The age of the Android is upon us. No, we’re not talking about humanoid robots, but are referring to Google’s mobile operating system. The Android operating system is very similar to the iPhone OS in that it has an app store open to independent developers. However, it is very different than the iPhone OS because it is a completely open-source platform, meaning that not only is the Android Market (Android’s version of the App Store) open to any developer, but the OS itself is open to developers as well. This gives manufacturers a cheap starting point for developing new devices, and perhaps more importantly, it gives smaller companies the opportunity to get a piece of the fast-growing smart phone market. Phone makers are optimistic about the OS and are expected to launch up to 20 Android phones by the end of 2009. Compare that fact to how there are only two iPhones from which you can choose (both made by Apple).
Here’s the breakdown of Android products you can expect from U.S. carriers.
It all started as a dream—the HTC Dream, that is. T-Mobile USA then grabbed the Dream and rebranded it as the G1. The smart phone was hailed as the iPhone killer, and had it been released at the same time as the original iPhone, perhaps it would have been. Its screen was just a bit smaller, at 3.2", but with a tactile QWERTY keyboard, the device gave the iPhone a run for its money. Still, at its launch, the Dream just didn’t have the support of a well stocked App Store and was unfortunately overlooked. Now nearly a year old, the Dream is looking a bit aged with its somewhat commonplace 3.2 MP camera, 256 MB of internal memory (expandable with a microSD card) and 192 MB of RAM. These specs are relatively simple for a high-end smart phone by today’s standards, but as the first Android device, its true goal was to provide a platform for developers to bulk up the all-too-important Android market.
A short while after the groundbreaking release of the Dream, HTC produced a second Android device, the HTC Magic. Its internal hardware was almost identical to that of the Dream, but it gave users a second option in the Android arena: they could now choose between the functionality of a QWERTY keyboard or the sleeker, more streamline design of a strictly touch-screen device. Again, it was T-Mobile that was the first to offer this new Android phone. The carrier rebranded it as the MyTouch 3G, and gave it a hefty marketing push. Where the Dream was more of a device aimed at pioneers and developers, the Magic was the first Android phone designed for the mainstream public. Like the Dream, it has a 3.2" screen, 192 MB of RAM, and a 528 MHz processor, but ups the ROM from 256 MB to 512 MB and is also expandable with a microSD card. Later versions of the Magic offer 288 MB of RAM, allowing it to match wits with the acclaimed HTC Hero.
The HTC Hero is the reigning champion of the Android platform. It was the very first Android phone with a customized user interface, known as SenseUI, and its implementation was a success. Originally, the Hero was only available in Europe, but come October, Sprint will offer its own version. It will have exactly the same hardware as the original Hero, a 3.2" touch screen, 288 MB of RAM, 512 MB of ROM, and the same 528 MHz processor as its predecessors, topped off with a 5 MP camera. The only difference between the Sprint-branded Hero and HTC’s original will be the casing as Sprint is doing away with the distinctive angled “chin.” While it has essentially the same internal hardware as its predecessors, the Hero proves that a gorgeous, functional interface makes all the difference. Add the now maturing Android app store, and the Hero really is the first of the Android phones that can call itself a true iPhone competitor.
The Galaxy i7500 is Samsung’s first foray into the Android scene, and it’s a pretty good start. It’s a simple, compact-bar style phone with some very nice features, like a 3.2" AMOLED touch-screen display. OLEDs provide more vivid colors and are easily viewable even in bright conditions. It also has a full 8 GB of internal storage, unlike the 256 MB or 512 MB of its other Android companions. On top of the 8 GB of storage, the smart phone also has an expandable microSD slot. Throw in a 5 MP camera with LED flash and you have quite a unique phone. Unfortunately, with all these unique features, the Galaxy still sports the generic Android interface, and as the Hero has proven, a nice custom user interface is what makes all the difference. Of course, all of this is irrelevant if you live in the United States, seeing that the Galaxy is only available in Europe, and it doesn’t look like there are any plans for a U.S. launch (although there have been rumors about a Galaxy Lite that could pop up here).
Up until now, all of the Android devices available have been considered high-end, but the HTC Tattoo is intended to bring Android down to a more affordable price point. Unfortunately, lowering the price means making a few sacrifices. While it still manages a 3.2 MP camera, 256 MB of RAM, and 512 MB of ROM, running on the same 528 MHz processor from its fellow HTC phones, it makes a considerable sacrifice in screen size and resolution. Down from the usual 3.2" at 320x480, the screen has been dropped to a mere 2.8" at 240x320, and perhaps more importantly, it makes use of a resistive touch screen, versus the generally better capacitive touch screen of its big brothers. But this might not be such an issue, seeing that the Tattoo will run HTC’s amazing SenseUI. The Tattoo is expected to launch in early October in Europe, but there are no explicit plans on migrating to the United States. Nonetheless, an affordable smart phone is something just about any carrier can use. Perhaps AT&T will use this as an opportunity to jump on the Android bandwagon.
Huawei may not be a name you associate with mobile phones. In fact, it may not even be a name you’ve heard at all. However, Huawei is a leading company in data communications, so an Android phone certainly isn’t out of reach. The U8230 is a very ambitious dive into the Android arena. It is expected to have a 3.5" capacitive touch screen, much like the iPhone, but perhaps taking it a step further, using an OLED display. On the reverse side, there is a 3.2 MP camera, which is another iPhone-like feature. Even the general design is very iPhone-like. It’s fairly evident that the U8230 is intended to be a direct competitor to Apple's famous smart phone, capable of going blow for blow with its hardware. While the launch date is undisclosed, it’s rumored that T-Mobile will scoop up the U8230 and call it the Pulse, to be released by October 2, at least in The Netherlands.
As rumor had it, LG has been poking around with Android for a while and now it has something to show for it, the LG Etna. It has a 3" touch screen with a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard, which could give it an edge over the iPhone and other competing touch-only Android phones. The Etna also has a 5 MP camera, giving it another leg up on the iPhone, but its 3" screen could seem a bit dwarfed compared to the iPhone's roomier 3.5-incher. One would hope that LG might follow by example and create a customized interface for the Etna, but as photographs have revealed, it appears to be running the generic Android UI. Seeing as though there is no official launch date as of yet (it is set to launch in Europe first, though), there’s still time for a bit of customization. Fingers crossed.