The Age of the Android
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.
Available: HTC Dream
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.
Available: HTC Magic
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.
Available Soon: HTC Hero/Sprint 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.
Not In U.S. Yet: Samsung Galaxy i7500
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).
Not In U.S. Yet: HTC Tattoo
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.
Rumored: Huawei U8230
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.
Rumored: LG Etna
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.
Coming in November: Motorola CLIQ
The Motorola CLIQ will be the second Android phone to launch directly in the United States with a full QWERTY keyboard. It is expected to arrive on T-Mobile’s network on November 2 (already available for pre-order). It will cost $199 with a two-year agreement, and while it was expected to be slightly cheaper, it’s pretty impressive considering the CLIQ’s generous specs. It will have a 3.1" capacitive touch screen, a 5 MP camera, 256 MB of RAM, and 512 MB of ROM (expandable with a microSD card, of course), all running with the familiar 528 MHz processor we’ve grown to love. It will also have a customized user interface that Motorola has dubbed “MOTOBLUR.” As things stand right now, it doesn’t appear to match up to the beauty of HTC’s SenseUI, but the smart phone still seems to represent a very functional change. The CLIQ does have one additional advantage, though: its slide-out keyboard also sports a directional pad on the left side, making the CLIQ a strong platform for Android games.
Rumored: Sony Ericsson Xperia X3
The Xperia X3 is probably the worst kept secret in mobile phone history, becoming perhaps the most highly anticipated Android phone, based on nothing more than unconfirmed leaks and rumors. If the smart phone is, in fact, in development (which it most likely is), it is rumored to launch sometime in January 2010. Knowing Sony Ericsson, though, we don’t put much stock in that statement. Nonetheless, the Xperia X3 is a beauty and a beast all in one. Between its massive 4" 800x400 display and 8.1 MP camera is a behemoth 1 GHz Qualcomm Snap Dragon processor. Like the HTC Hero, the X3 also has its own custom interface, which definitely looks amazing. Unfortunately, if and when the smart phone does launch, it will probably start off in Europe, but a phone as impressive as the X3 certainly won’t take long to hop over the pond.
Coming Soon: Motorola Sholes
The Motorola Sholes is a high-end device, likely aimed at professionals. It will also be one of Verizon Wireless’ first Android phones, hopefully launching before the end of the year. Since it is from Motorola, the smart phone will likely sport the MOTOBLUR interface, and it should have a leg up on the iPhone in just about every regard. For starters, the Verizon network should provide a much stronger, less saturated backbone for the Sholes. Then there is the 3.7" capacitive touch screen with a 480x854 resolution, as well as a full slide-out QWERTY keypad. Similar to the iPhone 3G, the smart phone has a 600 MHz ARM processor and 256 MB of RAM. It only has 512 MB of internal storage, which can be expanded with a microSD card. Its 5 MP camera is also a bit of an advantage over the iPhone’s camera. Perhaps, most importantly, is the price point. With a two-year contract, the Sholes will go for the same price as the iPhone for $199.
Rumored: Philips V808
The V808 is Philips' first serious smart phone and is also based on the Android platform. There isn’t a whole lot of information available on the device, though. Even the V808 title is just a codename, but it is expected that it will receive the Xenium branding by the time it launches. Of the sparse details that are available, we know it will have a 3.2" screen and 3.2 MP camera. It is speculated that the V808 will have the usual 528 MHz Qualcomm processor like most of its Android brethren. It will also likely have 256 MB of RAM, but it’s unclear if it will take the approach of Apple and Samsung by adding 8 GB of storage or if it will stick to the usual 512 MB with a microSD slot. As for where it will launch first, China Mobile appears to be scooping it up and loading it with its specialized Android-based OPhone operating system. If the V808 does well, it’s likely that we’ll see more Philips smart phones in Europe and the United States in the future.
Rumored: Samsung Bigfoot
The Bigfoot is Samsung’s attempt to get a foot in the teenage market. It has a bit more of a flashy design, with bright colors and the like, and according to T-Mobile’s road map, it should launch soon. On the other hand, though, there hasn’t been much new information on the Bigfoot in a while, so it’s still possible that it has been scrapped for something that might appeal to a wider crowd. If it does launch, the smart phone is expected to have a 3" AMOLED screen and 3 MP camera. There isn’t much info available on the internals, but it will likely have the usual 528 MHz processor and 192 MB or 256 MB of RAM. To keep costs down, the smart phone will probably have 512 MB of ROM and rely on microSD for extra storage. It’s hard to tell for certain if the Bigfoot will launch or not, seeing as there are already several Android devices that easily outshine it and are still affordable.
Photo courtesy of Boygeniusreport.com
Coming Soon: Samsung Galaxy Lite
The Galaxy Lite is essentially the same phone as the Galaxy i7500 except with a few cost-saving changes. While the i7500 has a 5 MP camera with LED flash and 8 GB of internal storage, the Galaxy Lite does away with the LED flash and drops the camera down to just 3.2 MP and offers 1 GB of storage capacity. While 1 GB of storage seems significantly limited compared to the 8 GB of its big brother, it’s actually not much of an issue because of the microSD expansion slot, allowing for an additional 32 GB. Most of the other specs are identical, including the AMOLED screen, although the size is not certain. Originally, the Galaxy Lite was expected to launch in October, but it seems its release date has likely been pushed back to sometime in 2010. Hopefully, the delay won’t spell doom for the phone, though, as it will likely be available for $99, if not free, with a two-year contract.
Photo courtesy of Ai.rs blog.
