Upgrading my HTC Hero to Android 2.1

Yesterday, Sprint and HTC released Android 2.1 for the HTC Hero. Upgrading the phone underscores the differences in the Android and Apple iPhone platforms. One is consumer friendly (Apple), and one isn’t (Android). One is built for the general public (Apple), and one is built for the geeky, Linux-loving, tech savvy market (Android). Apple is building the computer (and phone, and tablet) for the rest of us. Google is a company of programmers and engineers building platforms for other programmers and engineers.

Here is what I had to do to upgrade my Android phone to 2.1

First, I had to wait. Google announced Android 2.1 several months ago. But because HTC layers their Sense UI over the Android foundation, HTC had to update that system to work with 2.1. Then Sprint had to approve the release. So there are a lot of fingers in this pie. In this case, good things come to those who wait, and the Sense UI update looks great and works really well.

To run the upgrade, you have to connect the Hero via USB cable to a computer. In this case, that computer has to be Windows. Since my main computer is a 15″ MacBook Pro running Mac OS X, this was a problem. I happen to keep a Windows 7 partition — thank you, Boot Camp — around for testing and occasional gaming, so I rebooted into Windows 7. I connected the Hero via USB.

I downloaded the Android 2.1 update — a 117 mb file — and attempted to run the update. Oops, it can’t connect to the phone. I gotta install a driver.

This was the most annoying part. I don’t sync my phone to anything Windows, but I still have to install the sync software and drivers. I attempt to install the driver software, but the installer was throwing an error on the ADB driver. Turns out, I’m running Windows 7 64-bit, not 32-bit, and the ADB driver isn’t 64-bit compatible. I hit Google and did a search. I download a 64-bit ADB driver from Softpedia, which I had to manually install. (On the upside, the first third party driver I found ended up working.)

I’m sorry, but Windows sucks. Even this more user-friendly version, Windows 7, just sucks. Normal, everyday users are not going to jump through these stupid hoops.

Once the sync software can recognize the phone, THEN I can run the Android 2.1 upgrade.

There are ample warnings on the various update pages that the upgrade process will COMPLETELY ERASE the phone, your installed apps, files, photos, contacts… EVERYTHING. So, before I commit to the upgrade process, I copied off the couple of files I had in the photos folder, and I ran a final sync on the Google Calendar and Contacts apps.

The upgrade itself went smoothly, and only lasted a couple of minutes, not the “over 10 minutes” the on-screen warning stated.

The initial phone startup following the upgrade took a while — several minutes. But everything worked the first time, and the phone was left in a pristine, manufacturer default setup.

Finally, I had to re-download EVERY APP I had installed that I wanted back. And I had to reconfigure EVERYTHING again. What a pain.

Compared to my iPhone experiences, this was night and day. Apple, through iTunes, backs up everything before running updates, and restores everything afterward. I don’t remember any iPhone experience resulting in my having to start over from scratch. By comparison, when I traded in my iPhone for the HTC Hero, iTunes remembered everything I had on the iPhone. When I purchased an iPad a few months later, the first sync with iTunes resulted in restoring all my iPhone apps, settings, and data. This end-to-end backup and restore was flawless and entirely user friendly. (Critics could say this comparison highlights the benefit that comes with “golden handcuffs”, and doesn’t properly represent the relative downsides to the Apple walled garden.)

Google has a lot to learn about managing version upgrades.

Gadget Lust

PC Magazine posted this great review of the Apple iPad.

And Sprint is getting the most kick-ass Android phone yet. I look forward to the day when every cellphone has the ability to be a wifi hotspot…


Apple iPad: WANT!

When Apple released the iPhone, it was obvious that it was a great device. Great for everything, it seemed, but making phone calls.

AT&T has been the Achilles Heel in the iPhone becoming a true “God Phone”. I know people in San Francisco complain about AT&T reception, but here in Alhambra, working from home, with AT&T cell towers all around me, I could not get a reliable cellular connection. The iPhone was unusable for me. And since I was working from home, being unable to use the phone at home was the dealbreaker.

