Mark Chu-Carroll, an engineer at Google who’s been beta testing the Google Android Phone for six weeks before it officially launched, wrote an excellent review of it on his blog, Good Math, Bad Math. He drew many comparisons and contrast to Apple’s iPhone, which serves as his primary mobile device.
In a nutshell, he concluded that “the software is excellent, the hardware less so,” but he was also quick to note that “the software is really late-beta quality. It’s lacking polish, and there are a few awkward points.” Mark went on to comment on the Android’s web browser, as he believes browsing capability to be a distinguishing factor for phones such as the iPhone and Google’s Android phone. He wrote:
The Android browser is outstanding . On my iPhone, I rarely actually read full articles on the phone… The Android does a much better job of managing scaling and frames, and as a result, I end up using my Android much more for web-browsing, or even as a secondary reference for manuals when I’m programming… [The] browser is lightning fast, and does an excellent job rendering pages. The whole browser UI is fantastic. In this, I think the Android is a clear winner over the iPhone.
Beyond the superior browsing experience on the Google Android phone, Mark really liked that all of the applications and gadgets are hidden in a drawer, and the home screen can be customized to only show those applications that the person uses most, rather than having to scroll and scan through all of the available applications as one needs to do on the iPhone. Despite him being a rather advanced user, he is no less immune to the “eye-candy” that most users have come to expect. He noted how the iPhone uses visual cues such as “zooms and slides” to create seamless transitions between and within applications while those fine UI touches are missing from the Android phone.
The other wins for the Google Android phone really stem from the industrial design of the hardware, the T-Mobile G1 Dream from HTC. The phone also had a dedicated menu button which really aided his navigation:
The menu and back buttons are a wonderful addition to the UI. In any application, you tap “menu” to bring up a menu of the available commands on the bottom of the screen. So instead of the iPhone, where you constantly need to figure out where the developers hid the main command menu, it’s always easy to find on the Android. (I think that the menu situation is by far the biggest flaw with the iPhone, and I’m delighted that they got it right on the android.)
One of the most novel features of the iPhone is the on-screen keyboard. It is also one of the features that gets most critisism. The slide-out keyboard on the Google Android phone was praised by Mark and other reviers. Mark writes:
[The slide-out keyboard] is wonderful. The iPhone on-screen keyboard is great for small quick text entry, but it’s painful for writing a full email (or a blog post!). The Android keyboard is terrific. On the other hand, it’s frustrating to need to open the keyboard all the time; I’d like to have an on-screen keyboard for quick entries, instead of always needing to snap out the keyboard. But overall, I prefer having the physical keyboard to having an on-screen touch keyboard.
There were some elements of the user experience that were disappointing. For example, the Google Android phone does not use its built-in accelerometer to change screen orientation. Mark writes:
You can change the screen orientation by flipping open the keyboard, but holding the phone horizontally doesn’t switch it to horizontal orientation, even though it knows that it’s horizontal. It’s very frustrating, and very unfortunate; it really leaves an unpleasant impression compared to the iPhone.
He also notes another, often under-valued, aspect of the total user experience – the cosmetic appearance of the HTC G1 Dream.
Cosmetically, it’s OK. It’s a bit blocky looking. That’s partly because it needs to be thick for the flip-out keyboard. But it’s definitely a bit lacking in the style department. It’s actually a hair smaller than my iPhone in its surface dimensions, but thicker. It’s got a nice clean, functional look, but it definitely doesn’t have the sexy “I must have it” appeal of the iPhone.
Kudos to Mark for a great write-up. It was very interesting to read a non-professional reviewer’s impressions of the Google Android phone. My main take-away from reading his review was that one of his main qualms – that the user interdace lacked polish – could have been easily avoided with extra attention and development time. I am all for quick turn-around and am very sensitive to shipping dates and budget constraints, but I feel that companies sometimes rush things out the door too quickly, and while that might be acceptable for some web applications that can be easily updated, shipped products need to go the extra mile. It can be done, just ask Apple.