Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Love My Droid Apps Too

Yesterday I discussed some of the reasons I bought a Droid 3 instead of an iPhone. Today I'm going to talk about why I really wanted a smartphone in the first place. Apps, baby.

But first let's talk about the Droid's hardware. It's a fairly hefty phone, probably the biggest I've ever owned, but it's not oversized; to fit in a full keyboard and a touchscreen, the Droid is just as big as it needs to be.

I already wrote a love letter to the keyboard. The touchscreen is also nifty. It's responsive, and most of the things you'll press give you a little jolt of haptic feedback to let you know you've pressed the thing correctly. It can be a little tricky to hit a button on the very edge of the screen, but I've never had to press anything more than three times to get it to respond, and that very rarely.

There are four buttons on the bottom edge of the touchscreen: a Settings button, a Home button, a Back button, and a Search button I've never had cause to use. They all change their function based on what you're doing with the phone - for example Settings gives you a way to edit phone settings by default, but if you're running an app it'll let you change the app's settings instead. These buttons aren't full keys, but haptic feedback again lets you know when you've pressed something.

What else? The keyboard slides out with little difficulty, though I get a bit of a squeak every time I do it - I may need WD-40. The camera works fine, and is a massive improvement over my old phone's camera, but I haven't played around with it enough to say anything conclusive. Battery life is good enough to get you through a day. The phone charges very quickly from an outlet, and very slowly from a USB port. And I think that sums up the hardware.

I said I'd talk about accessories, didn't I? I'm not sure why. The case snaps on and protects the phone adequately, and I've got a clip for my belt if I want to use it - mostly I don't. My old Bluetooth headset still works with the phone, though the sync isn't 100%. I don't really have anything else for the phone except chargers. Let's move on to apps.

Most everything on the Droid is an app, even basic functionality like an alarm clock. Once you figure this out it's all very intuitive. The Droid ships with a selection of starter apps and Let's Play Golf 2, which is just one piece of the bloatware Verizon curses your phone with. It's easy to hide, but good luck getting any of it off your phone entirely - if someone figures out the trick to this let me know. I never even liked Let's Play Golf 1, and I'm pretty sure that game doesn't exist!

All of the Google and social networking apps work great. I've got Gmail, Google Reader, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter at my fingertips. The Twitter app even does you a favor and memorizes where you are in the stream, which is a huge plus if you're prone to losing your place. It's also very easy to upload photos - I needed to use my old phone's crappy email client to do it before, so this is a big improvement.

Games are great so far. I've got the whole OMFG ANGRY BIRDS library already - all free, though there's a bit of advertising included that can get irritating. Words with Friends is also free, and I've already found myself in four games at once. So far I'm holding my own, though I've already been stomped into the ground by my Aunt Susan. Cut the Rope, the third game I was looking forward to playing, is not free, but it is dirt cheap and I'll get around to buying it any day now. But, y'know. OMFG ANGRY BIRDS.

A brief aside on ringtones. I was worried about getting my iTunes library onto the Droid. For videos this is indeed a pain in the ass, and one I've given up on fixing. But my actual music is, for the most part, the DRM free stuff Apple switched to a while back, and plays on my Droid with no problems.

I've got a Final Fantasy victory fanfare set up as my main ringtone, and I get to wake up to Ke$ha's Tik-Tok in the morning. I originally wanted to use Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien by Edith Piaf as my alarm clock - that's the Kick from Inception, if you were wondering, and if you still don't know what the hell I'm talking about go rent the movie. Unfortunately the first time I tried it my wife wanted to know why the hell I was playing music from a horror movie on my phone. When I explained where it was from she got the joke, but I'm still forbidden from using it. So I wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy.

Back to apps. I downloaded FBReader, a free eBook reader app, and after using Calibre to convert a ton of .mobi files into .epub files, I'd turned my phone into a perfectly functional eBook reader. The screen size is problematic (it's a phone, this is a given), but the text is clear and readable regardless. And, since the screen is backlit, my phone makes a useful substitute for my Kindle if I'm in a dark space.

The Barcode Scanner app is technically impressive, though I can't see myself getting much use out of it. I was able to use it to scan a QR code at my bank and download a mobile banking app, at least. The banking app is nice, but too much like the bank's normal website to be truly excellent.

I've just now set up HBO Go, HBO's free streaming app for, well, pretty much every series they show, and a bunch of movies too. So far it works great, much better than it does on a computer, though I'd never dare use it without a wireless connection. I may end up watching every episode of Game of Thrones on my phone. This is weird, but also pretty cool.

What else? I've got the Kindle app, but with all the non-Amazon books I buy FBReader is the better option. Text messaging looks very nice. Contacts include all the information you might want, although there is a wrinkle in that the phone will automatically import your Gmail contacts along with any numbers you already had in your phone - for me, this meant merging quite a few contacts to get rid of duplicates.

Overall I'm very happy with the Droid 3 and with Android, and if you're looking for a smartphone I'd recommend them. As of this moment, the only thing I can think of that I'm missing out on from the iPhone is Futurama's "Put Your Head in a Jar" application. I'm pretty sure I'll live.

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