Review: Android, Google's OS for mobile devices (disappointing)

I've been evaluating Android, Google's attempt at a mobile phone OS, and I'm not impressed. I'm particularly disappointed by some of the most obvious limitations and flaws I found as soon as I started trying to use Android.

Despite numerous issues and limitations, Android does do the job as a basic touch-screen phone, and provides a good basic mobile web browser.

Crucially, when I upgraded to Android, it felt like a downgrade, mainly because the latest Sony Ericsson phone (running Google's Android OS) simply lacked most of the superb applications that have came as standard on many of my previous Sony Ericsson mobiles (running Sony's own proprietary OS).

The UI software on Android generally looks ok on screen, though most apps and most aspects of the OS lack standard touch-screen functionality, such as pinch to zoom in/out, even when the hardware supports it. Android is available on some nice handsets, too. My Xperia X10i by Sony Ericsson, which runs Android 1.6, looks nice. The physical device is sleek and well-designed, making iPhone 4 look very plain and dated. On the whole I prefer Android over iPhone, software and hardware included, although bear in mind that I'm not at all impressed by iPhone. As you would expect, SE hardware, especially the camera, is superior to the iPhone.

Here are some of my main concerns about Android, including bugs, bad user experriences, issues and limitations.

Video: my top 3 criticisms of Android's web browser

  1. Unable to upload files! (feature request)
  2. Unable to organise bookmarks (feature request))
  3. "Find on page" feature hides the found word! (UI bug)

13 July 2010

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Tim Acheson (29 Jul 10, 12:49)

I should note that there is a major software update for the Sony Ericsson Xperia 10 scheduled in Q4 this year.

A software update for the Xperia 10i has also been released this summer, dated 2 June, and blogged on 30 June on the official Xperia X10 blog.

Hmmm. pinch to zoom was patented i believe so no chance of that for a few years yet. not many apps... well, it's relatively new still. Mine is awesome and I would never trade it for an iphone or similar. Come over to the Python table and ask anyone of us for a play on an Android. All the cool kids have them. They are great.

Tim Acheson (18 Aug 10, 08:25)

I'm not too disappointed with my Android phone (Sony X10i). At least the web browser Google puts on it is "ok" -- though I often end up having to use Opera Mini for some things. Pinch to zoom does seem to work, but only in some apps apps. Not in the default web browser where I need and expect it.

So you know:
Sony Ericsson phones have been incredibly deficient when it comes to supporting android. The Xperia series is quite a few generations behind in terms of OS versions (I believe they still run Android 1.6, whereas at the time of this blog post, android 2.2 was available, and now we have some devices running 2.3).

Also, Sony puts its own custom User Interface over Android. If you really want to judge Android itself, try the Nexus 1, Nexus S or T-Mobile G2, which all run "Vanilla," or unchanged, versions of Android (as of now, N1 and G2 run 2.2, NS runs 2.3). Among other things, these newer version perform much better than 1.6.

Before you bash what is probably the best mobile OS out there, please do some research, get a recent version, and figure out what's the fault of the manufacturer and what's the fault of the OS itself.

Tim Acheson (19 Jan 11, 08:21)

Hi Jim. While it's true that SE, in partnership with Google, have been behind with Android versions and slow with updates, the same phone now runs Android 2.1 and it's no better. As I mentioned in previous comments above, there was a major software update. If anything, SE's UI is an improvement on nascent Android! If you think anything in my video misrepresent Android, may I challenge you to produce your own video to prove it and post the link here? You haven't done so yet, but you could have tried -- talk is cheap but I like to deal in facts and verifiable evidence. :)

The best mobile phone OS currently is undoubtedly Win Phone 7. Android is a close second, qualitatively and quantitatively superior to iPhone. The best mobile device of any kind available at present is the Asus Eee Slate running Windows 7 on an Intel i5 CPU -- a full-powered PC in tablet form. Windows 8 mobile phones are now possible with Intel CPU technology -- so bear in mind that true Windows OS smartphones on the cards, which will make iOS and Android look like toys; meanwhile their "apps" will be considered gimmicks even more widely than they are now.

It's good to hear that Sony is finally supporting its phones. However, an update to Android 2.1 is just an update from "extremely outdated" to "outdated". 2.1 is still missing some of the functionality present in 2.2 and 2.3 (like the ability to store apps on the SD card), and is significantly slower than 2.2. Most high-end Android phones, and a large number of mid-range phones, run 2.2 now. The only exception is the woefully under-supported Samsung Galaxy S series.

And to clear another thing up, the lack of updates is purely Sony. Google does nothing but provide the source code and the Google apps (gmail, talk, market, etc). It's up to the manufacturer to tailor the source code to its devices and keep its phones up to date. Google only provides the updates for its developer phones (Nexus 1 and Nexus S).

While Google's proprietary UI does leave something to be desired, many manufacturers make it worse in overlaying a custom UI. Motorola is the worst offender, as its motoblur interface is so poorly integrated with Android that even the most powerful systems (like the Droid 2) seem sluggish. HTC, on the other hand, has integrated its Sense UI extremely well with Android. Not sure where Sony falls in this spectrum.

In terms of browsing, I recommend using Dolphin Browser (mini or HD). Opera Mini has very limited functionality.

