Android Go: Is Android’s light version for cheap phones any good?

Android Go makes the best of its limited resources and relies on web technology to a radical extent. — dpa

An entire smartphone with Android 8 for less than US$100 (RM398)? In this price class, that means customers normally get dark displays with a low resolution, jerky movements on screen and glass that will crack after only a few weeks.

And users don’t need to give any thought to security updates for the operating system – which is already out of data. But that’s not the case with Android Go – at least somewhat.

The concept: the most current version of Android with almost all functions for entry-level devices with hardware from the lower end of the performance spectrum. And all that without skimping on security. Android Go is currently available on phones like the Alcatel 1X, the Wiko Jerry 3 or the Nokia 1, all of which cost roughly US$80 (RM319).

At first use, there aren’t any noticeable differences with Android Go on the Nokia 1. Android Go is Android 8.1 with almost all of its features and the same user interface. But it requires less memory. After starting Android Go, there are still 5 out of 8 GB of memory free. In addition, Android Go makes do with 11 GB of working memory.

For this, Android Go makes the best of its limited resources and relies on web technology to a radical extent. Instead of relying on the smartphone’s limited hardware, the operating system outsources much of its work to the Internet. The phone’s main apps like Maps Go, Assistant Go or Google Go are downright slender compared to their “normal” Android versions. Maps Go on the Nokia 1 clocks in at around 200 KB, while it’s easily 80 MB on a comparable Android.

Whoever opens up Google Maps on the Nokia 1 is effectively using the web edition of the service – with a few limitations. Go users cannot navigate in real-time or share their location. Neither can they save any map information offline unfortunately. The Google app is likewise only a light version of the “real” Google feed.

One surprise is that Android systems for slower smartphones also offer a Go version of the Google Assistant. But this turns out to be nearly unusable for several reasons. For one, there are still many widely spoken languages it can’t understand. If the phone language is set to English, it only listens for commands after the push of a button.

It’s also unclear which commands it understands compared to the full version of Google Assistant. Even worse, if users tell the app to open up Gmail, they end up on the page for a random mail app in the Play Store. Still, Assistant Go has a good mastery of the typical questions and web searches.

There are even more features missing that some users may notice. For example, the split screen mode for simultaneously using two apps isn’t an option on Go. Daydream VR does not perform as expected, and neither do connections with smartwatches. And most Google apps are also missing.

In order that the limited storage space of Android Go devices is fully exploited, a good memory manager is installed with Files Go. Once set up, it keeps a clear overview and helps to keep things in order.

Still, the overall effect of the entire concept of Go has been rather confusing. That’s because all regular Android apps can also be installed on Go devices – even Google Maps. Doing so is not all that fun, however.

Most of the normal apps routinely push the operating system, as well as the tight storage space, to its limits. Go users should instead look for fresh apps under the new rubric “Popular apps for Android Go” in the Play Store. Apps like Pinterest, Opera Mini, Facebook Messenger Lite or Instagram are available here as well as a number of games.

So is Android Go worth it? Definitely for the current operating system. In contrast to many other Android users, Go users do not have to wait ages or in vain for updates and protection from security loopholes. Instead, for a low cost, they have a modern Android without high-end functions. The combination with weaker smartphones is crucial, however.

Users cannot fault the Nokia 1 for its dark low-resolution display and a camera that is only acceptable under optimal conditions – more is simply not possible in this price category. It makes the most out of its potential.

Still, instead of purchasing an Android Go device, it’s worth taking a look at smartphones retailing for around US$200 (RM796) – if the budget is there. Phones in this range have solid everyday quality by now, and some even come with the relatively new Android 8 operating system without the limits described above.

And if users really have to resort to an Android Go phone like the Nokia 1, then yes, those work as well – and most of the time they work very well, but sometimes it just gives you a headache. The switch over to a mid-range device has rarely felt so good than after such a test. — dpa