Android love and IT apps

Gibbs is crazy about Android and loves the IT apps

As frequent readers of this column may have noticed, I am a big fan of the Android operating system.

While I also love iOS, Android has, I think, more potential for innovation having a richer, more complex ecosystem of developers and publishers without being constrained by the heavy, and sometimes inexplicably random, hand of a single uber-vendor.

Over the last couple of years, I've tried the original T-Mobile Motorola G1, the Verizon HTC Incredible, the T-Mobile HTC MyTouch, the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S 4G (I'm sending you to the spec page as the home page is the usual splash page that takes forever to load and has loud, annoying music) and the Verizon Motorola Droid X and Droid 2. (A couple of phones I haven't got my hands on yet are the HTC HD2 and the HTC Thunderbolt ... PR people please take note.)

Through my testing of these cell phones I wound up using all the versions of Android and every user interface that every vendor throws on top of those. And that may be one of the downsides to the Android market: The variability of the UIs - some are slick and polished while others have clumsy, "rough edges".

The definitive Android smartphone guide

My favorite Android phone so far is the HTC Incredible, maybe because it has my favorite Android UI. One reason why: the placement of the off-screen buttons. On the Incredible, they make sense: Reading from left to right there's the home button, the menu button, optical trackball, back button, and, finally, the search button. On the Samsung Galaxy S 4G the home and menu button are reversed which seems wrong to me, though my enthusiasm for the Incredible may color that judgment.

That said, the Galaxy S 4G has some great attributes; it is fractionally thinner than the Incredible and the slight increase in its width is more or less unnoticeable. What really shines (literally) is the Galaxy S 4G's 4-inch, 800 x 480 pixel, AMOLED display, which is fantastic! The Incredible's 3.7-inch, 480 X 800 pixel OLED display isn't quite as good, though it is still excellent.

There are a couple of problems with the Galaxy S 4G: when you press the wake-up button on the right side, you have to swipe the screen to unlock the UI. The problem is that the swipe has to cross the whole screen which is tricky with one hand and, when there's an alert, unlike the Incredible, there's no LED telltale lit up so you'll spot that an alert is waiting should you miss the audible warning.

The Galaxy S 4G has the Swype text entry system which I like a lot. With Swype you just drag your finger from letter to letter and the system figures out what you're trying to type. The auto-correct accuracy is excellent even when your fingers are really too big to hit the tiny, onscreen keyboard with anything that approaches accuracy.

Anyway, this week's foray into the wonderful world of wireless telephony was started when reader Tim Oakes (Hartford, Conn.) wrote in suggesting I cover Android Apps for IT. Tim has been using the Motorola Xoom for the last three weeks and just got a Verizon HTC Thunderbolt. This is one spoiled reader (PR people, again, note that I haven't had my sweaty hand on either of these devices yet).

Tim already has his own short list of IT apps which includes two free network tools called Overlook Fing and Overlook Whiz.

Screen shot of Overlook Fing

Overlook Fing is a neat and straightforward tool for running network IP address and service port scans. It's fast, provides a lot of information, and you can email the scan results directly from the app. One of the other great things about Overlook Fing is it is a cross-platform product with sibling versions (also free) for Windows, OS X and Linux. Overlook Fing gets a rating of 5 out of 5.

Overlook Whiz is an Android widget for testing servers. After installation you simply press and hold on any open spot on the home screen and the "Add to Home screen" menu appears. Click on widgets then scroll down and click on Overlook Whiz. A configuration screen is displayed where you enter your target machine and service and select the refresh rate and other test attributes. The widget can sit on any of your home screens (I have a screen dedicated to monitoring the various services I rely on). Another hit! Overlook Whiz also gets a rating of 5 out of 5.

Screen shot of Overlook Whiz

Another useful free tool I love is WiFi Analyzer. This app grabs the Android phone's Wi-Fi service and looks for access points and displays their details including signal strength, channels in use, AP SSIDs, encryption systems used, and Mac addresses.

Screen shot of WiFi Analyzer

Five views are available including Channel Graph (plots channels in use against signal strength), Time Graph (channel signal strength against time), Channel Rating (a simple bar graph of channel use), AP List, and a Signal Meter that shows current signal strength as a conventional needle and dial display. I'd like to see the ability to capture snapshots and email data but for free, there's really nothing to complain about. WiFi Analyzer also gets a rating of 5 out of 5!

Next week we'll cover a few more of the best networking tools for Android devices. If you have any recommendations, let me know.

Gibbs tests for the best in Ventura, Calif. Your results to gearhead@gibbs.com.

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