Tech Note: Android Smartphone

i-bdf8e337e1119c38816542da9296a20b-samsung-galaxy-spica.jpg

I recently switched from a 2008 smartphone running Windows Mobile to a Samsung i5700 Galaxy Spica that runs the open-source operating system Android put out by Google. Here are some impressions after two weeks of use.

  • I really miss the old phone’s hardware keyboard. Typing on the touch screen is slow and error-prone, especially since the Swedish layout has to cram in three extra keys. And for some reason the Swedish dictionary never makes any word suggestions. What’s up with that?

  • Everything is so much prettier under Android than under the 2008 version of Windows Mobile.
  • The web browser finally works equally well as desktop software. Among other things, it will allow me to blog from a tree-top in the woods again.
  • I love the ease of finding, downloading and installing new software under Android.
  • The Spica offers a respectable maximum volume on its audio output, which is a big improvement over my old phone.
  • Finally I can use the GPS to find my way around and for geocaching (Geobeagle!) without paying for an on-line map service. Google Maps piped straight into my handset for free, yay!
  • Google Listen is a really slick podcatching client. Sadly one of my favourite podcasts, Radio Lab, hasn’t made sure that its feed works there.
  • I can’t get the dedicated Gmail client to work, but the generic e-mail client works well for that purpose too.
  • The “PC Studio” Windows software intended to allow USB cable communication with the handset is ugly and bloated and I can’t get it to work. All I want is for the phone to act like a USB memory stick, OK? Can anybody suggest a good alternative for Linux?
  • In order to get the SD memory chip out of the Spica you have to open the case. Poor design.
  • Question: I have a html file on my SD card. How do I make it my web browser’s starting page?

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Comments

  1. #1 David
    April 6, 2010

    First of all, you should probably upgrade it to 2.1
    http://www.swedroid.se/samsung-slappper-2-1-uppdatering-for-galaxy-spica-i5700-tips (in swedish).

  2. #2 Martin R
    April 6, 2010

    Thanks, I will!

  3. #3 Janne
    April 6, 2010

    For what it’s worth I just got my Sony-Ericsson Xperia Android smartphone. To mount the phone as a USB volume I just plug it in, drag down the notification bar from the top, then tap on the note about USB being connected. It pops up a dialog asking if I want to mount the SD card or not.

    The screen is big enough on the Xperia that I can type both Swedish and Japanese with respectable speed on it after a few days of practice (yay! Finally a phone that lets me use both languages!). One thing that helps me a lot: turn on the option to vibrate as you press keys. The feedback really improves my accuracy.

    It’s only sort of possible to render html files using the browser currently, though a fix is apparently in the works. Here’s the details: http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=2454

  4. #4 Martin R
    April 6, 2010

    To mount the phone as a USB volume I just plug it in, drag down the notification bar from the top, then tap on the note about USB being connected. It pops up a dialog asking if I want to mount the SD card or not.

    And what OS are you then running? With what sort of software installed for the purpose?

  5. #5 Ray Ingles
    April 6, 2010

    I’ve had a Droid for the last couple weeks and I’m really enjoying it. Much fun.

    To see an html file on the SD card, try this:

    file:///sdcard/directory/file.html

    Note: Three forward slashes after “file:”!

    The Droid, too, uses the same mounting procedure. Bring down the notification page, select the ‘USB connected’ message, then click on the ‘mount’ button. At that point, the card shows up on the PC like any other flash drive. (BTW, while it’s mounted on the PC, the card is not accessible to the phone.)

    Once you’re done (and you’re sure data is finished transferring!), you can either use the notification page to unmount the card from the PC (which makes it visible to the phone again), or else unplug the USB cable. Probably safer to unmount it first, though.

  6. #6 Moopheus
    April 6, 2010

    Your complaint #1 is the reason I went with a Droid, to get the keyboard.

    I do find the GPS feature handy when I’m out on a long ride on my bike.

  7. #7 Martin R
    April 6, 2010

    Sorry Ray, the file:/// prefix doesn’t work under Android.

    Will see if I can make sense of the USB thing. Thank you!

  8. #8 jrb
    April 6, 2010

    Looks like the “file:///” thing is an Android 2.1 fix. Try using the format:
    content://com.android.htmlfileprovider/sdcard/example/file.html

    Reference:
    http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=2454

  9. #9 Janne
    April 6, 2010

    “And what OS are you then running? With what sort of software installed for the purpose?”

    Ubuntu 9.10, unmodified, no special software. It shows up as a USB volume right in Nautilus, just like a USB stick or digital camera.

  10. #10 jj
    April 6, 2010

    I love my Droid! Way better than my WinMo6.1 phone.

    A great app out there (in the app store) is the RomManager – not too sure if there are many custom ROMs out there for your phone, it’s pretty sweet to be able to overclock the CPU up to 1Ghz (using SetCPU on a rooted ROM). Also with the rooted ROMs you can get into the guts of the OS. My main reason for doing this was to delete all the stock ring tones (using root explorer app). You’ll get sudo!

    Also with RomManager you can partition your SD card to enable app installs on the SD card itself.

    TIP! – To add MP3 ringtones to the list, create a folder on your SD card called “RINGTONES” and drop your MP3′s in there. They’ll show up once you unmount the device.

    You’re phone should mount as a USB device automatically (you have to tell the phone to mount when plugged in).

  11. #11 jj
    April 6, 2010

    I can’t get the dedicated Gmail client to work, but the generic e-mail client works well for that purpose too

    I’ve become a fan of the “k-9 Mail” app, available in the market. I too had a bit of trouble with the Gmail app, and found it a bit more user friendly than the native app (there was some glaring reason why I made the switch on a recommendation from a forum, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was exactly.

  12. #12 jj
    April 6, 2010

    PS – Signatures. That’s what it was. Then native email app did not have an option to setup a signature (for all I know that’s been updated). And I like to have the stamp on my emails letting people know it came from my phone, and that’s why I’m being a bit short with them.

  13. #13 Martin R
    April 7, 2010

    Upgrading to Android 2.1 was complicated, but I made it — after a false start with “New PC Suite”, an aborted attempt with ODIN, and finally a successful instal with NPS.