lauantai 2. heinäkuuta 2011

Furlongs per fortnight: Comparison of unit conversion apps for Android

The Android Market contains software for almost any purpose you may think of. Usually when you search for a program to do a given task you even get multiple hits. The programs can be rated but that doesn't tell much about their features. So, I now present a comparison between free unit conversion programs for Android. All of the programs were downloaded on June 30, 2011 and they are presented in a random order.

First there's Unit Conversion gratis version. The program's main menu has the categories presented in a large and clear light gray font on a black background. The program has a good numpad of its own and doesn't use the default virtual keyboard provided by the system. What bothers me, however, is that when you enter a category there's no usable default conversion selected. Instead the selected conversion is something like "km -> km", i.e. it does nothing. You also need to press "convert" instead of seeing the conversion result change as you type in more numbers. So, all in all not too good.

Second, we have aUnit Converter Free. It also has got a keypad of its own but in addition to that the default Android virtual keyboard pops up if you click the number field. The program is green text on black background -- some people apparently think it's cool but I'm not too fond of the scheme. The program does neatly operate in just one screen as there's first the category selection drop-down box, then the number field, and then the input unit, converted value and ouput unit. So, OK.

The third program is ConvertDroid. Compared to the previous two programs it boasts a way larger number of unit categories: 46. There are, for example, typography, fuel consumption and radiation related units available. The user interface of ConvertDroid feels rather crammed as it tries to display all available conversions at once. You don't select the input and output units from a list but instead just click on the number field for the desired input unit, begin typing and see the result of all conversions immediately. The program uses the default Android keyboard and as a slight annoyance it displays it in the letter mode by default, forcing you to tap it once to switch to the numeric keypad. The program does have a reasonable selection of default units visible in each category and you get less often needed units by clicking "Show all". Not too bad, but the keyboard-thing is annoying.

Next on the list is the cleverly named Unit Converter. The program has a very polished look with green "Web 2.0" icons and black text on white background. As the only program in this selection it has got a button for swapping the input and output units, which is a nice feature. You can also save your most often used unit conversions in the program's Favorites category which is shown at the top of the list. The program also converts currencies, loading up-to-date information from the web on the fly. I like this program, and the only annoying thing is that you have to hit enter or "Convert" to see the conversion result, i.e. it doesn't convert as you type. I might also want to have the categories as a drop-down list at the top of the screen but I'm not too picky on that.

Then, the pithily named Converter. The program operates as pithily as it is named: there are three drop-down boxes, two number fields and a "Clear" button (if you so choose -- you can also hide it from the settings). There is also a separate view for the categories as well but that's not needed at all as you can change the category from the main view as well. I like this one as well. It's simple and plain but has a very decent selection of categories and units. It even does number base conversions, which many of the other programs don't do.

Second to last, we have ConvertPad. The first thing you notice about the program is the insane amount of unit categories: 89! You can do conversions regarding viscosity, entropy, cooking and image resolution, to name just a few. This program would probably be your choice if you had a degree in theoretical physics, astronomy and some third subject as well. For anyone else it seems like an overkill.

Finally, there's another program named Unit Converter. Unfortunately this program also has the questionable honor of getting the last place in this comparison as well. It can only convert units from six different categories, not including such an obvious choice as speed. The Android keypad covers the target unit at least on my phone so at first you only see the "Value" field, "Convert from" text and drop-down box and the "Convert to" text, but not the drop-down box! The program also doesn't have any sensible default conversion values set but happily converts from, say, centimeters to centimeters. When you hit "Convert" the result slides in and you need to hit the Back key to get back to your number field and drop-down boxes. Due to all these little annoyances this program appears almost unusable to me.

There! Now the only thing left is to present the previous information in a nice tabular format. I hope this helps you pick a converter program -- or why not pick two: one for every day use and the other for the odd chance that your life would depend on correctly converting furlongs per fortnight to some sensible unit. ;)

Motorola Defy review

I recently switched from Nokia & Symbian to the Android bandwagon by buying a Motorola Defy smartphone. I got the phone for 261 euros when I also made a new operator contract -- the normal price would have been 299 euros. The price to quality ratio for the device is very good.

Defy is small (107 x 59 x 13 mm) compared to many smartphones, such as Samsung Galaxy S (122 x 64 x 9.9-14 mm) and thus fits nicely into your pocket. The 3.7" screen is also very sharp and clear with approximately 265 dots per inch (10.43 dots/mm)! What I was especially impressed by, however, was the fact that Motorola has made Defy a very durable phone. It is water, shock, dust and scratch resistant, as proven by these YouTube videos where the phone is abused but just keeps on going. Also, Engadget couldn't really think of any downsides in this phone, save for the Motoblur UI, which my version of the phone didn't even have in the first place. My version also does have Android 2.2.

As this is my first Android phone I cannot really tell the difference to any other similar phones, but to me the phone feels fast and responsive, although I have had to reboot it once when it for some reason became very sluggish. Other than that playing Angry Birds, for example, has been a pleasure. Only few levels in Angry Birds Rio, for example, have so much stuff around them at first that the game slows down a little, but that is fixed after you slingshot the first bird out and manage to destroy anything. :)

Multiple home screens is also a nice feature. I have my calendar and SMS information along with the most used shortcuts in the first, a Facebook and a Twitter widget in the other, etc. The pull-down menu at the top of the screen is nice and features many kinds of announcements (mostly just for new email and newly installed programs). In the app menu I would like to sort my installed programs into different folders but that doesn't seem to be possible, although there's probably an app for that too in the Android Market, and using the different home screens for different program categories has been working for me so far.

As nice surprises for me the phone also features a radio (once you connect any headphones to it using a standard 3.5 mm plug) and a magnetometer, which basically translates to an electronic compass. The phone also has a GPS receiver so it knows its location and orientation, allowing you to use cool apps such as the Google Sky Map which is basically a virtual planetarium where you can point your phone into the sky (or the ground for that matter) and it tells you what stars and planets are there in that direction. The phone also has WIFI so you can enjoy fast internet connections wherever you have a WIFI access point.

The virtual keyboard takes a little practice but I guess that's inevitable with the first virtual keyboard you have ever used. When you get used to it it's easy and has been called better than the virtual keyboard in other Android smartphones. Swype is also a neat method for entering text -- if nothing else then it at least provides amusing guesses. ;) A little drawback is that if you want to write an SMS message with the phone in a horizontal orientation (to get a larger keyboard), you don't see the amount of characters used until you exit the writing mode, so you risk writing too long messages and having to shorten them before sending (if you want to fit it all into one message). Even when using the phone in a vertical orientation, you need to write something like 40 to 50 characters until the area for the text is made taller and the character count becomes visible.

All this being said, so far I have been very happy with my phone and can recommend it for anyone looking to buy a new Android phone. :) It has been made durable so I would expect Defy to last more than the two or three years which has been the life time for my previous two Nokia phones.