Android pod touch
Apple Inc. makes a smartphone called iPhone. It also makes mostly the same product without a cellular radio, called iPod touch. Like the iPhone, the iPod touch can download and run iOS applications from the App Store, and it can even make phone calls over Wi-Fi wherever you can find a G-spot. (That's an 802.11g hotspot; get your mind out of the gutter.) Apple also makes iPad, a version of the iPod touch and iPhone with a much larger screen. In 2010, phones running Google's competing Android operating system have become popular, and they began to compete with the iPad since the introduction of the Motorola Xoom in 2011. But it took surprisingly long for makers of Android-powered device to make a proper counterpart to the iPod touch, and until Samsung released the Galaxy Player in October 2011, Apple had what amounted to a monopoly on the 4" tablet segment.
Devices that are not comparable
In 2010 and 2011, people recommended various Android-powered devices as substitutes for an iPod touch or iPad, but many have had at least one fatal flaw keeping them from being viable substitutes.
The device costs more than 300 USD plus sales tax. The fourth-generation iPod touch was released in late 2010, and it cost $229 plus sales tax in the United States. At the time, unlocked Android-powered phones purchased directly from the manufacturer tended to cost $400 to $600 in 2010. But by 2011, inexpensive Android phones finally became available on prepaid carriers.
The device lacks access to an app store. All versions of the iPod touch hardware can run iOS 3 or later, and every iOS version since 2 has had the iOS App Store. It was at first conjectured and then confirmed that Google would initially not license the Google Play Store (formerly Android Market) application to makers of Android devices without a cellular radio. This means one pays a substantial premium for the full Android experience over the full iOS experience. Unlike iOS, the design of Android encourages independent app stores, such as AppsLib, SlideME, and Amazon. But as of 2011, a lot of popular applications remained exclusive to Google Play, such as the Chase check deposit application.
The device's touch screen is unresponsive, or its build quality is otherwise unsatisfactory. A review of Enso's Android-powered zenPad 4 observes that its touch screen misses half the taps, and those taps that do register leave momentary indentations. A mail order store might refuse to give full credit for returns on defects known to exist across a whole model. It's not just that the screen is resistive instead of capacitive; if it were that, one could take the stylus from a Nintendo DS Lite and use it, which works well with the Archos 43 Internet Tablet. But some appear to go beyond that in flimsiness. Furthermore, some applications require a multitouch screen, especially video games that use a virtual gamepad.
The device is not sold in stores. As L4t3r4lu5 put it: "If I can't try it, I don't buy it." On 2010-11-01, I walked into the electronics section of a Sears store, asked a salesperson about Archos media players, and got a reply to the effect: "We don't have those here, but we might have them on Sears.com." A few days later, I found that Best Buy makes no more than a token effort to market Archos either. That'd be fine if mail order stores didn't have restocking fees.
Readers have recommended these products:
- Archos 43: Best for stylus users. It doesn't have Google Play, but it does have AppsLib, and there exist programs like ArcTools for "pirating" Google Play on Archos tablets. But it's anyone's call how long before Google has them pulled like it had the Market and other Google apps pulled from CyanogenMod.
- Samsung i5700 ("Galaxy Spica")
- Samsung Galaxy Player: Finally released as of October 2011. Best for finger users.
- LG Optimus V, Samsung Intercept, and other entry-level Android phones on a prepaid carrier such as Virgin Mobile or T-Mobile: Good for those replacing three devices (such as a dumbphone, a GPS, and a handheld video game system) with their first smartphone.
- ASUS Nexus 7: Released in July 2012 and great for those who want a larger surface for reading books or manipulating a virtual gamepad.
Buying a phone instead
Some people carry a cell phone only for occasional voice use or even solely because land line subscribers can't send or receive text messages. These plans, such as the "payLo" plans from Virgin Mobile USA starting at $20 per three months, are useful for people for whom a phone complements an existing land line. For example, some people carry a cell phone just to be able to get a hold of someone when a car or bike breaks down. Pay phones have been disappearing since 2000, and by late 2013, the number of working payphones in the United States had dropped below 500,000, or about one per 600 residents. Their disappearance is already a punch line. But the U.S. carriers don't appear to offer a lot of smartphone plans designed for occasional voice use; most are priced for replacing the customer's home phone.
