Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Little Bit More Self Restraint This Time

Today was Éclair day. Google published the Android 2.0 Release 1 SDK. Verizon announced the first Android 2.0 handset. HTC announced they will release port Android 2.0 to the Hero. On the heels of all this hullabaloo I finally went ahead and picked up... Sprint's Hero.

By all accounts the Hero is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay inferior to Verizon's Droid. Even inferior to the Samsung Moment that is being released in mere days on Sprint, the self-same carrier of the Hero. After reading the early reviews, however, it appears that the 800MHz SoC and AMOLED display isn't enough to lift the Moment out of mediocrity.

The Hero's camera does suck, no doubt. And Samsung makes a nice camera. However my biggest items of desire were:
  • GPS turn-by-turn navigation, because I can't find my head with a flashlight
  • One central, integrated calendar to keep my day straight at home and work
  • Exchange integration for work info

It sounds like the Moment's GPS is a bit finicky, flaking in and out at times. Exchange integration is supplied by the very capable Moxier Mail but it doesn't sound integrated into the main calendar interface itself. The AMOLED display reportedly washes out in direct light as well, and the keyboard has added considerable bulk to the package.

On top of this there are several forums that swear up and down that Samsung has a habit of abandoning their handsets, pursuing new hardware releases instead of updating old once. On the opposite side of the scale HTC has already announced Éclair support coming soon, so they appear to have a bit more dedication to their userbase.

The Moment has the hardware in spades, and I hate the fact that HTC's Android handsets use a Qualcomm 528MHz CPU that shares cycles with the modem on-die. All my engineer instincts tell me to get the Moment. However... my engineer instincts also told me to pick the iRiver iFP over an iPod, the n810 over an iPhone, HPNA 2.0 over 802.11b, VIA EPIA over AMD or Intel. A pretty poor track record as far as instincts go. Specs may win on paper, but market share is what gives a device longevity and sustainability.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Droids Are Expensive

So yes, Motorola's Sholes (a.k.a. Droid) is coming October 30th. Its hardware is unmatched and a basis for comparison of all other smartphones on the market. Without a doubt it's a killer handset.

Yet Verizon killed it for me. Pricing things out on each company's web site, comparable monthly plans for Verizon and Sprint cost $102.98 and $69.99 respectively. That means Verizon will cost me an additional $791.76 over the span of a two-year contract, ultimately for less features than what Sprint provides. Verizon's top priced smartphone is currently $199.99 subsidized - so I imagine the price of the hardware itself won't be prohibitive. It's the plan.

Given that Droid will sport a much more impressive CPU, GPU and display than previous handsets - especially HTC's - I would love to have one. It's hard to justify an extra $800 tho, even if that price tag spans two years' time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wait a Moment...

My obsession with Android smartphone hardware continues. Because I'm lame.

Sprint is about to have two Android handsets on the market - HTC's Hero and the Samsung Moment.

The hardware couldn't be any more different between the two handsets. One has just softkeys, the other a slide-out keyboard. The Moment has an OLED screen. One has a trackball, the other has a proximity sensor. The biggest difference that I'm curious about is the processor.

The Hero uses the conventional 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A processor, a chipset that claims 3D acceleration to the tune of 4 million triangles a second. The Moment uses Samsung's own 800 MHz S3C6410 which claims the same 4 million triangles per second with OpenGL ES 2.0 support.

I'm not sure who wins, especially since the Hero has an entirely different UI and a lil' bit more RAM (288M vs. 256M). With OpenGL acceleration being about the same... hard to say.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

No Donut For You!

Everyone on the Interwebs kinda assumed that the Android handsets that Sprint is due to offer in the coming weeks were going to be based on Android 1.6. After all, Android 1.6 was the first to offer CDMA support... and Sprint is a CDMA carrier. Right? Right???

No such luck. Both Android devices Sprint will release will ship with Android 1.5 with the CDMA codebase apparently backported. Not only that, it sounds like Android 1.6 won't be available from Sprint until 2010 and it won't be an over-the-air upgrade. Sprint's official word on exactly when is just "when it's available".

1.6 has a number of notable API changes but also a number of important features - most notably text-to-speech and multitouch functionality. HTC's SenseUI was an attempt to staple on several features on the 1.5 codebase that only recently became available. Now that Android 1.6 is available some of those SenseUI features are redundant... such as multitouch in the Web browser.

