So as a follow up to my previous post about RomWorld, here is my review of Android, based on my experience of using 2 very different roms. The first is more of a stock android rom and the second has a host of enhancements and customizations that give it a very different look and feel. In this I’ll review the HTC HD2 as an Android phone, just as I did for previous reviews, although I won’t spend much time at all on the hardware. In a second post, I’ll post a shorter review, highlighting the changes and improvements or otherwise that occur when using a very different rom. So remember, what I write here is based on an Android rom for the Windows Mobile HTC HD2.
This rom is base on the Nexus series of phones and is a Gingerbread rom. I chose it because it was clean and as close to a pure Google rom as I could find. Whenever Motorola or HTC releases a phone you hear Engadget saying it’s great but HTC sense or Motoblur get in the way and it would be even better with stock Android, so I also wanted to try it because, at least how it sounds when they talk about it, vanilla Android is the best Android.
You can download this rom for a HTC HD2 here. For other devices, check the forum section for your device.
Homescreen and menu’s
You have 5 home-screens to swipe between on Android and the home key always takes you to the middle one. At the bottom is a launcher with quick access to the dialer, browser, and app menu. The rest of the space is free to populate with shortcuts and Widgets. This is easy and the widgets are of various size. Everything you add snaps to a grid space and you can’t squeeze things together or overlay them like on the n900. The home-screen seems to be portrait only. Despite this, it all works pretty well, and the only time it gets frustrating is if the home screen you want to add a widget too has too little space for that widget.
Pressing the menu key while on the home screen brings up several options including the settings menu, which is well laid out and things are easy to find.
Coming from the N900 and even having used the multitasking in Symbian 3, the system here too some getting used to. As you exit apps using the back or home keys, android decides what to do with them. It has a simple icon list other 8 most recent apps you can access by holding down the home key. They may still be open, they may have closed – who knows. Actually you can find out as there is a task manager in which you can see running apps and force closure of them, but from which you cant get back to the app. As I say, it takes a bit of getting used to but seems to work well.
Phone and communications
So as a phone it is pretty good. The HD2 has call and end keys, but if you are using this rom on a phone which doesn’t have physical keys, then you like that the default is for a call button to be at the bottom on every home screen. The dialer is simple and also provides quick access to your contact lists and call log. The contacts will sync with your contacts on Gole services such as GMail. I did find that when in a call,perhaps something isn’t working well with the procimity sensor, but I kept putting the call on hold accidently.
Asside from calls, texts and MMS are simple and come in a conversation view. There is also 2 email clients (one for GMail and one for any other E-Mail (the GMail one is better) and I was able to get twitter downloaded and installed from the marketplace in no time. The only VOIP service to out oft the box away was Google voice.
Android is a capable media player OS. The stock media player is sim and intuitive, and provides a nice home-screen widget. As you can see, it’s not a music player screen that will blow your mind for looks, but it’s simple and has everything it needs right there on the screen, rather than buried in a menu. For the HD2, on board memory is very limited but it found the music on my 8GB SD card quickly and added everything to the library quickly, and will automatically look up and download the album art for you.
I did have a minor issue where when connecting by blue tooth, I had to restart the song to send music to a blue tooth device. Other than that, great.
The camera picture quality isn’t great on the HD2 though that’s more down to the hardware than having Android on it. The camera UI is odd, but also very simple. Buttons to take the picture, switch modes, and view the photo gallery are at the bottom (portrait) or side (landscape) of the screen. The photo gallery is simple to browse, though I can see having all the album at in it could get annoying.
Other Apps and features
Other apps that come installed include the web-browser, Google maps and things like the Android keyboard.
Being a Google OS, you get GMail, Google Talk, Google voice, Latitude and Gogle Maps apps, and your contacts sync with Gmail. and stay in sync pretty well. You basically have to agree to Google knowing about you to do much on an android phone. One place this is evident is in the email and gmail clients. One is better than the other. Can you guess which? Beyond syncing contacts, email and calendar with Google there is little built in integration for anything that isn’t Google.
The web-browser is simple and easy to use. It has pinch to zoom and when browsing, all the menu bards and address bar which disappear after reaching the desired page so the whole screen can be used to show the website.
Google maps is a good mapping solution which helped me out a bit last weekend. It doesn’t use up half as much data as you might think, but I still prefer Ovi/Nokia maps which also has the ability to side-load maps.
The keyboard is easy to use most of the time and does some auto correction. The landscape keyboard takes up a lot of screen space though, and you end up with a very thin slice of screen to see what’s going on behind the keyboard.
One nice feature that is worth mentioning, is the notifications system, and apps can ad themselves to this. The 3rd party Twitter app and Weatherbug have attached themselves here and other things like alarms and application download status also show up here. Also, notice at the bottom I have emails on my GMail and Yahoo accounts – here’s one of the ways the email differs and on GMail you get the full subject and sender, for Yahoo I only get a line to say there is a new email. A shame that email isn’t treated equally, and a shame that that 1 email could actually be more than one, plenty of times I opened a yahoo mail link to find I had several unread emails waiting.
Overall, the device did perform well and seemed pretty stable, though Angry Birds did crash on me a coupe of times. Other than that it seemed smooth. I’m very impressed with the stability of this version of Android on the HD2.
Android is a good mobile OS and the heard is right about that. However, it doesn’t have great syncing out of the box when it comes to twitter, Facebook, linked in and others – anything not Google really. It can also be unintuitive at times, and anything that is super-customizable tends to have a certain amount of complexity.Despite this, overall I like Android and see why it has taken the market by storm this last year-18 months or so. In fact, I could use Android as my daily device and be OK with that.
However, this is (close to?) stock Android and there are many variations around with different launchers and feature-sets. I’ll be posting about one of those soon. And then of course, there is Windows Phone to take a look at too. Thanks for reading.