So, I wrote a native Android app. It’s my first Android app and it’s now published in the Android market. This app helps you find the latest health inspection scores and health violation details of the restaurants in the following counties in Northeast District of Georgia, US: Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton. If you have an Android device with Gingerbread and up, go ahead and give the Athens GA Northeast District Health Inspection Records app a whirl. Bug reports are greatly treasured. 🙂
The Motorola Atrix
Where do I begin? Less than 5 months after living with the Nokia N8, I jumped ship to an Android device, the Motorola Atrix. Following a botched repair, I earnestly began shopping for an Android phone. This post will attempt to explain my thought processes in selecting the Motorola Atrix, describe some awesome features of the Motorola Atrix and moan about the downsides. 🙂
Being with ATT, I was limited to the devices in their stable of Android phone and based on my criteria, my choices (1st quarter of 2011) were: the Samsung Captivate and the Motorola Atrix. I was going for a device that would be ‘future-proof’ but good enough to satisfy my tastes now. For tinkerers, Motorola’s Android phones are a major turn-off because the company made the decision to “sign” the bootloader for a good number of their Android phones, including the Motorola Atrix, to prevent the loading of custom ROMs a.k.a. custom/homebrew phone operating systems. This means you won’t be able to load CyanogenMod on your Motorola Atrix. However, I was not too concerned about this because up to this point, my *only* experience with an Android phone was the painfully slow Google G1. So, I was more than eager to run the phone with Motorola’s custom “skin” i.e. user interface (UI) replacement for Froyo (Android 2.2.x) which is called MOTOBLUR.
Without further ado, here are some criteria I looked at in picking the Motorola Atrix:
- No less than 16GB of internal memory with ability to add a microSD card. Adding this requirement essentially removed several Android phones offered by ATT because smartphone makers are being chintzy. The reasons I am insistent on having this much space on my phone are:
- I won’t worry about not having enough space on my phone for apps or map data if I chose to pay for a mapping application like NDrive or Copilot, etc. Living with the G1 for several weeks made me vastly appreciative of a phone (like the Nokia N8 and the Motorola Atrix) which had a lot of space. With the Google G1, I got so sick of the “apps to the microSD” option because my apps would become inaccessible when I mounted the card to get *any* files off. Then, when space got low on the G1, I would end up not being able to receive text messages or get mail delivered. So, I say to you: don’t settle for less when it comes to space!
- I have a ton of data, music & video files that collectively occupy over 4GB of space and growing. By starting out at 4GB, you are already operating at a “space deficit”. By heading out of the gate with that much space in my pocket, you can delay for the eventual need for a microSD card. Nevertheless, I already got a 16GB microSD card which I store my documents and miscellaneous downloads on. 🙂
- Decent processor speed to help with multitasking and to take advantage of increasingly technically complex and console-like games on the Market. Living with a low-powered Android device in 2011 (like the G1) is torture; For full disclosure, even though the Nokia N8 has 256MB of memory, I understand that the Symbian operating system is engineered to require fewer resources. With the Motorola Atrix, I rarely experience delays in launching apps or playing any of my HD games. In fact, the Atrix boasts an Nvidia Tegra 2 chip for gaming and has 1GB of RAM.
- Sharing as a feature: I use this word to loosely describes features that are ‘enabled’ on this phone to help get data on/off the device, to either the internet or elsewhere.
- HDMI-out is always a nice plus to have with smartphones. This feature was one of the draws of the Nokia N8 for me. Going with my future-proof theme, I can already see myself doing presentations or sharing contents through my Motorola Atrix to an external screen thanks to HDMI-out (HDMI accessory cable is provided with the Atrix). Pairing the HDMI out feature with your documents stored on Dropbox or Google Docs can mean you won’t ever have to carry a USB stick with that Powerpoint presentation with you all the time. 🙂
- Front-facing camera for IM chatting and a decent 5 mp camera on the back. There are hundreds of photo editing & sharing apps on the Android Market and my current favorite for sharing & editing is PicPlz. In second & third place, respectively, are the Adobe Photoshop Express app and PicSayPro. My husband doesn’t believe in the smartphone gospel, but I’m still working on him. I have no doubt that he’ll be blown away by this feature if I’m ever able to “FaceTime” with him. Technically, I can’t FaceTime with him (it’s an Apple protocol), but I can rattle off 3 Android apps that support video calls using the front-facing camera: Qik, Fringe, Yahoo Messenger, etc . 😛
- Widgets & Skin: MOTOBLUR is a custom “skin” by Motorola for their Android phones including the Motorola Atrix. This skin comes with several cool features & widgets which allow you to add popular services to your phone & thus, cut the need (in my opinion) for mods or hacks. The images below show the options. MOTOBLUR does a great job of supporting the major social networking sites; In fact, private messages on sites like Facebook & LinkedIn are viewable through the “Universal Inbox” which is a really cool concept; For networkers/connectors, you will find the integration of your social media contacts to your phone book (which can be filtered out!) to be really cool. 🙂
Overall, I’m really digging this phone. However, this powerful phone is not without its glitches.
