All Things Google: The ‘Droid you’re looking for

I’ll admit that I bought into the Android idea early: I was an avid user of Google, liked the idea of an open-source handset, and really wanted something powerful other then the iPhone (mostly just to spite my faculty advisor). Since my January 2009 purchase, the Google Android mobile phone platform has matured significantly. It has gone through three (humorously pastry themed) major updates, and has spread from the original hardware on T-Mobile to encompass a wide range of devices on almost every major cellphone network in the United States (the holdout is AT&T, but I’m sure they aren’t too worried about their smartphone selection). I had started out with a G1 – not the most rugged or powerful phone, but a decent device – and have recently upgraded to the Nexus One.  In my two semesters using it, It has become clear that Android is ready for the classroom arena.

Android is for drinkers of the Google Kool-aid, in no insignificant way: while the device could reasonably function to some degree without a Google account, to really get to the meat of the software, you need to sign up. This isn’t a problem for most people, but it bears mentioning. The good news is that this “Sign in once” feature ( you sign in to your google account when you first activate the phone, and then never again) opens you to a large array of inter-app communication.

The best apps are all made by Google, and they flow nicely into each other. A position on a map can be added to a Google calendar event, which can be then sent to another user, all linked through the device. It’s clear Google wants the center of your organizational tools to exist in the cloud, with the Android device as one window of access. This idea was further expanded on in update 2.0, “Eclair”, where a universal contact API allowed a single contact to be recognized across any app that adopts it. Combined with a simple organizational structure, you have a one-stop-shop for communicating with peers, students, faculty, or anyone in need of organization. Facebook, Google Voice, SMS, Gmail, and certain Twitter apps have shared this functionality.

The OS wraps itself around the user, both the owner of the phone and his contacts on their list, to greatly productive ends. My five home screens are divided up by function, for instance – a social networking screen, a news screen, a messaging screen.

Within its marketplace, a large range of applications not made by Google also come into play. There are Wiki managers, a robust Evernote app, and (as of last week) a powerful WordPress app. It is an easily accessible toolbox: where the apps might not be as clean or organized as Apple’s offerings, you can be assured that there is an app for what you want to do. In direct opposition to the iPhone, Android welcomes alternatives to its browser, its music player; even its dialer is completely replaceable by a user-created application. Furthermore, the device can multitask – I once had the device play a song on Last.FM while using it as a mouse and keyboard linked to a laptop, and the software didn’t so much as hiccup.

Beyond software, there are an abundance of hardware options from which to choose. It’s clear that Google’s approach to licensing is more cavalier than Windows Mobile or Palm: they care about being on a wide range of devices, each catering to a different user. For academics, I would personally recommend the Droid (mentioned in depth previously by Julie)  or the Nexus One, both powerful devices that will be able to handle a wide range of applications and have enough battery life to keep ticking after a long day of classes.

When thinking of development, I can’t speak to the ease of app creation over the alternatives ( Objective C for Apple, Java for Android) but I do know that the Marketplace doesn’t have nearly as byzantine a process as Apple. You could even just post an application to your local website and bypass the Marketplace all together if you’d like!

Android aids productivity by allowing the phone and the various web applications it uses to come closer together. At my current job, I was saddened to learn that my Nexus One didn’t get service at my desk – in the basement of one of our more cement buildings on campus. I quickly realized that my phone was just an extension of the tools I already used: I could text on Google Voice, start a message on Gmail and then finish it on the go.

I have never been closer to my personal tech nirvana than I have with the Android platform, and it has increased my overall productivity immensely.I look forward to hearing your Android tips, likes, dislikes, and more in the comments!

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