We might still be waiting for Google’s Chrome OS, but the nearest thing, the Android, has finally made its way to a computer, though still in its made-for-phone format, through the 10.1” Acer Aspire One D250. This is the first Android-based netbook in India, but that doesn’t mean the early bird has caught the worm. In fact, you will soon realise the greatest feature of this netbook is that it has a dual operating system and comes bundled with Windows XP.
To start with, this is an Acer Aspire One with all its regular features, so I will rather concentrate on the Android which the unique thing about this netbook. The dual OS means users can switch between XP and Android at will, and if needed completely ignore the other. Out of the box, the first boot up is on XP. But right on the desktop there is an Android icon which lets you configure your other OS with your Google log-in. You have the option of switching to Android from the next time you fire up the netbook.
It is when you do this that you realise the real power of the Android. It takes all of 18 seconds to boot up—I checked it with a stopwatch and it didn’t take a second more—and take you to the home page; and it takes just three seconds to shut down. Then you don’t need double clicks with Android; a single press will do everywhere.
The home page, very similar to what you will find on the new Android phones, is devoid of any clutter. Firefox, Webmail, Google Talk and Calendar icons are given as default and you can add more with a simple right click to the add button. There is a dog-ear icon on the top left corner which will take you to the XP whenever you want, though the switch will take Windows time. There is a swipe-in icon on the right, as seen in many large-screen mobile phones, which will bring in the apps page. Here, too, you will find icons that you do on a mobile phone, including the all-important network manager which is the soul of this OS.
The fact is that the Android, as it is now, has been designed for super-fast Internet connectivity and the network manager lets you decide how you want to go about it— Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, LAN the pick is yours. “Android is a quick-in, quick-out OS—you don’t have to wait for a lengthy boot-up when all you want is to quickly get online to check something or send an email. All Internet connections established on the Android platform remain up and running even if you reboot the netbook or suspend the session,” explains S. Rajendran, CMO Acer India.
The PC automatically scans Wi-Fi networks and you will have no trouble logging in if you have a network at home and experiencing the powers of Instant On. However, I just couldn’t get it to recognise my Photon data card and was told by the company that I will have to download a driver to use it. Maybe companies should think of netbooks with built-in SIMs to unleash the Android.
If you plan to use the Android offline, be warned that it could be a pointless exercise. Unless you have media stored on to the OS from the Net there won’t be much you will be able to do here. I couldn’t even move photos taken using the webcam to a new folder, while there were no issues saving a file from the Net. Maybe there is a way to do this, but I couldn’t find it as there is no offline help module on the OS. But logged on to the Net there is nothing as powerful, and I suggest that you use the Android, if possible, only for surfing. The customised Firefox only makes things easier.
While in a nascent stage now, the Android is sure to gain popularity when developers start making free applications and widgets to be used on the OS. The day when there will be an app store available for Android users is not far, but till then it will be a bit of a bore for offline uses. Moreover, the applications, file saved in the XP are out of bounds when you are using Android. But Rajendran thinks this won’t put off users as they can easily switch back to XP to use the other software.
While the ease-of-use and speed factors will win Android a lot of fans, I would advise regular users to wait till it grows into a full-fledged OS. If you still want to take the plunge, make sure you have good Wi-Fi networks wherever you want to take your D250. But then, there is always the XP to fall back on.
What is the Android?
The Android is a mobile operating system running on the Linux kernel. It was initially developed by Google and later the Open Handset Alliance. It allows developers to write managed code in the Java language, controlling the device via Google-developed Java libraries. By the end of 2009 there will be at least 18 phone models using Android worldwide, according to Google. Some netbooks vendors like Acer are also taking the plunge.
Aspire One D250
Intel® Atom™ processor N280
Android™ and Windows® operating systems
10.1” SD 1024 x 600 (WSVGA) pixel resolution
1” thin and weighs 1.3 kg
Long-range WWAN (3G) broadband connection
Acer InviLink™ Nplify™ 802.11b/g/Draft-N or Acer InviLink™ 802.11b/g Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ network
Price: Rs 18,651