Android is a powerful and flexible smartphone operating system that competes head-to-head with Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s Blackberry Phones, and Palm smartphone devices. Owned by Google, Android based phones are growing in numbers and in popularity. And with the frequent operating system upgrades, Android has made quite an impact in the smartphone industry.
When shopping for an Android-based phone, knowing that different versions of Android have different features, can help you make a more informed decision.
Android Operating System
Android comes in many different flavors. From 1.6, AKA “Donut,” to 2.3 (Gingerbread),) each version, though similar in many ways, provides differing levels of features. What makes choosing an Android-based phone even more confusing is that different manufactures put their own "spin" on their phone's operating system. One phone running Android 2.1 may be very different from another running Android 2.2. Knowing the differences in the operating systems and in the phones is the sure way to make your Android phone purchase the right one.
As more and more manufacturers come out with Android based phones, the greater number of "Android Spun" versions will be available. As of the writing of this article, Motorola, HTC, Samsung and LG all have Android based phones in the market. And each one has their own interface or "spin" that runs on top of the Android system. Motorola, for example, uses "Moto Blur" while HTC uses their Sense UI. Each spin has its advantages and disadvantages. I've found that the Moto Blur slows down the performance of phones like the Droid X and that the Android updates are weeks behind on my HTC Incredible. Why the delays? Manufacturers have to rewrite that "spin" every time Google releases an update to Android. The best judge of how well the manufacture's version is how it works for you, the user.
To get a pure Android experience, you'll have to choose the Google Nexus S. It is sold through Best Buy and can be purchased with a T-Mobile contract or "un-locked," meaning they will work on any GSM based network. T-Mobile and AT&T are the two largest GSM network providers while Verizon and Sprint use CDMA technology. However, although the Nexus S will work on AT&T, it will not deliver 3G speeds at this time, due to a slight difference in the GSM frequency between AT&T and T-Mobile.
Limitations of Some Phones
Several Android based phones were not manufactured with Android updates in mind. The original T-Mobile myTouch 3G will forever be stuck using Android 1.6 due to hardware limitations. Though it may be challenging to choose a phone that will be able to run Android updates, choosing a phone that is running the latest version of Android (currently 2.2 or 2.3) should provide capable enough hardware to allow for future Android updates. If the phone you are considering is running anything older than Android 2.1, you may be looking at a phone that is not capable of updates.
3G or 4G
4G, or "fourth generation," is where all of the major cell phone providers are going. Yet very few devices, such as the HTC Evo are 4G compatible. Does that mean that any Android phone that you buy now will be quickly outdated as soon as 4G is widely available? Yes and no. Again, features and capabilities are only as useful as how much the users need the features and capabilities. If 3G is fast enough for your needs, then buying a 3G Android phone will probably land you a good deal. But if you need or want the latest and greatest, know that no phones that are manufactured as a 3G phone are capable of receiving an upgrade that will make them a 4G phone. It's not the operating system but the actual hardware that makes one phone a 3G and another a 4G.
I suggest that someone in the market for a new phone take a good long look at when 4G will be available in their area and whether or not they really need the speed advantages that 4G promises to give. Also look at the price difference between 3G and 4G capable data plans to see if upgrading is worthwhile.
The ever growing Android Market, though still behind Apple’s iTunes with regards to the number of apps, is increasing at a faster rate than iTunes and Blackberry’s App stores. As Android continues to improve its processing speed and capabilities, Android apps are getting more robust, more useful, and have more enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing user interfaces.
A large part of buying an Android phone is the access to the apps that you will have as soon as you own an Android phone. Much like updates to the operating system, many of the apps found in the Android Market receive frequent updates. Many of these updates are intended to clear up any bugs or errors in the app, but many are to keep pace with the updates to the Android operating system. If you own a phone that is stuck with a specific Android version, you may not be able to receive updates to some of your apps. This may or may not be an issue but it is certainly a factor you should consider when choosing a phone.
I have yet to talk to a cell phone sales professional who either knew or would honestly answer the question, "Is this phone capable of receiving all future Android updates?" The truth is, with Android changing so rapidly, the only way to be somewhat sure that your phone will not be outdated in a few months is to buy a pure Google Android phone. And right now, that means that your choice is limited to the Nexus S.
There, are of course, other options that can give you a more pure Android experience. The most common option is to root your phone. While rooting has its drawbacks and advantages, it does allow you to shut down the manufacturer's spins and experience and get as pure of an Android experience as possible. Still, even with a rooted phone, if you own a hardware-limited phone, you will always have the pressing issue that your phone is as good as it will ever get.