Monday, December 22, 2008

My employer decided to buy me a Google Android phone for XMas. I appreciate the gesture. Thank you.

I'm not a 'gadget' person. I've never owned a pager. I carried a cell phone for all of a week before I got fed up with it. I've never had a PDA, Game Boy, or PSP. I had an HP-34C in high school, but that was quite some time ago. So what am I going to do with an Android Phone? Unfortunately, there are some strings attached to the gift, so I can't sell it. (But I can complain about it. If you attach obligations to a `gift', it is no longer technically a gift.)

So what's this gadget do?

Android vs. Poke in the Eye with a Sharp Stick

Android wins here. In fact, I'd probably prefer to be poked in the eye with an Android. On the other hand, the sharp stick would work best if I wanted to poke someone else's eye. I guess it's safest to say that an Android phone is not interchangeable with a sharp stick.

Android vs. Nothing at All

This is more of a toss-up. Nothing At All has extremely low maintenance, is trivial to upgrade, and is easy to replace if lost. It suffers a bit on the functionality scale, but it works as advertised and precisely satisfies its requirements (two things that are almost always found wanting in high-tech gadgets). The last upgrade was early last century when they added vacuum energy, but prior to that, Nothing At All has been pretty stable for a long time.

Android can do a fair imitation of Nothing At All if you don't take it out of the box. There are two minor issues: it is more opaque, and one can still lose it. But if you amortize these drawbacks over the time you don't have to deal with it because it is in its box, these are fairly negligable. Nonetheless, I think Nothing At All has a slight advantage here.

But we haven't looked at the applications for which Android is *intended* to be better than Nothing At All.

First off, Android is a cell phone. Phones are good if you want to talk to somebody. I don't. However, it does seem that you can use Android even without having the cell-phone SIM card. But the phone is careful to tell me every time I turn it on that it still has no SIM card. I guess I won't have to worry about people surreptitiously installing unwanted SIM cards.

So what else does it do? If I'm not using it as a phone, that makes the `dialer' and `call log' rather pointless. It can tell me the time. Never mind, I already have a watch. It has a web browser, that's good if I don't have my computer. But I have a computer at work and at home, so I'd only use Android if I wanted to browse the web, forgot to bring my computer, but remembered to bring Android.

Come to think of it, how does Android stack up to my laptop?

Android vs. Laptop

Android is smaller. It weighs less and fits in my pocket, so it is easy to carry around. But there are drawbacks. The screen is no bigger than the device itself. The keyboard on my laptop is cramped enough to be uncomfortable to use for long periods, so the Android keyboard is so tiny as to be *almost* (but not quite) unusable. I'm amused that the cover slides open to reveal the keyboard, but the engineer in me wonders how many times I can do that before it breaks. Come to think of it, they should have put the keyboard on the slide-out part. I could still use a good chunk of the system if the keyboard broke off, but the entire thing is useless if the display breaks off.

I use my computer for email, work, surfing the web, and general hacking. Android slurped up a copy of my email, so I can read it with the phone, and I can browse the web, but I can't use it for work or general computer hacking. It doesn't run emacs or have a self-hosting development environment. Come to think of it, the keyboard is so small that I can't actually compose or answer email, and the web simply isn't useful at 480x320.

In this contest, the laptop wins hands-down.

At Least I Can Program It

Are you kidding?! Did you look at the SDK?