As more people I know purchase Android based phones—I have been hearing a variety of questions, complaints, and opinions about the phone. As I have had my Motorola Android for about 4+ months now, I have had enough experience that I wanted to put together this blog entry for the benefit of others.

For now, lets call this blog entry “version 1.0” and I will update it going forward as I learn something new and/or get user feedback. And in an interesting twist of fate, I just received my Android 2.1 update – but I didn’t see anything that impacted the content I currently have.

Just remember—these are my experiences and opinions. What I wanted to do was assemble the key elements of what I have learned that people could use to maximize their Android experience. After some thought I decided the conversation would cover the following topics:

I think there are a lot of useful pieces of info below—so I hope everyone finds something of value.

Terms You Should Know

As I mention technical terms in this blog entry, I wanted to provide a brief introduction / definition as to what they are. If you are familiar with these terms you can skip to the next section.

Smartphone—Describes phones that have features found in the Motorola Android and the iPhone (Wikipedia—Smartphone).

1G / 3G—Refers to the type of network you are on. 3G is faster than 1G—but not all areas have 3G available yet.

Micro USB—This is the power/connection port on the Motorola Android (but it is not consistent across all Android based phones). The Micro USB port is evolving as the standard connection for all cell phones (excluding Apple’s iPhone).

Mini USB—This is the power/connection port most commonly found on Blackberry devices. The Mini USB is not compatible/interchangeable with MicroUSB

Wi-Fi—Same technology as in a wireless laptop which allows you to connect to a PC based network (useful if a 1G/ 3G connection isn’t available or if you are overseas).

GPS—Stands for Global Positioning System and it’s used for navigation applications and applications that work on your current location.

Data Roaming—Similar to when you roam out of your carriers area. Data roaming allows you to access the Internet when you are out of 3G range (WARNING — If you Roam outside of the United States — you are going to get a big surprise in your next monthly bill).

Setting Your Expectations

It’s easy to get sucked into the “WOW” factor of Smartphones. It can best be described as having a mini laptop in your hands. So the “wow” factor doesn’t quickly become the “bow wow” factor, its important to understand the pro’s / con’s of various features – so that you can make the choices that best fit your needs.

Day “1” User Experience

From what I have experienced, it is not uncommon to see new Android users walk out of the store with the following settings turned on:

  • GPS
  • Wi-Fi
  • Screen Display Maximized

So while “user experience” is maximized—that experience can be quickly muted by the laws of physics—especially when you see the battery running on empty after only a few hours. So in the absence of an “energy genie” you need to keep a close eye on power hungry applications (I will speak more in depth on this below).

Data Traffic and Roaming

There is an old adage — your computer is only as fast as its slowest component. And when it comes to your Android’s connection speed you may experience situations where it just “seems slower” than normal. While there are a number of factors that can lead to this, some common ones are:

  • You have a lot of users on the same network in the same place
  • You are in an area that supports a slower standard (ie. 1G vs 3G)

I mention a specific tool that is useful in this regard later in this entry.

Slowing the Drain on Your Battery

So what can you do to maximize your battery life? Other than keeping your phone plugged into a wall 24/7 you should consider:

  1. Turn off Wi-Fi — For most everyday applications you aren’t going to miss anything, so turn this OFF (you can turn back on when needed).
  2. Turn off GPS — If you have to use the GPS — turn it on when you need it — and turn it off as soon as possible. If you are using it in your car, make sure you have it connected to a power cable attached to your cigarette adapter.
  3. Turn down the Screen Brightness — The Screen brightness can really suck up battery life quickly. I suggest turning down the brightness. When you indoors this usually isn’t a problem, but when you go outside in the daylight the screen is hard to read.
  4. “Chatty” Applications — There are certain applications (i.e. IM aggregators) — that if you don’t configure them correctly can impact battery performance — because they are constantly accessing the 3G network. The general rule of thumb is if it offers a delay setting — try them.
  5. Work in Progress — “Background Data” Switch — I just started working with this setting (located in Settings | Accounts & Sync | Background Data) — and while it’s early I am pleasantly surprised by the results so far. What this setting controls is the background updating of application data, and since I have both Facebook and Gmail accounts active, I am already seeing a significant savings in battery life. The only inconvenience is that I have to manually refresh Gmail, and my Facebook page refreshes when I open the application. But, in terms of extending the battery life, this is a minor inconvenience. I also found out that the Marketplace application needs this turned on (it will ask you to enable this setting if turned off).

