Settling in to the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket

It’s been over three weeks since I made the jump from my aged Blackberry Pearl to the latest greatest Android phone. With a week or so remaining to change my mind, it’s very likely I’ll stick with the Skyrocket. It is far from perfect and I have spent more time in the last month reading mobile device forums and reviews than I care to admit. I also have made several trips and calls to various mobile phone stores. The advice and information I found is consistent; despite my remaining complaints, the Skyrocket appears to be among the best choices in a very imperfect field of contenders.

The most egregious issue is battery life. The information I received over and over again is that all the devices with full size touch screens burn power much more intensely than my old Blackberry. It seems that many people charge their device at some point during the day and the couple friends I checked with corroborated this. The Skyrocket may be even more power hungry than most (LTE, dual core, large screen), but phone store salespeople unanimously agreed the difference is not significant and that my usage would yield similar results with other devices.

Mitigating this involves having an arsenal of charging equipment and, in particular, equipment that handles the higher power requirements of the Skyrocket (look for 1000 mA/port instead of 500 or 750). So I ordered a variety of USB adapters and cables including a single port AC adapter, two port AC adapter, and two port car adapter, all made by Griffin. Forget buying this stuff at Best Buy or the phone store and paying $20-30 for a USB cable. Instead pay under $2 for a perfectly good USB cable from Amazon.

I also ordered the Minty Boost, which charges from a pair of AA batteries and will be useful for long excursions (like spending an entire day walking around San Francisco) where there’s no chance to plug in. The Minty Boost is a kit that requires soldering, which I look looking to doing but may not be for everyone. It works with any phone and takes the place of buying additional proprietary batteries that only work with a specific phone.

The next issue is email. I have not found a solution that works as simply or as well as Blackberry and the Blackberry Internet Service. While all Android devices require a GMail account, none of my mail goes through this account or through the phone’s native email app. I use email apps from Yahoo and K9. The Yahoo app is so-so but it provides a push email service (also so-so). K9 is a good client as long as periodic polling works for you. In comparison, email on the BB is simple, elegant, flexible, reliable, and fast.

I’ll pile on with a bit of paranoia; the expectation and bias with Android is that GMail will be your email provider or that you will route all your email from other services through your GMail account. I would be shocked if Google were not gathering piles of intelligence about you, your email correspondents, and contacts by analyzing your email and every contact stored in your Android device (probably your GMail synced calendar as well). What ever happened to “don’t be evil?”

Gripe number three is the calendar. With the Blackberry, creating an appointment took four or five clicks/gestures along with typing in the name of the appointment, about eight seconds total. With Android, the overhead is about 10-20 clicks/gestures and it takes 25 seconds. There’s no way to change the default reminder behavior and setting up a standard 15 minute alert must be done for each and every appointment. The term “tedious” comes to mind. Perhaps there is a calendar app available that would work better.

The Skyrocket does not include a flashing LED notification light like all Blackberries have. This would be practically a deal breaker if not for a free app called No LED. It substitutes for the flashing LED by floating a low-light message on the screen. This consumes more power and is far less noticeable than the flashing LED. But it takes away some of the sting.

The Skyrocket’s speed, connectivity, and screen are the reasons to keep it. Speedwise, I wait for nothing (except Zynga ads that take over the phone every time I play a new word). It doesn’t seem to matter what is open or whether I close things. Apps launch quickly and everything works or plays without a hitch. Browsing on the phone itself or using it as a mobile hotspot is fast in Seattle connecting over 4G HSPA+ and even faster in San Francisco over 4G LTE. I have yet to drop a call and various spots all over town where my BB consistently lost service show at least two bars on the Skyrocket. The screen is simply stunning. Whether it’s Words with Friends, Google Maps, reading, browsing… the screen is a joy to use.

And then there is the wonderful world of apps. There’s an app (or 50) for every conceivable purpose, many free with ads or a few dollars without ads. I can adminster my production Linux server over SSH using ConnectBot, play sudoku with Sudoku Free, find the nearest bus with One Bus Away, or sync wirelessly with Outlook on my desktop using MyPhoneExplorer. Oh, and the 8MP camera works well, too.

But generally speaking I’m irked. RIM absolutely nailed email, contacts, and calendar years ago. If only RIM had improved the web browsing and multi-media experience and done more to encourage third party apps, they still would be the undisputed smartphone leader. Instead they are following a path analogous to Sony. The Sony Walkman was once the king of portable music. But after years of total market domination, there was no significant innovation and a newcomer leap frogged them, not in terms of functionality but in terms of design and useability. I had hoped Android might do the same thing to iOS, but for the time being I’ll have to learn to live with disappointment.

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