[sclug] OT: Two weeks with the HTC Hero and Android OS

Alex Butcher lug at assursys.co.uk
Fri Feb 12 15:01:00 UTC 2010

OK, I figured I'd write up my thoughts about the HTC Hero (aka T-Mobile G2)
running Google's Android OS v1.5.  I acquired mine as a G2 by paying ?91 for
the handset and ?15 per month over 24 months for 300 minutes/unlimited
texts/3GB data per month (3GB data comes as standard with all Android phones
on T-Mobile, including the Samsung i5700/Galaxy Portal and LG GW620/InTouch

See <http://www.t-mobile.co.uk/shop/mobile-phones/price-plans/pay-monthly/>
for more details.  If you only need 100 minutes and are prepared to put down
?126 for the handset, then you can get it on a ?10/month tariff.

Some people object on principle to 24 month contracts, but unless the mobile
industry becomes massively more competitive in the next two years, then I
don't anticipate mobile data getting much cheaper than this.  Note that
Vodafone's bandwidth allowance is a meagre 500MB/month, and Orange's is
750MB/month.  T-Mobile's for non-Android phones is 1GB/month.  Only O2
compete with 3GB on their iPhone offering. Given that Orange and T-Mobile
are trying to merge their UK operations, I expect the market to be less,
rather than more competitive, if anything, in two years time.

The Good
+ Seems to be pretty stable, though apps aren't incapable of causing reboots
(I suspect due to memory usage)

+ The security model for apps seems quite nice
<http://developer.android.com/guide/topics/security/security.html>. When
apps are installed, they come with a 'manifest' which details to the user
which permissions they will ask Android for.

+ Hardware build quality seems pretty good. The styling isn't as flash as my
old Sony-Ericsson K800i, but it seems as well-built.

+ Built-in GPS, 5MP camera, touchscreen, trackball, accelerometer, compass,
802.11g WiFi, 7.2Mbps HSDPA, Bluetooth and, of course, microphone and
speaker make it a powerful platform for mobile applications.  Combined with
the facilities provided by the OS (e.g.  Google Voice Search and
Text-to-Speech), and it's the first platform I've been excited about since I
started using Linux in 1995.  I'm intrigued to see what developers (and I?)
can make the platform do!

+ Chargeable from USB, using a standard Mini-B connector. HTC's proprietary
ExtUSB only extends Mini-B to add audio out and remote control, so you don't
need an ExtUSB cable.


- No Bluetooth OBEX file transfer in Android 1.5. Apparently this will be
   rectified in 2.1, due March/April 2010. Third party apps either require
   you to 'root' your phone
   (<http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=572683>) or have the
   same app running on paired devices.

- Bug in kernel 2.6.27's TCP/IP stack, as previously documented, resulting
   in possible medium-term intermittent lack of connectivity, regardless of
   whether you're using 3G or WiFi.

- Lousy camera. No flash, no exposure or aperture control. I'm planning on
   keeping my K800i around for snaps.

- Battery life is pretty short; with decent WiFi and 3G usage, it needs
   charging every day.  Bulky extended batteries (e.g.
   are available, but I've chosen to pick up a spare HTC battery and a couple
   of HTC chargers from prepaymania.co.uk to scatter around home and work.

- No automatic retry for sending SMS. If you have signal (even one bar), it
   sends, otherwise it aborts and you need to manually retry when you have

- No voice dialling (though there are some flakey third party apps which
   claim to be able to add it).

- Birthdays/anniversaries from contact data aren't automatically added to
   the calendar. You need to use Google Calendar to manually import Birthdays
   (only - anniversaries don't!) from your Google Mail contacts as per
   and/or use <http://uk.androlib.com/r.aspx?r=ebobirthday>

Ugly or unusual

* Sometimes the phone can get quite laggy and unresponsive. It recovers,

* Ties in heavily with Google's online apps. It's mostly avoidable (though
   you'll probably want a gmail account if only to provide a recovery
   mechanism if you forget your unlock pattern), but it's more convenient to
   use it.  Obvious privacy issues, but we all trust Google not to be evil,
   right?  Right?!  OK, just don't take your phone with you if don't want
   Google to know what you're doing, and don't plan it via your phone,
   either.  :-)

* Possibility of dialling with your ear when answering calls. Install
   Proximity Sensor <http://www.tomreay.co.uk/> to use the light sensor to
   lock the screen when the light sensor is covered (by your ear).

* Google Voice Search has been (temporarily?) removed from the market for
   reasons unknown. There's a download available from
   <http://www.eclosion-android.com/>, but you'll need to decide whether to
   trust it or not. It force closes on boot on the G2, so that might be why
   it's not currently on the Market.

* The standard programming language is Java, using Google's Dalvik VM.
   Dalvik currently uses an interpreter not a JIT compiler. Android 2.0 has
   an experimental JIT. Apps generally don't terminate when the user switches
   away, but the scheduler will kill them if it needs their resources. The
   SDK is available for Windows, MacOS X and Linux

* There is a Native Development Kit
   <http://developer.android.com/sdk/ndk/1.5_r1/index.html> that allows
   development of code in C, compiled to ARM machine code by gcc.  Such code
   cannot use the framework services provided by Android, though.  It's best
   reserved for things like signal processing and other compute-intensive

* With a 528MHz ARM, it's not the fastest Android device out there. The
   Samsung i5700 and the Acer Liquid A1 (aka S100) both use the 800MHz
   Snapdragon. It's fast enough, though, and I dread to think what the
   Snapdragon devices' battery life is like.

* The play/pause and skip buttons of wired remotes such as HTC's RC-E100
   (or clones like
   <http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=200430375837>) only
   seem to work with some player applications (e.g. TuneWiki). These buttons
   didn't work with Last.fm or the HTC player.

* Uses MicroSD cards. I've fitted a 16GB PNY from Play.com
   It's silkscreened as Class 2 (2MByte/s), but I've benchmarked it reading
   at 10MByte/s and writing at 1MByte/s. I suspect they just buy whatever's
   cheapest on the spot market, and sometimes it'll be faster.

Favourite apps

- Transparently use http://0870.me/ to look up alternative geographic numbers for 08*

- Keep track of 3G usage

- eBook reader. Plenty of Public Domain and paid-for O'Reilly books

- Location-dependent recommendations

- IRC client

- Process killer, package backup

- Various Phone-to-SD/SIM card backup tools

- Barcode Scanner, looks up prices etc online

- As above, but has wishlist and can search for geographically-local prices

- BBC iPlayer, really only for WiFi

- Cestos, addictive multiplayer online strategy game

- SSH client

- Currency Converter

- Dictionary

- Gigbox, find local gigs

- Google Sky Map

- Google Translate

- GPS Status

- Chromatic tuner

- Augmented Reality app

- Find other recommended apps based on those already installed

- Multi-protocol IM client

- Vehicle mileage/efficiency tracker

- Uses GPS to record tracks on Google Maps

- RSS reader, integrated with Google Reader

- Browser with proxy setting

- FTP client

- Preview incoming SMS

- Toggle Settings according to time/location rules

- Music player, works with RC-E100 wired remote, finds and displays lyrics

- Twitter, better than HTC's Peep

- WiFi Analyzer

- Augmented Reality

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