Posts Tagged 'Exchange'

My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part Three – Thoughts on Android

After reluctantantly saying goodbye to my HTC HD2 Windows Mobile 6.5 device earlier this year, I started an experiment. Grabbing a SIM Only Deal from mobile carrier, Three – I would, in turn, use an iPhone, a Windows Phone device and an Android device for a few weeks at a time each, using them in anger as my sole device for day-to-day activities, both business and leisure.

You can read about my original motivations for this experiment here.

You can read part one of this experiment – my thoughts on the iPhone here.

You can read part two of this experiment – my thoughts on the Windows Phone here.

HTC SensationAt the start of September, my friend Steve Silk at Staffordshire University provided me with a HTC Sensation running Android 2.3.

So how did I find it? Read on!

Firstly, this experiment isn’t about the handsets themselves – it’s more about understanding the capabilities of the various Mobile Operating Systems out there. That said, the HTC Sensation looks beautiful – with a large bright 4.3” screen, very thin design but comfortable enough in the hand – plus a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, making it really fast in use, and an impressive 8 Mega-Pixel Camera.

I initially felt uncomfortable using the catch to take the back of the case off to insert the SIM card, as the case does feel plasticky and flimsy, but got used to it over time. The Micro-USB charging slot is on the left hand side, which feels awkward too – and the power button on the top of the device doesn’t feel comfortable initially as it’s too thin, but again, you get used to it. You’ll hear that phrase “I got used to it” a lot…

The Sensation boots up quickly… sometimes. I’ve gone from pressing the power button to entering my SIM PIN and being at the home screen in as little as 5 seconds on most occasions, yet on others it inexplicably takes 30 seconds or more from the SIM PIN to arriving at the home screen. It’s still faster than most other Smartphones I’ve tried though.

Through the setup stage, and no surprise here, you’ll need a Google account. Everything revolves around a Google account, so if you’re going Android, get used to using Google.

imageOn the home-screen, HTC have placed their HTC Sense interface on top of the usual Android UI. As a fan of HTC Sense, I quickly got to grips with this and was swiping left and right between the numerous home pages you’re offered to install Widgets and App shortcuts.

Talking of Widgets, which are small “always active” apps on the Android screen, HTC bundle a load of them out of the box – from Calendars to Agendas to something HTC call “Friend Stream”, a Twitter-like display of all your friends Twitter and Facebook updates. I found myself using it a lot. There are also a ton of widgets you can download for free. The home-screen may not look too impressive at first glance, but you can customise it to your own specifications very quickly.

Android gives the ability to create folders on a home-screen to contain Apps, but it’s far from intuitive to do this. I had to ask a fellow Android user to show me how. Once you’ve got it, it’s simple. Likewise adding App shortcuts and moving them between folders is simple, but clunky. This was the start of a number of indications that Apple’s iOS is simply easier to jump right in and get working with when compared to Android, but that Android is more customisable. Another running theme in my findings.

Google+ ScreenshotGetting back to Social Media, and I was blown away by how well Android and HTC Sense integrates with not just Twitter and Facebook, but LinkedIn, Google+ as well as Exchange, GoogleMail, Flickr, Foursquare and seemingly anything else you wanted to use. Once you’ve setup an account for each of these platforms, the HTC Sensation pulls all the updates and any other information from them and presents it in a unified fashion within your contacts screen. It *can* get messy, the Sensation occasionally got confused with duplicate GoogleMail and Exchange information – but on the whole it’s fairly amazing to be able to see all your friends latest Facebook updates, their Mobile numbers (whether pulled from Exchange or Facebook), Flickr pictures, Twitter updates and everything else in one location. Of course, you can use the individual apps for Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. as normal – but if you’re a heavy Social Media user, then you’ll love Android.

Android is hot on notifications. It’ll automatically notify you of new e-mails, voicemails, SMS, Facebook messages, Google+ updates, software upgrades, patches and… just about anything it can. All of these are present in a non-obtrusive way in the notification bar at the top of the home screen, which you slide your finger down to open and view. Initially, all these notifications can become a distraction – constantly sat winking at you from the top of the screen. Over time I learned to quieten the Sensation though – turning off notifications and learning to resist the temptation to act upon others. Android is *very* customisable from this perspective. Out of the box it can blow your mind with all the info it presents, but as you become comfortable you can tailor it to your own liking.

