A Quick Guide to help get you acquainted with Android
This is the place to start if you’re thinking about buying an Android device. There are dozens of Android devices, and nearly every major cellular carrier in North America has at least one available. On this page we’ll cover everything from the pre-purchase research to the setup process.
Even if you already have an Android device, starting here could help you answer some questions. We’ll also cover the basics for customizing your device and share some tips on how to best use your Android.
Purchasing a new smartphone can be an expensive process. If you make the wrong choice it will become even more expensive. That’s why it’s important to review all available options before reaching a decision. The device itself can cost around $200, and then there is a two-year commitment to spend between $70 and $120 per month on service, depending on which provider you choose and what services you want. With such a large financial outlay you should be aware of all your options before purchasing.
The Android Operating System
The most important thing to understand about Android is that it is an operating system, not a device. The Android operating system (OS) is available on many different devices, and each device will have a specific version of the OS. Some of the newer devices will have the latest version, while older handsets will have previous versions. When Google introduces new versions of the Android OS they release it for each handset individually. So if your Android device runs an older version of the OS, there’s still a chance that it will in the future become eligible for an update.
Current devices can run anything from Android 1.6 to Android 2.3 and Tablets are 3.0
Android Network: CDMA vs. GSM
In North America there are two different types of networks. GSM is the global standard, which makes it easier for users to travel abroad. In America AT&T and T-Mobile operate GSM networks, while all three major Canadian carriers — Rogers, Bell, and Telus — have GSM networks. All of these companies also offer 3G Android models, so you can experience the best possible speed.
CDMA networks exist in North America. While CDMA is considered a more advanced cellular technology than GSM, it does have its limits. Its 3G network, EVDO, provides consistent speeds but sometimes doesn’t stack up to the more advanced GSM networks. Also, it does not allow for simultaneous use of voice and data features.
Eventually, most U.S. wireless carriers plan to implement LTE 4G technology. This will help bridge the divide between GSM and CDMA.
Choosing your carrier
Every major carrier in the U.S. and Canada carries at least one Android handset, and most carry more than one. This means you can find an appropriate device on the carrier of your choosing. The flipside is that the device you desire might be available only on a specific carrier. This can make choosing a device more difficult.
Choosing a carrier is a bit more important than choosing the specific device you’d like. When you purchase an Android device from a major carrier you’ll almost always have to sign a two-year contract. In return you’ll receive a significant discount on the retail price of the handset, but you’ll also be tied to the carrier for two years. If there is a problem with a certain carrier, then you probably don’t want to choose a device that it offers.
For instance, imagine that you want an Android device that only Verizon offers. It has all the features you want, and you think that it will last you the two years that your contract runs. But what if Verizon doesn’t get good reception in your area? It sounds like a bad idea to commit to a carrier for two years when you can get a stronger signal from another one. It might mean getting a device that you don’t specifically want. But you’ll be happier, because you won’t deal with service issues for the two years of your contract.
Android Device Style: Touchscreen vs. Touchscreen + Slider
Android devices currently come in three flavors. There are all-touchscreen devices, like Google’s own Nexus One. There are touchscreen phones with slide-out keyboards, like the original Android phone, the G1, and the Motorola Droid. There are also tablets that run the Android OS. For the moment we’ll deal with the two phone styles. There are certainly differences between the two.
Both styles, touchscreen and touchscreen plus keyboard, have their ups and downs. Some people prefer to have the physical keyboard at all costs, because the layout is familiar. Pressing a key to create a character is something we’ve done since the days of the typewriter, so it is a more natural process than pressing a tiny portion of a screen. There is distinct feedback when the button is pressed, again making it easier for people to type on a physical keyboard.
It’s not all positive, though. Devices with slide-out keyboards tend to be significantly bulkier than their all-touchscreen counterparts. They not only need room for the touchscreen and its components, but also for the keyboard unit, which can be thicker than the screen. Then there’s the issue of the slider mechanism, which is one more thing that can break. Users who prefer the physical keyboard will have to deal with these drawbacks.
The virtual keyboard might not feel as natural at first, but oftentimes users can get used to it. Sometimes users find they can eventually type faster on the touchscreen than they can on a physical keyboard. It can be difficult, especially at first when typing in portrait mode where the keys are small and close together. The Android platform does provide a landscape keyboard, which is much easier on new users.
Eventually we might see devices like the BlackBerry, with a non-touch screen and a physical keyboard, running Android. But at this point the basic decision is between all-touch and touch-plus-slider.
Finding the right Android OS version
While Android is a platform, it is also a fragmented platform. That is, there are many devices that run the Android OS, but not all of them run the same version. What version a specific Android device runs is dependent both on the device manufacturer and the cellular carrier. Most newer Android devices will run version 2.1 (Eclair) or later. There are some, though, that still run Android 1.6 and will not get a future upgrade. It is probably best, unless you are on a strict budget, to go with a newer device that not only carries the latest version of the Android OS, but will be eligible for future upgrades.
How will you know whether a device will be eligible for future upgrades? While each phone is a unique case, there are some general principles. Make sure you check out the specifications for the phone, either on the carrier’s or the manufacturer’s website. If the processor is 1GHz or faster chances are the handset will get upgrades in the future. Other factors, like 512MB or better of RAM and a 4-inch or larger screen, bodes well for a device getting a future upgrade.
Once you decide on a carrier and type of device you want, your choices should be down to one or two, maybe three at most, devices. That will make your decision a lot easier. Make sure to check out our list of Android handsets by carrier to see which models are available.
Making your Android purchase
Once you’ve made your decision, it’s time to make the purchase. You can do this either through a carrier’s website or in a store. Even if you do plan to purchase the phone online, it is recommended that you go to a store and try the device first.Musicians do not purchase instruments without first playing them. In the same manner, smartphone users should not purchase a phone without first making sure that it works as they have imagined.
If you do purchase from a retail outlet, make sure you set up the phone while still in the store so that a customer service representative can provide help if need be. The setup process for Android handsets is fairly simple. It first sets up a sync with your Google account, which includes Gmail and Google Talk, along with contacts sync. You will also get a prompt to set up your Facebook account, from where you can also sync contact information. Once you do that the rest is up to you. You will have varying options based on your device’s operating system, so you can play around and see what works. I would recommend one thing for a user of any OS, though.
The Android Market and Application Management
One highlight of the Android platform is the thousands of apps that it makes available through the Android Market. Every Android device comes with the Market, so you can access it to find all of those applications. There are more than 70,000 in it now, most of which are free. This means you can look for the applications you want and test them with little to no risk. There are certain applications that contain viruses, but those are usually filtered out before long.
With so many freely available apps it’s easy to fill your Android device to the brim. If you find that you have too many apps and that they’re taking up too much memory (you’ll get a notification), you can delete applications easily. Just click your menu button, go into Settings, choose Applications, and then choose Manage applications. From there click on All, click Menu, and choose Sort by Size. That way you can see which applications take up the most room on your device.