The Genius Of Android: Phones At Every Price Point


Right now, you can pick up a new Android phone for less than $100, or you can spend $840 on a Honeycomb-equipped tablet, and there are dozens of options in between. And that right there sums up the biggest advantage of Google’s open-sourced approach to smartphones: it can offer something for everyone.

This week, Google’s I/O developer conference is taking place in San Francisco, and it’s inevitable that we’ll be hearing about some cool new Android features as a result. In celebration of that event, we’ll be focusing on Android all this week, looking at what’s currently available, what’s coming in the future, and how to make the most of Android as a phone buyer and an app consumer. And in kicking off that coverage, it seems worth celebrating what has proved to the biggest advantage of Android: the range of devices on which it is available.

For Australian consumers, this hasn’t always been the case. When the initial tickle of Android devices began in the US, it was barely a dribble over here. Early attempts to launch bargain-basement phones (such as the planned Kogan Agora) ultimately came to nothing, and for much of 2010 we still only had a limited range of carrier-supported phones, many of which were stuck on version 1.6. While there was always a whole lot to love about Android phones — easy Google integration, no need to sync with a PC, and a range of apps in an open app store environment — device and network choice took a while to come to fruition.

If you examine the current Android space, though, there’s no doubt that choice has finally arrived. The cheapest Android phones now provide a realistic competitor to bargain-basement supermarket phones, and a competitor which provides way more functionality. In the main market, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson offer a massive range of options. And in the tablet space, the arrival of Honeycomb has kick-started a market which last year consisted of a handful of devices, many of them decidedly minimal in their feature set.

That’s certainly not to say that Android is perfect. A quick but probably not exhaustive list: carriers can still provide an unpleasant roadblock to getting updates; the open market approach can pose security challenges; manufacturer enhancements are often a waste of time; and we’re still seeing a lot of hardware hit Australia rather later than elsewhere in the world.

Nor does that mean that the non-Android choices aren’t viable. Indeed, the competition between Android, Apple, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7 and Symbian is a key reason why smartphones have got as good as they have so quickly. But I can’t imagine Apple (for example) working hard on building an iOS-enabled device that sells for less than $100.


  • Put bluntly, most of Android’s biggest strengths are also its biggest weaknesses. The openness, and ability to customise, and modify is an attractive and powerful gift to some, but also creates security issues, and risk of damage to the devices software to others.

    Similarly, its openness allows it to be suitable for a wide range of devices including as the article points out – sub $100 devices. While I am sure Apple COULD market a sub $100 iOS device, such a move wouldn’t sit with their existing “premium” brand status, and iOS is obviously a closed software platform unavailable to other manufacturers. However, this also works against the software platform by creating a scenario where hardware manufacturers then become responsible for (slowly) re-configuring and distributing update software (an act which yields little or no financial incentive for those brands).

    Due to the fact that source code is available to all, Android is also available in various home-cooked variants. Fantastic if you want your own third-party software, which can unleash more power and usability from your device, which might not be available if you stuck with your OEM firmware; but again, the negative of this is that this can lead to a lot of mis-information floating about from those who aren’t as skilled as they like to think they are.

    My personal advice is, if you’re looking for something just “just works” without having to be overly concerned regarding possibly grey-ware and malicious third parties; get an iPhone.

    If you want a powerful software suite learn, customise and grow with and you are also comfortable with a potential risk and confident to resolve it – go with Android.

    • I agree with most of your description on Android’s strength and weaknesses, but I differ on your final statement. I think with the current crop of Android phones, especially from HTC, they work just fine out of the box and does not require much tinkering. Yes, update is still a big issue with many Android phones, but for those who wants a phone that “just works”, will unlikely to be too fussed about future updates. Any of the current Android phones running Froyo will more than suffice this group of customers. And those that really care about what version of OS they are using, are likely to be comfortable with flashing different ROM’s.

      • This.

        There’s a reason Windows is used far more than whatever Apple is calling their OS these days, because it works on computers at all price points.

        In my case I could buy a nice phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, certainly couldn’t do that on an Apple device.

        • Similarly it’s the reason that Linux hasn’t cracked the Desktop market yet!
          It doesn’t “just work” despite what the Linux officiandos say.
          If I can’t get it to work 100% (and yes, I have tried, most recently with LinuxMint 3 months ago, which installed fine, and then rebooted to a blank screen.. some issue with X I presume), sure as hell none of my mates can and my parents have even less chance.

          • That might be true for desktop Linux (I can’t comment on it as I have not used it extensively myself), but it is not the case with Android phones. I would say older Android phones had some issues and don’t always work properly, but recent releases running Froyo have been more or less trouble free out of the box. Yes, some companies like Motorola ruins it with an interface that lags badly, but look at the current crop of HTC phones, they all “just work” out of the box with no tinkering required.

            I think the issue is not the underlying Android OS, but the horrible skins manufacturers put on top. HTC Sense “just works”, Samsung TouchWiz is OK, except for the terrible RFS file system (which they are getting rid of with Galaxy S 2), Motorola Motorblur is horrible, and finally SE Timescape on X10 was terrible, but their 2011 Android lineup has fixed this issue and “just works” out of the box.

          • I wonder if the iponhe winmo issue will be like mac vs pc? I like my Tilt wm 6 device sure wish att would due upgrade to 6.1.I believe your chart and find I need a qwerty keyboard for composing emails and [email protected]

      • I don’t dis-agree with that the out-of-the-box firmware available on a large number of Android devices aren’t intuitive, and “just work”. However, Apple does have several aces up its sleeve for this that Android can’t compete with:

        – Alan point’s out entry-level users aren’t interested in updates, this is true; however no one wants their device affected by nastiest. When Apple spots a bug or a security flaw, they fix it and push out an update to all devices. ALL. Within days/weeks. Meanwhile, some Android owners are waiting to see Android 2.2 get released for their device.

        – iOS has a common user interface. ALL Apple iOS devices have the same standard user experience. The vast majority of Android OEM’s put their own launchers and skins ontop of Android. While I’m an Android (power-)user, I can’t just pickup someone else’s Android phone and expect everything to be in the same place as it is on mine. For people who want a straight forward user experience, it doesn’t get much more controlled than this.

        – Apple has a carefully groomed market place. Android has already had to recall and remotely deactive malicious apps that made it onto the market. iOS’ apps don’t even make it that far, due to Apple’s selection process.

        – iPhone/iPad has a minimal selection of models. At any given time, Apple are marketing mere 2 models at a time. Currently its the 8GB 3GS, and various capacities of the iPhone 4. People know that if they spot an App, it will work on their device. Similarly a “made for iPhone” logo on 3rd party hardware lets them know it will work. All Android user’s aren’t as lucky.

        I’m not Apple fanboy, theres a lot about their products I hate, being bad value is one of them – but their products do have a place in the market along side Android. Doesn’t mean either is better, just different.

    • I’m working hard on my family – brother and two sisters are now ‘droids.
      My wife is daunted by the Android interface though – “too many options” is her complaint, which is madness to me, but probably why Apple’s market cap is the second biggest in the world…

      Many people don’t want choice it seems.

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