A couple Slashdot users have recommended that I buy a smartphone and subscribe to a $30/mo cellular data plan instead of buying a media player and using Wi-Fi. They swear by the ability to listen to Internet radio and use e-mail while on long road trips. This sounded to me like buying an iPhone because iPod touch is out of stock everywhere, but for the sake of completeness, I tried this on August 21, 2010. I walked into a Best Buy Mobile store, mentioned my current prepaid voice plan with Virgin Mobile that costs me $20 per three months, and asked about Android 2 phones. The salesperson explained that the data plans for Android phones from all four major U.S. carriers require a voice plan with 450 minutes per month or more, and this voice plan costs $39.99 per month. But I don't use anywhere near 450 minutes per month. I don't see the point of paying six times as much for voice minutes 90 percent of which I'll never use. So to talk me into a data plan, you'll have to talk me into the required voice plan as well.
In the fourth quarter of 2010, Virgin Mobile USA and other prepaid carriers finally added low-end Android phones to their offerings. But the monthly recurring costs strongly favor dumbphones at the low end: Virgin's smartphones need a "Beyond Talk" plan, which starts at $35 per month. This is over five times the price of the cheapest payLo plan. Perhaps that's part of why as of the third quarter of 2011, 60 percent of mobile phones in the United States were still not smartphones. The cost of smartphone service is part of why some people continue to carry a separate PDA and dumbphone (or a smartphone with no SIM and dumbphone) instead of integrating them into one device with a higher monthly bill. One self-proclaimed "nerd" even carries three devices: a dumbphone, a smartphone with no SIM, and a mobile hotspot, possibly to allow occasional laptop use or to take advantage of the longer battery life of dumbphones. But by 2013, some MVNOs had finally begun to offer cheap plans on which a smartphone can be activated.
Multitouch game control
- Main article: Virtual gamepad
An overly literal emulation of an on-screen gamepad is uncomfortable to use for the same reason that touch typing is impossible on a tablet: the player can't feel where the thumb is relative to the buttons. The solution for an effective virtual gamepad on a multitouch device is thumb gestures that can be performed at any point on the lower corner of the screen.
- brauckmiller. "Why won't Google partner with non-phone manufacturers?" Android Market Support Forum. 2010-04-02. Accessed 2011-10-20.
- drawkward. "Android Market compliance". gdgt. 2011-02-11. Accessed 2011-10-20.
- Kevin C. Tofel. "Google Is Missing an Android Opportunity on Non-smartphones". GigaOM. 2010-04-04. Accessed 2011-10-20.
- Sam Churchill. Android Tablets Need 3G/4G for Market Support. dailywireless.org. 2010-09-10. Accessed 2011-10-20.
- Darren Murph. "Enso's Android-based zenPad 4 ships, gets unboxed and politely berated on video". Engadget. 2010-08-11. Accessed 2011-10-20.
- "ArcTools – Android Market and Google Apps installer for your Archos Internet Tablet". 2011-02-18. Accessed 2011-10-20.
- Dan Nosowitz. "Google Threatens Cyanogen Android Hacker With Cease-and-Desist". Gizmodo. 2009-09-25. Accessed 2011-10-20.
- Stan Schroeder. "Samsung Galaxy Player 4 and 5 Now Available in the U.S." Mashable. 2011-10-18. Accessed 2011-10-24.
- Henry Hanks. "Pay phones: The search for an endangered species". CNN, April 3, 2010. Retrieved on April 3, 2010.
- MrPuggles et al. 18 Widely Used Technology You Didn't Know Is Obsolete". Cracked, 2013-10-21. Accessed 2013-10-21.
- Slashdot comments 39621307 39621319 39621353
- Christina Bonnington. "Huawei Impulse 4G Targets Feature-Phone Crowd". Wired. 2011-09-07. Accessed 2011-10-20.
- Don Kellogg. "40 Percent of U.S. Mobile Users Own Smartphones". Nielsen Wire. 2011-09-01. Accessed 2011-10-20.