Weekend With Android

I should have known better… I do know better, but it was on sale, and it was Black Friday, and I bought an Android phone. I purchased the HTC Desire, a perfectly reasonable choice in high-end smart phones. Android 2.1, a 1GHz processor, 512M of RAM, and an 8G MicroSD card for storage. The phone is well designed, solidly built, and aesthetically pleasing, but at this point, its still on probation, I might take it back.

One of my oddly favorite things about the Desire is HTC’s marketing design. I absolutely love the hand drawn images that adorn the packaging and the HTC site. I think it gives the product a more earthy and homegrown feel, and ties in with the Android open source roots. HTC’s Sense UI is wonderful, and seems well thought out, with a few noticeable exceptions. HTC’s “polite ringer” which lowers or silences the volume of the ringtone based on the phones position is an excellent idea. Holding down the home button brings up a pane to switch between running apps. Pinching or double tapping the home button brings up an exposé type interface to choose the screen to bring up. The more I use the Sense Ui the more I like it. It is very different from iOS, but sometimes that can be a good thing.

Yesterday the phone had a bad morning. I had seen something on the Internet that I wanted to show my wife, so I took out the phone and started the browser, found the site, and waited for the content to download and render. It was taking a while, so I set it aside and turned to go back to what I was doing. After a couple of minutes I went back and found that the phone had turned off the screen, which it’s supposed to do if it’s not in use. But then, I couldn’t turn it back on. Pressing any of the buttons on the front didn’t help, and neither did pressing the button on the top. Pressing and holding the power button on the top did not help either. The phone was entirely bricked. So, I popped the back off, took out the battery, waited a minute or so, replaced the battery, and the phone powered up again.

Comparing the phone to a computer, pressing and holding on the power button overrides the operating system and kills power to the machine immediately, no questions asked. On iOS, pressing and holding the power button brings up a prompt asking you to swipe to power down the device. I’ve never once seen an iOS device die from loading a web page though, something very core to the system must be at work while browsing for that to happen. The HTC Desire ships with Android 2.1, but HTC also includes a flash plugin, perhaps that died.

While making breakfast for the kids, I put the phone in my pocket. I turned to do something on the counter, and heard a distinct “beep, beep”, and gave a surprised look to my daughter. I pulled the phone out of my pocket and found that it had pressed against my leg, activated the phone app, and started dialing a couple of numbers. Not the first time I’d pulled the phone out of my pocket and found that it had launched an app. I’ve since gotten in the habit of pressing the power button to lock the screen before the phone goes in the pocket. Again, not something I ever had to do with the iPod.

Later, I got in the car to drive to work, plugged in the Android to the aux port in the car stereo, and started one of the 5by5 podcasts to listen to on the way in to work. Nothing. I checked the phone, it was still on, the time was still ticking along, so the media player was playing the podcast, but there was no sound. I unplugged the cable from the headphone jack, and I could hear the podcast from the built-in speakers, plugged in the cable back in, and there was no sound. I said to hell with it, went in and grabbed my iPod and listened to my podcast on the way to work.

Once at work, I did some searching on Google, and found that several other people have had the problem with the headphone jack, and the fix for it was to reboot the phone. I did, and tested with a set of headphones, and sure enough, it worked again. At this point I thought… what next.

Throughout the day I’d use the phone for various things, checking Twitter, looking something up in a meeting, the kind of general mobile computing use that I’d use my iPod Touch for over wifi. After a while I noticed that the phone was generating a significant amount of heat. Not hot to the touch, but definitely much warmer than any phone or iOS device I’ve ever used. I handed the phone to a coworker and he noticed it too.

Around three in the afternoon, the battery on the phone started to die. By four, it was red, by four-thirty the phone was dead. The battery will not last for a full day of normal use. I checked to make sure that I had bluetooth, wifi, and GPS turned off, and all of them were. The Android system has an information page that details what applications were using the most battery life. Number one in my system was the Android OS itself. It’s clear that if this phone is going to stick around I’ll need a few places to charge the battery, and maybe a couple of spares to keep in the briefcase.

That was yesterday. Today, so far, has been a different story. The phone worked perfectly to check my messages this morning at breakfast. The phone worked great listening to my podcasts on the way to work. Most importantly, when I got a call from the school about one of my kids possibly having an ear infection, the phone worked great to look up the doctors office, schedule an appointment, look up the schools number, call them back, and send my wife a text message about what was going on. You know, the real work that a smart phone is meant for.

Except now it seems that 1Password has failed. Now what.

There is a lot to talk about with the HTC Sense UI, and the Android phone in general. When its good, its very good, but when it fails, it fails hard. Which is why, for now, the phone is still on probation.