When I think of Android devices, I typically think of tablets and slate phones, with the occasional sliding or fold-out keyboard. But because of Android’s flexible, open-source nature, it’s not been restricted to rectangles with big screens; the OS has been crammed on to all sorts of hardware.
Sometimes this can be a bad thing, as when hasty manufacturers stuck a phone version of Android onto cheap tablets without polishing it up. But other times, this can be really cool, and genuinely innovative.
In this article, I’d like to celebrate the range of hardware features that Android has let manufacturers experiment with – even if they weren’t all successful!
Not Your Average Phones
Okay, so phones are still rectangular by default; I haven’t seen any spherical handsets yet. But there seems to be no end to the capabilities that a single pocket device can have – these are today’s Swiss Army knives.
This is a decent phone on its own, with a 4-inch display, respectable processor, and a couple of cameras, but the standout feature is obviously the mounted projector, which is apparently capable of projecting an HD image up to 50 feet wide.
This handset sports a screen that can display images in stereoscopic 3D without the need for 3D glasses, like the Nintendo 3DS. It comes with twin 5MP cameras, so it can take 3D photographs as well.
Speaking of Nintendo’s handheld, this phone offers dual screens as well. The second screen can simply be used to display the keyboard, or can run a second separate app (thanks to the dual core processor), or can sit flush with the first screen to form a single big screen. And if you just want to use it as a regular slate phone, you can slide the second screen away.
Angry Birds and Temple Run are great fun, but some games require more in the way of controls than a touch screen and accelerometer. The Xperia Play has a PSP-style set of buttons and a D-pad, and has a range of games designed for it (including some PlayStation classics).
I got very excited about the Atrix when I first saw it. The handset itself is not particularly special; it stands out because it’s designed to connect with a keyboard, screen and mouse (or just a laptop shell, as shown below) to run as a full-blown desktop computer. Ubuntu has recently taken the idea even further.
This is not a pretty phone. It’s designed to be rugged enough for the military (and is literally at military standard). It can withstand temperatures as low as -25°C and as high as 85°C, can be dropped four feet 26 times without breaking, and can cope with being submerged a meter underwater for half an hour.
Around the Home
When 1950s futurists predicted we’d all have androids to help us around the home in the future, I don’t think this is what they meant.
A fridge with apps. Sadly this doesn’t seem to do anything more useful than if you glued a cheap tablet and speakers to your own refrigerator – the apps included are for displaying photos, playing music and leaving notes for your family, not detecting what food you’ve got left and suggesting recipes. Although it does have an app for dispensing ice and changing the internal temperature.
Not to be confused with Google TV, this 55-inch television will run Ice Cream Sandwich and has a built-in 5MP camera and SD slot. At the moment it seems Lenovo only has plans to launch this in China, though.
At first glance, this looks like ProForm has simply slapped a tablet on a treadmill, much like Samsung has with its refrigerator – which is not a bad idea in itself, as it gives you something to watch while jogging. But there is a little more to it than that: the iFit Live app lets you draw a route anywhere in the world on Google Maps (or choose a route someone else has designed), and uses Google’s terrain data to adjust the slope of the treadmill to match, while displaying images of the route taken from Street View.
Sometimes I use the glossy screen of my handset to check I don’t have food in my teeth. This mirror takes that idea a little further, by overlaying full apps on a reflective, waterproof surface.
Portable Android devices that aren’t phones or tablets.
The i’m Watch both runs Android itself and can connect to an Android phone, so besides the obvious clock and weather apps, it can also display your text messages and contacts’ details. It’s a designer piece, as you can probably guess from the lower-case “i”, with the cheapest selling for just under $500 and the most expensive at just under $20,000. (Yes, really.)
My phone has an 8MP camera, which is pretty neat. This one is 16MP, with a proper point-and-shoot lens as you can see. There’s no phone capabilities or 3G, but it does have Wi-Fi, so you can check your emails and post pictures to Facebook or Flickr (or just transfer them to your computer wirelessly). And, of course, you can use the many Android photo-editing apps to modify your pictures right there on the device.
This enhances your TV, adding support for video conferencing via Skype. But since it’s running Android, it also adds YouTube and a basic web browser to the big screen. Rather than using a touchscreen or Wiimote-style interface, as you might expect from an Android device, it uses a QWERTY remote.
Noise-canceling wireless 7.1 surround-sound Bluetooth headphones with a embedded touchscreen running Android. Sounds like another case of slapping a tablet on something for no good reason, but actually I’m impressed with the integration: touch-screen gesture controls for changing the volume or skipping to the next track, and built-in apps for Skype and Pandora (as well as menus to control the audio settings). So even though you can’t actually see the screen while using the headphones, it actually makes sense to have it on there.
All these devices represent one thing I love about Android: anyone that needs an operating system for their new hardware can use it, without having to create their own shoddy or proprietary system. Sure, some of the results are duds, but it’s great that Android makes it easier to get them off the ground.