Android vs. webOS

Posted on August 2, 2010


Computerworld- Sharon Machlis- As a Palm Pre user who doesn’t want an iPhone but is disappointed that webOS is falling behind in cutting-edge app availability, I’m leaning toward Android when I next upgrade my mobile phone. But while it’s obvious that Android is currently far ahead of webOS in choice of both apps and hardware, what about the many other features I want in a smartphone?

I’ve had access to a loaner Droid X the past couple of weeks and can now compare the two platforms. And I discovered the Palm/HP entry isn’t behind in all aspects of the mobile experience.

When it comes to multitasking, webOS is still the leader. While Android can have multiple apps running at once, only one opens on screen at a time. With webOS, you can have several windows open and flick between them. I definitely miss this very handy feature when using the Droid X, although it did help to have a feature where a lengthy press of the home button brings up a screen with my six most recently used apps.

The Palm Pre also uses a more elegant approach to the touch screen for some tasks than does the Droid X. For example, on webOS I can just flick an e-mail message off the screen to delete it. On the Droid X, it’s a lengthy touch on the screen to bring up a menu where I must then choose delete.

And, when I’m done with an application window on the Pre, I can just flick it up to close it, or swipe between open windows. On the Droid X, I need to hit a button on my hardware to go back or head home.

It also took some time on the Droid X to figure out when to hit the hardware menu buttonand when to touch the screen to bring up an in-context menu (although to be fair, two weeks with one device isn’t equivalent to more than half a year with another).

That said, though, there are many areas where Android shines. WebOS simply won’t have the array of hardware choices that Android does, and the Droid X is one fine piece of hardware. Although a little large in a form factor for a phone — yes, it fits in my pocket, but just barely — it’s surprisingly not very heavy for its size. It feels almost like a mini tablet that happens to have a phone, with an attractive 4.3-inch-high 854 x 480 display.

The Droid X camera takes surprisingly nice photos for a phone (well, surprising if your standard is a 3 megapixel built-in), which I found handy when seeing a nice view of the Boston skyline while not carrying my “real” camera. The Pre actually takes pretty nice photos for a 3M camera, but you simply can’t compare that with Droid X’s 8 megapixels.

I liked the home page customization better on the Droid, allowing me to touch an area to add a shortcut or widget to that spot. You can drag shortcuts around multiple screens on the Pre, but I find that process somewhat cumbersome, occasionally sending a shortcut off to the next page when I just wanted to move it one spot over.

Unlike the original Droid, the Droid X doesn’t have a hardware keyboard, which is a major drawback for me. (Although that first Droid physical keyboard wasn’t all that appealing; after a few minutes trying to type on one, I solidified my decision to go with a Pre). I find the Droid X software keyboard somewhat tolerable when I used the device on its side, where I finally have enough space to tap the right key on my first try. Still, typing takes me at least twice as long on the Droid X as it does on the Pre, and I make many more mistakes. I am going to opt for a device that includes some sort of slide-out keyboard, even if it means making other compromises.

What surprised me, though, is that I came to miss the screen-based keyboard for simple text input, such as typing a short URL into the browser, and began to get annoyed when I had to keep opening and sliding out the physical keyboard on the Pre just to type a few letters. I expect to be looking for my next device to have both types of keyboards.

Within its software environment, Droid X offers scroll bars as you move up and down a list — not only in a browser, but in other screens such as the Gmail app. This is something that is missing on the Pre — even the browser doesn’t have a scroll bar, so you’ve got no idea how long the page is that you’re looking at. Hopefully newer versions of webOS will correct this.

The Droid X browser also seemed better at storing cookies so you don’t have to keep logging in someplace over and over.

But without question, one of the key advantages of the Droid platform is the applications. More and more, important applications are being written for iPhone first and then Android and/or BlackBerry. Unless HP finds a way to get back in that app race and also expands available hardware options, my next device is likely to be running Android.

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