Coming Soon: Samsung InstinctQ
The InstinctQ will be Samsung’s first Android phone to carry the Instinct brand as well as the company's first Instinct-branded QWERTY device. It’s planned for a launch with Sprint which would make it a great compliment for Sprint’s upcoming Hero. Unfortunately, it appears to run the generic Android interface which pales in comparison to HTC’s SenseUI. There isn’t much information available on the actual specs of the device, but we can assume that it will sport the usual 528MHz Qualcomm processor and 256MB of RAM. It’s unknown whether the InstinctQ will have large internal storage space or if they will opt for an expandable microSD slot. It will more than likely be the latter, if just to keep costs down. The InstinctQ was initially rumored to be released October 11 for Sprint, but seeing the lack of launch details, or even a formal announcement, it’s more likely that it’s looking at a November or December launch.
Photo courtesy of Phandroid.com
Rumored: Motorola Calgary
First wind of the Motorola Calgary came about way back in December 2008, and back then not much was known about the smart phone other than it was an Android device from Motorola. Since then, not much more information has come about, but a few photos have emerged. As you can see from the photograph, though, it is a very nice looking device, with a practical, new-age design, but not so flamboyant that a working professional would want to avoid it. As for what is inside it, we’re really not sure, but most likely the smart phone will have a 528 MHz processor (possibly 600 MHz like the Sholes' CPU), 256 MB of RAM, and a 5 MP camera. All we really do know for certain is that it is designed for Verizon Wireless. Of course, it’s also possible that the Calgary was redesigned quite drastically and became the Sholes itself, so it’s hard to say if the Calgary will actually see the light of day in all of its original glory.
Photo courtesy of Boygeniusreport.com
Rumored: Motorola Heron
The Motorola Heron is designed as a lower-end Android phone, but, of course, a low-end smart phone is still packed with plenty of features these days. It was expected to launch on AT&T's network in the middle of this year, but with the addition of the Android OS, it seems the launch date has been dramatically delayed, if not cancelled in its entirety by AT&T. But we’ll get into AT&T’s shenanigans shortly. The Heron has a 2.8" touch screen as well as a Palm Pre-style slide-out QWERTY keypad. It will also have a 3.0 MP camera with LED flash. Unfortunately, it appears to be rather lacking in storage. The smart phone has only 128 MB of internal storage, but again, it will be expandable with a microSD card. It still touts a perfectly manageable 256 MB of memory. As for a launch date, it’s hard to say if it will even launch at all, but hopefully the delays are simply due to Motorola adding its newly developed MOTOBLUR interface.
Rumored: Acer A1
The Acer A1 has been rumored to be in the works for nearly a year, but only recently was some info finally leaked, providing some specs, and even a starting price point. Reportedly, the A1 will have a 3.5" touch screen with an astounding 800x480 resolution and a powerful 768 MHz Qualcomm 8250 processor (possibly the SnapDragon). On top of that is the 512 MB of internal storage (expandable with a microSD card), 256 MB of RAM, and a 5 MP camera, all common among the other high-end Android phones. All of this comes at an expected price of about $570. Unfortunately, some of these details are a bit suspect. First off, that 768 MHz processor is odd in that Qualcomm’s 8250 runs at 1 GHz, not 768 MHz. Next is the mention of the 850/1900/2100 HSPA network, suggesting that the A1 is heading to AT&T, but no FCC certifications have suggested such. Last is an inconsistency with the Android OS. It’s suggested that the A1 will come with the Android 2.0 Donut, but in fact the Donut version number is 1.6. Whether these supposed details are true or not, Acer is almost certainly working on an Android phone to be released in the near future.
Note: No photos for the A1 are available. The device pictured is Acer’s F1 Windows Mobile device, while it is expected that the A1 will share similar design roots with this phone.
Even More Rumored Devices
Believe it or not, this lengthy list of Android phones goes on. There are several newly rumored phones coming from different manufacturers, some of which have been in the mobile market for quite some time, while others are new to the sector. HTC, for example, has at least three more devices in development, currently code named the Desire, Fiesta, and Passion. The Desire and Passion are expected to land on Verizon by the end of the year, and the Fiesta is headed to Asia and Europe. Samsung is also working on yet another Android device that will likely be called the Behold 2, heading to T-Mobile USA. LG is another familiar manufacturer working on its second QWERTY Android phone under the code name Eve, but with no word on where it might be heading. If all of these phones make it to market, we'll be looking at more than 20 Android phones next year. That’s 20 different phones, all capable of many of the same feats as the famed iPhone, but with your choice of carrier, as well as the ability to choose a device with the features you need most.
What’s Up With AT&T?
As I mentioned above, AT&T is up to something strange. There has been next to zero news about AT&T’s Android plans, which is baffling. One would think AT&T would be jumping at an opportunity to get its hands on at least one Android device in order to keep a hold on its many customers fleeing to T-Mobile. If AT&T wants to stay competitive with T-Mobile, it must, among other things, offer Android devices. Two thoughts come to mind: Perhaps Apple has a bit of a stranglehold on AT&T, using the iPhone as leverage to convince AT&T not to offer an Android device. Alternatively, AT&T might be trying to reduce the load on the already strained wireless network. Of the few rumors involving AT&T and Android, only two devices have surfaced: the Motorola Heron (which may or may not be for the AT&T network) and the HTC Lancaster (which was confirmed by a leaked internal document to be specifically for AT&T). In the case of the Lancaster, though, AT&T has reportedly canceled the development contract, at great cost to both AT&T and HTC. Hopefully, AT&T still has plans for the Android OS, and we’ll see a few worthy devices on that network soon.