Android Phones and Downloading On the Go

After a somewhat rocky start, the Android platform from Google is beginning to pick up steam, and with the new Motorola Droid model from Verizon, and with multiple new handsets promised from a number of manufacturers, Android is poised to challenge the iPhone and Symbian platforms for future supremacy (WinMo seems moribund at best).  As someone who has used a T-Mobile G-1 for almost a year, I have enjoyed witnessing first hand the evolution of the platform, rough edges and all, particularly as hundreds of new applications have arrived, extending usability and customization in radical new directions.  While it remains pretty accurate to see Android as the somewhat awkward, geeky little brother to the slicker, cooler iPhone sibling, that perception has attracted a large number of developers for Android, and there are dozens of applications now available that fit comfortably in the hardcoretechy end of the spectrum.  For readers of Zeropaid, however, a specific interest is likely to be how well Android phones perform as tools for Bittorrent , Usenet and direct downloading sites.  The answer is a bit confused and is ever-evolving, but I will sketch out where things stand currently and what you might be able to do if you do indeed head this week to a Verizon store and get a Droid for yourself.

For the most part, due to limitations in both the hardware and the service contract, you probably won’t be downloading much directly from the Internet to the phone itself.  There are a few beta Android applications that claim to allow for eitherBittorrent or Usenet downloading, but I have not been successful in getting them to work, either with 3G or Wi-Fi connections.  AndroidTorrent can open .torrent files, but does not actually get the download started, while the Groundhog Usenet reader can download the headers from binary newsgroups, but it cannot, as far as I can tell, actually download files in a binary format, much less handle the more complicatedunrar and par operations.  Rapidshare and Megaupload also proved to be unworkable from the built-in Android browser.  And it should be mentioned that large-scale downloading would almost assuredly create problems of bumping into the actual limits to the supposedly “unlimited” data plans (rumored to be around 5GB a month).

Despite those unfortunate limitations, Android-powered phones can be very useful for members of the downloading community, just in the role of portable dashboards for remote operation.  Torrent-fu for Bittorrent, and NZBdroid for Usenet allow users to control downloading from where ever they are via the Android phone, queuing up files to be enjoyed later, but also in the case of Torrent-fu giving users the ability to scan commercial goods via their barcodes, search major Bittorrent portals like BT-Junkie and IsoHunt, and then initiate downloads, all remotely.  And, of course, those files could be accessed by the Android phone if the remote computer is set up to serve files as well (although video files, for instance, would likely have to be re-encoded before they could be watched on the phone itself, but that’s a different article).

Torrent-fu is a free application available from the Android Marketplace and works on all variety of Android phones.  It acts as a client application for uTorrent (or Transmission) when the latter program is set up for control via its Web UI.  A bit of knowledge about port forwarding will be necessary, but without too much hassle you can leave uTorrent running on your home computer, and then both manage and add .torrent files to it completely from your phone.  Downloaded .torrent files, integrated search from within Torrent-fu, or most inventively, via the scanning of barcodes, can all generate downloads.  As a test, I scanned an old Big Lebowski DVD, and Torrent-fu did an excellent job of providing me with a number of different options for download.  Overall, Torrent-fu does an excellent job of giving any Android phone owner the power to amass a large media collection, while entirely away from their main computer.

NZBdroid is also available from the Android Marketplace, for either free or a $.99 donation, whatever the user decides.  It is very similar to Torrent-fu in concept, except that this app remotely controls a user’s SABnzbd+ downloading from Usenet.  As a huge fan of Usenet (and SABnzbd+) I truly love this application.  Since SABnzbd+ is essentially designed for a web-based interface anyway, NZBdroid is a bit easier to set up than Torrent-fu and really just operates in the background, only appearing when an .nzb file is downloaded from the web to the phone.  At that point the NZBdroid icon pops up allows for the information contained in the .nzb file (which is essentially just an XML file anyway) to the SABnzbd+ instance running on the home computer for eventual download.  All the options presented to control SABnzbd+ from the web are present on the phone as well.  NZBdroid is simple, powerful, and is absolutely worth the suggested $.99 donation for anybody seriously into Usenet downloading.

We are still very much in the early days of smart phones, as they continue to evolve from merely portable telephones into what are essentially small but relatively powerful computing devices.  Their processing power, storage limitations and most crucially data transmission bottlenecks (both physical and financial) prevent them from being used currently up to their potential for downloading from Bittorrent, Usenet and direct download sites, but there are some very cool applications like Torrent-fu and NZBdroid that already give them some very interesting functionality.  And in the future we are likely to see even more powerful phones with greater storage and even cheaper bandwidth capabilities that will let users fully take advantage of portable computing.

Have any of you tried out these programs?  Other Android apps for Bittorrent or Usenet?  How do the iPhone or the Pre compare in this regard?  I’d love to hear any other experiences Zeropaid users have had with mobile downloading.