What I like about Android - and what I don't -- My Android Review (including my Favorite Apps)


Find out what I like and dislike about the android system after a critical review on the Samsung Galaxy 3. And at the end there's a list of my favorite apps.


Dislike
  1. Android wants to be online *constantly*. It does not even include an option to disable 3G data connections or even think about asking you once before using them. I'm not even sure this is legal. How can you be charged for using 3G if you didn't have a choice? At least automatically disables 3G if you've got wifi on in my case. ("Toggle Data" helps to disable it and "Traffic Counter" helps you to know how much traffic you caused.) You can vote for this "feature" here.
  2. Some important tools are not included. As you are basically running a Linux system, a task manager would really be nice. The supplied system monitoring software is utterly useless.
  3. The battery management could still be better. It seems to be too easy for badly programmed apps to eat up your battery. Once network traffic app took up a constant 10 % of my CPU. Protect the user from apps like these via review or OS design, but do something, Google.
  4. Processes can "hide" their CPU usage in other processes, e.g. the system process. Hence it's harder to know where it's coming from originally.
  5. Google really could do more tests before letting software go on the market. I know they don't want to put people into reviewing software before putting it on like Apple does, and they needn't. But really, some automated scripts could at least test things like the memory drain of an application and refuse battery suckers access or at least leave a note about it. Yes, you can leave it all to the people, but no that doesn't mean that you should.
  6. I'm not sure if this is due to Android, but my battery status updates only very rarely and sometimes makes huge skips, e.g. from 70 to 50 to 20 % battery. This is often a generic mobile phone manufacturer psychological issue. I once read that they like the battery status to be unrealisticly high to make the user feel better... What I'd like to see is a status of the current battery usage in Watts, as provided e.g. by powertop in Linux.
  7. The IMAP implementation is pretty flawed writes patrokov in the comments: "The stock app displays the folders at the top of the screen oriented horizontally. That wouldn't be so bad, except that it doesn't seem to understand maildir hierarchy, so you get .Inbox.bills and .Inbox.orders.paid, etc. It's trial and error to see which one I'm looking at. And you can't move e-mail to another folder."
  8. Here's a good list of the most popular bugs in Android. It seems a bit misrepresentative to me, though.

Like
  1. Since it's open source based, there are awesome people out there spending their free time to bring you updates to current Android versions, even if the manufacturer no longer supports them.
  2. The OS is generally quite well-designed and thought out in detail. E.g. the Mp3-player continues where you left off, it doesn't turn loud when you unplug the headset, but pauses.
  3. The "Market" is very open and you can find tons of applications for tons of purposes already. This means your phone really can replace a Netbook in many ways.
  4. Based on Linux and Open Source, the network support is superb. I can easily log into the international university wifi network (Eduroam) with my Android phone. I can even use an integrated VPN client on top of that.
  5. Swype brings mobile phone typing to a whole new level. It's really fast and comfortable, even with only one hand. (Though a larger display still does help.)
  6. It's being constantly improved. So much, actually, that the vendors and mobile phone providers can hardly keep up.
  7. Google Navigator -- Google Maps telling you where to drive. Works better than some dedicated GPS devices. Excellent on a bike as well.
  8. Syncing works really well. Contacts, Calendar and Emails always remain accessible in the same manner on your PC and Phone.
  9. It's an Open Platform. This is the exact opposite of a locked-up iPhone telling you what you may do. You can freely choose whether to make the call via the mobile phone network, via VoIP client or Skype (using maybe via VPN connected via 3G). If you search for Google Voice in the Market app, you have to scroll down about a page or two to find Google's own app. You may call that bad management, I call that unbiased search algorithms of an open platform.

Some things really are funny. If you buy a smart phone you don't really expect the phone function to be this much in the background. It ends up as just one of the many apps on your screen. And it's not even one of the best, most flawlessly designed apps I would say. It works fine, it's just not especially smooth and polished as I would expect in a phone. I think more effort went e.g. into the Gmail app. And now the mandatory section in any Android article:

