An­droid with hu­man touch

New Google hand­sets throw smart­phone race wide open

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & Technology - FRIK ELS frike@fin­week.co.za

THERE’S NO ES­CAP­ING Google nowa­days. Apart from be­ing the num­ber one search en­gine and cre­ator of the world’s most pop­u­lar web applications, Google is now tak­ing on the cell­phone in­dus­try head-on.

The first phones based on Google’s An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tem – or, more pre­cisely, the open source OS ini­tia­tive backed by Google – are now avail­able in South Africa. Be pre­pared to hear the words “iPhone killer” of­ten when the new An­droid phones are dis­cussed. Early in­di­ca­tions are that such a state­ment has some merit – well, sort of.

Both phones are made by HTC, the Tai­wanese phone maker rep­re­sented by Leaf Wireless in SA. The newer Magic is exclusive to Vo­da­com and MTN sells the Dream (it isn’t locked in, so even if you’re an MTN sub­scriber you’ll be able to use a Magic phone, and vice versa).

Al­though the Dream is billed as a G1 (or first gen­er­a­tion) An­droid phone and the Magic a G2, there’s lit­tle to choose be­tween them. Both run the lat­est ver­sion of the An­droid called Cup­cake ( no ex­pla­na­tion given for the name) and it’s the unique­ness and ver­sa­til­ity of the OS that make it dif­fer­ent from hand­sets from Nokia, LG and oth­ers and not the form fac­tor or the raw spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

The most ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ence be­tween the two hand­sets is that the Magic is a full touch­screen while the Dream com­bines a touch­screen with a slide-out QWERTY key­board. Both have 3,2” screens with 320 x 480 pixel res­o­lu­tion, which is about as good qual­ity as cur­rently avail­able: it’s the same as the Ap­ple iPhone, al­though Nokia’s up­com­ing flag­ship phone N97 beats it hands down. A nifty track­ball work­ing sim­i­lar to that on Black­Ber­ries com­plete the in­put op­tions and is a good al­ter­na­tive to touch­ing the screen dur­ing many op­er­a­tions. The touch­screens are re­spon­sive and ac­cu­rate, al­though your re­viewer gen­er­ally finds even the best to be fid­dly to use.

Both HTC phones fea­ture mi­croSD slots for all your mul­ti­me­dia; but the Magic comes stan­dard with a 2Gb card, while with the Dream you’ll have to buy one sep­a­rately (for less than R200). On board mem­ory is 512Mb for the Magic and half that on the Dream.

At 3,15Mp the cam­era ca­pa­bil­i­ties are the same and so are the rest of the specs for GPS, WiFi, pro­ces­sor speed (a de­cent 528Mhz that doesn’t spoil the ex­pe­ri­ence the way too slow pro­ces­sors do on so many smart­phones) and bat­tery life.

The Dream is quite heavy and thick, thanks to its key­board, but the qual­ity of the fin­ishes is ex­cel­lent on both. Not sur­pris­ingly, in­te­gra­tion with Google ser­vices – such as Gmail, Google Maps, etc – is very good. The Magic also sup­ports video call­ing – but, hon­estly, who ever makes a video call?

The fu­ture of smart­phones lies with (rel­a­tively) open op­er­at­ing sys­tems on to which users can load applications and make up­dates. In short, the line be­tween smart­phones and lap­tops is blur­ring. Acer, an­nounc­ing a mini-lap­top run­ning An­droid, is an in­di­ca­tion of what fu­ture trends are. While Ap­ple has sold more than 1bn applications, avail­able wid­gets, apps, games and per­son­al­i­sa­tion op­tions for An­droid are still some­what lim­ited. Leaf sup­ports an app store in SA called Open­Mar­ket and the num­ber of apps for An­droid is set to grow fast. Nokia (through its Ovi ser­vice) is also get­ting into the app game and Black­Berry has a sim­i­lar ser­vice (not yet avail­able here).

Whether to buy Magic or the Dream is a mat­ter of per­sonal pref­er­ence. Pric­ing from the two net­works is sim­i­lar and it boils down to whether you want a more stylish touch­screen only or can live with some bulk for the sake of a key­board.

The big­ger ques­tion is whether to switch to Google’s An­droid from Ap­ple’s iPhone or ven­dors such as Nokia and Black­Berry. The an­swer de­pends on which plat­form will sup­ply the next killer mo­bile phone app to ri­val SMS.

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