NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, April 2011
New handheld computer that also phones (SmartPhone)
(Verizon Motorola Droid X Ė Android OS 2.2 Froyo)

By Merle Nicholson, Secretary,
Tampa PCUG, Florida January 2011 issue, Bits of Blue

Merle (at) merlenicholson.com (click to email author)

OK Ė this is an article about an Android phone by a guy who is three times older than the demographic that normally buys these things.

So Iím going to say ďFacebookĒ here and now, the first and last time because Iíd donít have a Facebook account; I havenít ďfriendedĒ anyone, so I certainly donít care where they are. And I havenít gone hunting for dates for 47 years. Just so you know who I am.

Iíve replaced two pocket devices with one Android SmartPhone two weeks ago. I had a tiny wireless telephone that I used for, well, telephoning, and a five year old PDA Ė a Dell Axim x50v.

The old Dell is still functioning almost as well as it did when it was new. Its connectivity options are limited to wireless/b and Bluetooth. I used it mostly to sync with my Outlook calendar and contacts and keep family pictures to bore people with. The charging/sync connector is getting flaky, and I bought a new part to replace it, but the tiny soldering required put me off some and also prompted me to look elsewhere. Donít get me wrong, I can solder. NASA taught me how a lifetime ago. But this is tiny, close together and there are about twenty things to be soldered.

The phone Iíve had for two years has been just a telephone to me; it connects to a hands-free device I bought for the car, but it will also take pictures and do messaging, in which I had no interest. I discovered that the process to keep the camera from taking pictures of the inside of my pocket made it hard to take any kind of pictures at all and that Verizon was going to charge me to get them off my phone after I did take some. I have a good camera anyway.

Verizon is making it pretty easy to get a new phone and a data/mail plan to go along with it. But Amazon is doing it better by reducing the price of this model (Droid X) down to $120, $50 cheaper than buying direct from Verizon. Thatís after a $30 credit accumulated at Verizon for having fulfilled my last 2-year contract. Thatís $120, no tax, no shipping, no activation fee, plus, I later discovered that, because I went to Amazon through the TPCUG link, $65 was credited to the TPCUG. I activated the phone with Verizon within a few minutes of delivery to my house but after the on-line activation failed. Apparently Amazon and Verizon work it all out because the Amazon price is reduced by Verizonís $30, and Amazon checks while you wait online to verify the Verizon eligibility if youíve told Amazon that youíre an existing Verizon customer and have given the phone number you want to use.

OK, now about Android phones Ė or rather what Iíve learned so far. There seems to be a consensus that the latest version of the OS, version 2.2, is the best so far, and 2.2 apparently has some much-needed new features. Being a Google product Ė you guessed it Ė it had a lot of features imbedded in it that depend on Google. Iím not especially fond of going to one source for everything, but Google has not eliminated all your choices, and, with time, now Iím completely comfort- able with it.

Email would be a good example. Iím using my own email server account for email, not my Gmail account. My mail is still managed on my home PC because I run a business and my Outlook is essential. My Outlook 2010 isnít just an email/contact list/calendar; it truly categorizes and manages that searchable client data going back several years. So the phone brings in all my incoming mail from my private server, and I can send replies or initiate new mail through my server.

The web-based Gmail/Contacts manages your contact list on your Android phone pretty much seamlessly.

I export files (calendar by broad date range and contacts one at a time) from Outlook and then log into my Google email account and import each of those files.

I really donít know if the data is on the phone or in the ďcloud,Ē but Iíve decided I donít care. The contacts and calendar data appear in my phone not instantly but within maybe an hour; Iím not sure.

So far no one has discovered my Gmail account and thatís just fine. On the phone, I pretty much just read any incoming email that Iím especially interested in, reply if required and then just erase all the phoneís email. There are programs (purchased and free) that improve the Outlook to Android transfer process, but I havenít yet seen any need to fully automate the exchange.