  1. Toggle Data Widget -- Disable 3G if you don't have a mobile flat
  2. Traffic Counter / Call Meter NG -- Check how much you've been active, doesn't burn your battery while logging traffic, calls and Texts.
  3. SystemPanel -- The should-really-have-been-included-by-Google universal Task Manager, Killer, Logger, System Monitor, etc. The paid version is definitely worth it's money with a sorted overview of what's used up your CPU and thus battery. Makes your phone last lots longer by avoiding badly programmed battery draining apps.
  4. Color Detector -- Check what color you're looking at, includes fancy names, great for color blind people. Would need an adjustment to your phone's camera and a good camera in the first place to be more accurate.
  5. Dolphin Browser HD -- Support iPhone User Agent to take advantage of the tons of special iPhone websites which don't care about Android (even Google's!) 
  6. Opera Mobile -- Save tons of traffic with Opera Turbo, wish it would support pretending to be an iPhone, as many websites are just adjusted for iPhones, but works just as well on Android. I bet eventually it'll be the best droid browser.
  7. GPSLogger -- reliable, yet not resource hungry
  8. ConnectBot -- SSH client
  9. Aldiko/Moon Reader -- eBook reader apps
  10. TuneIn Radio -- Turns your Droid into a comfortable international internet radio receiver.
  11. GPS Test to find out how well GPS is working; GPSopts -- to get GPS working on the Samsung Galaxy 3 in the first place. (What's up with that, Samsung?)
  12. Barcode Reader - Often saves you the trouble of typing URLs for apps you find in articles like this.
  13. Qype -- Tells you what cool locations are near you right now.
  14. CSIPSimple -- the absolutely best VoIP client IMHO.
Apps from the Comments:
  1. Tricorder -- "a must for any citizen of the United Federation of Planets"
  2. AppBrain App Market -- Manage your Apps in the browser, then sync to your phone. Saves a lot of time. Better search and faster than the preloaded app.
  3. SetCPU -- Overclock your CPU (root), but only with root and an the right special firmware.
  4. ... see below! :)
  5. Something Missing? Tell me your favorite apps in the comments.

15 comments:

  1. Good review! Nice with a fresh, independent view. Keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
  2. gtalk sucks. Have not ENABLED voIP XMPP Voice Call & Video Call.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Decent review. Here are some of my own thoughts.
    1) It's a bit too Google centric. If you don't want to use Google apps or gmail, imap support is woefully inadequate.
    2) Many apps want to stay running in the background, and if you hunt them down in the task killer, magically pop up again. Hence the popularity of "automatic" task killers.
    3) One hundred percent agree with you about turning of 3G data. There are multiple apps, and not all of them work with every phone, so you have to do a bit of trial and error.
    4) Maybe I'm spoiled, but network access, even over wi-fi seems slow.
    5) Overall the Galaxy phones are pretty awesome...too bad AT&T neutered the captivate by removing the forward facing camera and flash.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi there,

    Nice blog you have here, and nice review too, thanks!


    A few pointers though, if I may:

    1. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this works for me:

    Settings -> Wireless & networks -> Uncheck "Mobile network". (Btw, checking it automatically disables data if you're in range of a known WiFi)

    Also in the same page -> Mobile network settings -> uncheck "Enable always-on mobile data"

    There's one more way of turning off data, it's by long-pressing the power off key and choosing the option "Mobile Network". (Not all phones have this option though)

    Tested on a rooted HTC Desire with 2.2.1.


    2.top, ps, kill etc all work when entered at a terminal (either via a terminal emulator or adb or ssh..)


    6. Could be a phone/manufacturer issue - the battery updates are normal on my HTC Desire. It could also be that you haven't calibrated your battery. Google for your phone specific instructions.

    Also, there *is* a powertop port for Android. I haven't personally used it though as I've got no battery issues.


    The most important thing to note though is: Please *DO NOT* use task killers!

    http://geekfor.me/faq/you-shouldnt-be-using-a-task-killer-with-android/

    Bit more friendly info here, with some memory management insights and tips:

    http://lifehacker.com/5650894/android-task-killers-explained-what-they-do-and-why-you-shouldnt-use-them

    ReplyDelete
  5. About your Likes:

    4. While that's well and good, what sucks is that inspite of requesting this since the first public release of Android, Google still hasn't implemented this feature - proxy support! My uni requires me to change the browser proxy settings in addition to authenticating via HTTP, and there's just no option for it. However, thanks to the power of open source, the friendly folk at xda-developers.com have developed a program called "Transparent Proxy" for HTTP/Socks support with auth - including NTLM auth!

    BOO! to Google for ignoring users with such a simple feature request (afterall, it took just *one* person to come up with a solution).
    BOO! to Google for ignoring such a basic feature that was already included in other phones like the iPhone. I'm a big fan of Google but it disappoints me that sometimes they can't hear the voices of a million people screaming in agony!