I have said for a while — at least two years — that if they grew the iPod Touch into a 5.5×8.5″ format, or half of an 8.5×11″ sheet of paper, it would be perfect. Well Apple did me one better, going for the 10″ display at 1024×768 resolution. This is slightly smaller than the screen of my old 12″ PowerBook. Intuitively, this feels right.

I have held out on buying an e-book reader. The Kindle and Nook are interesting devices, but aren’t the solution that feels right to me. The hardware is expensive and not nearly as versatile as I would hope. My instinct tells me that the iPad’s color screen alone will be enough to make the iPad a better book reader than any others. The backlit screen, and shorter battery life, will be the tradeoff for using the iPad as a book reader over a Kindle or Nook.

Pair an iPad with the Skype app, wifi, and a bluetooth headset, and you have a media device capable of making phone calls. I don’t know how many iPad users will do this, but that is a usage statistic I’ll be watching for as the polls start coming in.

For web browsing, the 1024×768 resolution is perfect, in my opinion. Most websites will be viewable at actual size without left-right scrolling when in horizontal orientation.

The screen format has gotten some criticism since many movies are 16:9. So you’ll see black bars across the top and bottom of your screen. Tough. You get black bars on the sides when viewing standard definition movies and television on your high def screens. It isn’t ideal, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Deal with it.

Flash? I don’t want Flash. I want Apple to continue to stonewall on implementing Flash on all their products to spur the development communities on to better solutions. I agree with the person who said that Flash was a stop-gap measure — it should never have been used as a platform. Let the people who can’t live without Flash choose a Linux or Windows-based product.

Writing and responding to short e-mail will be better on the iPad than on your smart phone, but you’re not going to be using the touch screen keyboard to write anything very long at all. I hope I’m wrong about that, as it would be nice to do some blogging and writing/editing on the go with the iPad without needing a laptop, but I really hate the iPhone touch keyboard.

Aside from e-books, I expect gaming to really pick up with the iPad. As developers take advantage of the form factor to develop new and innovative games, I expect the iPad to become a really compelling portable game device. I don’t see much difference in God of War on the PSP and Assassin’s Creed on the iPhone. And I would love to see true virtual worlds come to the iPad platform, especially Second Life.

So I have my iPad on reserve. April 3 at 9:00 am, look for me in line at the Pasadena Apple Store.

I. Can’t. Wait.

Hello, HTC Hero

Back in mid-December, I started thinking seriously about upgrading my cellphone from the Blackberry 8073e to … something else.

I’ve had a company-issued iPhone for a year or so, and it is cool, no doubt. But the AT&T service in my home doesn’t work — the signal is too weak for some reason. So switching to AT&T isn’t an option for me.

Sticking with my existing carrier, Sprint, my main contenders then became the HTC Hero and Blackberry Tour. Both looked like worthy smartphone upgrades. I had used the Blackberry OS for years, and knew what to expect there. But this hot, new Google OS, Android, has some buzz. And since I’m a heavy Google Apps user, the idea of automatically syncing with all the data and e-mail I have on Google already seemed like a dream.

After several weeks of mulling my options, I took the plunge and got a HTC Hero.

After living with the Hero for two days, I have to say I like the new phone quite a lot. I’m happily surprised that most of the apps I used heavily on the iPhone are also available on Android, and if an app isn’t available then there is something very similar or even better out there. (One app that I like a lot on the iPhone is the New York Times app, but on Android there is a USA Today app that is just fantastic!)

I do wish the Hero screen was larger. The phone feels good in the hand, and everything looks just beautiful. But this phone is less capable as a reader than the iPhone is. Otherwise, the HTC Hero is a real win.

Shopping for a new cellphone

I’m in the market for a new smartphone. As I look over the market for cellphones, I’m excited by what I see. But I’m disappointed in several areas.

First, let me fill you in on some history.

