updated 04:45 pm EST, Fri February 19, 2010
Motorola's best and Google's shopping app tested
We had the opportunity today for a pair of Android-related tests: both the North American version of the Motorola Milestone and the new Google Shopper beta. Since many already know the Milestone as the Droid, we'll focus primarily on its multi-touch support as a preview of the Droid's 2.1 update.
The experience of multi-touch on the Milestone, and the upcoming Droid upgrade, is pleasing as a whole but is most noteworthy for what it omits: namely, the zoom buttons that are present on nearly every other Android phone. It frees up the screen area and lets you concentrate on the actual website, map or photo . iPhone owners will definitely be familiar with the experience, but this is an area where a basic form of imitation is entirely welcome.
We won't go so far as to say it's perfect, though. The Milestone/Droid's 550MHz processor is enough to give a reasonable amount of responsiveness, but we noticed occasional lag when pinching to zoom. Google's implementation is also best described as stair-step as it goes in fixed (if very fine-grained) increments rather than basing it solely on the movement of your fingers, the way Apple does.
Google Shopper, meanwhile, is best described as simple but surprising. Unlike ShopSavvy, its most obvious rival, Shopper can recognize cover art, not just barcodes -- and the performance is surprisingly quick. In moderate light, we successfully identified books and games within about 2-3 seconds. It's almost even quicker than you might like as the scan starts the moment you choose an image search and (on the Milestone) doesn't require an "ideal" view.
Voice search is present, too, though we suspect this won't get used much given that many Android 2.0 and 2.1 phones have voice commands built-in.
Once you do find a product, the simplicity of the design is both a virtue and a vice. Finding a useful seller, checking details and reading reviews is very fast -- but it's also all you can do. ShopSavvy, by comparison, lets you get a notice when an item falls below a certain price and create wish lists; Google will only let you see your history and star items for later. We'd also like to see a localized element that could prioritize searches by their proximity and tie into Google Maps to help find the closest shop with something in stock.
Still, for an admittedly beta app in Google Labs, Shopper is a capable first effort. We can only hope that other platforms like the iPhone have the option in the future, although Google has told us it has no short-term plans.