As you’d expect, GoogleMail is supported very well under Android. It’s very easy to setup and you can easily archive messages, read HTML messages, and do just about everything you’d do in GoogleMail.

Microsoft Exchange support was just as easy to setup, and reading and responding to e-mails was a pleasure within the Android GUI. Frustratingly though, Android (like iOS and WP7) doesn’t support Exchange Tasks and Notes. Again I’ve got to ask, if Windows Mobile 6.5 supported these features years ago, why don’t modern SmartPhones? Bizarre. There is a 3rd Party app called Touchdown which brings Tasks and Note support into Android, but it feels a standalone app rather than integrated into the Android experience, and so I couldn’t find myself comfortable using it. Google – as well as Apple and Microsoft – please support Exchange Tasks and Notes in your Smartphones!

The SMS client was very easy to use, with threaded messages and the ability to forward SMS to other contacts. I did notice that Android grouped together conversations though, so if you sent a group SMS – then your inbox would show that conversation separately, but not under individuals SMS threads. I’m guessing this can be changed, and I can see why this would be of benefit to some people, but I occasionally found it confusing.

Wi-Fi is a breeze to setup. You’re instantly notified (see the pattern here?) when an Open Signal is available, and it’s a few clicks to setup your favourite Wi-Fi connections. Once you’ve set a number of Wi-Fi connections up, Android automatically and seamlessly connects to them as you move around. However… this hammers the battery something rotten. I found that using the HTC Sensation as a web browsing device killed the battery life, and it wasn’t unusual for me to require a charge after 90 minutes or so solid use. Not good.

Green Power Battery SaverAs with all the shortcomings in Android though, there are workarounds. I installed an app called Green Power Free that turns off Wi-Fi when the device isn’t in use. It helped, but the battery life on the Sensation is still really poor – I couldn’t get a full days use of it without some charging in between.

Getting back to Apps though, and this is where Android excels. The Android Market isn’t quite as nice an experience as Apple’s AppStore, but it is packed full of apps – some good, some shockingly bad. Whereas Apple vet all apps that appear in their appstore, Google don’t place the same restrictions on. This becomes self-regulating though as you find yourself using apps based on Word of Mouth recommendations or the ratings other users have given the app in the Market.

I couldn’t find a single App that I used on iOS missing from the Android Market. What’s more, I found a few Apps that I would have loved to have used on IOS but couldn’t find, available on Android. Overall, I think I prefer Android’s Open policy to Apple’s vetted apps policy as it allows more variety.

You might think that all these 3rd party apps (especially the poor ones) affect stability. Well, during a months use the Sensation crashed and rebooted just one time. Throughout the rest of the time I noticed one or two inexplicable slow-down’s, occasionally, but overall the platform was really robust.

Moving between Android Apps is fairly easy – pressing and holding the Home Button on the HTC Sensation brings up recent apps for you to browse through, and pressing the back button sometimes takes you back to your previous app. I say sometimes, because other times it didn’t seem to work and I had to manually go and find the app to re-visit it. With full multi-tasking support for all apps though, this wasn’t a problem as every app was presented in exactly the same state you left it.

Web Browsing is a great experience (battery life problems, as we’ve discussed, apart). I installed the free Dolphin Browser HD to replace the built in web-browser, and didn’t look back. It’s a pleasure to use, with the ability to pinch and zoom in on screens with text being wrapped automatically, and share content with any of the Social Media sites integrated into Android.

Android supports Adobe Flash, and there are great apps for both YouTube and BBC iPlayer. If the HTC Sensation had a more resilient battery, you could easily use this as your one and only media device.

The HTC Sensation has a physical Search button, and was context sensitive. Press it from the home screen and you’re presented with a Google Web Search box. Press it within Facebook, and you’re presented with a Facebook friend search. Very neat.

