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Android HTC Desire

HTC Desire and Android 2.3 Gingerbread

I have had an original unlocked and unbranded HTC Desire for more than a year, and it’s still a very fast and capable smartphone.

HTC were quick to upgrade it from 2.1 to 2.2 Froyo, and getting those new features have helped to keep the phone ‘fresh’, as it were, for the first six months or so. However, since the upgrade to Froyo last summer, there has been little sign of HTC keeping the original Desire up to speed with the latest and greatest Android releases. In the last week HTC announced via Facebook that they would not be releasing Android 2.3 for the Desire due to the lack of internal memory. Their HTC Sense modification to Android is too big to fit on the phone. A shame, as incremental Android updates can fix bugs and make many usability improvements. For a device that you have with you every day and use frequently, it’s a big deal.

Making that announcement via Facebook, the largest social network in the world, I wonder if HTC are now somewhat regretting that idea. The uproar was pretty impressive. Hundreds of negative quotes later, as well as a generating a great deal of interest from the technology press and blogosphere, it would seem that HTC have rethought the idea:

To resolve Desire’s memory issue and enable the upgrade to Gingerbread, we will cut select apps from the release. Look for status updates starting next week. We apologize for any confusion. (link)

So, HTC Desire users, you will have your Gingerbread and eat it.

What about the alternatives?

The official HTC release of Android 2.3 Gingerbread with HTC Sense isn’t the only option. Personally, I’d become rather bored of the Sense interface, and the amount of space that it took up on my phone. I had very little memory to play with, and had to be very careful with how many apps I could install. Despite Android 2.2 allowing installing to the SD card, not all of the application is moved, and some apps couldn’t be moved in any way (Twitter, Facebook). So not ideal. What are the alternatives?

Enter Unrevoked to ‘root’ my phone (and allow changes to be made) and Cyanogenmod, a tweaked version of Android customised by a community of enthusiasts. At the time of writing, Cyanogen is at 7.0.3, and the latest and greatest version of Android is running on my HTC Desire. It’s like having a new phone.

Everything can be installed to the SD card. There’s no tacky Sense interface. It’s refreshing.

Installing Cyanogen isn’t for the faint-hearted or for the computer novice, but if you’re feeling brave, it’s definitely worth trying.

So, if you want Gingerbread on your original HTC Desire today, and you don’t mind the stock Android interface (which is rather excellent) then head over to http://www.cyanogenmod.com/ and give it a go.

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Android

Life with the HTC Desire Android smartphone

Reflected Sun Fire. A photo taken with Vignette on my HTC Desire.

It’s been well over a month since I bought my HTC Desire to replace my trustworthy Nokia E71. How am I getting on with it? Here’s my mini review of the handset and its Android operating system.

It’s all about integration

One thing that I have strived to do on the E71, and failed, was to have seamless syncing of data, and integration with the online services that I use. A combination of syncing my Apple address book with Google, and using iSync on my Mac to update the phone and vice versa didn’t always work out. It was still a manual process. I would invariably forget to do it. Things got into a bit of a mess, with plenty of duplicates. The Google sync on Android, with the HTC Sense tweaks, finally make this just work.

My contacts and calendars are in sync wherever I go, which is a revelation to me. I don’t actually have to do anything, which is how it should be. Sync is transparent. My Apple Address Book is set to sync with Google (but still backed up by Time Machine on OSX) and I’m very happy with how it all works. Of course, this is an Android OS feature and not unique to the HTC Desire, but very nice nonetheless.

The same sync happens with my Google Calendar – Apple Calendar is set to sync with Google, and the calendar on my phone is the same that I have on the web or my desktop. It’s great. And then there’s Gmail sync and Twitter…

It’s all about the battery life

So with all of this fancy syncing going on, with that lovely large high resolution AMOLED screen, how long is it before I’m searching for a USB port or a power socket? Initially, when I first got the phone, naturally I was playing with it all of the time. Downloading apps, playing with every feature to find out how it works. The phone didn’t last all day. In fact, far from it. It was just a few hours of constant use before I’d have to plug it in.

However, after maybe 4 or 5 charges, and a little less fiddling with the features, I found that the battery began to stabilise and last much longer. I set the sync frequency to be much less frequent for Twitter, removed Facebook sync, set Flickr and Exchange to be just once a day, and this has made a massive improvement. If the phone isn’t having to access the internet every 10 minutes, then you’ll notice that you can easily get through the day with it.

