There’s no doubt that Android has taken a big bite out of the smartphone apple (pun completely intended). Google recently announced that are now activating 160,000 new Android devices every day and there are over 65,000 apps in the Android Market. Part of this could be that the cost of entry, to develop for Android, is relatively low. You can develop on Mac/PC/Linux, you can sell your apps on your own website, and if you do want to be part of the Android Market, there’s a one-time fee of $25. The other part of the growth is the sheer amount and variety of Android handsets that are being released. At this point, there’s pretty much a device for everyone.
At the time of writing this, I’ve used/tested/reviewed eight Android phones, starting with the G1 and I’m currently rocking a Motorola DROID X. To be honest, I can’t tell you which phone is the “best”. As features evolve, they are quickly adopted as the ‘norm’. What was once a 3 megapixel camera is now 5 or 8 megapixel camera, which has opened the door for HD video recording. Camera flashes are becoming standard issue as well. The current hot “feature” is screen size.
While the iPhone has had a 3.5″ screen since its inception, Android devices come in an impressive range of screen sizes. You can get the HTC Tattoo, with a 2.8″ screen or max out with a 5″ screen on the Dell Streak. There are also a few Android tablets that have 5″+ screens, but that’s another blog post. Several manufacturers are shooting for the 4″ range, as their flagship phones.
HTC was the first into the fray with the HD2 (Windows Mobile) and EVO 4G (Android). I had the opportunity to review the HTC EVO 4G, over at DroidDog.com. Not to be outdone, Motorola recently released the DROID X (Android), also sporting 4.3″ screen. Check out my review here. The latest manufacturer to enter the fight is Samsung with the Galaxy S (Android), and its variants. This phone will be available on all of the major carriers, in the U.S. (Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, US Cellular, Cellular South). I haven’t got my hands on this phone yet. It’s the only one with a Super AMOLED screen, which is said to be thinner, brighter, and has better color and contrast.
Why would you want such a large screen? In my opinion, a phone with a 4″ screen is the perfect balance between portability and “entertainment value”. It’s small enough to slip in your pocket, but it’s still usable as a news reader, portable gaming system, or watch movies. If you think about it, just a few years ago, portable DVD players had about the same size screen, and they usually only played DVDs. Now you have an entire entertainment system in your pocket. The EVO ups the ante by adding a kickstand on the back of the phone so you can comfortably watch TV, movies, or make a video conferencing call. The DROID X let’s you customize your audio experience, allowing you to select “Effects Profiles” like “Home Theater”, “3D Stereo”, “Live Stage” or “Custom”.
It’s not all sunshine and flowers, though. Even though the phone does fit in my pocket, that doesn’t mean it’s not noticeable. When I was reviewing the HTC DROID Incredible (3.7″ screen), the phone is slim and trim and fit the pocket well…even the knife pocket in my jeans. With the DROID X, it’s very clear that you’re either trying to smuggle deck of comedy playing cards in your pocket, or you have one of these new fangled behemoth smartphones.
The other drawback is larger screen = more power consumption. Manufacturers are trying to combat this with larger batteries and other power saving features. Most Android phones have an ambient light sensor, that will automatically adjust the screen brightness, based on how light it is where you are. The Motorola DROID X has a built-in battery manager app that will shut the data connection off during user specified “off-peak” hours. However, if you’re watching, or even worse, recording a movie, the combination of the screen being on for an extended period and the processor cranking away will drain the battery rather quickly. The battery would last all day if I were just checking email and tweeting…even excessively. But open that camera app and snap a handful of pics, and you better have a backup battery or a charger handy.
While a jumbo screen, on a phone, may not be for everyone, if you’re in the market to upgrade a few of your gadgets at once, maybe a 4″ screen phone is the right way to go. The kids can use it in the car to play games or watch movies. In most cases, you’ll be able ditch your point-and-shoot camera, and possibly your flash memory camcorder, as the cameras are getting better and better. If you’re still rocking an MP3 player, you can shelve that as well.
Questions? Comment here or on Twitter (@breon)