There is no physical camera button though, which is irritating if you’re a Social snapper like myself. The camera app is pretty amazing though, taking good quality shots and offering you the ability to easily tidy them up with crops and auto-enhancements, before sending them directly to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter or any other 3rd Party app you’ve installed. It doesn’t just blindly send the picture either – the Facebook app allows you to tag people, the Twitter app allows you to add Hashtags – just a really good experience.

Google+ Android App ScreenshotOne feature that did have me going “Wow” was the Google+ app feature that automatically captures and uploads any photos you take on the camera to a private location on the web, and then easily allowing you to share those pictures on Google+. A great way to both backup your snaps and share them.

Again, if you’re a Social Media person, you’ll love Android.

You don’t really need a PC to use this ‘phone, as it sets up out of the box and it’s easy to install apps and run Android updates over the air. However, if you do connect it to a PC then you can browse the device as a drive, or install software to use the PC’s Internet connection from your ‘phone – a useful feature I used whilst avoiding Roaming Data charges in Europe during the test.

Doggcatcher ScreenshotI didn’t play a lot of games on the Android, but there are tons to choose from. Likewise, I only used the Android to listen to Podcasts (using the great Doggcatcher app) and the occasional tune via the integrated FM Radio rather than lots of music, but it was intuitive to use, and I felt comfortable leaving behind my iPod Touch in favour of an all-in-one device like the Sensation.

By this stage you’re probably getting the impression I liked Android. You’d be right. It isn’t as intuitive as iOS, nor does it have the clean style of Windows Phone, and for that reason I didn’t pick up the ‘phone and become instantly “Wowed”. But for every irritation I came across, I found that Android’s customisation ability allowed me to overcome that irritation. What’s more, time and time again I came across instances where I thought “It’d be nice to be able to do this…” and investigation showed that Android allowed me to do that.

You’ll gather I think that Android’s Social Media integration is incredible. I thought iOS was good in this area, but it can’t hold a candle to Android – which offers an amazing choice of options to remain connected and share content.

It’s been a month since I began using Android, and a strange feeling has come over me. Unlike Apple iPhone users, or even Windows Phone users, I don’t feel voraciously defensive about Android. If I’m asked how Android is, I won’t staunchly defend the Android platform against the sticks and stones of others. I just smile and say “Well, I like it”.

Unlike the Apple iPhone – it doesn’t “just work”. It takes a bit of time to get used to, and for the non-techy this will be a challenge, but once mastered, you can customise it to the hilt to do everything you want, exactly as you want it.

Unlike the Windows Phone – it doesn’t blow your socks off the first time you see it. But it feels very much like Windows Phone in that it’s challenging the way you’re used to doing things, and offering you new, more efficient ways of doing stuff on a day-to-day basis.

But you know what? After a month, it feels comfortable and it works just how I want it too – both as a business device and a consumer device for a Social Media addict.

I really don’t want to give the HTC Sensation back. If I had a choice of which Mobile Operating System I’d like to use tomorrow, it’d probably be Android, but oddly I’m sure I’d begrudgingly live with a Windows Phone or an iPhone too.

I’m aware the HTC Sensation is a pretty kick-arse handset in terms of capabilities and has a ton of HTC customisation goodness to it. To this end I’m going to grab another lower spec HTC Android handset to see how that performs, and I’m also going to grab a non-HTC Android handset (the Samsung Galaxy S2 springs to mind) to see what the non-HTC Android experience is like.

Since I started the experiment, Windows Phone’s latest update – Mango – has also been released. As promised, as the next part of this experiment I’m going to revisit the Windows Phone platform with the Mango update to see what has changed there.

Despite having tested the three main mobile O/S from Apple, Microsoft and Google – this experiment is far from over. I think it’s fair to say you can see my clear favourites emerging though.

Watch this space. Smile

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part One – Thoughts on the iPhone

Regular readers of this blog will know I’ve been a long-standing fan of the Windows Mobile Smartphone. I’ve always owned Windows Mobile devices, including my last phone – a HTC HD2. Unfortunately, with that device dying a death and Microsoft slowly killing off support for Windows Mobile, it’s now time for me to upgrade. But to which device? Android, iPhone or Windows Phone?

