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Hello, Android 2nd Edition Book Review

October 12, 2009

As the Android platform continues to rapidly evolve, so too are the related programming tutorial books that introduce the platform to developers.  One of the Android titles I found to be quite useful has received just such a treatment.  Does the book account for the vast SDK changes and platform improvements since the first edition?  Read on to find out.

Originally written for the 1.0 release of the Android SDK, Hello, Android has been updated to cover up to the most recently released 1.6 platform.  Comments made in my original review are still applicable for this release.

However, while the Sudoku tutorial application does indeed run under the 1.6 environment (and the screenshots of the Android Eclipse plug-ins represent the latest look of the development environment), the 1.6 discussion seems to be a quick afterthought, tacked on as a result of that version being released near the time of the second edition's publication.  The book was really re-written for the 1.5 platform in mind, and while the most valuable addition included in this edition's contents is the appendix on writing an Android widget, all the code and screenshots have been updated to correctly reflect the latest platform changes.  I had hoped the author would have added another appendix covering the more exciting changes in the 1.6 release, such as variable screen resolution, a convincing text-to-speech engine and the ability to create custom on-screen gestures.  Alas, the author's enthusiasm for these additions were muted by his suggestion that the 1.5 platform would be the predominant one in the hands of consumers for the time being, and that Android developers should focus their development on that release.  I disagree, since my experience has shown that Android users are a sophisticated bunch, eagerly adopting the latest and greatest that the Android team has to offer.  While the operating system is expanding to more devices, I believe it is still early enough in the game to believe it is in Android developers best interest to create applications with the most recently released SDK version in mind.

Incidentally, unlike my usual modus operandi for book reviews, I did not read the paper edition of the second edition.  Rather, Pragmatic Bookshelf is one of the few tech book publishers that have wholeheartedly embraced the Ebook revolution.  While I am a big fan of Ebooks for their ecological beneftis and more efficient distribution advantages (in fact, in a past life I was a contributor to the Open Ebook (OEB) Specification which eventually morphed into the Epub format), technical books were always a bit of a stretch, mostly due to the density of information and the desire to see 'the big picture' when code listings span multiple pages.  Given today's technical device limitations, Ebooks work especially well in long form titles that are mostly text with a scant amount of illustrations.  Still, I'm an eager technologist, always open to evaluating change.  Consequently, I read not only the PDF version but also the Epub version (on my Android phone, no less!).  Both offer advantages and disadvantages, but for this type of book, I preferred the PDF above the Epub version due to the PDF encapsulating full color images and a much larger page surface (i.e., the PDF is identical in look and size to its printed and bound counterpart).  

Pragmatic Bookshelf Epub and Mobi formatted Ebooks (predominantly for Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle Ebook devices) are not just PDF exports (i.e., using an eBook conversion tool like Calibre), but well thought out and constructed formats.  Epub was remarkably readable on the Android via the Aldiko reader application, with the exception that the images were in black and white, and a bit small (though appropriately making their point), and depending on their width, occasionally cropped by the Aldiko reader.  Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this cropping was the fact that code listings were also cropped by Aldiko due to the way the CSS instructed code listings not to word wrap (for obvious presentation reasons). Pragmatic Bookshelf obviously optimized their Epub titles for larger displays found in devices like Sony's Ebook Reader versus software readers like Aldiko, but perhaps future editions can optimize their code listings to allow some sort of compromise given the screen resolution limitations of the Android phone display.

The PDF edition was certainly easier to follow code listings, but required a hefty eBook reading infrastructure (i.e., a laptop with a decent display).  Hyperlinks to code listings and online references conveniently worked on both editions, making the reading experience that much more timely and interactive.  Overall, the Ebook reading experience was considerably more tolerable than I anticipated.  Pragmatic Bookshelf is one of the leading tech book publishers to aggressively enter the eBook reading market.  Other tech publishers will have to work hard to catch up to Pragmatic's pole position.  Indeed, Pragmatic Bookshelf's Dave Thomas has been admirably translucent on his company's workflow process on converting and distributing their content to various Ebook formats.  This has been described in a series of articles in Pragmatic Bookshelf's highly informative in-house electronic magazine, PragPub.

Another aspect that I really appreciated about these electronic editions was the fact that they were not encumbered with Digital Rights Management (DRM) wrappers.  In a refreshing, customer trusting move, Pragmatic simply watermarks the eBook with the customer's name (in the case of the PDF version, a "Prepared exclusively for <<customer name>>" watermark is appended on the left footer of every page).  Lastly, for those readers who previously purchased the first edition in Ebook format, Pragmatic Bookshelf upgraded their downloads to the second edition at no charge.  Sweet.

Returning to the review focus at hand, Hello, Android is a book (in both print and electronic format) best served to developers already comfortable with Java and have at least some experience with developing mobile applications.  Beyond that, the author's quick teaching pace and desire to stay current with the Android platform make Hello, Android a useful, timely book that continues to be one of the premiere books for learning how to leverage the Android development platform.

 



Title: Hello, Android, 2nd Edition
Author: Ed Burnette
Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf
ISBN: 978-1-93435-649-4
Pages: 272
Price: $32.95

 

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