That's it: I went for it ... I've abandoned my old Palm device (Clié N770C) for a state of the art (well not of the range, though) smartphone: an Android HTC Legend.
It's a really pretty device ... here you will find what I think about it and how I managed (or not) with it.
Context of my Choice
Where I'm coming from
I wanted to get a new phone for a while even though I was happy with my old one: I could phone and send SMS ... which is my basic, and I could use a bluetooth headset and voice recognition - to call someone when driving- which is my important extra.
I was more and more annoyed with the inability to synchronise it with my address book (from the Palm).
On the other hand, my Palm was getting old, I could get better devices these days ... and the days of Palm are kind of gone (personal opinion ... and it's a shame, because the devices, OS and community are great).
So I thought about a getting a smartphone.
But the main reason for my change was to get a better air time plan: I had only two hours of talk included in my plan and nowadays for the same price or cheaper (even with the same carrier) I could get better deal (more talk time, SMS&MMS unlimitted,...). If I was to change, I would renew a subscription so I might as well get a new phone but the cheaper I could get. Therefore I did not really study the market.
I am running Ubuntu on all my PCs now (including the one of my mom ... actually it was the first one). So no way, I was going to chose a WinPhone. I've never been a big fan of Apple (although I recognise they make good and cool machines). Being a Linux/Unix advocate for years, it was natural to go for an Android phone.
Looking at what was available on the market, I first decided to go for a Samsung Spica: it was in my price range (1€) and it has a big community.
But when I went shopping, I had a good offer for an even better phone: an HTC Legend ! 1€ for the phone and 35€ of subscription per month for 5 hours of talk, plus unlimited SMS/MMS and internet connection (there's a limit of 500Go download per month; after that, the bandwidth is restricted but you are still connected). I suppose it's a better deal than most of the people in the States could get (from what I could gather from the Palm-Linux forum, aka J-Pilot) ... as I've seen many are reluctant to go the smart-phone way until they get a good deal for a data plan.
First impressions of the HTC Legend
Really sleek and cool device. No comparison to my old (5 years) phone (NEC 500i...). And compared to my Palm Clié : much better screen, more powerful ... it's a new generation (or even two generations up).
Still I miss the Grafiti system (codified hand writing recognition system of Palm). The keyboard is OK in landscape mode, but I think I would be even quicker writing with a good Grafiti. With my Clié I was writing often quicker than the device could recognise but still, I could write quicker than I can write with my HTC. Well, that's a feeling, may be with more HTC keyboard experience, I will be better.
Update a month later:
I have tried a couple of extra keyboards:
- Slide keyboard: interesting concept, but implies to re-learn to type. Still nearly zero typo with it.
- MobileWrite: It's grafiti running on Android ... hurrah, I thought I found the holly grail ! But in the end, I found it a bit too slow and I am missing not having the dictionary to guess (and correct) words typed in.
But in the end, I went back to the standard keyboard. I am using it fairly regularly (twice, 3 times a day, to write at least a couple of sentence each time). I am getting use to it now, and I making very few mistakes ... most of the time, I am using the landscape keyboard, which is easier to use for me.
Also I am missing the ability to write a SMS with one hand (from my old small phone), it's feasible but not as easy ... again I suppose it's a question of getting used to it.
I've found the better compromise for now, it's to use the "AZERTY Compact" (AZERTY being the French equivalent for the QWERTY keyboard). It transforms to normal "AZERTY" when used in landscape mode ... and in portrait mode the "compact" version is easier to use.
On top of that being used to use a stylus (on the Clié), I find it difficult to "tap" (or touch as it is called on the HTC doc) at a specific location in a string while typing (typically to correct what's been typed or add some more text in the middle): with a finger it's hard to select the correct place, given one or two letters ... and strangely, there's no possibility to move one character to the left or to the right (right arrow or left arrow on a PC) ... while I could do that with Graffiti on my Clié.
Update 2 weeks later:
Duuh, just use the trackball (optic trackball in my case) to move the cursor in the text: that works well. I did not find the trackball that easy to use at first (to switch screens for instance), so I kind of forgot about using it ... till a friend told me to use it ! ! How stupid of me ! Still while typing on the keyboard, grafiti gesture, to move cursor and to capitalise characters would be great ! !
I miss the hack (on the Clié) allowing to capitalize quickly and easily words ... not a major problem but still !