Hereís a list of most of the functions and programs Iím actively using. Most are free and already installed. A few were free from the Android Market, and just two were purchased.

Browser Ė The Internet browser is surprisingly good considering the screen size. It responds to 2-finger zoom and pan rapidly, so, with a small amount of manipulation, you can see any part of even a large page in all detail. A very large number of websites have pages optimized for mobiles. Wikipedia is one excellent example.

Navigation Ė Google navigation is just amazing, and itís free, unlike the optional VZNavigator, which has a $10 monthly fee from Verizon. Type in or speak a destination, and Google looks up and presents all the possibilities; select the one you want and the route is presented with voice directions as you drive. When you reach the destination, it presents a Google Street view. This really surprised me when I stopped and it showed a photo of the front of my house.

Maps Ė Google maps, satellite view and Street View, just like on the PC. Nothing seems to be missing.

Car Locator Ė This is a small GPS program that lets you quickly set the location of your car and then find it later using a directional arrow as you walk with the distance in feet or meters. $3.

Kindle Ė This is a Kindle book reader; there are versions available for many other devices including PCís. The library of digital books you own here are identical to your Kindle. If you stay connected on both, it tracks your last read page so you can switch devices and not lose your place. Itís wonderfully readable. Itís not a substitute for the Kindle if you own one, but itís handy, and if you happen to own a mobile phone, thereís no real need to buy a Kindle if you donít want to.

Email Ė Well, itís email. Itís the mail that I get from my mail server. I do reply to email from the phone when I feel I have to, and, since the voice-to-text feature works here as well, itís pretty easy.

Calendar Ė Itís pretty good, completely integrated with Google Calendar.

Voicemail Ė Google voicemail takes your voicemail messages, translates them to text and places a message on your phone to read or play Ė your option.

Music player Ė Thereís a sync app that detects when youíre plugged into a PC and syncs your PC music to the device. Thereís also a DLNA app that plays media from a network with a media server. Otherwise itís a decent MP3/WMA player that also does videos.

Camera Ė An 8 Megapixel camera with face detection and panorama stitching. It has two fairly bright LEDs for flash and plenty of manual settings. Very good zooming, as youíd expect with 8MPixels to work with.

Camcorder Ė The camera also functions as a 720p HD video recorder. The device also has a mini HDMI port for playing to an external device such as a wide screen TV. It comes with a 16GB SDHC card.

Slideshow and picture management Ė naturally.

Password management -I use the PC version of KeePassX, and I was delighted to find they make an Android version. Free.

Swype - I saved this for last. Itís an alternative screen keyboard that allows you to enter a word by sliding a finger from letter to letter. It uses error-correcting algorithms to guess the word and presents alternatives. A world record was set on a touchscreen and Swype using a Samsung Galaxy S. The world record text message consists of 26 words and was typed in 25.94 seconds, which corresponds to a speed of 60 words per minute.

The few things I donít like - Itís a mystery to me that Android applications donít have an exit or close. Instead, they stay running until you either shut down each service manually or turn off the phone. Iíd guess the up side to this is that everything launches very quickly. Itís so fast in fact that you take it all for granted. I havenít found a disadvantage to this, although Iíve read complaints that it must be taking up cpu cycles and therefore must be draining the battery and contributing heat to global warming. I guess I doubt all that, but what I really donít understand is why I find apps such as Skype running when Iíve never used them. There are programs you can purchase to you manage these, but itís also widely held that youíd live a calmer life if you just ignored it all. Finally I did read a built-in tutorial recommending that you turn the phone off once a day to clear out unused programs in memory.

Second, in spite of the claim of 220 hours of standby and 480 minutes of talk time, this thing eats battery. Iíll admit I pretty much actively used it all one day for 10 hours and ran the battery down. I used it for phone calls very little. The display, when on, eats most of the battery, so a continuous charge is necessary if youíre going to use it for navigation. Thereís an extended battery for $50, which is way too much.

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