    5. Yep, Swype is unique, but I just can't get used to it no matter how hard I try! I mean every time a new beta is out, I try using it for like a week or so and I end up going back to the default IME. Am I doing something wrong? Is there some trick to it that makes it work better than conventional IMEs? Because having to trace a finger back and forth across the whole width of your screen just to type a single word seems like a huge waste of time to me, when I can just type it out in a fraction of that time with two thumbs!


    7. One of the main reasons why I bought a Google phone! You just can't beat the street view, satellite view and of course the awesome integration with all of Google's mapping features. But, (yes there's always a 'but') for me (in NZ) the voice guidance seems quite buggy :
    a) The directions are a tad too slow, I usually hear it just a second or two before the actual turn, therefore not giving me enough time to manoeuvre.
    b) "turn right, and keep turning for 2kms.." WTF? Should be "turn right, and keep going straight for 2kms"
    c) "mmm..why" instead of "motorway", "R.D." instead of "road", "traffic circle" instead of "roundabout".. and many others. This causes so much embarrassment that I'd rather not use voice guidance when travelling with friends..

    Btw, speaking of voice guidance, check out the "SVOX" voices in the market - they're about a 100 times better than the stock voice. Worth every penny.


    9. I suppose that's how it was always intended to be, but some manufacturers and carriers try to lock up the phone so bad it makes it no different than an iPhone. For eg, AT&T doesn't allow you to install apps that aren't on the market. Then there's all that paying extra for tethering crap. Finally, Motorola's super-locked bootloader on the Droid X is another example of manufacturer stupidity.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Android may be a more open platform than the iPhone, but what's the difference, with manufacturers and carriers screwing us up? How long will the hacker community put up with this nonsense? Until a more open platform comes out?

    I can't wait to see what MeeGo has in store next year! (Yes I know a lot of people have written off MeeGo, but seriously, how can you ignore Intel + AMD + Nokia + a platform built on a standard FLOSS stack?)


    About your app list:


    5. Great browser, plenty of addons, but might I suggest *not* using the iPhone UA string? This is always a bad idea as it gives webdevs and the general public a misleading picture of browser/platform usage share.

    Leaving the UA string as Android will let the webdevs know that there *are* sufficient people visiting their sites from Android phones, even if it means bearing with the pain of navigating a regular web-page. This is the right thing to do for all of us in the long run.

    10. Thanks for mentioning this app, didn't know about it! Love how it fetches practically *all* my local stations!


    ---

    A few of my must-have apps:

    1) SetCPU - great for battery life and performance seekers (over/under clock your device dynamically, custom profiles etc)

    2) Tweetcaster - (or Tweetdeck or any other non-stock, non-official twitter client) - for keeping track of the latest news. That's how I found this blog!

    3) AppBrain App Market - Has everything that the default Market app lacks.

    4) Titanium Backup - for backing up all your installed apps and data, with fully-automatic restore!

    5) Transparent Proxy - for proxy support

    6) Switchpro Widget - Create your own custom "power control" style widget with different sizes and features.

    7) Tricorder - A really important tool for any member of the United Federation of Planets ;)

    ReplyDelete
  7. PS: btw, I had written one more long comment about your Android dislikes but it hasn't yet showed up here. Incase it got lost on the way, I'd like to re-iterate the main point I made in it:

    Task killers are bad!

    http://lifehacker.com/5650894/android-task-killers-explained-what-they-do-and-why-you-shouldnt-use-them


    PPS: The 4096 char limit sucks!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi dexter, sorry the spam filter caught one of your comments.
    @everybody: I'll answer your posts after getting some groceries. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. THANKS FOR ALL YOUR FEEDBACK! :)

    @tom: Thanks :)

    @Guillermo: True, video conferencing is not active in Skype either, would be nice, though. My Gtalk just crashed ;)

    @patrokov: True, but other companies could change that. But yes, IMAP should work flawlessly in a current OS. What are your issues with IMAP? 2) that explains a lot. 3) there's actually a bug report about that. I updated my entry. 4) I agree, even wifi is a bit slow. I wonder why, might be the low end processor?

    @dexter:
    1. I don't have a checkable option there, in none of those points. I guess that's Samsung's fault then. Did you have those options before rooting?
    2. That's nice to know. Now I need an sshd first, right? ;)
    6. All I find there is battery booster. I had that app before, but funnily, it used up too much battery. It caused a constantly high CPU in the system process.
    X. Where do I get that powertop port? Do you mean this one? http://projects.androidfan.ru/projects/powertop/files looks like I'd have to compile it myself.
    XX. Yes I read that and use my task killers responsively :) But I will link that article for others, thanks.

