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10 Things Android Does Better Than Symbian:

10 Things Android Does Better Than Symbian

I’ve been using an Android-powered HTC Eris from Verizon for over a month now, and it’s been quite an interesting experience. I’ve wanted to check out an Android-powered smartphone for a while now, and honestly, I was dead convinced that after using one, I would hate Symbian forever. While that’s obviously not true, I have come across several things that Android completely dominates Symbian on, and wanted to share them with you.
1. Change the defaults – One of the cool things about smartphones is the abundance of 3rd party applications, including web browsers, messaging applications, and the like. Unfortunately, in Symbian, there’s no way to set these 3rd party applications as the default for certain actions. This is annoying, for instance, if you prefer to use Opera Mobile as your web browser,  instead of the default one. Any link you click on the phone will automatically open in the default browser, no matter what. With Android, you can change the defaults for anything, including the browser and messaging quite easily, with no hacking required.

2. Browsing – the default web browser on Android is noticeably faster than the Symbian one, specifically for large websites. It’s also much smoother to use, and seems to be more accurate when clicking links. The Android browser also offers visual bookmarks, which is handy to get a peek at each webpage, and these are updated when you open them, too.
3. Multiple homescreens – No Symbian-powered smartphone currently offers more than a single customized homescreen, though this is supported in future versions. The Samsung i8910 OmniaHD actually offers 3 ‘panels’ in its TouchWiz UI, but no other Symbian-powered smartphone offers multiple customized homescreens. On the HTC Eris, I have 3 with the native homescreen, or 7 with the HTC SenseUI homescreen. This is awesome and gives me more room for widgets and shortcuts to contacts or applications. The HTC SenseUI even allows me to save my homescreen setups as ‘scenes’ that I can quickly switch between – for home and work, for instance. To be quite honest, though, 7 homescreens is absolutely ridiculous, and I have trouble remembering what’s on each one. 3 is much more manageable and realistic, in my opinion. Both are better than the single option we have with Symbian^1. It should be noted that Symbian^3, which should be on devices later this year, will support multiple homescreens, so there’s some improvement being made. (the white bar above ‘phone’ indicates the current homescreen in the photo here).
4. Integration – this is the big one that Symbian really needs to get on board with, specifically on Nokia’s handsets. When I got my HTC Eris, part of the initial setup process asked if I had a Google account, and if I wanted to login with it. I did so once, and magically, all my Google Mail, Google Contacts, Google Calendar, and Google Talk info was copied down to the device. Others have reported that when they logged in with their Google account on a different Android device, their apps were downloaded, too. On my Nokia N97, I have to separately download, install, or otherwise setup my Ovi Mail, Ovi Contacts, Ovi Calendar, and Ovi Chat accounts, and nothing from the Ovi Store is downloaded, no matter how many times I change devices. I also have to repeatedly login to these services, whereas on Android, my account is always logged in. It’s an incredibly seamless experience, and even better is that it carries over into the browser. When I launch the browser, it automatically logs me into Google there, so I can browse as me, too. The PIM functions also sync automatically in the background on my HTC Eris – no need to download, sign, and install Swim like I do on my N97.
5. Notifications – the top of the display on Android devices is for notifications. In a small strip, you can easily see the time, battery level, signal strength, system indicators (GPS, WiFi, etc), and a set number of application notifications. On Symbian, this same area takes up twice as many pixels and offers a fraction of the information. This notifications feature is perhaps the most convenient part of Android, and one that I feel is overlooked. On every other platform, new messages, emails, etc pop up in your face and you pretty much have to do something with them. With Android, these notifications are tucked out of the way in the notification bar until you pull it down to do something with them. This allows you to manage things on your terms, rather than interrupting your workflow. There is also a convenient ‘Clear Notifications’ button to quickly dismiss everything.
6. Applications – the App Market on my Android phone allows me to browse by popularity or date added, neither of which are available on the Ovi Store (Update: this feature is now available in the Ovi Store). It also has a usable search function that actually returns relevant results, which the Ovi Store search function doesn’t always do. While browsing the App Market on Android, I can click to install an app, and then continue browsing while that application is downloaded and installed in the background. I’m also notified when there are updates available for the applications I have installed, something Symbian doesn’t do (yet), but should.
7. Onscreen keyboards – the onscreen keyboards on Android were clearly designed for touch – specifically the portrait QWERTY. Compare below, and you can easily see why it’s actually usable, compared to the one stuck on the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic.

Also, the onscreen keyboards on the HTC Eris are contextual – if I’m in the browser, I’ll have quick access to a ‘.com’ button and the backslash or @ sign. If I’m texting, those shortcuts won’t be there. On Symbian, all the keyboards are the same, and none of them have handy shortcuts like that to make my life easier.
8. Notification LED – on my HTC Eris, there is a small LED at the top right of the front of the phone, above the display. This is a multicolor LED, and developers can activate different colors for different things. I can also choose which events prompt the LED to flash and for how long. A great example of how useful this is comes with Handcent SMS, a replacement app for messaging. Handcent SMS allows me to setup unique notifications for various contacts, including the color of the notification LED. I could, for instance, set it so that when Mrs. Guru texts me, the notification flashes pink. When my brother texts me, however, it might flash blue, and when I get a twitter notification, it might flash green. This is something that Symbian needs really bad, as I firmly believe that visual notifications on most other platforms is seriously underutilized.
9. Platform Updates – this is a two-part point. For one, any updates to Android devices are delivered over-the-air, period. There is no need to find a Windows-powered PC or any of that – it’s all done over-the-air. Symbian devices have gotten better about this, but both Nokia and Samsung continue to release firmware updates through their PC-only applications, which is lame. The second part is actual platform upgrades. When you buy a Symbian-powered smartphone, you get whatever version it comes with – S60v3, S60v3 Feature Pack 2, S60v5, etc, and that’s all you get. Most Android-powered smartphones shipped with either v1.5 or v1.6 pre-installed, and nearly all of them have been officially slated for the newer v2.0+ upgrade. This is a big deal, and now that the Symbian source is free and open source, I wonder if we’ll start to see opportunities to update later handsets like the N97 Mini to Symbian^2.
10. Sell In The U.S. – as my friend Zach at pointed out to me, Android does a much better job of getting along with the 4 major carriers in the U.S. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider that in the U.S., the vast majority of phones are sold through carrier subsidies, that’s a big deal. Symbian has suffered in the U.S. as neither Nokia, Samsung, LG, or any other manufacturer has been able to really get any major carrier on board with the Symbian platform. To be fair, Nokia has done a decent job, lately, but not without letting the carrier rape the device with countless ‘customizations’ that strip out functionality and freedom. Android, on the other hand, usually launches with little to no customization from the carrier, save for a few preloaded apps such as navigation and whatnot. I’m definitely hoping that Symbian manufacturers are able to grow a backbone soon to get us cool smartphones without the carrier raping.


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