Android this week: $20 smartphones; A must-have app; Frustrated devs


The period after Mobile World Congress is usually a quiet time for new phone announcements, but this week proved differently. Sprint announced the ZTE Fury, which will cost a mere $20 after a 2-year contract and $50 rebate. This Android 2.3 smartphone won’t impress folks wowed by the cutting-edge phones introduced at MWC, but the Fury is a great value.

When looking at the specifications, the Fury is an impressive-sounding smartphone for the price, and it foreshadows the future of Android handsets for the first-time handset buyer. The 1 GHz CPU is the same Qualcomm chip that powered Verizon’s first LTE handset last year, the HTC Thunderbolt, for example. The camera sensor is 5 megapixels, and although the touchscreen display is only 320 x 480 pixels, the screen uses IPS technology, making for wide viewing angles.

At this price, ZTE had to cut a few corners, but even those aren’t too bad. The Fury comes with a meager 4 GB of internal storage; however, capacity can be expanded by up to another 32 GB with a microSD card; a 2 GB card is included. And the 512 MB of RAM is about the minimum I’d expect to see in an Android phone at any price these days. Still, it’s $20 for a 3G-capable Android handset that can be a mobile hotspot, too. And it doesn’t surprise me that ZTE is making it. ZTE is a Chinese company that’s making a big push in the U.S. market, along with its peer, Huawei.

One of the first apps I’d install on an Android phone from any carrier is one that’s been on iOS for a while. The free software is called Slice, and it landed in the Google Play app store this week.

Slice is the best tool I’ve seen yet to track online and digital orders — with one caveat: you have to allow the app to access your email. If you’re willing to do that, Slice will analyze your inbox and find every single order receipt you have on file. It then consolidates that data and gives you a full history of your online spending, which is handy to see what you’ve ordered and spent. I’m a big online shopper: my total spending topped $14,000 since 2006, which is the furthest date that Slice could find.

Even better is how Slice will continue to monitor your inbox. Each new order is added automatically to the app, and it will track your purchase delivery and provide useful information, such as customer service numbers for retailers as well as their return policies. If you buy any digital or physical media online, Slice is a must-have app.

As some apps arrive for Android, however, others leave. This week saw app developer Mika Mobile choose to abandon Google’s mobile platform. I understand their resasoning, but it concerns me because others could easily follow. Here’s the issue, in the company’s own words:

We spent about 20% of our total man-hours last year dealing with Android in one way or another – porting, platform specific bug fixes, customer service, etc.  I would have preferred spending that time on more content for you, but instead I was thanklessly modifying shaders and texture formats to work on different GPUs, or pushing out patches to support new devices without crashing, or walking someone through how to fix an installation that wouldn’t go through.  We spent thousands on various test hardware.  These are the unsung necessities of offering our apps on Android.  Meanwhile, Android sales amounted to around 5% of our revenue for the year, and continues to shrink.  Needless to say, this ratio is unsustainable.

Regardless of whether you prefer or use Google Android over another mobile platform, this doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the future of Android apps. One developer doesn’t make a trend, and many larger app shops will simply devote more resources to Android support as needed, but I’d like to see Google tighten the reins of its platform while still keeping the premise of an “open” system that anyone can use. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s possible.


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