Google Unleashes a Diverse Army of Android Phones

The flexibility of the Google software makes these phones anything but clones of one another.


[Beleaguered Motorola started showing signs of life with its Evoke.]

T-Mobile Cliq ($100 with contract). T-Mobile calls this Motorola handset "the first phone with social skills." And the Cliq is all about social networking, with "Motoblur" software that blends Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and a variety of other Web sharing services into a single space. The phone gives the networks top billing, throwing the latest Tweets and Facebook updates onto its home screen.

The hardware itself is chic, with a 3.1-inch screen that is smaller than competitors but that allows for soft, rounded corners and an overall size that slips easily into a hip pocket. The hardware keyboard slides out from underneath and is one of the best on any phone. The raised keys are well marked with bright lettering and easy to distinguish from each other. One quibble is that the bottom row, including the important space bar, can be hard to reach past the raised lip of the enclosing case. The phone can also seem sluggish at times, and battery life is short. (Motorola has said a software fix is coming.)

It is networkers who will best like the Cliq. Updates from friends flow across the home screen, which at times can appear cluttered and overwhelming for the less-energetic butterfly. There's no limiting updates, for example, to a subset of your 500 Facebook friends. Updates are just as easy to contribute, with the Cliq spreading a message across multiple accounts in one swoop.

Sprint Hero ($100 with contract). Another sexy case with rounded corners encloses this 3.2-inch touch screen. Handset maker HTC did away with the hardware keyboard that is popular among Android phones but has packed in more software features than any other model.

HTC has layered a whole new skin that it calls "Sense" across the Android software, giving it a flexible look that's easy to tailor to a user's liking. Sense pumps the Hero full of customized and standard Android widgets, little bits of software that are like the apps that might be later downloaded to other phones and that display their information immediately on the home screen.

The phone, for example, offers out-of-box syncing with Microsoft Outlook's contacts and calendar, an obvious app given HTC's long experience with Windows Mobile. Other apps customize information to a user's liking, be it weather, sports, or E-mail. A custom widget called "Footprints" makes it easy to geotag photos, add voice memos, and post them to Google maps.

All this can be overwhelming, especially for someone used to the iPhone's emphasis on simplicity. But the Sense software helps with a generous seven home screens for organizing widgets and apps. The Hero also lets users redesign the phone's look for different times. Innovative "scenes" flip weather and the Footprint app to the front for traveling, or Outlook appointments and E-mail while at the office.

[Google encourages new software through an Android that is open and flexible.]