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Dell's death-wish Android Aero

I thought something was missing when I read the news release that arrived this morning from Dell, touting a new smartphone running Google's Android operating system. The specifications listed there made its Aero ($99.99 for new or renewing AT&T customers) look impressive enough, but they left out one detail: what version of Android came on the phone.

So did the listing for the phone on Dell's site.

Not good: Companies don't omit such an important detail if it's anything worth bragging about. My suspicions were proved right when Dell publicist Kristin Calcagno replied that the Aero runs "a superset" of Android 1.5.

The added features she touted--for example, handwriting recognition and "one-click upload of photos to social sites"--could be interesting, but Android 1.5? Today? Really?

For those unfamiliar with the progress of Google's smartphone software, Android 1.5 dates to April 2009. Almost all phones now ship with Android 2.1, and (far too) few bundle the 2.2 release Google introduced in May. The seemingly small difference in version numbers hides dramatic improvements in responsiveness, battery life, support for third-party apps, networking and multimedia.

(Trust me on that. I bought an Android 1.5 phone last winter; the 2.1 update that arrived in May was the next-best thing to getting a new phone.)

To ship an Android phone in August 2010 with 1.5 installed is a rough equivalent of shipping a new laptop with Windows XP preinstalled. Except on that laptop, you could then go out and buy a copy of the far-better Windows 7. With the Aero, as with other Android phones that have been "customized" by manufacturers who think they can out-program Google's developers, you'll have to wait for Dell to ship an update tailored for its tweaks.

And Dell won't even say if it will do that, much less talk scheduling: "We have not announced any plans for an upgrade path," Calcagno wrote in a follow-up.

The Aero could be a worthy phone in some ways. But until Dell gets serious about keeping up with the rest of the smartphone industry, my stance on it is simple: Don't buy this phone.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 24, 2010; 4:55 PM ET
Categories:  Mobile  
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I run Debian stable on my Linux servers, not Ubuntu or Fedora, even though the software versions run a year or two behind their counterparts. Why do I do that? Because more of the bugs have been found and fixed. I want a stable machine that doesn't need constant care and feeding far more than I want the latest greatest feature just released last week.

I don't know one version of Android from another, but if it's anything like all the other software out there, being a year behind the latest version (with the extra year's worth of patches) means you get last year's greatest phone without last year's (or this year's) greatest phone hassles.

Posted by: Bill64738 | August 24, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Hey Bill64738, if you really want stability in your linux system you should boot up CentOS. It is even more stable and solid than Ubuntu. It is based on RHEL which has guaranteed binary compatibility until 2016 at the earliest.

You don't say which Ubuntu you are running, some of their releases are volatile and are updated often, and they don't have the binary compatibility guarantee.

Indeed it is too bad that the computer industry is abandoning its open attitude about software. These new smartphones and tablets are nothing more than miniature computers, and we consumers should have the same ability to boot up other operating systems on them just like we can on PCs.

Posted by: frantaylor | August 24, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

frantaylor- I'm not running Ubuntu, I'm running Debian. I've used CentOS before. And Red Hat. And SuSE. And Fedora. And Ubuntu. They're all fine systems and each has a niche where it's the "best choice."

At work, where I'm judged on the problems my customers don't see, I use Debian because I rarely -need- the just-invented features but I always want the rock solid stability that comes with older, well-patched software.

Posted by: Bill64738 | August 24, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

@Bill: Android is nothing like most OSes. First of all, Google doesn't patch old versions. If a bug occurs in 1.5, it won't ever get fixed in 1.5; instead you have to install a newer version.

Secondly, Android is still brand new in terms of OS life, so you can think of 1.5 as DOS, 2.0 as Windows 3.1, and 2.2 as Windows XP. Your Debian Linux is pretty stable because Linux has been under development for thousands of man-years; Android isn't at that point yet.

Posted by: strohminator | August 24, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

I honestly don't understand how things like this happen. How can a company ship a product with an OS that's so woefully out of date? I know what I am talking about because I suffer everyday because my android phone (from Motorola btw) runs on 1.5. So many things I have come across cool software that I can't use because it's for 1.6 and above.

So shame on Dell. Someone should have spoken up before this thing was shipped.

Posted by: tundey | August 24, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

This article highlights the essential problem that occurs when the hardware and OS software come from different folks. You either lose tight integration or you give up timely releases. It's a lesson Apple and Microsoft are still playing out, and in the long run it appears Apple will win. Google Android could win against Apple's IOS, but they'd need to give up the idea of a broad based platform and tighten their connection to one or two hardware makers.

Posted by: devanssjc | August 24, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

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