For many years, I used Samsung flip cellphones. They were great. Small, reliable, simple to use. At the time, I was swimming against the stream — everyone else was singing the praises of Nokia’s products. I had owned a Nokia candybar phone for a while, but once I switched to Samsung I was done: Samsung’s flip phones were a pleasure to use.

I gave up my flip phone once text messaging became a mainstay of cell phone use. The T9 text entry on the flip phone was abysmal. And the WAP web browser was pretty bad, too. That was the point when I decided to upgrade to a smart phone.

At that time, my co-workers were all using Palm Treo’s. I had owned a couple of Palm PDAs, and I wasn’t convinced that a Palm powered cell phone would be reliable or powerful enough. And I just wasn’t a fan of the Palm interface — it was fine as a PDA, but I didn’t trust it for use as a cellphone.

My co-workers thought I was stupid for buying a Blackberry — they essentially said so in front of clients, too. But I had spent some time in the Sprint stores playing with the Blackberry interface, and it was clear I would have a learning curve, but it had a full physical QWERTY keyboard and could load apps to extend functionality. Several years later, I’m still using the same model of phone, the Blackberry 8073e.

The 8073e has been a fantastic phone. I can operate it entirely with one hand, and it has the best speakerphone performance I’ve experienced with a cell phone. The only thing I can say bad about it is the web browser sucks. Everything else has made this my gold standard for how a smart phone should function. And, funny enough, just a couple of months after I purchased my Blackberry, my co-workers ditched their Treos for Blackberries. Of course, they had to get more recent models than I had — “Ooo look, a trackball!” — but I was happy thank you very much with the model I was using.

Enter the iPhone. This game-changing cell phone really rocked the cell phone market, bringing handheld computer functionality, true web browsing, and downloadable applications through the iTunes App Store. So my co-workers decided everyone needed an iPhone. I wasn’t about to turn that down, so for the last year or so I’ve been carrying around two cell phones: one for home, one for work. No doubt, the iPhone is sexy and fun to use. But it isn’t perfect.

The iPhone is great at everything, except for use as a phone. True web browsing using Safari: fantastic. Seemless integration with my desktop: flawless. Tons of cool, entertaining, and useful apps to download and play with: oh yeah. Use as an iPod: serviceable. Use as a phone: horrible. I’ve visited the AT&T stores a couple of times, and complained that I can’t use the cell service — 3G or non-3G — when I’m at home, and they say I’ve got towers all around me. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. And that is a shame. Sorry, Apple — AT&T let me down on that count. And if I can’t use my phone as a phone, that is a dealbreaker. Oh yeah, no laptop tethering modem, at least not now and probably not later without an extra monthly charge. And I HATE HATE HATE the on-screen keyboard. I could probably live with the on-screen keyboard if cell service worked at home. But as it stands now, with AT&T the only carrier, I’m not switching to the iPhone to replace my personal phone anytime soon.

New to the smart phone market is Google with their Android platform. I’ve been eyeing the HTC Hero, which looks interesting, but I really want a physical QWERTY keyboard! The Motorola Droid isn’t available on Sprint. The¬†Samsung Moment is on Sprint and has a slide-out keyboard, so I need to visit the Sprint stores again and investigate that one more fully before making a purchase decision.¬†Unfortunately, no tethering with any Android phone, at least not without hacking, which I’m just not interested in getting involved with. I want my phone to just work, not just get bricked because I tried to jailbreak it or just lose functionality because my hacks got overwritten by a system update. On the plus side for Android is the fact that I’m a huge Google user — integration between a Google phone and my Google apps would be sweet…

So that brings me back to Blackberry. The Tour and the Bold both look very tasty. Full QWERTY keyboard, software I know will just work, and the web browser is much better than the one on the phone I have now. And tethering is available without hacking the phone!

If I could live with on-screen keyboards, I might suck it up and get the iPhone or the HTC Hero. However, the Blackberry Tour or Bold seem to offer everything I want in a smart phone, even if they aren’t the hot, sexy technology right now.

So these are my options. And it is a wonderful thing to have options. The downside is no one phone gets it all just right.