Getting to Know Android Phones

Wb hen Google introduced Android, it was certain that a device that operated on Android follow close behind. Then T-Mobile jumped on board and the official announcement came: The new "Google Phone" would soon be released for the world to see.

As with nearly every device announcement these days, that announcement brought false information and speculation about what the device would look like, what it would include, and what it would do. Then came the delays. Initially expected to be available during the first or second quarter of 2008, the phone was delayed to the third quarter of 2008.

On October 22, 2008, the first "Google Phone" finally made its long-awaited appearance. Lots of flourish and hype preceded the device unveiling, and plenty of good and bad reviews followed it. People loved the full keyboard, but hated the fact that the device is T-Mobile specific. They loved the Google apps and hated them. It was uncertain how the phone would go over with the public.

-Mobile G1 -Mobile myTouch

Overview of Software and Applications

Device Security

Device Security

Then the device—called the T-Mobile G1—hit the market, and sales proved that people loved it.

The T-Mobile G1 is a good device—solidly built and intuitive to use. It's also the first device to feature Google's Android platform. More Android devices will come in the future, but this one has already earned a place in people's hearts, so let's learn a little more about it.

The T-Mobile G1

If you're just getting the T-Mobile G1, you'll find that it's fairly easy to use. You need to figure out just a few buttons, shown in Figure 2.1. Most of the functionality is built into the touch screen capabilities. (If you already have a T-Mobile G1 or myTouch, you've probably figured out the phones, so feel free to skip ahead to the second part of the book where we cover applications, or even Part III where we cover Android.)

The T-Mobile G1 is shipped with everything you need to use it, including the following:

■ Stereo Headphones

■ Soft cover/pouch

FIGURE 2.1_

The T-Mobile G1 has a few buttons and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

FIGURE 2.1_

The T-Mobile G1 has a few buttons and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

One thing you won't find in the box is a car charger. Although this would be a nice addition, one rarely comes with any phone. Fortunately, the G1 charges through a USB cable, so if you have a car charger with a USB slot, you're in business.

The Buttons

The T-Mobile G1 has a very Spartan appearance. On the front of the device are five simple buttons and a trackball, shown in Figure 2.2. Table 2.1 explains the buttons and their functions.

The buttons control more functions than you might think because you use two types of presses for different functions. The first press is a normal key press that you use to access the main function of the button. The second press lasts a couple seconds longer; for some buttons, that long press brings up additional menus or functions.

FIGURE 2.2

The buttons on the G1 are easy to find and the functions are fairly obvious.

FIGURE 2.2

The buttons on the G1 are easy to find and the functions are fairly obvious.

Table 2.1 The G1 Buttons and Their Functions

Button Name

Function

Press to begin a call from a highlighted number in the Contacts list or on a web page. Long press to open the Voice Dialer. Press to open the call log.

Press to answer an incoming call while on another call. Press to display current call information.

Home Key Press to return to main menu screen from any application.

Long press to open a menu of the last six programs you've accessed (called the Applications window).

Menu Key Press to open a menu of available commands on any page.

Press once then long press to flash a menu of shortcuts on pages where shortcuts are available.

Press twice to wake the phone from sleep mode and unlock the screen.

Trackball Navigate and scroll pages, links, and other functionality within a page. Moves selection up, down, right, and left. Press to select an option or click a link.

Back Key Press to move back to the previous screen from any location.

Press to dismiss a dialog box or menu and return to the previous screen.

End Key Press to end a call.

Press to send the phone to sleep.

Long press to bring up a menu that allows you to enable or disable silent mode or to power off the phone.

When the phone is off, press to turn it on.

In addition to the main buttons on the front of the unit, you'll find a button on each side of the device. On the left side is a volume button (see Figure 2.3). Press up (+) to increase the volume, down (-) to decrease it. Pressing the button during an active call increases or decreases the call volume. Pressing the button when no call is active increases or decreases the ring volume; within applications, the same button controls the application volume.

The button on the right side of the unit, shown in Figure 2.4, controls the 3.2 megapixel camera. To activate the camera, start at the Home screen (that's the main screen) and then press and hold the camera capture button. (If you try to activate it from any other screen or application, the camera won't open.) Then press the button again to take pictures.

