Bye bye Symbian, hello Android

HTC Desire

Last week I waved goodbye to my trusty Nokia E71. After watching the iPhone and Android communities evolve over the last 18 months, Symbian (the operating system that runs on the E71) has increasingly felt rather outdated.

I am now the proud owner of an HTC Desire running on Google’s Android platform.

People who know me may be a little surprised, given my general enthusiasm for all things Apple, that I didn’t get an iPhone. One of the major deciding factors is the unavoidable practicality that I am stuck in the middle of a long contract with 3. I can’t justify the outlay on an iPhone as well as the £35/month contract that goes with it. I’ll get one someday, just not yet.

Putting all of that aside, I am an itinerant tinkerer. I like the freedom that goes with Android – you can tinker with the many options, set up homescreen widgets, and truly customise it. There are plenty of free apps out there to play with, and the Android App ecosystem seems pretty healthy, with the number of apps available in the Android Market steadily increasing (50,000 at the time of writing). Android is the underdog platform, and is something I’ve wanted to try out for a few years.

So what phone to choose? Initially, it was going to have to be the Google Nexus One. However, being based in the UK, it wasn’t available, and I didn’t want the hassle of trying to import one. Manufacturer HTC and Android review websites were making noises about a handset called the HTC Desire, which was mooted to be almost exactly the same as the Nexus One bar a secondary microphone and a different design (HTC make the Nexus One for Google anyway). This sounded ideal.

After a few weeks of reading reviews, and looking at sample video and photos taken by the device, my mind was made up. At the same time, my mobile operator, 3 UK, announced that they would be releasing the HTC Desire on their network. Due to huge interest in the handset they also announced that they would release the handset ahead of their own branding and customisation, so that the first batch of handsets sold by them would be unbranded, unlocked, and subsidised. Excellent! An unlocked unbranded handset means that I will get all of the necessary firmware / OS updates from HTC when they’re released. Branded handsets are sometimes never updated.

Thinking back to my post about Simply Drop, a way of recycling old mobile phones for cash, I totted up how much I could get for all my old mobiles, including the E71. Enough to pay for half the HTC Desire, and enough to convince me that this was a good idea.

After a little bit of fun trying to buy an HTC Desire from 3 (who didn’t seem to want to sell one on PAYG) I managed to get one at the end of last week.

So, two days in to using Android on the HTC Desire, what do I think? So far, it’s amazing. The HTC Sense interface which adds some extra functionality to the standard Android user interface (UI) is very slick and easy to navigate. The dark interface is cleanly designed and minimal, the capacitive touch screen is very sensitive, keyboard works well, and the 1Ghz SnapDragon processor means the whole experience is very quick with no detectable lag. I like it.

The social networking and Google integration is just wonderful. Gmail, contacts, calendar, Twitter, Flickr, all synchronise automatically. Without doing anything, I have the same information on my phone as I do on my Mac. It’s something I’ve quested to do on my old E71 since I got it, and never managed an eloquent solution. And now I have one.

Also – browsing the web is every bit as good as on an iPhone (I have an iPod Touch, so know it well). The inclusion of Flash in the browser is nice, but it’s not something I’m too bothered about really (favouring standards and HTML5).

The downsides so far are the battery life and screen visibility. This, like an iPhone, is a charge every day device. I understand that the battery gets a bit better after a few days, but I will be keeping a closer eye on battery levels after being used to the E71’s 3 day capacity. Screen visibility is poor in direct sunlight. It’s nowhere near as good as the E71. The AMOLED screen brightness needs to be set to full to see it in bright conditions. I recommend setting the brightness to auto rather than manual control, otherwise there are times when you can’t even see the brightness control to turn it up to full when you need it.

But otherwise, all good so far.

Expect a full review of the HTC Desire in the coming weeks.

3 Replies to “Bye bye Symbian, hello Android”

  1. I’ll be interested to hear how you go with the Desire – i think it looks like a great phone. Even with the annoying battery life. I get the same with my iPhone (as you noted), although once i turn the WiFi off, i get substantially more and i can do everything i need with 3G.

    1. After a few days use, the battery life has improved – I can definitely get a day out of it with mixed use. Whilst on holiday I used it to take hundreds of photos – the key was to switch off syncing, data and 3G (which I had to do to save a huge data bill!). It lasted for ages.

      I last charged the HTC Desire overnight on Monday, unplugging early Tuesday Morning. I used it a lot on the two flights to get home in flight mode (the “Guardian Anywhere” app is amazing!) as well as some Twittering email checking and some photos. There’s still juice in it now on Wednesday, and it’s nearly midday – 36 hours isn’t too bad considering what the phone can do. I’m sure it’ll be back down to a day with 3G and syncing turned back on, but at least I have some strategies for making it last longer if I need to.

      I will write a followup post in the next few days, having had it for over a week now and used it for all kinds of things. In short, I’m very impressed.

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