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Paul's Android Adventures: Phones and Tablets, Oh My

Having previously declared my intention to pay much more attention to today's dominant mobile platform inEmbracing Android, I've since been doing just that. First up, I'd like to describe my growing stable of Android-based devices, and explain how I'll be targeting this ever-improving platform throughout 2012.

Android has come a long way. Originally envisioned as the basis for a Blackberry-style device with a hardware keyboard, Android evolved into what we now think of as a traditional, or iPhone-like, smart phone in the wake of Apple's milestone, game changing device. It was also being developed independently by a company of the same name, started by veterans of mobile computing firms such as Danger, Wildfire, and T-Mobile, until it was purchased by Google in 2005.

With the release of the iPhone, of course, everything changed. The Android kernel is now based on the open source Linux OS, which is itself a version of the decades-old and well-understood UNIX. The development platform is based on Java, the object-oriented, C-like language that is now mostly open source as well. The decision to base Android on open technologies has had interesting ramifications for the platform, as has Google's decision to further open mobile technologies development through the Open Handset Alliance, which is made up largely of the search giant's industry partners.

The initial Android version shipped in late 2008, a bit over three years ago. And as you can see by looking back at my first Android article, Google Android Preview, from October 2008, it started off as a pretty basic mobile OS, compared to the iPhone OS of the day. Android has always borrowed pretty heavily from the competition, a contention Apple, Microsoft, and others transformed into a series of patent infringement lawsuits against Google's partners, but there were some unique ideas as well. Even in v1.0, for example, Android sported more expressive widgets in addition to simple icons. And Android has always been more customizable than Apple's mobile OS.

Since then, Android has evolved very rapidly, and similar in fashion to what Google has also achieved with its Chrome web browser. It quickly matched and then surpassed Apple in the unit sales department, and is about to do so again from an apps availability perspective too. Today, Android is the dominant mobile platform, though not without controversy, especially among the technorati that prefer endlessly debating topics that are of little interest to the wider world. Chief among these debates are the so-called fragmentation of Android and whether Android is truly the modern successor to Windows.

I'm going to tackle both of these subjects, as well as more pertinent concerns around Android's relative security, in future articles in this series. As you might expect, I have some pretty strong opinions about all of this, though unlike many of those who debate such things, I'll be viewing each from the standpoint of typical consumers, and not that of the navel-gazing power user.

But that's for another day. I mentioned I was expanding my experience in the Android field via some new device acquisitions. Here's what I've got so far.

First, my wife is an avid and even semi-enthusiastic Android user, despite (because of?) my concerns and suggestions. She purchased her first true smart phone, the original Motorola Droid, when that product launched and then upgraded to an HTC Incredible in mid-2011 when the Droid died unceremoniously and unexpectedly. I can't really test much on her phone, but it's an interesting comparison since it runs whatever Android 2.3 version it runs. 

My first Android device, a Motorola DROID X, arrived courtesy of work in mid-2010. This device was pretty impressive for the day, but as time marched on and an ever-improving army of Android devices came out in the interim, it was quickly left behind the technology curve. This device, like my wife's, is currently--and perhaps permanently--stuck in an Android 2.3 version of some kind as well.

With the DROID X relegated to museum status, I asked Penton for a replacement and received the Samsung Galaxy Nexus earlier this month. This device, of course, is the first Android 4.0-based handset, and it's quite interesting. I don't get the same stab of devotion with this phone as I do with, say, the Windows Phone-based Samsung Focus S, but I sort of get why people are drawn to it. The phone is a bit big and heavy, and thick, and the battery life isn't great. But the UI is considerably better than with the 2.x stuff--or "just different" as my wife says--and it, too, will provide an interesting comparison and benchmark going forward.

In the tablet space, I have two devices so far, though that will be expanding dramatically this year as well. I have an Amazon Kindle Fire, of course, which is "sort of" an Android device in my opinion since it has a completely modified Amazon user interface. But that, too, makes it interesting because it's the best example yet of how an Android licensee can completely modify the system to its own needs. I'm very curious to see how the current device is updated through software and what form future Kindle Fire hardware versions--you know they're coming--will take.

I recently purchased a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus as well. This 7-inch tablet is thinner and lighter than the Fire and runs a slightly-modified Android 3.x ("Honeycomb") OS version. It's actually a really nice device, and you can see how the Honeycomb tablet OS really influenced the handset- and tablet-oriented Android 4.0 release. The seeds of the current Android version are all over the place here.

I plan to grab more Android tablets going forward. If a slew of Android 4.0 devices weren't imminent, I'd probably just buy an ASUS Transformer Prime, which provides interesting laptop-like functionality courtesy of a keyboard base. But I think I'll wait on that to see what happens with the coming generation of devices. I suspect I'll have several Android devices to compare by mid-2012, however things shake out. I also sort of prefer the "purest" possible Android devices, in some ways, since those are the closest to what Google envisions for the platform. I may be in the minority on that, however.

Looking forward, I'll be writing about some high-level Android issues including fragmentation, my notion that Android is the new Windows, the differences between various Android versions and even devices, Android security, and so on. And of course I'm curious what you'd like to know more about, or have me examine closer. If you have any thoughts or ideas along these lines, please do send me email and let me know. I'm approaching this coming year of Android coverage with both trepidation and excitement, but I want to make sure I'm providing the coverage that makes the most sense.

More soon....

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