FIGURE 2.4_

The camera button activates the camera and takes pictures.

FIGURE 2.4_

The camera button activates the camera and takes pictures.

Be warned: The camera application that comes installed on the G1 is a little slow. You'll experience a 2- to 3-second delay from the time you press the button until the time the shutter actually opens and closes to capture the shot. If you're not patient, you could end up with some blurry photos.

You can also press the camera button halfway down when taking pictures to prefocus the picture so that it shoots faster. However, the button is difficult to push, so doing this can shake the phone and result in blurry pictures. Sometimes it's smarter to press the button completely and then hold the phone steady while the camera focuses and shoots.

One way that issue has been addressed was in the update to the Android 1.5 firmware. The update included a new on-screen button for the camera. Once you've framed your shot, simply touch the on-screen button to take the picture. A mini-preview window also appears on the screen to display the last picture taken.

The G1 also has a full QWERTY keyboard, shown in Figure 2.5. The keyboard is backlit, making it easier to use in low-light conditions, and the buttons are raised enough that they make a satisfying click when pressed. People with large hands may have trouble using the keyboard because the keys are small and fairly close together. A good way to get around this is to use a soft-touch stylus to press the keys—a stylus also works well on the touch screen of the device.

FIGURE 2.5

The G1 has a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard for typing messages, numbers, and other data.

ONE TOUCH DOES NOT EQUAL ANOTHER

If you're new to using a touch-capable device, you might not realize that one type of touch device isn't necessarily the same as the next. In the past, touch-screen PDAs and phones could be used with a stylus, a pen-like device with a plastic tip instead of an ink tip. The stylus made touching (or clicking) the smaller options easier and could be used for input, including handwriting recognition.

Another feature added with the Android 1.5 update is the on-screen keyboard. The keyboard, similar to that which can be found on an iPhone or iPod touch, gives you most of the controls that can be found on the slide-out keyboard. A few of the keys (most notably the Menu key and the Search key) are missing, but it's otherwise fully functional.

A nice feature of the on-screen keyboard is that you can add sound and vibration to confirm keytouches or you can turn the on-screen keyboard off entirely if you don't want to use it. You'll find these controls by pressing the Menu key. Then select Settings > Locale & text. Deselect the first instance of Android Keyboard to turn the keyboard off, or touch the second instance of Android Keyboard to adjust the settings to your liking. You may have to play with them some to find a combination that you're comfortable using.

Screen Icons

The G1 is a touch-screen phone, which is why the device itself has so few buttons. Most of the functionality is available through the three-panel touch screen. Most of your interaction with the phone takes place on the main touch screen. You can add to or remove the basic icons as desired.

Standard on the main touch screen are five icons and a clock:

myFaves—The My Faves icon is specific to the T-Mobile service, so if you're using the G1 on another service, you won't see this icon. T-Mobile users know that this represents the people listed in the My Faves category of the phone. You're allowed a specific number of My Faves, depending on the plan you've selected with T-Mobile, whom you can call and receive calls from for free.

The cool thing about the touch capabilities of earlier devices, called resistive touch, is that they worked based on the amount of pressure placed on the screen of the device, so you could use a specialized stylus, a pen cap, or even your fingernail.

However, the touch capabilities of the G1 are capacitive touch capabilities, which means that the screen reacts with the electrical impulses in your fingers. In other words, a normal stylus won't work with the T-Mobile G1; you must use a specialized stylus.

Fortunately, capacitive styli are easy to find and cost $5-$20, depending on where you get them.

Dialer—Here you access your onscreen dial pad, your call log, your contacts, and your favorites.

n Contacts—This takes you directly to the Contacts screen within the dialer. From this screen, you'll see a list of contacts that you can select, edit, change, or add to.

H Browser—The browser enables you to surf the Web on the phone. When you touch this icon, the web browser opens to the page you've set as your home page or to the default home page, if you haven't changed the settings.

QMaps—Maps were a big selling point for Google when the G1 was announced. When you touch the Maps icon, you activate a Google Maps application that enables you to use GPS or Wi-Fi to find maps, get directions, and even locate yourself.

