The arrival of products like the Archos 5 media tablet and now the dual-booting Acer Aspire One D520 are likely the beginning of more and more Android-based machines arriving on our shelves. The mobile version of the OS hasn't quite got going yet and doesn't do the whole advertising job on behalf of Google computers at this stage but, just because the jury's still out for the main body of the public, it doesn't necessarily mean that an Android-running laptop isn't the way to go. So, is it worth chancing fame, fortune and street cred as an early adopter or are Android PCs a fad worth giving a miss?
1) It's light
There's a reason Windows wasn't part of the very first netbook options and perhaps why Apple hasn't been so speedy to bring out an ultra-mobile machine running OS X. They're pretty heavyweight pieces of software and if you're looking at computing on the move then speed is of the essence rather than whether or not you can edit HD video at the same time as getting stuck into a multi-player deathmatch. Android offers boot up speed and a lighter load on your hardware that simply doesn't exist with Windows, without some of the fear and confusion that weighs on consumers considering Linux.
2) It's free
It's okay. We're all cheapskates here. Whether it's part financial or sticking two fingers up at the man or somewhere in between, it's nice not to have to buy into the corporate badge that is Microsoft. Give it a few years and we'll probably be saying the same about Google, but for the time being less money spent on software means more money free for your hardware or food and other such biological and necessity driven annoyances.
3) Mobile syncing
It all rather depends what kind of phone you have, of course, but there seems to be a little less love out there for Windows Mobile than for Android smartphones, which are expected to take second place in phone OS popularity in the next few years right behind Symbian. The beauty of most smartphones is that they will sync up with all the bits and pieces on your computer given a few twists, tweaks and the odd app, but it'll work seamlessly if the two happen to be running the same system. Just the way it is. So, if you're using Android on your mobile or are planning to, then that's a pretty large factor.
4) Less malware
It's a numbers game really. There's very little to no malware at all for Android, the same as for all Linux based systems. It's not that these OSes are necessarily more clever and secure in their own right, just that no one bothers coding the stuff in the first place. It's simply not worth the hacker's while to spend time developing software that's only got a chance of infecting a minute percentage of the world's computers. There's just no money in it. So, not only is your Android laptop lighter from an OS with a smaller footprint but you don't need to have any anti-virus software to slow it down either.
5) Head in the clouds
If you're life's in the Google ecosystem anyway, then there's a lot of sense in opting for an Android PC. If Gmail and Google Docs are the way you run your world, then you might well find that all you need for your mobile PC is a web connection and a browser to sail by. Your main home computer can still stay your hub of all media and graphics, but if you're travelling friend is just for office, e-mail and the Internet then look no further.
The way of the Windows
1) Fewer applications
Just as you don't get as many apps in the Android Marketplace as you do the iPhone App Store, there just isn't as much available software for Android based netbooks. What's more, much of the Linux software won't work on Google's OS either because of issues with running established Java standards. So, you might well have a lightening fast little PC but end up with very little non-web-based apps that you can actually run on it.
Are the benefits of Android really that, well, beneficial? Most people will be making the choice between Android and Windows and, as many issues as Microsoftware may have, it suddenly feels very different when faced with the idea of learning a new operating system. It's all fun and exciting on the face of it but when things go wrong and you're trying to dig around options menus that you don't even know where they are any more, it's another thing. So, make sure you're up for the adventure.
3) Multi-tasking issues
One criticism of Google's OS is that it's not so hot on multi-tasking. Now, that's all very well on a mobile phone but even on the move it's quite an important and basic principle of a computer. You may be largely using your browser on a laptop but there's still plenty of times you'll need two, three or more applications open to move between some images, your work, e-mail or even look at some video. And there's few things more annoying than a brand new computer chugging along at snail speeds the minute you start to push it.
4) Hardware compatibility
There's a very limited set of drivers available on Android compared to Windows for the very same reason as there's a very limited amount of malware. It's just not top of a developer's agenda. Turn over enough hardware boxes on the shelves at Dixons et al and you'll be lucky if you see support for Linux, let alone Android. Fortunately, if you do see the friendly little penguin, there's a decent chance it'll work with Google's take on the kernel as well but no promises. You could find yourself with a few headaches in this department.
5) Windows will do
The thing is that, firstly, the latest Windows software isn't wildly expensive any more - and often heavily subsidised in a new PC anyway - and, secondly, even netbooks are getting quite powerful these days - so are the issues of Windows being heavy, slow and costly quite what they were even a year ago? Taken purely on those factors, Android still has the drop on Microsoft but add in the potential problems above and the balance starts to tip.