One of the biggest problems with the Atrix is the Atrix has a random reboot issue.
I haven’t been able to duplicate the problem on demand, but this problem takes away from the Atrix’s otherwise awesome qualities. I’ve had the Motorola Atrix randomly reboot when receiving a call, making videos, playing games, etc so I haven’t been able to duplicate this issue. The only thing I know is: it’s a recurring problem & dealbreaker for people.
Since the release of the Motorola Atrix, there have been 2 software updates issued. The first update for the Atrix updated the phone to version 4.1.57 and fixed a slew of issues such as:
- Bluetooth: Improved multimedia experience with Bluetooth devices as well as the ability to use phone with other headsets
- Fingerprint reader: Improved fingerprint reader performance
- Battery: Improved battery performance for longer battery life
- Screen: Display will turn off automatically now while charging directly on wall charger
- Phone stability: Improved stability resulting in fewer occurrences of touch unresponsiveness and/or programs quitting unexpectedly.
- Car dock: Improved performance of car dock and 3.5mm jack
The second OTA update upgraded the Atrix to 4.1.83 (Android 2.2.2) and fixed a bunch of issues like:
- Data Speed: Increased potential data speed.
- Data Connection: Improvements to limit interruptions to data connection.
- Screen: Improvements to prevent screen from freezing.
- Email: Improved ability for users to receive email notifications so you know when you have a new message. Also, improvements were made so that you are now able to use the same email login to get access to both MOTOBLUR™ and YouTube.
- Skype: Improvements to call audio function so it is easier for the person you called to hear you. Please note this application is not pre-loaded on the phone, but is available for download from the Android Market.
- Wi-Fi: Increased functionality by enabling Yahoo Email to be sent over a Wi-Fi connection.
- Display: Improved International Roaming Warning Message by simplifying user notification so that it only appears on the screen when you move to a new network.
- Happenings Widget: Improved Happenings Widget to ensure that you receive the latest updates across the social networks you are connected to such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.
- Calling: Improvements were made to incoming and outgoing call functionality to ensure a more seamless experience.
I’m happy to report that these updates actually worked and fixed some of my problems with the Atrix 4G. I’ve also been impressed with the update process for the Motorola Atrix which has remained drama-free meaning I haven’t inadvertently bricked/damaged the Atrix like I did with the Nokia N8 for attempting an update.
The update process goes like this:
- AT&T sends you a notification when the update is ready and you can choose to download them or postpone later.
- After downloading, you are also offered the chance to install the update then or postpone the update.
#ProTip: you should never attempt an update without ensuring your phone is 100% charged or on AC power. Here are some screenshots showing what the update process for the Motorola Atrix looked like:
Another area the Atrix needs polishing is in the camera app. Tapping the Camera icon brings up the screen for taking photos in anywhere from 2s to 5s. Then, tapping the Shutter button & saving the snapped shot takes anywhere from 2s to 5s depending on the phone’s mood. The lag definitely takes away from the spontaneity of just whipping out my phone to take pictures because I can never tell if I’m going to have more trouble with the phone rather than just worrying about the scene in front of me. Hopefully, the Motorola folks are working on an update to make the built-in camera feel less like beta. 🙁
Lastly, if you haven’t heard, the Netflix app for Android is available for select Android phones but not the Motorola Atrix. If you can’t wait to watch Netflix movies on your computer or TV, then keep this limitation in mind. No word on whether Netflix is actively working with Nvidia/Motorola to make this happen on the Atrix.
My next post about the Motorola Atrix will have images of the phone, accessories, software and more. Stay tuned and don’t forget to subscribe.
Getting a Smartphone? Get a data plan too.
One of the things I was concerned about (before splurging on an Android Phone) was the fact that I didn’t have a data plan. I got my first cell phone from AT&T in 2004 and after dabbling with the awful pay-per-use data plan, I opted out of their data packages. Back then, their data plans were ‘pricey’ to my still-broke self. Now (around the coming of the iPhone), most carriers require data plans so you won’t suffer this problem. These days, you should tack an extra $15 – $30 a month to your cellphone bill with data plans from the popular carriers. 🙂
In any case, I am still without a data plan and missing out on a bunch of cool applications.
I have since discovered that the *really* fun applications (barring games) require an internet connection. Yes, WiFi is good, but when you’re on the road, you’re out of luck. Without further ado, here are the “things” I (meaning you) am missing out on without a data plan:
Free Google Maps navigation
If you aren’t ready for paid Android navigation apps like Ndrive, Navdroyd, Copilot, the free Google Maps app is your next best bet. To use Google’s free turn-by-turn directions, you need a constant internet connection. However, you may be forced to use an offline maps utility which consumes space on your microSD card. I’ve currently got an 8GB Transcend microSD card in my G1 phone and planning an upgrade to a 16GB Transcend microSD card in order to take advantage of offline maps like Ndrive (North America maps for Ndrive consume nearly 6gbs of space which leaves me little room to install apps on my current 8gb microsd card). I’ve got a license to Ndrive navigation software that is begging to be used!
