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Android Mobile Open source

Turning into a fandroid

HOW long does your initial fascination with a new phone last? Two weeks? A month?

In my case, it used to take about two weeks before the novelty of a new unit started to wear off.

But not with my LG P500, a device that has Android 2.2 or Froyo as operating system. Two months after buying it, I’m more fascinated and attached to it today than in the day after I unboxed the unit.

Before Android, I wouldn’t have considered buying either a Samsung or an LG unit. I was a Sony Ericsson and, later, a Nokia person. It was such a hassle having to transition to another mobile phone brand and relearn everything—from quirks in the keypad to the way other software components worked.

I bought the unit last December after losing my reliable Nokia E63. Looking back, I count myself lucky because the loss forced me to get an Android device earlier.

Android is the open source mobile phone operating system backed by Internet giant Google. It powers a wide range of mobile phones manufactured by companies like Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola and Sony Ericsson and even tablet computers.

I have an ideological affinity with my phone—I am a long-time open source advocate. I use Linux and various open source systems and software. My blog articles are covered by an open source license. I think that open source software, by the very nature of its development, is superior (if it still isn’t, it will be superior) to proprietary applications.

But beyond that ideological affinity, here are the key reasons why I think my Android device is really great:

1.) It’s closely tied with Google services. You need to connect the phone to a Gmail or a Google Apps for Your Domain account. I use Google services extensively and I am able to take these services with me through my Android device.

My e-mail, max[at]limpag.com, is managed by Google and messages are pushed to my phone using the GMail application. My schedules—whether running events or business coverages—are sent to my phone through Google Calendar. Every time one of Sun.Star’s business reporters adds a coverage schedule, my phone’s calendar is immediately updated. Every time a race organizer adds a running event, my phone gets updated as well as the users of the Cebu Running Events Android application that I wrote.

All my phone contacts are stored in my e-mail account and are just synced to the phone. It’s so much easier to enter contact data and photos through GMail and while using a computer. All my text messages and even call logs are backed up in my e-mail acount regularly.

Android devices also come with Google Maps with assisted global positioning system (GPS). I guided a taxi driver to an obscure hotel in a nook in Makati using that system (but that’s for next week’s column). It also comes with Google Sky, a nifty app that uses GPS to tell you which constellations are on what part of the night sky.

2.) It’s relatively cheap compared with other phones. For a smartphone with all its features, the LG P500 is relatively cheap at P12,000. That price is considered mid-range but the LG P500, because it uses Android Froyo, beats phones double its price. Smart is even scheduled to bring in a P5,000 to P6,000 phone with the same Android version as in the LG P500.

3.) It serves as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot. If you have Android Froyo, you can have Wi-Fi tethering, which means your phone can share its mobile Internet connection through Wi-Fi. Whenever I go out, I used to always bring my Smart Bro plugit with me. Not anymore. I just connect the phone to Smart Internet and then turn it into a Wi-Fi hotspot (with the access point name “Kiss For Access”). When our residential DSL encountered problems several weeks ago, it was my LG P500 that served as wireless Internet router, providing connection to three laptops and a mobile phone.

4.) It’s an awesome note-taking phone with applications like Evernote and Springpad. Anytime I think of something, I can immediately write it down using Springpad (my preferred note-taking app of the moment). I can then access these notes from anywhere through my online account.

5.) Like most modern smartphones, it allows you to update the system yourself. Being an open source software, Android is continually improved by the commmunity. But you don’t have to bring your phone to a service center to have it updated, you can do it yourself.

6.) You can write your own apps to run in it. The Android ecosystem allows someone like me to write applications for the phone using free tools and services. I wrote an app to display running events in Cebu and close to 50 people are already using it. Although the Apple app store may have more apps right now, I am very confident that with its liberal developer environment and the availability of tools, Android apps will catch up soon.

The main complaint against Android is its battery usage. With heavy use, I need to charge my phone everyday. In contrast, I could use my old Nokia E63 for three days or longer on a single charge. Still, I don’t mind the frequent charging, that’s a very small inconvenience to pay to be able to use such a powerful device.

By Max Limpag

Max is a journalist and blogger based in Cebu City, Philippines. He is co-founder of the journalism start-up InnoPub Media.