That was my initial reaction upon getting my new phone. I’d finally resolved in my mind that it was OKAY to have a powerful and fun phone. I did not have to get a budget phone that was only capable of texting. This device goes with me everywhere; it needs to be easy to use and capable of doing what I want it to do. Plus (and don’t tell AT&T this), the tiered data plan that is now offered was kind of an encouragement. I am quite satisfied with the low-end plan that gets me 200MB for $15/month. Sure, it does not seem like much data. But the main time that I have to sit down and surf on my phone is when I’m at home, where I have Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is free data on the phone. W00t!

After going this direction in thought, I started changing what I was searching for. It was really a relief to settle on the credentials of what I was looking for. The way AT&T offers all types of phones, but REQUIRES that if you have a certain phone you must have a certain level of service, drives me crazy. They have quick messaging phones with big touch screens that lag randomly. Then they have really crappy phones that don’t require any text or data plan. Then they have really awesome phones that must have a data plan, or they won’t even sell it to you. Well, they’ll sell it to you, but for the manufacturing cost. And for the phones someone would consider buying, they’re easily $500. I don’t pay that for my service (minutes, text, data and insurance combined) in a year. Close though…

What phone shopping truly boils down to is a couple of very simple things.

1.       What type of phone feels right in your hand, or you could easily adjust to?

2.       What do you want it to do?

3.       Are you willing to pay for it to do that?

I went to the store and tried out all manner of slider phones with long, full keyboards. These felt too spacious to me. Then again, considering I’d been using a Palm Centro, my hand may have gotten used to smaller, easier-to-reach keys. I tried phones like the Blackberries where the keyboard is exposed. These were closer to the size I was comfortable with, but many of them weren’t sporting a touch screen. If there was one thing that made the Centro cool early on, it was the touch screen. Sure, its touch screen was tiny and almost always required the stylus to use. But it’s such a simpler and faster interface than sliding through menu options using some nub or wheel. Ick. So with these considerations in mind, I started paying attention to something I had assumed I wouldn’t like: digital keyboards. I had been trying to keep with a physical keyboard because I preferred the feel of it. Granted I’d never used a digital keyboard that much. I found out rather quickly that it was helpful, fast, and nice. It does spell check as I go, and can usually figure out if you hit one wrong key and meant to type a different word.  Remind me later and I’ll talk about Swype.

For point two, as stated above, I had finally settled on allowing it to do cool stuff. Data plan-requiring stuff. It definitely needed Wi-Fi to take advantage of the Internet I’m already paying for in my home. I do not visit coffee shops, so the appeal of them having Wi-Fi is fairly limited. I also rely heavily on Google services, as I’ve spoken to in the past. I use Google Calendar for my tracking of all life’s activities, so being able to sync or easily view that would be great. I use Gmail, but most smartphone companies have figured out that a lot of people are using that and have created good links or applications for it. I was slightly interested in Facebook, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.

For point three, I’d finally decided I was willing to pay for it to do these things. This is the point I think people in the store overlook all too often. When I went in to buy my phone, I saw 3 different old couples come in, and each was guided toward the iPhone4 display. I’m not going to conclude that none of them were interested in that much functionality and ability. But the idea that ALL of them are interested – or that every customer is for that matter – is a little insulting. Are they even trying to find the right phone and the right service for each customer? Were they even listening when the wife told them, “My grandson is willing to show me how to text if I get a phone that can do it”? This doesn’t sound like someone who wants their entire music library (which might still be on record, tape, and CD) syncing to their device. This doesn’t sound like someone who wants to download racing games and massive note-taking applications.

So considering my direct linkage to Google applications, my newfound acceptance of digital keyboards, my new limited data plan, and my dislike of iPhone4, there was an obvious fit waiting for me. I found it in the HTC Aria! The digital keyboard can show on the screen when vertically or horizontally oriented, so I can still get the cramped feel I had on the Palm Centro or stretch out a bit if I want. It has a big, pretty touch screen, and a 5 megapixel camera. It gets Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an included 2GB micro SD card, and has a full-sized headphone jack. It allows full multi-tasking (unlike the iPhone4, which I believe only supports multi-tasking with some of its default apps). It has the HTC Sense interface, which slides beautifully and even ‘pinches’ to show all 7 pages. Each page can be loaded with icons or widgets to all the applications I want to install. And the applications are many! I’m probably going to break them into groups of 3 or 4 and do a series of posts about all the applications I’ve used and who I’d recommend them to. It syncs with all my Google applications, as should be expected with an Android phone. Google developed Android, by the way.

There are of course a couple of things missing. There is no physical keyboard. Of course that would have added to the bulk of the phone, and I like how slim and small it is. There is no flash for the camera, a feature I’ve heard great things about on other phones (including the occasional use as a great flashlight). And AT&T decided to be jerks no matter what phone you get. They locked down the phones so third-party applications not from the official Android Market cannot be installed. Well, there might be one way, but it’s certainly not an easy one. Swype is the only application that keeps getting mentioned when it comes to really great third-party apps, but I certainly would like the freedom to search for others. I’m amazed for all Google’s hyping that Android is a free and open operating system that most of the phone companies are still locking it down in one way or another. Even if it’s just loading it with crapware or links to the phone company’s “extra charge services”, it’s still things I should have the freedom to delete off my phone. But they lock them in…. GRRR.

Overall it’s a great phone, and it does far more than I expected to be able to do with my new phone. Sure, it still needs charging daily like my old phone. But I feel that this one EARNS the regular charging. My old phone didn’t have radio, Wi-Fi, nor 3G data. It also didn’t have all these applications that link up to all these wonderful services.

Well, I think I’ve gone on long enough. If you have an Android phone, let me know what apps you use and love. Especially let me know if you’ve paid for any (something I’m still reluctant to do) and if you thought it was worth it. And after I’ve done all this research, if you’re shopping for a new phone let me know. I might have some recommendations. Even if you aren’t looking for what I got, I promise not to direct you right at the iPhone4 display and presume I’m doing my job. Pleasant days texting, surfing, and dialing to all.

For what was an earlier look at Android when it was FIRST implemented as an OS on the G1 phone, look here and here. My old friend Dan K wrote those up for us awhile back. Thought they might be worth a re-read, if you’re considering an Android phone in the future.