Geo-location is the rage these days (see: FourSquare, Yelp, Gowalla, Whrrl, etc). It’s not my cup of tea so I won’t be telling the world where I am or where I’m not (unless I want to send a not-so-subtle message about how quickly I’m climbing a non-existent social ladder). That said, unless the restaurant/club you’re in has free WiFi, no checking in for you. The same goes for the Twitter/Facebook apps for Android. Unless you’re at home (in which case, I would be using my laptop), you can’t use these apps without an internet connection. Without WiFi, you’re out of luck. I wouldn’t be writing this post if there was free WiFi was as pervasive as cell phone towers.
As you know, the Android phone is tied really closely to your Google account. I mean, contacts + calendars are all synced from your Google online account to your phone. This means, changes made to your contacts + calendars made from your phone won’t show up instantly on your online Google account if you aren’t connected to WiFi at the moment. If you’d had a data plan, you wouldn’t be worrying about when the carrier pigeons will ferry your data from your phone to your Google account. 😀 It’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve obviously survived thus far. It’s a pain, but workable.
That said, I’ve found my Android phone to be useful even without a data plan. In the Android Market, there’s no shortage of apps that don’t need an internet connection. For those old school people without a data plan (raise your hands in the air/ wave ’em like you just don’t care … actually, it hurts.), here are some recommended apps to pass time with until your next WiFi connection:
You can do … anything (almost)
Take your pick. On my G1, I’ve got the following apps that contain things I can consume until my next WiFi connection.
- Note-taking:Writers/BloggersArtists are incurable note-takers so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I swear by the Android app from Snaptic called 3banana notes. Even though I haven’t used any other because I can’t imagine anything that is simpler than this app, I love it. You can jot down anything that comes to mind, append images/location data & your notes are stored on your microSD card or phone to be synced to your Snaptic account or Google account!
- Factbook: Support the Android developers It’s a paid app and it is pretty much a copy of the freely available (online) CIA Factbook which has been ported to the Android phone. It comes in a pretty GUI and should keep you full of random trivia.
- The Holy Book (Bible, etc): The free bibles out there are mostly the King James’ version of the bible which is freely available on Project Gutenberg. The others are just fancy versions like NIV, etc. Simply read the reviews or test out the Bible apps to find “the One”.
- The Dictionary: I used to read dictionaries as a hobby when I was younger. I don’t do that enough these days, but with the ColorDict app, I can fill my head with more highfalutin’ words than necessary.
- Fresh of a recent reformat to install Cyanogenmod v. 6 (a.k.a. Froyo), I’m on the hunt for a good Android app to let me save articles from my browser to read them later. Basically, an Instapaper-like app for Android. I’m still looking so feel free to chime in with recommendations although I’m not sure this would work as I hope because it would require some syncing to go on from my browser to my phone and thus require an internet connection.
- Books: Pick your favorite eBook reader (I’ve settled on FBreader which has a simple eBook application for the Windows platform) and download hundreds of free eBooks from publishers around the world e.g. Smashwords, Feedbooks, etc. FBReader offers an easy way to browse and download quality reading material. When browsing the catalogs, FBReader offers more options for searching for books by authors, subject, languages, popularity, etc. , it’ll offer you a more ‘animated’ list of options.
- Medical ‘trivia’: I’m a fan of filling my head with largely useless tidbits of medical information (not a fan of the Michael Quach style of trivia apps polluting the Android marketplace). I’ve spent well over $100 on medical apps from Skyscape. Sidenote: Skyscape rocks for allowing me to transfer my apps from device to device. Then again, the Skyscape apps aren’t just $2 – $10 apps and if the previous phone is truly retired/dead, transferring is the least they can do. BUT Skyscape didn’t give me the run-around and that says a lot about their company.
- Have Fun with Exercise/GPS: With apps like RunKeeper and CardioTrainer, you can track more than just calories burned with your exercise routine. If you’re just curious to see what your daily route looks like on the computer, there is the My Tracks apps that can track and create an easily shareable file (i.e. gpx, kml or csv formats). Be warned that should you attempt to multi-task while recording a track, you’ll loose your spot on the map and have to restart. I can not wait for GPSed to be available on the Android market. I loved the GPSed app (I upgraded to the GPSed Pro version) on the Windows Mobile system and it rocked my world by making my commute less lonely. 🙂 Sidenote: The GPSed App is available as a .jar file and this can be apparently converted to Android package (.apk) file although I didn’t get that site to work and there might be another option for converting .jar files to .apk files.
- Fun with Pictures: I’ve got the paid PicSayPro application on my phone and it’s been a great app to edit the 3 megapixel photos I’ve taken with the G1. There are other photo editing apps available such as Adobe’s Photoshop Express, Urbian Inc’s Retro Camera, etc.
I’m sure I’m missing out on other things I can do even without a constant data connection (listening to music is blindingly obvious) so expect another post with me belaboring the point that I probably am better off getting a data plan soon. 🙂 Cheers!