browser, and lets you set a default font size which is large enough for me to read without my glasses. Which is lovely.

It also has a relatively sophisticated set of options for polling and notifications. Each account can have a peak/off-peak schedule, independently setting how often to poll. So, for example, I've got it configured to automatically check my personal email every half hour from 8AM to midnight, and it'll go off and check it outside those hours if I open the app.

But then it goes and muffs it by not having any way to set the IMAP folders to be used for drafts, sent-mail, and such. Instead it just goes off and creates "[Imap]/Sent" and so on. This while talking to GMail as a backend.

Still, it works pretty nicely. It's also handling my work Exchange mail via OMA quite handily.

The less said about the GMail application the better. It's there, it provides an interface a little more like GMail proper, but it has pretty much no useful options to tweak and presents everything in the tiniest font imaginable. Can't pinch-zoom in the message view.

The calendar app does what you'd expect, I haven't had any trouble with it. It's quite happily syncing both my personal calendars from Google and my work calendars from Exchange via OMA. The last time I tried to make my iPhone do this -- about a year ago -- it wasn't very good at it, but this Just Works.

Exchange support in general was a complete non-problem to get going. Answer a few questions -- the most tricky for most users being the name of the OMA server -- and off it went.

The Music application works as expected. It's fairly similar to the iPod app on an iPhone. One nice touch is that if the phone is locked you can press the power key and the music player interface immediately appears -- no unlocking required. This is particularly helpful when you've set a security code and need to stop playback right now.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles. The HTC Clock widget has some views that look very nice, but they want a four-by-three space. With the city tag turned off they only actually occupy four-by-two. Given that the weather data is from the ironically-named AccuWeather it's not very useful, so a two-by-four view of one of those lovely Bell & Ross knockoff faces would be a great choice, except for the dead space.

I'd like some way to quickly switch keyboards without digging into the settings. There's a key to go into the input settings menu, which is fine, but I'd rather it just gave a popup with all the installed keyboards listed plus an item to go into the broader input settings. A bit like -- gods help me -- Windows Mobile circa 2004.

The battery burns down pretty quickly. Yesterday I got it below 10% with about half an hour on the phone, half an hour of music, and an awful lot of poking at the sheer novelty of the thing. Granted I have the screen brightness maxed out, so a more "normal" user who can actually read the thing on a lower brightness will have an easier time battery-wise. And it is very much in the shiny-new-fiddle stage.

There is an Accessibility menu in the settings area, but I have no idea what it might do as it contains just one item -- a toggle labelled "Accessibility" -- which is unchecked and greyed-out. No idea if this is the usual for Android or because there's some component missing or because it's got HTC Sense running. Google is not being my friend here as "htc desire accessibility" simply returns lots of pages about "access", which is a rather less useful term when we're talking mobile phone networks.

Ultimately the biggest advantage Android has over the iPhone for an end-user is, in my view, the way apps can hook into just about anything and one can replace parts that don't perform the way one wants. I have, for example, installed a replacement SMS tool (chompSMS) because the built-in one doesn't offer any options for larger fonts. On the iPhone I'd just squint and occasionally grouch.

This has the potential for trouble, too, so it may perhaps require more sophistication from the user than the iPhone approach. But there's no particular reason why most people would need to replace the built-in components so it isn't demanding that the user know how to do this stuff, it just provides the option.

Anyway, so far so good. The only functions I haven't been able to migrate off the iPhone are audiobooks and ebooks -- Audible and Kindle respectively. Amazon has said in both cases that work is underway on Android clients, so that is hopefully only a matter of time. For now, I'll move audiobooks over to my Kindle, and forget about the extra-portable ebooks for a while.

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October 2011

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