yARN: Android is alright

I’ve had the opportunity to use an HTC Sensation smartphone for the last several weeks, and even more recently a member of my immediate family has acquired a Huawei Sonic. a consequence is that the way I feel about Android has changed significantly.

Those two phones are pretty much at opposite ends of the smartphone price spectrum. The Sensation is an upmarket device that launched midyear with a price in the mid- to high $800 range, but is now available in the mid- to high $400s if you shop around. It’s got a fast processor, an HD camera and a 4.3-inch quarter-HD (540 X 960) display and a bunch of other attractive features.

The Sonic is a budget model available unlocked and outright from Woolworths and Dick Smith for $188. The 3.5-inch display means it’s only slightly smaller than the Sensation, but the 320×480 resolution is substantially lower. despite any shortcomings, it seems to do a perfectly adequate job as a phone, email client and Web browser, and it has sufficient grunt to run the apps we’ve tried so far.

I’m not a smartphone user – I feel I spend too much time at my desk to really warrant buying one, and my mobile phone bill is so low that going on even the cheapest plan would increase my monthly expenditure – but I have trialled most generations of the iPhone prior to the 4S.The iPhone has plenty of nice features, especially the integration with iTunes and MobileMe/iCloud, but it’s always been unjustifiably expensive given my pattern of use. On the other hand, the reduced price of the iPod touch has tempted me to replace my ageing iPod mini. it would be useful to be able to check emails when I’m attending a conference without having to pull out and start up a notebook, for example.

But now I can buy an Android phone for less than an iPod touch, I could kill two birds with one stone. my several-years-old Sony Ericsson K700i generally works OK (though the thumbstick sometimes shows signs of old age), though it doesn’t exactly fit the image of a tech journalist. and I’ve found it is easier to carry the iPod as well as the phone than it is to manage audio files on the K700i.

I’ve replaced the iPod mini’s battery about three times, and I’m not sure the tiny screws and other components will survive another disassembly when this one stops taking an adequate charge. I therefore won’t feel too guilty about replacing an otherwise still functioning piece of kit.

The problem is that I use the iPod almost exclusively for listening to podcasts, and I really like the way iTunes deletes the episodes I’ve played from the iPod and transfers any new episodes just by plugging the device into my Mac. I haven’t found any Android software that provides the same functionality. DoggCatcher appears very useful in that it handles the download/cleanup process on the device. that would be extremely convenient except for one thing: I like to archive certain podcasts, and that’s easily done from iTunes. if you know a good way of handling this on Android, please let me know.

I’m still a little concerned that many Android apps come from developers I’ve not previously heard of, and they aren’t curated in the way iOS apps are, so my policy is to avoid very new apps on the basis that if something was dodgy about them, it’ll probably be discovered in the first month or two. I’m also cautious about updates from all but established companies for the same reason. after all, if you don’t trust Google, you shouldn’t be using Android at all.

So while Apple enjoys very high consumer satisfaction ratings (as previously mentioned, iPhone owners are more likely to buy another iPhone than Android owners are to buy another Android phone, I’m now almost convinced Android phones really are more than adequate for a lot of purposes – including mine. that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like an iPhone, just that given my current pattern of usage I’d prefer something like the Sonic plus $600 to an iPhone 4S. or, for that matter, to keep the best part of $300 in my pocket by buying a Sonic rather than an iPhone 3GS.

Perhaps an analogy would be that while my next (used) car will probably have more airbags than the one currently sitting in the garage, it’s unlikely to have self-parking capability. I don’t decry those who want a 1080p camera, a dual-core processor or a 960×640 display in their mobile phones, but we don’t all need such high-spec devices.