In addition to this main screen, you have a right screen and a left screen. The right screen contains the Google search box, so you can search without having to launch your web browser. The left screen is blank except for the background. You can access these screens by sweeping your finger to the right or left across the face of the phone.

On either of these screens, you can add icons for the applications that you access most frequently. Chapter 3, "Basic Use of Your Android Phone," includes instructions for how to add and remove icons on any of the three screens.

On the main screen of the device, you'll also see a small gray arrow either at the bottom of the screen or on the right side of the screen, if you've changed the view to Landscape mode (see Figure 2.6).

Another neat feature that was included with the Android 1.5 update is the ability to use the accelerometer to automatically change your screen orientation. Just by flipping your phone you can move between portrait and landscape viewing modes. To enable or disable this feature go to Menu > Settings > Sound & display then select or deselect Orientation.

This menu indicates that you can choose among other application options. You can touch and drag the arrow to open the menu to explore additional program options. When you're done, touch or touch and drag the arrow to close the menu.

Menu Button

Menu Button

FIGURE 2.6

The arrow at the bottom or side of the screen indicates a menu of further application options.

The top of the screen also shows a status bar (see Figure 2.7), where you can see icons indicating the status of your service. These icons include indicators for wireless service, cellular network service, time, and battery life. Other indicators appear in the status bar as they are needed, including GPS and Bluetooth indicators, missed call icons, email icons, appointment and text message notifications, and download and installation indicators when you're adding new applications to the phone.

FIGURE 2.7_

The status bar at the top of the Home screen gives you a quick look at phone and application status.

FIGURE 2.7_

The status bar at the top of the Home screen gives you a quick look at phone and application status.

The status bar offers than meets the eye, however. At any time, you can expand the status bar to take a closer look at notifications by simply placing your finger on the status bar and then sweeping down toward the bottom of the page. This opens the bar so that you can see and clear notifications that appear. When you're done, close the status bar by touching the small dot on the bottom of the page and dragging upward, or by pressing the Back key.

The T-Mobile myTouch

The newest Android offering as of this writing is the T-Mobile myTouch, shown in Figure 2.8. This second generation Android phone is only slightly different from the T-Mobile G1. Most notably, there is no slide-out keyboard on the myTouch. That means the device is slightly smaller, a little curvier, and a whole lot sexier. But it doesn't mean you're losing functionality because the keyboard is missing. It just means the device is designed a little differently.

FIGURE 2.8_

The T-Mobile myTouch is the second generation Android phone with a sleek new look.

Remember earlier in this chapter when we mentioned that there are a couple of keys missing from the on-screen keyboard? Well, on the myTouch, they've just been relocated to the handset, as shown in Figure 2.9. The trackball is still in place, but surrounding it there are now six keys on the handset: Home, Menu, Back, Search, Send, and End. The keys perform all the same functions, they've just been slightly rearranged.

The Search and Menu keys are now on the device

The Search and Menu keys are now on the device

FIGURE 2.9_

Because there is no slide-out keyboard on the myTouch, there are a couple extra buttons on the front.

FIGURE 2.9_

Because there is no slide-out keyboard on the myTouch, there are a couple extra buttons on the front.

There is also no camera button on the side of the device. Instead, you'll have to access the camera using the Camera icon and the on-screen buttons designed to take pictures (so, that's why they were included in Android 1.5!). The camera, incidentally, is a 3.5 megapixel camera, but there's still no flash.

The only other real differences between the G1 and the myTouch are internal. The myTouch is designed to process a little more efficiently (read faster) than the G1. A new group of applications, called the "T-Mobile App Pack," will allow users to interact more closely with T-Mobile. There's also an application, called Sherpa, included that is a presence-type application, meaning it can make more of the things that you do with your phone convenient to the time and place you're using the phone.

Of course, the myTouch is also a little more customizable from an appearance standpoint. A variety of new casing colors and designs is available, as are skins for the newest member of the T-Mobile family. A few different accessories are also included with the myTouch. A zippered case is among them, which we're assuming is in response to the horrible case that came with the G1.

Overview of Software and Applications

Now that you know a little about using your phone, let's take a quick look at the software and applications installed on the Android phone. Most of what makes Android phones such ground-breaking devices is the software. Sure, the devices are pretty sweet, but other touch phones do as much or more than the Android phones.

