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Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Lab: HTC Dream (Google Android phone)

To compete with Apple's iPhone, Google produced its Android platform for smartphones. Unlike Apple, though, Google doesn't make its phones. Instead, it has made Android an open source system that can be used by 3rd party phone manufacturers. Like HTC.

The HTC Dream is a bulky, heavy black coloured smartphone that contains the Google Android goodness. Unlike the slim and sexy Apple iPhone, the Dream is a device that was clearly not designed for handbags or trouser pockets. Instead, its size and weight suggest that it's meant as a desktop alternative, i.e. something you carry in a bag.

Which is pitiful because other phone manufacturers, like Nokia, have been able to cram a full-sized, slide out QWERTY keyboard without compromising on weight. This suspiciously makes the Dream seem like a first generation device that's being beta tested on the public.

Fortunately, most of the rest of the phone is top notch. Like any good smartphone, it features a touchscreen that I found to be responsive to my fingers. There were a few times when it thought that I'd pressed another button or required a firmer push on the screen to react, but overall, I found it a pleasant experience. Though it did take me a while to realise that I could scroll by flicking my finger across the screen, instead of relying on the physical scroll ball at the bottom.

Unlike the iPhone, though, the Dream does not have any on-screen touch-based keyboard. Instead, all typing has to be done through the keyboard. You flip the phone to the side, slide the screen out, and you now have access to the keyboard. Meanwhile, the screen's display flips to landscape view automatically. Unfortunately, typing wasn't as easy as I found it to be, especially for the right hand. This is because of the navigation buttons found at the bottom/right of the phone. This bulky area hindered my right hand from typing smoothly, unlike how it was for my left hand. So right-handed people, which is more than 50% of the population: beware!

Overall, I found it quite easy to navigate the device. Application buttons were generally big enough to press comfortably, scrolling was smooth and even Web browsing was a breeze. Regarding Internet connectivity, the Dream comes with Wifi and 3G. Unfortunately, since I'm not a Singtel user and didn't know how to setup the 3G access point for my telco, I didn't have a chance to test the 3G connectivity. But Wifi connectivity was definitely hassle-free.

The Google Android system provides a seamless experience in connecting to all of your Google services. By setting up my Google Account, I now had access to Gmail, Google Calendar, and more. If I read an email in the Dream, my desktop Gmail would almost automatically be updated to reflect the message's read status. I suspect, though, that this means that there's a lot of background data transfer, so 3G users would have to keep an eye on their data usage (= higher cost = money).

I could also access the Google App Store to download programs. Of course, I only downloaded the free stuff -- to mixed results. Since these apps aren't provided by Google, my success with them was hit-and-miss.

For example, I downloaded two Twitter apps. One made it easy to send updates, but for some reason refused to show my full Twitter history. The other was a pain in typing, but was otherwise a very slick program. As the warning goes: your mileage may vary.

Another problem I had with the Dream was with Bluetooth. Bluetooth support is apparently limited only to connecting with accessories, like earphones, which is similar to the iPhone. As such, I couldn't transfer files nor sync contacts with my Mac. The latter led to another issue: my contact list was limited to what was in my SIM card and in my online Google contact list, which I don't use for privacy reasons.

The bottomline is that this is a relatively nifty phone, if you can get past three things:

  1. Bulkiness
  2. Right hand unfriendliness
  3. Bluetooth limited to connecting with accessories only
If I were to get a Dream, though, I'd wait for the next version, so that HTC can iron out the kinks.

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