My first hand-on comparison between Nexus S and N900

Thu 29 September 2011

I was for a year more or less happy owner of the Nokia N900. Then a week or more ago, it suddenly stopped charging the phone. One day it was running on battery although the cable was plugged in and in the evening it just went down because the battery was completely depleted. I took the phone to the shop only to find out that they will ask me over 1800 CZK (over $100) for the repair.

In this situation I started to think. I had some complaints about N900 already and I started to think about jumping the boat anyway. The biggest one being that the hardware was apparently not powerful enough to run applications I wanted to run. 256MB is just not enough for Python applications (e.g., an excellent gpodder which I sorely miss now) not mentioning Firefox (which is for many reasons condition sine qua non for me). When I run these two together, whole machine changed into something unbelievable. Of course, I was also worried about the future of the platform, now when the mission of Nokia is to sacrifice itself on the altar of saving Microsoft phone OS (or whole Microsoft?).

So, I have asked my contact person with my phone carrier and I was offered subsidised Samsung Nexus S for around 4,000 CZK ($225). I have agreed and week later I got it by mail. The first impression was great … comparing to the N900’s brick-like design (and weight ;)), I got a slim gorgeous curved beauty. Given my FLOSS fascism I was decided to put CyanogenMod on it asap, which I managed to do in less than an hour or two. Which given I had absolutely no knowledge about unlocking, rooting etc. of phones (a witty remark about honest phones having nothing to hide to be inserted here), and some troubles between udev and USB cable seems like pretty decent time to me.

Whole phone and Android seem comparing with N900 like a finished end-user product, comparing to sometimes hairy and hackish N900. There are no obvious gaps in the basic applications (who in the world thought that the Maemo calendar is supposed to be taken seriously?) and I was nicely surprised that the lock-in to Google Apps could be avoided and connecting to my own server (Zarafa 7.0.1 via Activesync) was completely painless (switching to open protocols, i.e., IMAP, CalDAV, and CardDAV, to be resolved later, but currently I have a working setup).

Also, Firefox on my phone works quite well and I can happily use it as my default browser (so far, I am on Aurora, and contemplating switch to Nightly).

So, that's a good part. Now for the bad. It is like going through the beautiful meadows and from time to time fall into deep whole with mud and other junk. I heard in the past couple of years many complaints about Pulseaudio. Well, I have to say there are worse things than Pulseaudio. For example, not having Pulseaudio at all, which is the case with Android. So, suddenly instead of the integrated experience, I had to learn about HFP and HSP, A2DP and similar magic (and see bugs like this one, or another one; I am encouraged that these are most likely duplicates, because apparently bug triage at the Android issue tracker is even worse than in the Red Hat bugzilla ;)). So, now I have to battle with silly applications like BTmono while with N900 whole listening over BT headset Just Worked™ (needless to say, that free BTmono is just a crippleware made to induce users to buy a better one; those things didn’t happen with my Maemo repos either). And even BTmono doesn’t work correctly, so when I listen to the podcast, I cannot telephone.

Second thing where N900 is clearly better than Android is the core function of the phone. Telepathy just rocks. Apparently Gingerbread made a breakthrough and it integrates at least a SIP client, however, surprisingly Google’s phone doesn’t include native support for Jingle over GTalk. I won’t mention for friends of free software native support for Skype at N900. Whenever I heard on some TWiT podcast how they discussed whether it would be possible to add Skype application to iPhone/Android/something I was amused because of course it was always included and well integrated in my previous phone (it is just a bit in the Maemo’s Addressbook which decides which protocol is used). The same goes for instant messages, and after a year of using N900 you will have a hard time to explain me why in the world I should I care about the difference between ICQ messages, IRC, Jabber, or even SMS message.

The third sad story are FLOSS programs for Android. I thought that given the huge number of users and developers working on Android the situation should be same or better as on almost abandoned (or actually completely abandoned) Maemo. And yet, it is not so. Relation between free software and Android seems to me like a hopeless effort to reinvent the wheel. Software repositories, packaging community, isue trackers are in the Linux world all invented, working, and boring. I am not sure if I found everything but it seems to me that the biggest free Android repository f-droid is just a Wordpress blog. Feels embarrassing. There is no community of package managers, no issue tracker, nothing. I guess backtraces from the apps also go to nowhere, right?

Moreover, I have a deep suspicion about the quality of FLOSS apps for Android. The second most important activity for me to do with my phone (or even the most important one, measured by the time I spend with it) is listening to podcasts. I know there are some paid-for apps which are probably pretty good, there is Google Listen (which is non-free and even more binding to the advertising agency, aka AA, ecosystem) which seems to work pretty well, and there are … as far as I was able to find so far two FLOSS apps (I don’t count PonyExpress, because AFAIK it is just one-producer tool; LazyWeb, can you suggest me other application?): SwallowCatcher and Car Cast. Testing of the second one was fast … podcatcher which doesn’t support import of OPML file with my current podcasts is out. So, now I have SwallowCatcher and I hate every moment I have to deal with it. I have to be fair, this is quite obviously pre-alpha release thing, so I shouldn’t be too harsh on its author, but given it is the only app I found, it makes me really sad. Is it just problem of the underlying libraries or the author’s problem it is not able to restart interrupted download? Combined with the fact that exactly during the download the app crashes constantly (so I have to try download of one show three times on average)? And yes, my wi-fi connection is quite crappy on my home network, but that’t probably just because Nokia can do much better hardware than Samsung, which was expected, and I won’t hold it against Android.

I understand that multitasking on Android is brokenHHHHlimited, but playing of the long podcast just to happen in background. When I send SwallowCatcher to background (by pressing Home key) playback stops. Fortunately it stores the downloaded files so that Google’s Music is able to find them, and that works correctly, but I shouldn’t have to do it manually (e.g., gpodder just doesn’t pretend and uses a system music player for the actual playback).

Talking about an embarrassment, this post is way too long and I should stop it, and it structure is awful. Oh well. I will rather send it out now and not keep it in the Drafts folder anymore.

Category: computer Tagged: android review