The operating system, Android, really sets the devices apart from other devices. We touched on Android a little in Chapter 1, "The Theory of the Android Phone," so you should be familiar with its history—but there's much more to it than just history.

The concept of Android is important—along with its capabilities, of course. When Google decided to invest in Android, it formed the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), a group of 47 mobile device manufacturers including Google. The OHA is dedicated to making mobile devices that are cheaper, easier to use, and more functional—which is precisely why it chose to invest time and resources into the development of Android.

Android in Brief

We stated earlier that Android is an operating system, but it's really more than that. It's a stack of technology built specifically for mobile devices that includes an operating system, middleware, and key applications.

This stack of software includes everything from the framework to specialized pieces of software such as a virtual machine that facilitates the optimization of memory and hardware resources to connectivity technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

The whole package is built on a Linux kernel that supports customizations and changes as developers improve on the applications they're building for the platform. This makes the Android platform different from the platform on which other mobile devices are based because developers can take advantage of all the phone's capabilities.

For example, developers have created a social media application that enables members to track the actual physical movements of other members using the GPS capabilities of the device. When two users who are connected are within a specified radius of each other, they can receive notifications and set up an inperson meeting, if they like.

This illustrates another capability of the Android system that other platforms don't have: Android allows multitasking to use multiple apps at once. Thus, developers can design applications to take advantage of the full range of technology built into the phone.

The idea with Android is to give developers the freedom they need to create applications that are truly useful in the moment, instead of being useful only when it's dictated that those applications should be. For example, using Android, application developers can add modules to applications to make them useful when you're performing a specific task at work, as well as when you're performing that task at home. However, you can keep those instances separate, so there's no confusion between work and home activities. This is a genius idea. Why force people to use applications that they might or might not find useful? Why not allow those same people to create their own useful applications?

Granted, not everyone has the skill set to create applications for a mobile device, but you might be surprised by how many actually have those skills. Many people have developed an understanding of programming languages, even if it's not their primary career.

Because Android applications are based on Java and all the tools to create the applications are free in the Android SDK, anyone with the time and inclination can create applications for the device. What's more, because so many people are creating these applications and sharing the code—because it is open source—developers can apply the best parts of one application to another application, to create even richer applications.

Android also doesn't differentiate between core applications and third-party applications, so there are no blocks in the functionality that's available for any application from the Android Market. These applications perform on Android just like the applications that come preinstalled on the device.

Core Applications

The core applications that come installed on the Android phones are pretty basic applications. You'll find all the main functionality that you would expect to find with a smart phone, except perhaps a productivity suite of

applications. The G1 has a full keyboard and both devices have on-screen keyboards, so that's one group of applications (at least, the document and spreadsheet portion) that you might expect to see. However, because Google makes those productivity applications available online, it's possible that the decision was that they wouldn't be needed directly on the device.

The only 18 listed applications originally installed give you access to most of the basic functions that you'll need:

■ Alarm Clock—The alarm clock is responsible for the clock icon that you find on the Home screen. Within the application, you can set up to three alarms and choose from five styles of clocks to display when the alarm sounds. Note, however, that changing the alarm clock display does not change the clock display on the Home screen.

■ Amazon MP3—The Amazon MP3 application takes you to a mobile version of the Amazon MP3 website, where you can browse, buy, and download music directly to the device. Chapter 8, "Breaking Boredom with Entertainment Options," contains more information about the specific capabilities of Android's music capabilities.

■ Browser—The built-in web browser was developed using WebKit, the same platform used to build the Google Chrome browser. It's unique because it allows separate and multiple instances of web pages. That speeds browsing but also increases security because each instance is a contained browsing experience. This means that if you run into malware in one instance and close that browser page, other browser pages that you have open aren't affected. Each time a page is closed, that instance is closed completely and doesn't bleed over to any other open instances.

■ Calculator—This is a basic, functional calculator. It's not scientific and it doesn't do anything fancy, but this is one of the most used items on my device. We're amazed by how much more often we use a calculator when we have one with us all the time.

