Android phones are popping up like meerkats, so we took the finest of the current and upcoming Google mobiles and pitted them against each other in a battle of the little green men
Google's open-source operating system for mobile phones, Android, is gaining momentum, rolling like a snowball and accreting new handsets as it goes. HTC showed how it could be done with the first Android phone, which it released with T-Mobile as the T-Mobile G1. But at the souped-up speed of the mobile market, it's practically a museum piece already, as a heap of new phones have sprung up with their own flavours of Android.
Three new manufacturers have just entered the fray with the Samsung Galaxy, the Motorola Dext and the LG GW620. For the robot-lover on a budget, HTC has come up with the entry-level HTC Tattoo, while pay as you go is now an option thanks to the T-Mobile Pulse. The force is still strong with the HTC Hero and HTC Magic.
If you're overwhelmed by the options for getting on board with the little green robot, read on for the Android-vs-Android showdown. Each phone will have its moment under the microscope, and finally we'll bring them together with a table comparing the crucial features -- and price -- to see who comes out on top.
Click 'Continue' to size up the HTC Hero.
We judged the HTC Hero (also known as the T-Mobile G2 Touch) to be the first real rival to the all-conquering iPhone, and gave it a spectacular score of 9.0 in our review.
HTC took Android to the next level by slapping a custom user interface on top, called Sense, which gives the user epic customisability and merges your contacts and photos with Facebook, Twitter and Flickr like never before. Thankfully, it's not as Bruce Forsyth ugly in person as it looked in photos, and smart details such as a revamped virtual keyboard and a Teflon coating that resists fingerprints make the Hero truly crave-worthy.
Although Sense helped make Android beautiful, plenty of geeky irritations remain from the era of the T-Mobile G1 -- such as having to manually mount the phone every time you connect to your PC using a USB cable. And the UI wasn't as fast as we would have liked, although HTC's hoping the recent firmware upgrade will help with the sluggishness, especially on the home screens.
Next up, we take a carpet ride with the HTC Magic.
The HTC Magic was the second Android phone, but the first one that really floated our boat, and it marked the launch of HTC as the go-to brand for robot-powered phones.
The Magic is still the best-looking Android phone, thanks to its curvy body and lack of giant chin, unlike its cousins the T-Mobile G1 and the HTC Hero. With the glut of new Android phones coming out, the price of the Magic is sure to drop, and we'd be proud to proffer this powerful phone.
Except for its trim looks, the Magic doesn't have much over its Android competitors, and it only has the default Android user interface, with no special tweaks. There's no standard headphone jack either, and the battery life is pathetic.
Click on to see the saviour of Motorola, the Dext.
The Motorola Dext resurrects the slide-out Qwerty keyboard, which we haven't seen since the T-Mobile G1. But can it resurrect the fortunes of the once-great Motorola?
Moto has built its own flavour of Android by adding its own user interface tweaks, which it calls Motoblur. The focus is squarely on social networking, with plenty of popular sites such as Last.fm, Facebook and Twitter integrated into the address book, the messaging application and widgets on the home screens. Motorola says it's worked with Orange, which has an exclusive on the phone, to make data transfer as efficient as possible to improve battery life, which is often terrible on Android phones.
It's handy to have the option of a physical Qwerty keyboard, but it does make the Dext a little chunkier than its sleeker Android rivals, and we think that its looks are on the boring side. Also, this is Motorola's first Android phone, and it says it has more in the works -- and with Moto's history of great-looking phones like the Razr, it may be worth waiting for its second attempt.
We look forward to putting Motorola's claims to the test when we do a full review soon, but in the meantime check out our hands-on photos and video of the Dext.
Next up it's Samsung's OLED effort, the Samsung Galaxy.
The Samsung Galaxy is threatening to steal the crown of the HTC Hero as the new flagship Android phone. Ahead of our forthcoming review, here's a taste of what's orbiting the Galaxy.
With phones such as the i8910 HD, Samsung showed its mastery of the OLED screen, and we're slavering to see this bright, low-power screen will show off the Android user interface. In our hands-on with the Galaxy, we found that the all-glass capacitive screen was fast and responsive, and there's 8GB of memory on board as well as room for up to 32GB on a microSD card. There's also potential for some decent photos, thanks to the 5-megapixel camera and LED light.
Samsung has left Android almost untouched, and although we like the vanilla version, we think we'll miss the extra widgets and the social-networking features on the HTC Hero and Motorola Dext. That being said, we think it's better to leave well alone than slap a poorly thought-out UI on top, so maybe it's for the best.
We leave the Galaxy to check the pulse of the first pay as you go Android phone, the T-Mobile Pulse.
The T-Mobile Pulse is the first pay as you go Android phone, made by Huawei but sold exclusively by T-Mobile under its name.
Buying the Pulse on pay as you go will cost you hundreds of pounds less than picking up one of itsAndroid competitors SIM-free, but the Pulse is no cheap-and-nasty budget phone. It has a few good extra features on top of the standard Android, including three decent virtual keyboards, and most of the time, it's fast and responsive enough to get by. It's also got the biggest screen yet on an Android phone: 89mm (3.5 inches).
The Pulse did have some corners cut to make it affordable, and it feels slightly plasticky compared to the other options out there. It also struggles to keep up with our lightning fingers when we tried typing at full speed, which is a major annoyance. Nevertheless, we think the Pulse punches well above its weight.
You can read our full review of the Pulse, or carry on to the upcoming LG GW620.
The LG GW620 is mining a similar vein to the Motorola Dext, offering an unspectacular-looking phone with a slide-out Qwerty keyboard.
LG has unveiled the GW620, but it's keeping it's mouth shut on the gory details, including whether the phone will have an Android version of its S-Class spinning-cube UI. We do know it's targeted at social networkers, which means yoot without heaps of cash, so we don't expect to see an epic price-tag on this phone.
LG says it's going to launch a bucketload of smart phones -- 13, in fact -- running Windows Mobile 6.5 in the next 16 months. With all that effort going into WinMo development, as well as its non-smart phone stable, we wonder if there are enough humans in the world for LG to employ as phone developers if they're plugging away at Android too. With other Android phones coming up with innovative stuff, the GW620 could end up as a half-hearted also-ran.
Time to take it down a notch with HTC's entry-level phone, the HTC Tattoo.
HTC is filling out its range of Android handsets with the HTC Tattoo, which promises to the cheapest contract Android phone yet.
The Tattoo not only has HTC's Sense user interface -- already seen on the HTC Hero -- it also tries something new by offering custom, switchable covers. With a good spec, including HSDPA for fast surfing over 3G and all the power of Android, we think this could be one Tattoo we'd recommend to our little brothers and sisters.
The Tattoo saves some cash by replacing the traditional Android trackball with a four-way navigation pad, which takes up far more space and doesn't look half as cool. On the other hand, we hardly use the trackball anyway, so we may not miss it. But the resistive touchscreen may ruin the party.
If you could really use a table to wrap up all this Android info into a neat package -- with prices -- you've come to the right place: just click 'Continue'.
After all that, we need a refreshing table to clear our minds and focus on what's important. Here's our view of a couple key features, and the pros and cons of all of the Android phones we've mentioned.
Update: We have updated the table with another contract at a lower price for the Samsung Galaxy -- O2 is offering it for free on a £39.15-per-month, 24-month contract.