The screen is really great ! ! Good resolution, animation is fluid (flicking through screens, or pictures): really good feeling.
It takes good pictures ... and looking at them is good too. The 2 fingers zoom in/zoom out is right at home (while looking at pics).
Where are the tasks lists (to do) and memos/notes ?
The Android has a decent agenda and a phonebook.
The agenda is synchronised with google. There are no categories in the agenda, but it is possible to create many agendas. The Android agenda application is not that good, particularly to display information.
Jorte is a good replacement, it reads/writes all information from the Android agenda database, but displays it nicely and make it easier to use.
In Android, there's a phonebook which is synchronised to the Google Contacts web application. Unfortunately, this is not an address book like with Palm. Indeed, the address is a free form text, it is impossible to sort by cities: there is no city field. Even the name, while it's typed in with fields, it seems to me it's stored formatted.
There are no memo/notes applications with a standard Android device, nor a task/to do list applications. One needs to get replacements.
For a tasks/to do list application, Jorte will allow to manage a list that will be synchronised with Google Tasks web application. It's simple (no importance or category field) but that works !
For something more sophisticated, which synchronise with web services, use Astrid (the reference on the market)
For the notes/memos, that will be the subject of another post.
Clearly, the Android devices are not to the par, when compared to Palm devices regarding the PIM applications. The Palm was designed for the PIM applications and as a productivity device.
The Android is designed to be a connectivity device to be "always on" ... always connected to the internet, and the social networks. It is first a nice toy for kids ! !
But eventually, with all the people working on it, I suppose we will get a decent platform with nice productivity applications. After all, even on the Palm, all "hard core" users used third-party applications (DateBk3, DocToGo, etc) !
Then I have another major issue, there's no desktop application for the PIM data: it's all on the internet cloud. That's OK, as long as you have a connection but you don't have access to your information when you can not connect to the internet (e.g. while travelling by plane or train, or in remote rural areas) ... that's not really acceptable for me.
At the moment, there are not that many options. Gnome Evolution will synchronise with Google Contacts and Calendar ... but not perfectly as far as I can tell for the Contacts. I will need to investigate this a bit further.
For the memos, the only desktop solution is NeverNote (the Linux client of EverNote). The desktop is great but the Android application not really, we shall see what will happen. More on notes in a future post.
I haven't played video games regularly for a long time now.
Still that's the first kind of applications I've downloaded ! ! !
I've got only free versions to see what I could get: I've been quite impressed with a few of them. I get a better quality of what I got from my old Comodore 64 (quite a few years back) on a device much much smaller.
Saying that, the usability is not always there. For example, Pacific Wings a remake of a well known arcade game is really well done and, as good as the old arcade game, however controlling the plane by sweeping your finger on the screen is not that good, as it is not possible to see the plane coming behind you !
The web browser is great.
It works with all the web sites I have visited (including flash). It's quick and really handy to quickly lookup information over the net without using a big computer.
The zoom in/zoom out with 2 fingers (à la iPhone) is really easy to use and works well.
I can see me using this a lot even at home, to watch videos considering I can use the Wifi network (and not some of my monthly bandwith).
We are supposed to be able to switch from viewing in Portrait mode (the "standard" mode) to Landscape mode in all applications ... in fact this is not true for quite a few applications including quite simple and standard ones (clock, parameters, ...), in fact that's mainly (only ?) HTC applications.
Therefore, the switch between the "compact" keyboard and the "standard" keyboard will not take place, and we are stuck with the "compact" keyboard.
A shame also the switch from Portrait to Landscape only works when rotating anti-clockwise, why not doint it clockwise also (like on the iPhone) ?
The device is great ... but why nobody picked up on the idea of the wheel (jog dial) of the Clié: am I the only one, thinking this is a great (the best ?) way to scroll on a device of this size ?
Startup time: it boots up quickly for a computer ... but it's quite slow for a phone.
I suppose you are not supposed to shut it off often ... however I don't like to have my phone always on at all times. The solution is to switch it to Airplane mode and it's not connected to anything any more.
When it's switched off, it doesn't wake up to ring for an alarm clock. I know all phones don't do that, but all I had so far did ... and I like it. Usually, I switch off my phone at night (strangely I don't use it while I sleep) ... but I often use it as an alarm clock (all the time these days).
Quickoffice: it does not manage OpenDocument ... a shame really for an open source OS to not be able to handle THE open source document standard ! ! !
