First of all let’s just admit it.
When Google announced the Android operating system for mobile phones two years ago, hardly anyone gave it a serious chance. Yes, yes, many pundits jumped up and down with excitement, but that has become standard protocol for the industry now. It doesn’t matter who launches what—for a day or two after an entirely unremarkable iteration of an entirely unpopular device, bloggers and journalists all over the world go crazy. Hundreds of articles are written with the headline: “Is *boring new product* the next *name of category leader device, such as iPhone*?”
Some do it for the traffic. Most people are just hedging their risks. On the outside chance that the 1,534th new e-book reader launched this year becomes a hit, no one would want to admit that they didn’t predict it. Which explains the mass hysterical salivation that accompanied things such as the Palm Pre, Google Sidewiki, Google Wave and that horrible PlayStation Portable (PSP) revision from Sony.
And so it was when Android happened. The fact that Google was involved was a plus point. Otherwise, deep inside, most people didn’t see how anything could dethrone Apple and iOS. Many still don’t.
But lo and behold, Android is a triumph. Phones based on the operating system have proven to be usable, versatile and available in all kinds of price ranges. This week, for instance, we look at the Motorola Milestone XT720 which is a substantial investment at Rs 27,490 and the cheaper HTC Wildfire, at Rs 16,590.
Several things seem to be working for Android. A vibrant developer base is making interesting applications. Several manufacturers across the value spectrum are willing to experiment with it. And, for a change, this is an open source project that does not ask for many, if any, compromises on design or usability.
The most attractive thing about the HTC Wildfire is the price (indeed Rs 15,000-18,000 is arguably the most exciting segment of the market right now).
The HTC Wildfire
Although one would expect a sub-Rs 20,000 smartphone to be a plasticky, poorly finished device replete with cut-price compromises, the Wildfire can, in fact, easily take on similarly priced BlackBerry Curves. If you can look past the slightly tacky build quality, the Wildfire is an easy phone to get used to. HTC has replaced the traditional Android UI (user interface) with its proprietary Sense interface.
From a look and feel perspective, the Wildfire looks like the HTC Desire and the Google Nexus One. It is easy to hold in the hand and the tiny optical trackpad is adequate. The phone is not a processing powerhouse—it uses a feeble Qualcomm processor with 324MB RAM but then neither are most of the phones you are going to compare it with.
The Milestone XT720, on the other hand, is a bulldozer of a phone. Powerfully built and generously spec-ed, the phone is housed inside a big, shiny body that is well made (but it isn’t for everyone. Some of the design elements, especially the mirror-finish, remind me too much of mullets). Inside this phone is a 720 MHz ARM processor, and 8MP camera with HD video recording. Out of the box the phone worked well, showed little lag, and handled multimedia well. Notable is the gallery feature that is a joy to use. Overall, the phone seemed to account for its price premium with faster and more stable operation than the Wildfire. Indian users will like the fact that the on-board navigation software comes preloaded with MapmyIndia software (I didn’t like that way the maps looked. But they worked).
The Motorola Milestone XT720
There are other little thingumajigs in the phone, such as gesture commands for apps. But nothing that should make the buying decisions for you.
None of the phones come with the latest Froyo version of Android. Which is such an improvement on the older Eclair, that you miss it here. Before buying these devices, you might want to make sure you are OK with the compromise.
The Wildfire has lag problems and a mediocre display. But you get what you pay for.
My biggest gripe with the Milestone is the design. The device takes up complete jeans pocket real estate.
But it doesn’t matter if you don’t like these models and want to wait. Expect to see several more Android models in the market, including more at the sub Rs 10,000 price point. The droid uprising is already on its way. You have been warned.