    4. Have you tried setting the ENV? :) (I know, that can't be the solution, but it would be funny if it worked.)

    5. I don't know how large your screen is etc. But for me swyping is much faster than typing. My thumbs are so large they wouldn't both with on the small display ;)

    6. In my experience Navigation, the voice guiding worked flawlessly. The timing of the announcements was perfect, too. One early announcement "in 300 meters", then right before the turn, about 50 meters. Funny was just the fact that the street names were pronounced in English, I live in Germany though. Oh, and I was on the bike, so I was probably slower than you.

    9. Mostly, I was pleasantly surprised that it was almost all unlocked already in my case: esp. USB Data connection. I guess the way they're going is to hope that you will not have a flatrate and pay yourself silly before noticing that 3G is always on. Funny thing was that I had one month flat remaining before I found out. But then I'm on prepaid and would've thus have noticed much quicker than way, anyway
    5. Once webdevs customize for Android, I will stop using it. AFAIK there are ways to determine in the logs even if you mask your Identifier.
    10. You're welcome! :)
    Apps: True, Tricorder is a must if you're in the UFP as we all are. AppBrain needs to be in there of course.

    ReplyDelete
  10. THANKS FOR ALL YOUR FEEDBACK! :)

    @tom: Thanks :)

    @Guillermo: True, video conferencing is not active in Skype either, would be nice, though. My Gtalk just crashed ;)

    @patrokov: True, but other companies could change that. But yes, IMAP should work flawlessly in a current OS. What are your issues with IMAP? 2) that explains a lot. 3) there's actually a bug report about that. I updated my entry. 4) I agree, even wifi is a bit slow. I wonder why, might be the low end processor?

    ReplyDelete
  11. @dexter:
    1. I don't have a checkable option there, in none of those points. I guess that's Samsung's fault then. Did you have those options before rooting?
    2. That's nice to know. Now I need an sshd first, right? ;)
    6. All I find there is battery booster. I had that app before, but funnily, it used up too much battery. It caused a constantly high CPU in the system process.
    X. Where do I get that powertop port? Do you mean this one? http://projects.androidfan.ru/projects/powertop/files looks like I'd have to compile it myself.
    XX. Yes I read that and use my task killers responsively :) But I will link that article for others, thanks.

    4. Have you tried setting the ENV? :) (I know, that can't be the solution, but it would be funny if it worked.)

    5. I don't know how large your screen is etc. But for me swyping is much faster than typing. My thumbs are so large they wouldn't both with on the small display ;)

    6. In my experience Navigation, the voice guiding worked flawlessly. The timing of the announcements was perfect, too. One early announcement "in 300 meters", then right before the turn, about 50 meters. Funny was just the fact that the street names were pronounced in English, I live in Germany though. Oh, and I was on the bike, so I was probably slower than you.

    9. Mostly, I was pleasantly surprised that it was almost all unlocked already in my case: esp. USB Data connection. I guess the way they're going is to hope that you will not have a flatrate and pay yourself silly before noticing that 3G is always on. Funny thing was that I had one month flat remaining before I found out. But then I'm on prepaid and would've thus have noticed much quicker than way, anyway
    5. Once webdevs customize for Android, I will stop using it. AFAIK there are ways to determine in the logs even if you mask your Identifier.
    10. You're welcome! :)
    Apps: True, Tricorder is a must if you're in the UFP as we all are. AppBrain needs to be in there of course.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Yes, 4096 chars without even a warning is seriously flawed. Had to post two comments as well...

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  13. >>What are your issues with IMAP?

    The stock app displays the folders at the top of the screen oriented horizontally. That wouldn't be so bad, except that it doesn't seem to understand maildir hierarchy, so you get .Inbox.bills and .Inbox.orders.paid, etc. It's trial and error to see which one I'm looking at. And you can't move e-mail to another folder.

    K9 and Maildroid both assume that your new e-mail comes into your inbox and is not sorted and delivered into folders by the server. K9 will at least tell you how many unread e-mails you have in each folder, but has a number of annoyances such as not always working right. I like maildroid better, but it pretends that no mail ever gets delivered to folders and it does delete mail on the server that you delete on the phone except in the inbox.

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  14. Thanks, patrokov, I'll put that into the dislikes. Seems pretty serious. Which version of Android is that?

    ReplyDelete
  15. @D:

    1. Hmm, looks like it's a Samsung thing then. Yes I had those options on my HTC even before rooting it.
    2. Or you could get the program called "Terminal Emulator" or similar
    4. Yep, but the apps don't obey it.. anyhoo the TransProxy app works great

    ReplyDelete

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