In preparation for my [upcoming trip to Australia and New Zealand], I decided to upgrade my smartphone. My service provider T-Mobile offered me the chance to try out any new phone for 14 days for only ten dollar re-stocking fee. For the past 16 months, I have used the Google G1 phone. This is based on a storage-optimized Android operating system, based on open source Linux, with applications processed in a storage-optimized virtual machine called Dalvik, based on open source Java. According to Wikipedia, Android-based phones have #1 market share [outselling both BlackBerry OS and Apple iOS phones]. There are over 70 different companies using Android, driven away from the proprietary interfaces from Apple, BlackBerry and Microsoft.
Since I was already familiar with the Android operating system, I chose the Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant. I liked my G1, but it had only a small amount of internal memory to store applications. The G1 supported an external Micro SDHC card, but this only was used for music and photos. There was no way to install applications on the memory card, so I found myself having to uninstall applications to make room for new ones. By contrast, the Vibrant has 16GB internal memory, plenty of room for all applications, and supports Micro SDHC up to 32GB in size. My model can pre-installed with a 2GB card, of which 1.4GB is consumed by James Cameron's full-length movie Avatar. On the G1, swapping out memory cards was relatively easy. On the Vibrant, you have to take the phone apart to swap out cards, so I won't be doing that very often. I will probably just get a 32GB card and leave it in there permanently.
(FTC disclosure: I work for IBM. IBM has working relationships with Oracle, Google, and lots of other companies. IBM offers its own commercial version of Java related tools. I own stock in IBM, Apple, Google. I have friends and family who work at Microsoft. My review below is based entirely on my own experience of my new Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant phone. Samsung has created different models for different service providers. The T-Mobile Vibrant is an external USB storage device with telephony capabilities, comparable to the AT&T Captivate, Verizon Fascinate, or Sprint Epic 4G. The majority of mobile phones in the world contain IBM technology. This post is not necessarily an endorsement for Samsung over other smartphone manufacturers, nor T-Mobile over other service providers. I provide this information in context of storage optimization, state-of-the-art for smartphones in general, and disputes related to software patents between companies. I hold 19 patents, most of which are software patents.)
When Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, it inherited stewardship of Java. Java is offered in two flavors. Java Standard Edition (SE) for machines that are planted firmly on or below your desk, and Java Micro Edition (ME) for machines that are carried around. Most Java-based phones limit themselves to Java ME, but Google decided to base its smartphones on the more powerful Java SE, but then optimize for the limited storage and computing resources. These two levels of Java have radically different licensing terms and conditions, so Larry Ellison of Oracle cried foul. On The Register, Gavin Clarke has an excellent article with details of the Oracle-vs-Google complaint. Daniel Dilger opines that Oracle [might kill Google’s Android and software patents all at once]. Fellow blogger Mark Twomey (EMC) on his StorageZilla blog, argues that [it's not about Android phones, but Android everything].
My Vibrant is roughly the size of a half-inch stack of 3x5 index cards in my hand. In my humble opinion, the problem is the grey area between mobile phone and the desktop personal computer. Laptops, netbooks, iPads, tablet computers, eBook readers, and smartphones fall somewhere in between. At what point do you stop licensing Java SE and start licensing Java ME instead?
Let's take a look at all the stuff my new Samsung Vibrant can do, and let you decide for yourself. I have 140 applications installed, which I can access alphabetically. I also have up to seven screens which I can fill with application icons and widgets to simplify access. The screen measures about 4 inches diagonally. Click on each image below to see the full 480x800 resolution.
My second screen is for music and video entertainment.
The top row is consumed by a single widget for [Pandora], an internet radio station, not to be confused with the Pandora moon that the movie Avatar is based on. I-heart-radio, Slacker, and Last.fm are other internet radio stations. Be careful when roaming in another country, as the $15-per-MB transfer fees can really add up. While the Galaxy S has a built-in FM radio, T-Mobile has decided to disable this feature in its Vibrant model, in favor of internet-based radio stations.
I am glad the Samsung Vibrant uses the same 3.5mm combo audio jack that I mentioned in my blog post about my [New ThinkPad T410]. This allows me to use the same headset for both my laptop and my cell phone.
For those who use Microsoft Windows Media Player v10 or above, this phone lets you transfer over your songs, playlists and videos via the USB cable in PMC mode. The TED application shows 18-minute videos of lectures at conferences that focus on Technology, Entertainment and Design. MobiTV offers live streaming of popular Television shows, normally ten dollars monthly, but I got a free 30-day trial in the deal.
Screen 5 is for office productivity. I have a 2x2 widget from Astrid to list my to-do items. I have a 1x2 widget showing my last call. My calendar syncs up with my Google calendar online.
The Locale widget allows me to change which on-screen keyboard to use. There is the standard Android keyboard which allows voice-to-text input, the Samsung keyboard that offers [XT9 mode], and the new ["Swype"] keyboard that allows you to write words quickly with squiggles swiped across the keyboard. The Swype is incredible accurate when I am typing in English. When I am communicating in Spanish, it gets in the way, spell-checking when it shouldn't.
Just in case I switch to a local SIM card while abroad in another country, I asked T-mobile to unlock my phone, which they happily did at no additional charge. For example, while I am in Australia, I can either leave my T-Mobile USA chip in the phone, and pay roaming charges per minute, or I can purchase a SIM chip from a local phone company with pre-paid minutes. This often includes unlimited free incoming calls to a local Australian phone number, and voicemail.
Unlocking the phone to use different SIM cards is different than "jailbreaking", a term that refers to Apple's products. For Android phones, jailbreaking is called "rooting", as the process involves getting "root" user access that you normally don't have. The only reason I have found to have my phone "rooted" was to take these lovely screen shots, using the "Screen Shot It" application. This is another application that I paid for. I used the free trial for a few screenshots first to check it out, liked the results, and bought the application.
So, this new smartphone looks like a keeper. I got a screen protector to avoid scratching, and a two-piece case that snaps around the phone to give it more heft. All my chargers are "Mini USB" for my old G1 phone, and this new Vibrant phone is "Micro USB" instead, so I had to order new ones for my car, my office, and for my iGo (tip A97).
This review is more to focus on the fact that the IT industry is changing, and what was traditionally performed on personal computers are now being done on new handheld devices. Android provides a platform for innovation and healthy competition. Let's all hope Oracle and Google can work out their differences amicably.