My year with Android

Its been over a year now, since I got my hands on a HTC Hero for the first time, the (then) latest top of the range Android smart-phone available on the market. A lot has changed both with the phone and with myself regarding Android, so I thought I should jot down a few thoughts on the phone, software, and how I’ve found it all.

This is the story of a small green robot and a Manchester based PHP developer.

The Phone
The HTC Hero won award after award after its release, recived lots of wonderful reviews and celebrity endorsements. All of which were deserved. The phone pushed Android 1.5 to its limits and HTC’s Sense UI and support for Flash topped it off nicely and make it a great phone to use. The ability to browse the Internet as you would on your desktop is something I think is a crucial requirement from a phone today, the camera has a little to be desired but at 5.0 mega pixels it matched most phones of the day, the lack of a flash is a shame as it means pic’s in low light tend to not come out so well. Hardware-wise the phone operates perfectly, its fast and responsive, has only crashed a handful of times since I got it (not bad for 12 months, my WinMo phone crashed a couple of times a month, but then what version of Windows doesn’t.. :p).

The Software
The Hero originally shipped Android 1.5, which was great (note the past tense), at the time of the Hero’s release in July 09 it was the latest and greatest.With HTC’s Sense UI plopped on top, made it a beautiful phone to use. Android 1.5 had its flaws tho, there are a lot of bugs and missing features (admittedly Sense UI added a few back in), but it was still missing a lot of basic functionality that people expected from a mobile device, send/recieve over bluetooth anyone? not with Cupcake you dont. There were also a lot of problems with the browser when not in “mobile view”.

The Hero has since been updated to Android 2.1, unfortunately (for HTC and Orange UK) it came 8 months too late. We were originally promised an update to the Hero back in October 2009 via HTC’s Twitter feed but it took till July before HTC finally managed to push the update out the door. And took a further 6 weeks till the update was available to Orange customers. This resulted in me losing all confidence with both HTC and Orange to provide me the Android experience I was looking for. Yes HTC can provide the hardware, and Orange (occasionally) the network but as far as Android goes… they both fail miserably.

Luckily for me, and you too, there is a wonderful development community available for android, and many developers willing to donate time and energy into making an android experience worthy of the software itself. And back in June, I took the decision to void my warranty and root my Hero so I could flash a custom ROM. Im now running Android 2.2 (FroYo) on my Hero, whic HTC still wont admit is possible and will not be releasing. All thanks to the guys at VillainROM.

The Apps
There are so many apps available on the Android Market and I haven’t tried a fraction of them, but I’ve added a page with a list of the apps I use, If you know of an app that does the job better, please let me know.

The Android Market is still quite young compared to Apples iStore, it has a lot less apps and seems to be filling up with a lot of useless apps, but thats the price you have to pay for an open, unrestricted (to a degree) market place. It desperately needs a better way to search and manage applications, but this should be made a lot better once the website version launches later this year.

Android Development
A couple of months ago, I started building my own Android apps. Its been fun brushing up on my JAVA and learning a new “language” to work with the Android api’s. I’ll be posting another time on how to setup and build basic apps but in the meantime if you want to get started, I advise you buy Reto Meier‘s book, Professional Android 2 Application Development, its been a lifesaver for me and has taught me an awful lot about Android. Also read his blog as its packed with useful snippets and advice.

Most of my Android development is for work at UKFast, so Im not going to mention them but the ones I have created outside of work are available in the market under my developer name “gavtaylor”.

So after all this, how have I found my last year with Android?
Well the biggest lesson I’ve learnt that the future of android lies in the developer community, and the only way to experience Android as it was intended is to root and flash custom rom, unless manufacturers and carriers get better with the roll-out of updates, this will be the only way to ensure your phone is running the latest version of Android available.

The delays are mainly down to them implementing custom UI’s and adding branding, hopefully this will get better with Android 3.0 as rumours have it Gingerbread will come with theme support so it shouldn’t take as long for carriers to re-brand future updates. I still think manufacturers will take their time releasing new roms as they will no doubt continue to re-write parts of the framework to implement features not available in the stock ASOP build.

So… thats my year with Android. Joy… frustration… happiness… relief… but this was mostly caused due to Android being so young to start with and as an early adopter you have to expect it to be a bumpy ride at first. And if you were to ask would I do it again? I’s say Yes definitely…

Please feel free to add your thoughts/experiences with Android in the comments below.

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