I last posed this question over two years ago, when Apple’s imposition of the 30% fee policies to apps with stores first caused me to question whether it was worth staying with the platform. At the time, there just weren’t any good options, though the Galaxy Player on the horizon looked promising. At the moment, there still aren’t (though plenty of people have been calling for one). My iPod Touch is getting pretty long in the tooth, and I’d like to replace it with an Android device. My main use case for it is running Google’s three-factor verification app and playing music, and it would be nice to have the greater versatility Android offers over iOS.
According to a friend of mine who follows the Android market, the best alternatives out there are the Creative Zen Touch 2, the Philips Android Connect, and the Archos 32. They’re all cheap enough (the Galaxy Player is also still around, though discontinued, but it’s pricier), but the biggest problem is that all current Android media mini-tabs, including the Galaxy Player, just run Android 2, not 4. Which means they’re not going to be compatible with the latest app store or applications. (Well, you can apparently hack the Galaxy Player into running Jelly Bean with CyanogenMod, the same as I did my Nook HD, but that’s a little risky.) There are rumors of a Galaxy Player II in the offing that would have Jelly Bean, but it hasn’t materialized yet.
On the other hand, I could always do what one of my co-workers suggested and get an Android pay-as-you-go phone and just not activate it. Or, for that matter, I could buy one and activate it. Virgin Mobile has the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich Kyocera Rise for $70 (I like the way it has a slider keyboard and touchscreen keyboard capability), or Kyocera Event for $50 with no contract. The Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Samsung Galaxy Ring is just $150. While they don’t have a huge amount of memory, I could put a 32 GB SD card in them with room for plenty of music on it. And while I prefer a Tracfone plan where I buy cards with minutes, a $35/mo 300 min + unlimited messages/data plan from Virgin Mobile wouldn’t be a huge bite out of my pocketbook relatively speaking.
In fact, that honestly might just be why there are no good Android iPod Touch alternatives. The iPod Touch doesn’t have an SD card slot, so if you want to have a 32 GB iPod Touch, you have to buy one with that built in. But if you could take a $50 smartphone and add a $21 memory card and use it as a 32 GB media player, why would anyone want to bother with a $100+ media player that you can’t use as a phone?
But on the other hand, if they can make a $50 Android no-contract smartphone with cellphone capability, why can’t they make a $50 media player without one? A phone-free media player is useful as an Internet-browsing, email, and e-reading device for kids who you don’t want to give potentially costly cellphone access yet. (Granted, these phones didn’t start out that cheap, but still.) But then again, there’s no reason a parent would necessarily have to activate such a phone for their kid. If they got it for media player and Wi-Fi use only, they could always activate it later on when the kid was ready for it.