Android report card: Which manufacturers are out in front?September 22, 2010: 12:52 PM ET
I'm rating manufacturers on how well they provide a ' quality Android experience' to U.S. customers.
When buying an Android device, you want to know if your phone is going to be updated promptly to the latest operating system.
You want to make sure that carriers aren't going to add any applications or processes that impede the Android experience. Manufacturers' Android overlays must be kept in check if you don't want 'features' tripping up your productivity.
The best way to judge what will happen to your phone during the life of its contract is to see what your carrier and manufacturer's strategy is to Android is across their lineup.
If they fall behind now, they aren't likely to catch up. If they start playing tricks on customers or start locking them into things they might not want now, the situation is likely to only get worse.
So who is going to give you the best Android experience?
Here I'll rate the manufacturers. The carriers deserve their own post.
HTC (though it isn't often given credit) makes the Nexus One, the purest Android phone, and they sell it without their Sense overlay. They are readying the G2, which appears to be without Sense as well. Both will be available through T-Mobile, which should be commended.
For the phones it ships with its Sense overlay, HTC is fairly functional and doesn't step on Android too much. That said, HTC revealed that the Sense 1.6 overlay will have many more features including backup, remote wipe, a cached mapping program and HTCSense.com.
The big problem I have is that HTC duplicates some functionality that Google (GOOG) has added in its latest updates. HTC will be less likely to upgrade its phones if it will diminish the utility of their own overlay.
HTC has the best overall record for upgrades as well.
The Nexus One was the first phone, by months, to get Android 2.2. The HTC EVO was the first carrier phone to get Froyo and now most of HTC's high-end phones are being updated and sold with Froyo. Some of their lower-end phones are getting left behind however.
Motorola (MOT) produced the first Android 2 phone, the Droid, and continues to produce solid high-end phones in the Droid lineup. The Droid X got its Android 2.2 update today, and now all Droids have the latest OS.
Motorola isn't as quick to update lower-end phones and more distressingly is Blurring (see what I did there?) the Android experience with its MotoBlur overlay. The Backflip on AT&T runs Android 1.6. To use the new T-Mobile's Charm, you have to create a Motoblur account and run some of your services through Motorola instead of normal Android apps.
I don't like Blur as much as Sense or Samsung's TouchWiz and it keeps getting worse. Even high-end phones like Droid X are getting muted by it. On the other hand, their new Droid 2, thankfully showed no signs of Blur.
Samsung's Galaxy S lineup won't get updated to Froyo until late 2010 according to CSO Omar Khan (read: Christmas). That's way behind the curve for otherwise exceptional hardware (GPS notwithstanding).
Galaxy Tab, which will be out for the holidays has Froyo on it (thankfully) and a pretty light smattering of the TouchWiz interface. With some swift updates, Samsung could pass Motorola and HTC, especially if Sense 1.6 is as pervasive as it sounds.
The TouchWiz overlay slows the experience down a bit but at the same time adds a few interesting features. Some have said it makes Android more iPhone-like. Take that for what its worth. Again, for my money, no overlays beat Google's untouched experience.
Most of LG's Android phones aren't available in the U.S. but the Ally is a staple on Verizon. It runs Android 2.1 but will get a Froyo update at some point in the future.
I don't have too much experience with LG phones honestly, but the Ally seems pretty mediocre and the upcoming Optimus line isn't even a lock to hit the U.S. market. (Although it will hit the rest of the world with Froyo in October-November).
Dell and Sony: Fail
You come to the U.S. market where people are complaining about Android 2.1 devices with Android 1.6 device?
Sony (SNE) Xperia and Dell(DELL) Streak are both DOA as far as I am concerned. Both of these companies are operating on some other wavelength with perspective customers. That's not to say that the hardware isn't good. Each phone very well could be the best hardware on the market
The message should be clear: Pour some more R&D capital into software development and get in line with the manufacturers above. For the record, both have promised updates to Froyo and will be re-evaluated when that comes to fruition.
At the moment, there isn't a huge difference between the top three: HTC, Motorola and Samsung. If you want Froyo, Samsung obviously drops out. If you want an overlay experience, Motorola likely drops out of the race as well.
There is another, often more important (unfortunately) piece to the Android puzzle and that is the carriers. That's covered here.