Also it is not possible to edit the documents ... even just to correct a few words or figures, a shame again: I could do that with simple docs and apps with my Clié.
Update (a month later):
That's because that's the restricted version included by HTC. The full version will allow to edit MS documents (version pre 2007).
Localisation: a shame it is not possible to configure which day is the first of the week, in the Android parameters. It can be done in Agenda (at least) but then it is Sunday in other applications like (Clock) ... too bad ! !
To me that shows the lack of quality from Google with Android, and particularly in regards of internationalisation (that shows also in other Google developments, i.e. on the web). This feature has been for ever in all major OS ! ! !
All the applications are in one single bag ! You hit a button and you get a list of all your applications. This is really annoying as I would like to be able to categorize my applications.
It is possible to create folders on the home page of the Android (3 with default Android, 7 with HTC Sense-an improved Home page by HTC) but still this is not really good.
Thank god, there are quite a few applications to solve that problem. I use AppCategories that allows to categorise the applications.
There's no full backup provided. Coming from Palm where I use to reset (voluntarily or not - applications problems, dead batteries, ...) at least once a month and then restore all applications and data. I found it hard there's no backup facility with the system.
But then again, even on the Palm, at the beginning it was a third party application. And on the Android, most of the data is synchronised OTA (OverTheAir) hence not much will be lost.
Still there are a few backups applications and I will investigate at a latter time.
The multi-tasking is great ... on the paper. But the way it's implemented it uses up a lot of resources. Most of the applications never exit, they just go to the backgroud. Cool they can be call back to the foreground quickly (and in the same state) -long press on Home key, will bring up the list of last used applications. But they stay there (i.e. in memory) and slowly but surely degrade performances on your device.
The solution is to use a little application to kill non used application. The reference for that is Advanced Task Killer Free.
However, I am now not using this one but another program that can do much more than just kill applications, that includes a better last used applications (with the possibility to uninstall these applications), an application manager, a task manager, a synthetic system view, a favourite applications panel, etc. This great application is SmartBar.
In the end
What I like
- The screen & the switch from Portrait to Landscape
- The FM radio
- The GPS
- The simplicity of use
- Voice recorder
- 5Mp camera
- The internet browser and the ability to be connected where ever I am
- The 2 fingers zoom in/zoom out (à la iPhone)
- HTC extras: Sense plus the other little applications
What I don't like
- The lack of good PIM application (and the complete lack of two of them)
- No integrated full backup (on SD, desktop, or cloud)
- PIM data too much tied up to Google (although solutions do exist thanks to SyncML)
- A system with still many failures/errors/problems ... too young (but getting corrected at each new version)
My final thoughts
Eventually, I really like my HTC Legend. It's a nice and sleek device with some good features and things that can be (and hopefully will be) better. There's also a big and growing community with a lot of momentum.
However, if you are a serious business user, you might be frustrated by the Android. The PIM functions are just not there and it's all a bit immature. Yo might as well stay with Palm for another year (or Blackberry but I don't know this).
It's the first time I use a (fairly) new IT OS for fun. I've always waited for the mature version (my first Palm was a Palm III, my first contact with Linux was with Mandrake 10.1 and then Ubuntu 6.06).
So I get really frustrated some time with little things ... but all in all, I can see (from declarations I've read, and v2.2 improvements) the OS is slowly getting better and more mature.
My main problem is still the PIM applications: contacts are in a phone book and not a address book (that's a problem for real business users), calendar has no categories. And there's no tasks nor memos applications. On that front things are getting better as Google now has a tasks application in the web applications (probably coming to Android). And they are moving Google Docs to the Android.
Then I have another major issue, there's no desktop application for the PIM data: it's all on the internet cloud. It's not really an issue for now, but it will be at some point. Hopefully, by that time, developments would have caught up:
- Gnome Evolution will synchronise well with Google (at the moment, some fields are not synchronised) or I will have to move to a SyncML solution, or use something else (Thunderbird looks promising for synching with Google).
- EverNote Android client will work as it should, i.e. with the feature of the desktop applications (full editing, browing by notebook and tags) and keeping the memos on the SD card.
On another hand the device is great, there are plenty of things to do with it. There's a gazillion of applications on the Market (not all are great though) ... and still quite a few more to come.
It's handy to be able to check a few things online while out and about: it will probably be difficult to go back now (a month after using it first).
In my next posts, I will detail the migration process from Palm to Android.
Then I will comment on applications.