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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is This the Droid for Which I'm Looking?

Originally posted on 11-12-09

At first I was impressed with the screen, the quick interface and the impressive package. But when you get just below the surface, Motorola's (and by association, Google's) new Droid is guilty of chasing the Apple inspired fashion of sizzle over substance, of image over content. For me, it's not as much about how it LOOKS. It's more about how it WORKS.

I've always held the position that one shouldn't "upgrade" just because there's a new release of anything. I generally wait until there is significant improvement. Because of this, I'm often "pushed" into upgrading just to remain compatible with critical applications. Such was the question last year when Palm introduced their new Web OS, and turned their back on the classic Palm OS. I can hold off for a while, but it's just a matter of time until I will have to move to something new.

I've been using the Palm OS since 1996, when I bought a Palm Pilot three days after introduction. The Palm WAS a significant improvement over my Sharp Zarus. The most impressive thing was it's ability to sync my content with my desktop computer. I can't remember how many times over the last 14 years either my computer OR my phone crashed and had to be reformatted - but NEVER at the same time. Yes, I still have files from 1996 on my current Palm Centro.

If you wonder what was so great about Palm, here's a link to a retro-view of Palm's design philosophy:
Anyway, back to the Pre.  I spent about an hour with the Palm Pre and was also dazzled by it's UI. But Web OS didn't support memos - nor their syncing. Plus the screen and keyboard were small compared with the state of the art. Also, Palm, like Apple had made the development less open. When I heard that you were REQUIRED to upgrade Web OS within one week of any new release or your phone was disabled, that was the deal-breaker. My love affair with Palm was over and my hope was the Droid would offer a significant advancement using a more open approach, and finally take me away from my old Palm.

You may have guessed where I'm going with this. Even though Google's Android (and the Droid phone) do a great job of syncing the Calendar and Contacts, they too forgot all about Memos. Not only did they forget to sync them, they didn't even INCLUDE an application to edit text. That's right, there is no memopad, notepad or wordpad included with the Droid. Sure, you can compose an email to yourself in Google's cloud, but then things get mixed up with thousands of other emails and it's clunky to get into those drafts because mobile drafts don't show up on the desktop.

Has America quit writing? It seems so. And Apple's partly to blame. The first iPhone didn't even have Copy, Cut and Paste. I guess we're now supposed to express ourselves in 140 characters or less. I obviously haven't yet learned how to do that. So far, memos are the missing sync of the Droid.

But what about all the sizzle of Flick, drag and pinch? Yes, the Droid (and Palm Web OS) deliver in this area. Well, except for pinch to zoom like the iPhone does, which I'm sure Droid will add shortly.

And the Droid does indeed dazzle. The music, the movies and all the media deliver. Sky Map is fun. And everyone's talking about the nav features, which ARE impressive. But where are the topos for hiking? With such a beautiful screen, GPS can finally deliver on it's promise in the wild. Why not some topos?

Like the iPhone, web surfing on the Droid is indeed a significant improvement, even though still slower than a PC. Still, it's fast enough to be useful and way ahead of the Centro. The camera and the keyboard are not as bad as all the reviews suggest, but can be improved.

That's what I have so far. I'll continue to update this post as I discover new features.

And failures.

12-09-09 Update

Yep. I kept the Droid past 30 days so I'm now committed. The sizzle continues to dazzle, and memos are still the missing sync, but I am now using 3Banana's social post tool as a memo solution. It a bit clunky on the Droid, but better on the desktop browser. Still not bad considering how I'm bending it to my purpose.

In almost every other area, the Droid continues to amaze with it's app base. WeFi helps with the battery and WiFi typically improves web performance. Advanced Task Killer is helpful in managing resources. I've gone for more than a week without rebooting - not bad considering all the apps I've tried.

Aldiko is a nice book reader; Listen is great for grabbing podcasts; Pandora works great; RPN Calculator works great but needs bigger buttons. So far, I haven't found a bad app, but I've been careful to cream the list. There are also lots of great games from what I've had time to try. The good news is, the Droid hardware is solid, and new apps are coming fast, so I'm hopeful all my needs will soon be met. I already wouldn't go back to my Centro. Palm, RIP.

The Droid hardware is a solid 8 on the 10 scale, software is 6 and climbing.

Let me know what YOUR experience is.

11-06-10 Update

DropBox finally solved the file synch problem and I can now use any desktop editor INCLUDING Sudden View.  :)


  1. I gather that the Droid battery life is pretty terrible, which is a significant problem with a lot of the recent generation of "smartphones."

    My Treo 650 is starting to lose battery life, so I'll be needing to look for something new some time soon.

    Android looks like an interesting platform, but not if battery life is completely sucky.

  2. After having the Centro being able to go for days at a time, the Droid battery was one of my concerns as well. But like the keyboard and camera, it's better than I thought. I only plug it in at night. With GPS off and light use I think it would last a couple of days at least.

    The problem is, with all of it's dazzling apps, it's hard to use lightly. I find myself playing music and games as well as more internet than I've ever done on a portable device.

    I've read WiFi uses a lot of power but I haven't tried much because Version coverage and response is just fine so far. I'm sure if you turn everything on, the Droid won't last out the day. But the only time MY Droid has been all the way to empty during this first week, was on a long hike with constant GPS use.

    BTW, My Tracks is fun, but I still want topo maps.

    Hope that helps.

  3. What I most want is to be able to run a full-fledged shell on such a device, thus, to be able to:
    a) ssh from my phone to [anywhere]
    b) ideally, to ssh into my phone, which would imply...
    c) being able to copy arbitrary useful stuff onto my phone

    Slickest of all would be if a copy of my SCM archives could reside on the phone, so I could fiddle with code at any time.

    GPS is low on my own "needs list," so it sounds like battery life mayn't be too awful.

    Apparently something like this is doable, at least in principle...

  4. I haven't worked with ssh at all so have no idea if you can get at a way to run it on the Droid. So far the experience is concerned, it's quite "captive" for an open system. I haven't found any access to bare metal in any form.

    From what I can see, virtually all development is done using an emulator, which of course doesn't speak well for native development.

    I'm still hoping for a desktop (or web) / phone synched memo app that's as good as classic Palm.

    Other than that, Google Droid is one sweet experience.

  5. The thing with Android is that it's built more like a true O/S than, for example, Palm's solutions; so you've got to think in terms of applications for features like Memos - a lot less is built-in. I'd suggest you try 3banana notes, which has a really friendly, powerful structure and is very fast when you get used to it.

    Oh, and if you want to get shell access, you're best to root your phone and put Cyanogen's modded Android O/S on it (http://www.cyanogenmod.com/) - this will also give you more speed and access to facilities like tethering!

  6. Yes. I've been using 3Banana for about a week, but it too doesn't handle categories, editing or synch as well as palm.

    So far, copy, cut and paste has been especially weak on virtually every Android app I've tried. The Droid has a keyboard, but nobody's using it yet. But my hope is in this open system.

    Thanks for the hints.