Evolving Your Charging Habits

For seasoned smartphone veterans none of this is news. They also know in addition to controlling the phone settings, they also need to adopt special smart charging habits, some of which include:

  • Car lighter adapter.
  • Wall.
  • Laptop.

New Smartphone users need to incorporate these techniques.

Some “best practices” I have learned:

  • Using the PC USB cable for charging. The charge provided by the USB port doesn’t appear powerful enough to charge your phone’s battery (if at all) if the user’s screen contrast is set on high or a chatty applications are running.
  • The Mini-USB car charger from Walmart works just fine — and it’s about $10 less than from the phone store.
  • In the Android’s “Settings” application, the “Battery Use” section will give you a very good idea of what components are consuming the battery life

In short you have to determine the combination of settings that works best for you.

Recommended Applications

Accessed through the Marketplace application, there are a wealth of FREE and FEE based applications. You should do searches from time to time to see what the latest new applications are—however I find the following FREE applications to be very useful and all are installed on my Droid.

While my list will evolve over time, my current list of “recommended” applications evolved as a combination of the following preferences:

  • Overall usefulness
  • Visual appearance
  • Cost

For clarity, I organized the applications by category:

Core Applications

These are applications that you will use most likely every day (Application names are in BOLD)

  • Dolphin Browser—My favorite Internet Browser as it enables “pinch to zoom” functionality.
  • antivirus —I haven’t heard if there is a Droid based virus yet, but it can’t hurt to have.
  • Batterytime—Provides detailed information on how much battery life remains.
  • The Weather Channel – Allows you to see forecasts for one or more areas across a number of time-frames.
  • Task Killers — There are a number of applications in this space. The general concept is that they kill running tasks while the screen is off, saving battery life. I have been using Task Manager but I have been looking at ES Task Manager which has some interesting features.

Miscellaneous Utilities

These are programs that you might not use every day, but are close to being considering core. (Application names are in BOLD)

  • Speed Test—This utility allows you to determine the speed of your Android’s current connection speed
  • Droidlight —Useful utility that turns the Android’s camera flash into a flashlight
  • Voice Recorder—Useful application if you want to create voice based notes for yourself.
  • Note taking—A number of applications in this space, used for taking notes. Easy Note is one of the most intuitive graphical applications I have seen.

Messaging and Social Networking

  • Tweetcast — My favorite Android Twitter client
  • IM Aggregator — Client that allows you to combine IM accounts (Yahoo, AOL, FB). I have been using eBuddy, though Meebo is something to look at if you are not satisfied with eBuddy.
  • Handcent SMS — A significant upgrade over the default Android message client. Get the font packs — Font Pack 3 (preview Font 6) is very nice.

News & Entertainment

  • NubiNews — Aggregates news/events from a variety of sources
  • Online Music — Applications that stream free music. I have used Pandora and I might start looking at Last.fm.
  • Sportstap — If you are into sports, this is the app to have.

Finance

  • Google Finance — Allows you to keep track of the market, stocks and news./li>
  • Bank of America — If you are a Bank of America customer, you can use this application to access your account information.

“Wow Factor” Apps

  • Google Sky — Using the camera you take a picture of the night sky and it identifies the constellations.
  • Bar Code Scanning — Using the camera you scan a barcode and it figures out the product and looks up the price.
  • Shazam — Listens to a song that is playing and then figures out the song name and artist singing it.

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