A few weeks ago I started an experiment. Grabbing a SIM Only Deal from mobile carrier, Three – I would, in turn, use an iPhone, an Android device and a Windows Phone device for a few weeks at a time each, and use them in anger as my sole device for day-to-day activities, both business and leisure.

You can read my original blog post on the “experiment” here (go on, have a read – I’ll wait here for you).

For clarification – and to head off the hundreds of e-mails I’ll get about using an iPhone 4 instead of an iPhone 3GS, and a HTC HD7 instead of a HTC Pro, and any one of a million Android devices instead of the one I choose… the idea of the experiment is to get a feel for how each of the mobile Operating Systems looks and feels in day-to-day use. It’s not a handset –vs- handset comparison, more an OS –vs- OS round-up.

With that in mind, for the past three weeks I’ve been using an iPhone 3GS. How did I find it?

***

iPhone 3GSOne of my main justifications for resisting the iPhone for so long is the “Apple Tax”. In terms of comparison with other Smartphones – you pay a lot for both the handset and network carrier tariff to own a new iPhone.

My way of avoiding the “Apple Tax” for this experiment was to procure an old iPhone 3GS. Yes, I know the iPhone 4 is faster, slimmer, sexier – but remember that I’m testing the O/S, not the handset.

Setup

Setting up the iPhone was simplicity itself. I was connected, making and receiving phone calls and text messages, hooked up to Wi-Fi, sending and receiving e-mail and installing Apps really quickly.

My only niggle here is the fact I could only do this once I’d hooked the iPhone up to my PC through the frustrating iTunes software. But for simply installing the ‘phone and syncing the odd update and Podcast, iTunes did it’s job.

I like the fact you can start the device without having a SIM card present (I’m still using the iPhone without a SIM as a glorified iPod Touch at the moment) but hot-insert a SIM and you’re on-line. I’d have preferred a more convenient mechanism for getting to the SIM holder than having to carry paperclips around with me to pull the SIM slot out with, but this is a niggle.

In-Car Use

The ability to hot swap SIM’s was very useful to me during the experiment when I needed to return to my HTC HD2 briefly for certain things – such as using a Sat Nav. I tried using Google Maps on the iPhone as a Sat Nav, but I found the 3GS screen too small to use in-car and so I yielded to temptation and used my HTC HD2 with Alk Co-Pilot for journeys, before swapping back to the iPhone when I had reached my destination.

In-Car use with the iPhone was also frustrating due to the fact the iPhone has no quick access to a Bluetooth Switch. If I wanted to use my In-Car Bluetooth Hands free kit with the iPhone, I needed to go into Settings > General > Bluetooth to do so. It was frustrating and could have been made easier by having an app that allows one touch on/off of Bluetooth – but apparently Apple forbid this in their Terms of Service, so no 3rd Party app is available to do this. So I was constantly forgetting to turn Bluetooth off and so it was draining my battery life.

Battery Life

Talking of Battery life. The plus side of the iPhone is that because it’s so versatile, with so many cool apps and features – I was using it a lot more than any Smartphone before it. In fact, I was using it a worrying amount. iPhone addiction? The downside is, as a result of this constant usage and without regularly hooking the iPhone up to an external power source, the battery depleted before a full days use.

Being the party animal that I am, from a full charge at 4pm, and with a night out on the town including taking photos of friends, checking in to Facebook places, updating Twitter, taking and receiving the odd phone call and sending the odd SMS – by 2am the iPhone had run out of juice. And it’s not like you can pop in a spare battery as the battery compartment is sealed.

I know there are ways around this, and I’ll give a nod to the iPhone 4’s increased battery life – so this goes down as handset failure rather than an O/S failure.

