A few months ago, I left my Blackberry in favour of an Android device and I thought I’d share my experience for any lawyers out there who have been drooling over the many devices that have been hitting the market in the past while and may be wondering about making the switch.
I’ve had my Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant on the Bell Canada network for a few months now and I have to say that I adore it. It’s my first Android device and I switched from a Blackberry Bold that was on the Rogers network.
I’m the only person at my firm, other than some IT guys who pilot different devices from time to time, who is not using a Blackberry. One of the conditions of getting it was that I would be “self supporting,” which is not a big problem for a geek like me. But the degree of self-support hasn’t been that high, though it’s difficult to say where the supporting ends and the tinkering/tweaking starts.
In order to get the OK to hook the device up to the firm’s network, the device had to use a password/PIN to login, had to securely link to our infrastructure via SSL (at least) and I had to be able to be remotely wiped if I lost it. Check, check and check.
For me, the most important considerations was that it had to work with my firm’s existing Microsoft-exchange based e-mail infrastructure. I didn’t wan to have to use a Blackberry for e-mail/calendar and my Android for everything else. That was a bit of a challenge, but easily overcome.
I installed Android 2.2 Froyo, which has better exchange support. It wasn’t perfect, though. The device came with two different e-mail applications, the stock one and one that’s part of Samsung’s Social Hub. The stock one wasn’t updating my contacts from the Exchange Server and the Social Hub one wasn’t updating my calendar. So I had to have them both running to make sure all my bases were covered. And though they purported to have push functionality, mail was delayed a bit. Not by much, but I wanted instant.
So I did some looking around and found Nitrodesk’s Touchdown. I installed the 30-day trial two weeks ago and within a week forked out the US$20 to get the license (the only difference between the 30-day trial and the licensed version is you can’t change your signature in the trial version). The Exchange integration with Touchdown is head and shoulders above the programs that came with the device. Now, my mail is instant, my contacts are always synched and changes to my calendar are updated almost instantly.
I’ve also downloaded a program called Office Talk, which gives me access to my firm’s Microsoft OCS instant messaging platform and presence notifications. (None of my Blackberry-toting colleagues have access to the firm’s IM away from their desks.)
One of the cool features that comes stock on the Galaxy S Vibrant is the Swype keyboard. Since there’s no built-in keyboard, users can choose from dozens out there. The Swype keyboard allows you to just drag your finger from letter to letter on the keyboard image, and it knows what you’re typing. You don’t even need to be very accurate, since it knows when you drag your finger dear the “D” to the “A”, then close to “V” and back around near the “E”, you’re probably typing “Dave.” Much easier, at least to me, than trying to poke at small keys. Another keyboard layout that’s included allows for voice input that is shockingly accurate.
Once I got my messaging/calendar/contacts arrangement perfectly sorted out, my Android phone is head and shoulders above my old Blackberry. Comparing the screens and the web-browsers is not a fair fight. I can watch a full movie on it without eye strain. The web-browser is a real browser that runs flash. I can stream content without a hiccup. The Google Maps app is awesome and I use the turn-by-turn navigation regularly. (No need for an in-car GPS, particularly since the navigation app now caches mapping info so it works without a wireless signal.)
Some of my clients use Skype to connect far-flung employees, and it works great on the device (no video support yet, but it’s coming). There are other really useful apps in the Android market, like Tasker which allows you to customize all of the phone’s settings. I’ve used it to automatically set it to silent mode when when the phone is face-down in meetings. Similarly, it detects when it’s in my car-dock and changes to “car mode”, which can read incoming e-mails and redirects all calls to the speaker phone. It can even be programmed to change settings when you’re in a particular place, like shutting off e-mail downloading when you’re at home.
Another great feature for mobile lawyers is that you can turn the device into a mobile WiFi hot-spot. I’ve found myself in meetings where I needed a document from our document management system, but had no WiFi. Within seconds, I can turn my phone into a WiFi router so I can connect my laptop to my office network and get the document. Piece o’ cake.
My kids, of course, love the games. I never had my kids ask if they could use my Blackberry, but they’re constantly asking to use my phone to play Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Fruit Ninja and Raging Thunder 2. (While I’m writing this, my eight-year-old just walked up and asked “Can I play on your phone?”)
So, overall, I’d say that RIM no longer has a stranglehold on the enterprise. I could go back to a Blackberry, but I sure don’t want to. The only downside is that there’s so much innovation and iteration going on that I’m envious of newer Nexus S. And the just-announced Galaxy S II. And the Xoom tablet with Honeycomb.