Liberal Use of the Return Policy: Nate's Search for the Ultimate DroidNate Allen - Columnist
Liberal Use of the Return Policy
I must admit to you that I am known as a bit of a geek. I'm a 29 year old corporate attorney from a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa and it's not uncommon for someone to stop by my office, see my phone and ask what it is and how long I'll be keeping that one. I've got a bit of a history liberally using Verizon Wireless' return policy and have tried just about every smartphone operating system they offer (so sadly, no iPhone). That said, I've chosen to stick it out with the Android operating system on the HTC Droid Eris and really haven't regretted that choice.
First and foremost, I've traditionally used a smartphone for reading email (and occassionaly writing one) and, to a lesser extent making calls and sending text messages. There are two basic requirements for my choosing a smartphone: 1) Good email service with a decent attachment viewing, and 2) Battery life that will get me through a full day. The Android-based Droid Eris with HTC's Sense interface fills those requirements fairly well. I will hold back on discussing other operating systems I've used in favor of a more in-depth discussion of Android and why it works for me.??Before I settled on the Eris, I used the Motorola Droid for a few weeks. I loved the speed of the Droid, but could never get used to the slide-out keyboard and the overall weight of the device. And for some reason it would freeze and reboot on me about once per day (I think I got a lemon). When I took the phone back in to return it, I played with the Eris for a few minutes. I loved that it was thinner than the Droid, was much lighter, and that the Sense UI overlaying the stock Android OS was very nice to look at and seemed to offer some additional functionality that I could actually use. A few days later, when Verizon started their BOGO (buy one, get one free) offer, I decided to take the plunge and get one for myself and one for my wife (her 1st smartphone). I went from a phone that cost me $200 on contract to 2 phones that, after Verizon's mail-in rebates, cost me $50 total. The savings definitely made spending the additional monthly data fee for my wife a bit easier to swallow.
Full disclosure: My wife is a teacher who travels to a couple of different schools every day so access to email on the go seemed like it would make her life a bit easier, and it definitely has. Additionally, there was a bit of friction brewing between us when I got a car with leather. Hers didn't have leather, so she accused me of sticking her with the 'base model'... I didn't want her to have more ammunition by denying her a smartphone.??When I started customizing the Eris, I found that the Eris' seven homescreen panels were a big improvement over the Droid's three homescreen panels. With the Droid, it seemed like I had to really pick and choose what widgets, shortcuts, and apps I put on my homescreen panels due to the limited area available for them. I found that I was constantly swapping items on and off of the homescreen panels. With the Eris, there is plenty of space for widgets and shortcuts so I find myself swapping much less often. As part of the Sense overlay, HTC has made available several exlclusive widgets that make Android a lot more accessable from the homescreen panels. Myself, I use the email preview widget, the music player widget, and the data toggle and wifi toggle widgets. I've tried out most of the others and have found that I have little use for them and that using too many makes my battery life suffer. In a future column, I'll describe some replacement apps and widgets that I've obtained from the Android Marketplace that I've found really useful. Most of them are free (which I love because I'm really cheap).
Priority One: Email
The Eris really beats the pants off of most of the other smartphones that I've used when it comes to one of my priorities in a smartphone: Email. Prior to the Eris, I used a Blackberry Pearl for two years, and then tried out a couple of Windows Mobile smartphones on Verizon. The accessibility of the email functions on the Eris is as good or better than any of the other phones I've tried.
With the Blackberry, I was using Blackberry Internet Service, which resulted in a delay for incoming mail of up to 15 minutes. The Eris uses Activesync for corporate MS Exchange-based email and supports both POP and IMAP email. I also use Google Apps for a couple of accounts and the integration of my Exchange-based email and three IMAP-based Google Apps accounts is great. Email comes in as fast or faster on my phone than it does on desktop software that I use to access those same accounts. Android also has a separate Gmail app which allows Gmail to operate like Gmail is supposed to operate. I am a Gmail user, but the vast majority of my email volume comes in on my corporate and Google Apps accounts and I am very happy with the usability of those accounts on Eris.
A big benefit of the Eris' corporate email system over that of Droid is the ability to use a different email signature in each email account. That capability may not sound like a big deal, but it saves so much time in not having to type out your name, company & contact info in each email. As an attorney, I create and review a lot of documents, so the ability to view attachments would sound like a vital function on my smartphone. However, I've found that because I work at my desk so much, I rarely use the attachment viewer on my Eris. When I do use it, it's usually to look at PDF documents. Android's PDF viewer is so much better than those on the Blackberry OS and even Windows Mobile phones I've tested before. Documents download fast on Eris and you can use multitouch to zoom in and move around anywhere in the document. For MS Word (.doc) documents, a version of Quickoffice is used. Multitouch is not available in Quickoffice, and the program re-formats the text to fit the selected zoom level, which sadly prevents me from reviewing formatting - a vital piece of any document for an attorney.
Priorty Two: Battery Life
Battery life on the Eris is great the way I use the device. I was a bit less certain about this during the first few weeks as I settled in and found a sort of a rhythm for the way in which I use the email system, twitter, rss feed reader, and media player. Now, at the end of each day I usually have about 50% battery life remaining. This gives me great comfort that if I use the phone in a heavier than normal way on any given day, I'm still going to have enough juice to last until I get back to a charger at night. Two days of battery is out of the question, though, unless I toggle data off while sitting at my desk during the day and again while I'm sleeping. It's amazing to watch how much battery life the data function actually drains from the phone.??I can feel your eyes starting to glaze over so I'll wrap up this first column. I'll focus future posts on my experiences with other parts of the Android and Sense systems as well as apps and widgets I've tried. I'll also try to give a critique of the Android OS some thoughts on how I would improve the user experience.
Until then, Android users and Eris users, what about you? How do you all like your smartphones?