I've never used a WP7 phone, but the consensus that I've heard seems to be that although WP7 has potential, it's still in infancy. Also, Android is the only system that I can do anything I want with. It's extremely customizable out of the box, and I can even replace the firmware of the device after rooting it.

Another thing that I forgot to add: a major complaint you have seems to be that the browser packaged with Android is inadequate. This is very true. However, I have yet to see a system packaged with an adequate browser. Windows computers come packaged with Internet Explorer, which I deem a woefully inadequate browser, so I use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome instead. Apple computers come with Safari, another pretty inadequate browser.

The point being that this complaint may be less valid than you think, especially considering the ease involved with downloading a better browser from the Market.

Tim Acheson (25 Jan 11, 16:26)

Thanks, Jim, these are all interesting points! I reccomend Windows Phone 7 over Android. My main criticism in the original post above is that my new phone was more like a downgrade, and the latest version of Android doesn't fix that. You can't really blame SE for the shortcomings of Android 2.1 just because they haven't made it to 2.2 yet. Android 2.2 is not free from issues, either. Better releases by Google would be preferable to more frequent releases, and that would obviously also make it easier for their hardware partners to keep up-to-date. (For years people have criticised Microsoft for the long gap between releases of popular software, but they focus on quality rather than quantity and I'm happy with that strategy.) If you're using Android, I reccomend Opera Mobile (not Opera Mini).

Tim Acheson (21 Jun 11, 11:29)

Update: Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 getting Gingerbread in August, can finally show face in public (Engadget).

Like many who adopted this phone when it was launched, my contract is coming to an end sooner rather than later, leaving me free to choose any phone -- and it will NOT be a Sony Ericsson handset.

Sony has been hacked 20 times in recent days, with customers banking details exposed to hackers, and Google's web systems have proved vulnerable too -- but ultimately it's Google's poor software that kills this phone for me. Windows Phone 7 handsets are far superior to anything SE has to offer currently, and the Mango update is coming to WP soon! SE still do not even offer a WP7 handset, so it's goodbye SE.

Sadly, my first SE Android phone has been the worst SE phone I've ever had. Only somebody who hasn't tried something better would defend SE or Android. My phone freezes and crashes regularly, is frequently very slow, and the full list of problems is seemingly endless. The Twitter website doesn't even load properly on the web browser Google/Android put onto this phone -- major websites are unusable on this phone's web browser, and an app does not compensate for software that doesn't work. The same website works when I install Opera's web browser software on this phone, and on WP7.

Sorry to kick a dead horse, but...

Dude, first of all: you have stolen your design from!

Second: I think it is possible to scroll through the webpage when looking for a word. Obviously, you are right that the word should appear in the center of the screen, but this is not useless.

Third: when you do not like the standard browser, install Opera or Firefox or Dolphin. These are all good browsers, way better than the standard browser in my opinion.

Personally, I have never had the experience of my phone becoming very slow (yes, I have an X10i myself). Calling is no problem, incoming and outgoing... Maybe it's down to me, but I like my phone and have never had real big problems with it.

Tim Acheson (22 Jun 11, 13:55)


Regarding the find feature, nothing you've said in any way addresses my criticism, not one atom. The whole purpose of the feature is so you do not have to scroll through the page, so it's rather pointless to suggest that as a workaround.

Regarding the poor web browser on the phone, again nothing you've said addresses the criticism, so what's your point? By suggesting alternative browsers you're implicitly agreeing with my point. Also, you're stating the obvious, and I've already mentioned alternative browsers. The other browsers are not perfect either, far from it.

By complaining about legitimate criticisms of this gadget, without even attempting to dispute any of these findings, you make it too obvious that your intention here is to be an Android apologist. I hear what you're saying, but you haven't contributed anything more to the debate.

Tim Acheson (23 Aug 11, 11:32)

Update: I feel obliged to mention some of the many other pronlems I've encountered since writing the original blog post above.

  • Overheating and crashing. The phone overheats and reboots a few times per week. I recently took the phone on holiday to Crete, where in the heat of the day the phone would not stay on for more than a few minutes. This rendered the device useless. It was frustrating, too, because it was interrupting my attempts to record videos, take photos, make phonecalls, etc.
  • Video selection and upload failures. The first software update for the X10i introduced a new mechanism for selecting videos, for example when choosing videos to upload to YouTube. It looks great, but unfortunately it doesn't work well. Selecting files for upload to YouTube through any app other than the official YouTube app no longer works -- so the update as broken existing functionality. The option is there, but the selected files do not get queued for upload. The user experience of the video browser feature was clearly not well tested, so for example the oldest videos always appear first and it takes me several minutes to scroll to the latest videos, every time I want to upload! And uploads frequently fail. I routinely upload ten videos or more, and every single time about 10%-20% of the uploads fail after several retries due to a "network error". But there is no network error, and deleting the videos from the queue and simply adding them back to the queue almost always fixes the problem, clearly demonstrating that the problem is confined to the specific item in the upload queue -- items in the queue simply get "stuck" for no reason. Also, the update limits the screen timeout option to a maximum of 30 mins, which is unhelpful and also thwarts video uploads, because soon after the screen timeout occurs and the screen goes black, pending video uploads stop uploading. So to upload more than about 3 typical videos from my phone I have to keep interacting quicker than every 30 mins. In practice this means batch uploads e.g. after going on holiday take days instead of hours because I have better things to do than supervise the upload queue. Before the first software update I had the option to never timeout.


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