Apps

iPhone AppsTalking of cool apps – the iPhone has them. In spades. This is where I fell in love with the iPhone and started to find myself overlooking all of its niggling shortcomings. The ability to carry around all my passwords securely, check train times, search for flight prices, scan barcodes, do price comparisons, read the latest news, buy stuff on eBay, read Kindle e-books, sync files, make Skype calls and play cool casual games (I’m virtually addicted to Words with Friends now) all made the iPhone much more than a mobile phone. As I said, I felt almost addicted – trying out new ideas (I’m now using FourSquare and other Geo-Location apps, for instance) due to the vast amount of free and cheap (79p) apps on offer, and then using them a lot.

I appreciate this will come as no surprise to anyone who’s used an iPhone, but I can tell you know that having come from the Windows Mobile platform where there are virtually no cool apps – this is a revelation.

(I can also give you a peek into the future of this experiment and tell you that a few days into using a Windows Phone, and I’m pining for my old apps which simply aren’t available on that platform)

E-Mail and Productivity

Using e-mail on the iPhone was enjoyable. E-Mails loaded quickly and were easy to read. I use Microsoft Exchange for business e-mails, and GoogleMail for personal e-mails. Both were very easy to setup, and I like the iPhones support for GoogleMail features – such as allowing me to Archive off old e-mails easily.

The ability to see both e-mail accounts in a single unified mailbox was a nice touch too. It made scanning e-mails simple.

Replying to e-mails (and SMS, for that matter) was easy, the iPhone on-screen keyboard simple to use and very good at correcting mistakes and predicting words.

I did miss the ability to “Send As” an e-mail address from the iPhone. I have a number of personal e-mail addresses in Googlemail, but the iPhone didn’t allow me to choose which mail to send messages from. I found workarounds for this, but they were clumsy and kludgey.

imageI also found the iPhone Calendar fairly slow and unintuitive, and the lack of support for Exchange Tasks and Notes was frustrating. Again, 3rd party apps exist to bridge the gap – but it’s really surprising that this isn’t natively supported by now. When out on the road, I found the iPhone an incredibly good device for consuming information – but for creating it? Not so much. I found myself e-mailing myself ideas, notes and appointments rather than using the familiar Tasks and Calendar – and then when I got back to my Desk I was putting them into Outlook “properly”.

I also found the iPhone Contacts navigation slow and clunky. With over 2,000 contacts in my Outlook address book, what I really wanted to do was tap the screen and start typing a name to be found – but the “All Contacts” screen didn’t have a dedicated search option unless I’m being dumb and overlooking something obvious – EDIT: Thanks Hilary and Bryony for pointing out that there is a search feature in Contacts, top right hand corner of the screen!  I’d still like to start typing a name and for it to appear, as this would feel more intuitive, but at least I’m able to search now!

Call Quality

Then there’s using the iPhone as an erm… phone! Compared to other handsets I’ve used, I found call quality a little poor at times and the ‘phone getting hot against my ear during long calls.

Conclusion

At this stage you may get the impression that I didn’t like the iPhone. I’ve acknowledged that it has many shortcomings, and doesn’t seem to be “Best of Breed” in any particularly category other than it’s 3rd party app support.

But the reality is – I loved using the iPhone. It is simplicity itself to start using and I like the way that it “just works”. It does have lots of niggles, and due to Apple’s locked down attitude – you can find it hard to work around those niggles. But you know what? None of those things are show-stoppers. I found nothing wrong with the iPhone (perhaps other than Battery life) that would stop me using it as my main phone on a day-to-day basis.

My thinking is that owning an iPhone is like falling in love. In most new relationships you start off deeply in love, often overlooking your new beau’s shortcomings because you like so much else about them. But then, over time – you get used to those new features, they become expected – and then you start to get irritated about the shortcomings.

Ok – so I’m not going to be writing for Mills and Boon anytime soon, but my gut feeling is that I’ll be this same way with the iPhone – overlooking its shortcomings for now, but as time grows on finding they become more than an irritation.

For now though, I’m in love. And I can secretly tell you that a few days in to using the second phone in my experiment, a HTC Pro handset running Windows Phone 7, all I can think about is the iPhone…

Thoughts on Windows Phone coming in a couple of weeks. Smile

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.


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