The biggest problem isn't necessarily with the end-user however - Spring launching with Android 1.5 causes huge headaches for developers. Several developers... myself for one... was counting on this product launch to usher in a landscape of 1.6 apps. Without an easy, transparent means of updating to 1.6 (such as over-the-air upgrades) it is also unlikely that the average Hero or Moment user will ever upgrade to the latest OS.

So what's a guy to do? Well... Motorola's Sholes is supposedly going to hit before the end of the year, and supposedly with Android 2.0 (although I doubt that). On the other hand it's launching on Verizon's network, which can be prohibitively expensive.

Sounds like there are no good options right now for an Android 1.6+ handset, unless Sprint can figure out an easier way to push updates.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hulu Desktop and Linux = Sweet Brain Mush

I hadn't really tried Hulu much... just a few passing searches in their webapp. When they released their Linux desktop client I decided to try it out.

Sweet merciful crap.

I couldn't believe the sheer volume of what they had that I actually wanted to watch. It ran flawlessly in Linux - and their Fedora RPMs installed just fine on my OpenSUSE workstations.

Man... so much completely awesome stuff is being released right now. I NEED MORE HOURS IN THE DAY TO DORK WITH IT!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Who Does Number 2 Work For?

When I was looking for market share numbers to populate my previous post comparing smartphones I found that market data even a month old was waaaaaaaaay different than current data representing a month later. Android marched from 6%, to 9%, to 12% almost within the same quarter. This is all with only two phones on the US market - the flagship G1 and the more mainstream myTouch.

Now let's look ahead to Q4. There are seven new handsets due to be hosted by four different carriers. That's a HUGE growth in carrier coverage in just one quarter. I'm sure this was a completely premeditated blitz but it places Android handsets on a path to possibly eclipse the iPhone in a few years. It's too bad that WebOS is getting blistered in the process - it was a nice UI on some very nice hardware. In the end, however, those with a more robust development environment will win.

Don't get me wrong - the iPhone has a great development environment and well-documented native SDK. I even like Objective-C. Still, the Android development kit is built on lots of familiar Java components (and semantics) that everyone knows and loves, aside from kludges to save clock cycles (such as the guideline of refraining from abstract classes or inheritance). The mix of easy resource management, internationalization, event notifications and asset management with lots of static sugar makes life easier on Android developers. It makes me better understand Nokia's acquisition of Qt, since Qt also offers a great platform with the same benefits, if not more.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Objective Based Scheduling

There's no such thing as the "daily routine." Sure, there are certain things that will always happen. I'll always get up, get a shower, brew coffee. I know I'll need to work. I know I need to go home. Between those gross points, however, I get completely and utterly lost.

When I'm coding something or focusing on a specific task I kinda lose the ability to... er... speak the English language. Or determine what time it is. Or understand that if I want to eat lunch I'll need to do so at 1:00 so I can get in three hours of heads-down work but eat before meetings ramp up and I don't have time to head to the microwave.

It would be great if I could have a personal scheduling system to orchestrate all these little events in my life. Not a calendar - I've already got elebenty gabillion of those; I don't want to schedule an appointment and then have to re-mix them all when something changes. I would much rather give a scheduling system a list of "objectives" and have it calendar everything for me.

For example, let's say I want to get four hours of heads-down coding done today. I'll get into the office at 8:30 but have to leave at 4:00 to meet a friend downtown for an early dinner. There are meetings at 9:30, 1:30 and 2:30 all slated for 30 minutes. And I need to eat somewhere around noon-ish. It would be great to put all of these objectives in, both the concrete ones and the ones that can be scheduled willy-nilly, and have the app decide what order they should occur in. For example, the system could tell me to eat a late breakfast before the 9:30 meeting, work until 1:30, go to the meeting, eat lunch at 2:00, go to the 2:30 and leave before 4. If the 9:30 meeting goes long, maybe it would recommend I cancel my 2:30, eat lunch early and still head out at 4.

There are plenty of webapps out there that will let you create collaborative calendars, stream them, share them, etc. I have yet to see one that allows me to set objectives while it plans my day for me. That would be awesome... it would be an app that could save me from myself.