■ Calendar—The calendar is tied into Google Calendar. If you have a Google Calendar account, you can sync it with the calendar on the device. You can configure syncing to happen at whatever interval you find most useful. You can keep your calendars always in sync and you get reminders on your phone.

■ Camera—The 3.2-megapixel camera built into the Android phones takes good-quality pictures, although it has a slight delay during the picture-taking process when the camera focuses. You'll improve your picture quality when you get accustomed to the delay.

■ Contacts—Contacts are tied to your Gmail account, if you have one. When you change and update contacts on the device, the contacts on your Gmail account also are updated on the next sync of the device. The device has space for several numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, and a picture icon of the contact. In addition, you can set specific ringtones, add company information, or add notes about the contact.

■ Dialer—This is the number pad from which you dial calls or enter numbers in response to automated call systems. You won't find anything special here, but it is a requirement for a phone.

■ Email—You're not tied to Gmail with the Android phone (although that's probably the most useful email account you can have if you use an Android-based phone). You can set up any web-based email account within Android so that you can access your email wherever you are.

■ Gmail—Gmail comes preloaded on the device, along with the email options just mentioned. If you have a Gmail account, you can simply sign in; then each time you receive a message, you're notified on the phone.

■ IM—The instant-messaging application works with AIM, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger. Sign in and you can receive your IMs wherever you happen to be.

■ Maps—Google Maps has even more functionality on the Android phones. You can search maps, get directions, and use Street View for a street-level view of your destination. Of course, it's available only for places where web cams are active, but you might be surprised by just how many places that includes.

■ Market—This is the Android Market connection. Through Android Market, you can download hundreds of other games and applications for your phone.

■ Messaging—This text-messaging application enables you to send SMS or multimedia messages.

■ Music—The music player on the Android phones is basic. You can add music via the Amazon MP3 app or by loading it to the MicroSD card. Then you can sort it by artist, album, song, or playlist using this application. When you find the song you're looking for, select it to play it through the built-in speakers or your headphones.

■ Settings—You manage all your device settings from this application.

■ Voice Dialer—You can dial the people in your contacts using voice commands. You can also access the Voice Dialer by pressing and holding the green Call button on the device.

■ YouTube—Yep, this is YouTube built right into your phone. Just click the icon to go to the YouTube site, where you can browse, search, and play videos.

The core applications come preinstalled on all Android devices, but they're not the only available applications. A whole world of applications awaits you in the Android Market.

Third-Party Apps

Developers who have created applications for the Android platform release those applications in the Android Market. Google kicked off application development for Android with a Developer Challenge, which resulted in hundreds of application submissions for consideration.

A small handful of applications were chosen to compete. Among them were Cooking Capsules (a small app that connects to podcasts that teach users to cook specific dishes), EcoRio (an app that tracks your carbon footprint), and ShopSavvy (an application that scans bar codes and then compares them with prices on the Web to help users find the best price).

Those first few applications opened the door for hundreds of others in 13 categories:

Communication

Entertainment

Finance

Games

Lifestyle

Multimedia

News and weather

Productivity

Reference

Shopping

Social

Tools

Travel

Demo software also constitutes a category, although demos are often included in the category where the application belongs. You'll also find a category for software libraries that developers use in conjunction with other applications. For example, this category includes a text-to-speech (TTS) engine used with various applications, including a mapping capability. With the mapping application, you simply speak the directions onto the map so that you don't have to keep looking at your phone while you're driving.

The software library is another way for developers to share common elements of applications. Several other applications use the TTS engine, so it's made available for everyone to use; individual developers don't have to duplicate it. This element also needs to be installed on the device only once; each application that needs it then can reach out to that single instance to access the application that's installed.

An astounding variety of third-party apps is available. Many developers have improved on core apps, adding functionality beyond just the basics; others have created completely new applications. For example, several applications have already been developed for health care professionals, construction workers, traveling businesspeople, and busy people like us who need to have their to-do list with them all the time.

And because Android is open source, developers will continue to develop specific third-party applications and release them in the Android Market. User popularity will also drive the type of applications that are released. Over time, the selection will continue to grow and the types of applications that are available for the device will likely meet just about any need that you can come up with. And if no application suits your needs, you can always create one.