Other major factors that I have found are that in auto 2G/3G mode, the battery does last less than setting to be locked to either. Unfortunately I’m on the 3 network in the UK which requires me to have auto mode enabled, but when on holiday in Italy I switched data off on the phone (just using Wifi at the hotel) and locked it to 2G. The Desire’s battery lasted for a couple of days, even when using it to take around 30 photos a day. In ‘airplane mode’ the battery seemed like it could last forever (which is just as well given how long we were stuck on an aeroplane for, on the tarmac in Milan).

My HTC Desire’s battery can now comfortably last me a whole day, and often overnight as well, with a few hours the following morning before I realise I ought to plug it in.

It’s all about the screen

As I’ve mentioned, the HTC Desire has an 480 X 800 WVGA AMOLED screen. It’s beautiful. Reading text on it is so crisp, it’s no strain on the eye at all (for me, anyway). I downloaded the Aldiko ebook reader and Guardian Anywhere and reading content from both apps is simply a joy. I’ve even read a whole HG Wells book on it. I think that this is one of the best mobile screens available.

However, the screen does have a big weakness. Sunlight. I used to keep my phone on the minimum brightness level, until I found out that you can’t see anything at all on the screen bar fingerprints. You can’t see the controls to increase the brightness. Cue lots of shading the screen, or finding somewhere out of the sun to squint at the vague ghost of an Android OS so that you can crank it up to full brightness. Heavens help you if a call comes in or you need to make an urgent call with a dimly lit screen in full sunlight. I now try and put the phone onto auto brightness when I’m out and about (which isn’t always good for battery life, but at least it’s usable).

However, the beautiful fidelity of the screen, its sharpness and richness of colour more than makes up for this once you have learned how to work around the weaknesses.

So what about the Apps?

There are lots of amazing apps available for Android. Coming from an app-starved Symbian phone, it’s utter luxury. I’ve got apps for most things that I want to do with a phone, and I’ve only had to pay for one of them (the excellent Vignette for Android). It can be a bit hard to find decent apps, because the Android Market is littered with duplicate apps and those displaying photos of a dubious nature. But a bit of digging around using Google and by visiting the numerous Android blogs, it’s not hard to find out what apps are considered a must-have.

Highlights for me (in no particular order) are:

A proper Skype solution is sorely missing, sort of filled by “Skype for 3” here in the UK which is still rather crippled (and uses the cellular network to place and receive calls, and won’t accept calls from Skype online numbers). There will be an official Skype for Android to be released later in 2010, which will charge for calls placed over 3G. I don’t think I’ll touch Fring or Nimbuzz because of the way that they reset privacy settings (but I still need to check if this is still the case).

Conclusion

The HTC Desire is a great phone. The camera is fantastic, and made even better by using Vignette. The screen is pin-sharp (but not good in direct sunlight), and the battery lasts just about long enough to use it a fair bit in the day. The syncing is excellent – having Google Mail, Contacts, Calendar and Twitter always updated is amazing. The HTC Sense interface which sits atop Android is very well designed, and allows for a great deal of customisation – widgets, shortcuts to apps and websites – you can really make it your own. If you like to tinker with your phone, then it’s definitely for you.

It really does feel like a mini computer, a step towards that ubiquitous device that does it all reasonably well, and I’m really glad that I have one.

Categories
Android Google

Google Mail is becoming Gmail in the UK – just don’t change if you use Android

As the title of this post says, UK Googlemail users can now change their email address from ..@googlemail.com to ..@gmail.com. If I remember correctly, there was a trademark issue with “Gmail” in the UK, but it looks like this has now been resolved.

I decided to change my Googlemail account to use the .gmail domain name. However, as soon as I did this, my Android phone (which is linked to my Google account) began to get a little cross. The Android Market stopped working, and I kept getting a Google Talk error (even though I don’t use it). I decided to remove the Google account from my phone and add it back in. However, my phone warned me that I would have to reset the whole phone in order to do this! Just for changing to gmail.com? I don’t think it’s worth the effort.

So I have reverted to @googlemail.com and everything has returned to normal. I might wait a little while before I try that again…

Categories
Android Mobile

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.