You do need to have some programming knowledge to create apps. For that, turn to Part III, "The Android Platform."

Device Security

We've touched a little on security from the application standpoint. In the browser, especially, the Android-enabled phone provides more security than others. But what about the actual device security?

If you're worried about someone picking up your phone and going through the data that's on it, or if you're concerned about someone using information on your phone if it's lost or stolen, you have an option: You can lock the device using a lock pattern that you draw by connecting at least four and up to nine dots on a security screen, as shown in Figure 2.10.

FIGURE 2.10_

Create an unlock pattern that's specific to you to further protect your phone from prying strangers.

FIGURE 2.10_

Create an unlock pattern that's specific to you to further protect your phone from prying strangers.

DEVICES AND YOUR PERSONAL SECURITY

Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the United States right now. More than 10 million people fell victim to identity theft in 2007. It's scary to think what a criminal can do to your credit, your identity, and your self-esteem with the right information.

Most people don't realize that they carry much of the information that's needed to steal an identity on a mobile device. If you have your personal information—name and address, telephone number, date of birth—on your device, you're opening the door for an identity thief. That little bit of information is all someone needs to get to a lot more. Unfortunately, far too many people have that much information and far more (bookmarked accounts with saved usernames and passwords, for example) on their mobile device. If their phone is lost or stolen, they're at risk. Note that recycling or just plain tossing a phone out can also be just as dangerous.

To set the lock pattern for your phone, follow these steps:

1. From the Home screen, touch the Menu button and select Settings.

2. Touch Security and Location.

3. Touch Set Unlock Pattern. You're taken to a screen that gives directions for setting the pattern. Read them and then touch Next.

4. Read the next directions that appear, along with a brief display that illustrates how to draw the pattern. Touch Next.

5. On the next screen, draw your pattern. When you're satisfied with it, touch Continue.

6. You must confirm your pattern on the next screen by redrawing it. When you're satisfied with the pattern, touch Confirm.

7. You're returned to the Security and Location screen, but now notice that the Require Pattern and Use Visible Pattern options are selected. If you want to use these settings, you're done. You now must enter your set pattern before the phone is activated.

Now anyone who picks up your phone cannot access it unless you provide the lock pattern. If you think the lock pattern you've selected has ever been compromised, you can go back through those steps to reset it.

We urge you to keep minimal personal information on your mobile devices. If you must keep personal information on them, practice safety. Keep the phone on you at all time. Never carry it in your purse with your wallet. Don't leave it in the car to be stolen. And always lock the device.

Identity theft is a crime that can take months to years to discover, and by that time, the damage may already be done. What's more, it can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars to clear up the damage (assuming that you get it cleared up at all) and take more than 600 hours of your time. Be cautious.

And if you really like a good, scary story, check out The Truth About Identity Theft by Jim Stickley. This book walks you through the truths about identity theft that you might not know. You'll certainly be able to better protect yourself when you've finished reading it.

To turn off the lock pattern, go back to the Security and Location screen and deselect the Require Pattern option.

When the lock pattern is enabled on your phone, you can still make emergency calls without unlocking the phone. All other functions are disabled until the correct lock pattern is entered.

Android 1.5 also has an additional security feature that didn't exist in the previous version of Android: the ability to set up a SIM card lock. This allows you to lock your SIM card so that anyone who picks up your phone will need a PIN number to access it.

To set the SIM card lock, go to Menu > Settings > Security & Location and select Set up SIM card lock. On the next screen, select Lock SIM Card. A Lock SIM card dialog box appears. Type in the pin that you want to use and touch OK. Now your SIM card is locked and you'll have to have the PIN to access it. You can also change the pin at any time by selecting the Change SIM PIN option. Just remember, once you set the PIN, if you forget it, you can't access your own phone.

Closing the Door

By now, you should be comfortable with the location of all the buttons on your phone and how to navigate the various touch-screen menus. You may also have chosen to pattern-lock or SIM lock your phone to keep others away from your personal information.

Next up, we run through some of the basic operations of the phone: managing calls, messages, and the like. In Chapter 3, we also cover some of the essentials of syncing your phone with online services and your computer.

CHAPTER

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