For one of our projects, we need to adapt an iOS experience to feel like a native Android experience. Accordingly, I needed to become a Android user, and quickly.
The switch was easier than I expected. I went on craigslist and bought an unlocked white Samsung Galaxy S3 from a reputable fellow. iPhone5 uses a nano-SIM, and Galaxy uses a micro-SIM — I was not even aware there were different types — so I had to buy a nano-micro adapter on Amazon for a few bucks. Popped the nano-SIM in the adapter, then into the Galaxy, and voila! At least my phone was operation. I then reported the IEMI and SIM numbers to AT&T rep via chat (pretty easy), and 30m later I was surfing the web on the S3. Can't do that on Verizon! AT&T was great. The expected shenanigans I expected on my bill never appeared.
My first impression of the S3 was cheap, especially after popping off a flimsy back panel. The Samsung logo on the front stares at me at every glance. It bothers me. Even after a month, I still missed the feel of the rounded iPhone home button, contoured to my thumb, ready to be pressed.
I was excited to jump in and tinker. I factory-reset Android v4.1 (aka. "Jelly Bean," released July 2012).
After it's all said and done, it was a great experience, which I recommend for anybody that loves technology. Most people think of iPhone and Android as Mac vs. PC, but it is really more like Mac vs. Linux. Android is much more open than Windows is or will ever be. I even downloaded a new keyboard from the Play store — something Apple would never allow.
Beyond that, it is absolutely key for us as professionals to understand Android. comScore recently reported that 52.3% of U.S. based smartphone users are Android users (versus 37.9% for iOS). 1 of every 2 people with a smartphone has an Android phone. KPCB partner Mary Meeker reported that "Android phone adoption is ramping up six times faster than iPhone."
Because of these two things, we believe there will be much more grassroots innovation on Android. User interface designers will experiment with new UI patterns, graphic effects & animations, and OS experience configurations. I downloaded an app called Nova Launcher, which allows me configure everything: my home screen grids, scroll effects, etc. It's basically a designer's palette, powerful inspiration. iOS7's Control Center is borrowed heavily from Android.
All tech people should have an affair with Android. It surpassed my expectation, and with the exception of a few unavailable apps (OneReceipt and TaskRabbit), there was nothing significant I could do with my iPhone that I couldn't do with an Android.
So why am I returning to my iPhone5? I need to get things done. I need my phone to just work. Yes, I realize that sounds like a statement from every Mac evangelist ever. My hope is that I've spelled out a strong enough case below. Apple's walled garden never gets in my way. It knows what I need, when I need it — it knows I want directions from my current location, who my wife is, and where I live. I don't ever have to stop and figure out a feature while I'm driving, or tweak a setting, or any such thing. As with anything, there is a learning curve. But I'm a pretty savvy guy, and after 60-days I should have climbed it.
I do feel like I just scratched the surface of the Android world, and I would like to have dove a bit deeper. It is possible to "flash" or "root" the S3 and other phones with a "custom ROM," which are literally the state of the art versions of Android, created by the independent Android establishment. My understanding is that this wipes of all the junk AT&T and Samsung include, and gives you a raw install with which to tinker. I'm sure there are some real perils in there to be found.
Below, I tried to capture my detailed reactions to the experience.
Things I disliked:
1. I suppose I am a big Siri user, because I found Android's voice control — I'll call her "Maud" — totally inadequate. She usually replies with "let me search the web for that…" Her listening skills are lacking, she cut me off sometimes. Her voice is a little creepy. She can't control music very well, which is frustrating while driving. I just gave up on her
2. The Music Player is horrendous, no where near the quality of iTunes. I fought with the now playing screen endlessly. The bottom right has a round button for what feels like should access the songs-per-album list. Tap it, and it is the song list. From there, I expect that tapping the Up-button (Android verbiage for top left button) to take me to all albums, but instead takes me back to now playing. Huh? It is only from the now playing that tapping the back button takes you back to the Artists or Albums, etc. I even closed and re-opened the app the cycle frustrated me so much. And no native AirPlay can be a real killjoy.
3. Navigation is confusing, there are several apps for it. AT&T Navigator, for which AT&T wants to charge you $9.99 per month, appears when you most need a map, and least expect it. There is Google Navigation, which free, and what I ended up using. If you start navigation in Google Maps, this is what loads. If was satisfactory minus one episode where something got confused and it sent me driving in circles for 10 minutes. It does not do a few things which I would have thought basic — like forget where I live, and not default directions from my current location.
4. The AT&T apps in general reminded me of my first Windows 3.1 computer — so many icons! I had no idea what they do, and they're cobranded. Oddly, there was no Google Chrome browser. Maybe anti-trust issue? There were just bizarre apps called Internet, Email — even Yellow Pages. Flipboard is preloaded — found myself wondering who paid for that placement.
5. I found the camera inferior to the iPhone5's — even though on paper they're meant to be equal. They never felt as crisp, or as vibrant as on iPhone5. This may be the result of iPhone5 having a slightly better display, 326 ppi compared to the S3's 306 ppi. That probably seems trivial, but after 10 years of looking at pixels, I can see the difference.
6. The blinking light on the top of the phone. I'm sure this could be a useful affordance, but never figured out what its different indications were, and I somehow disabled.
7. The Apps screen. Why do I need to have apps in two different places?
8. The auto-brightness was definitely not as graceful as iPhone. I found myself manually adjusting, and I saw other Android users doing this as well. I would also notice when it was adjusting — the transitions are chunky.
9. No visual voicemail. Enough said.
10. Excessive gesturing and haptic feedback. I liked it at first, thinking it made it feel like more of a physical object, but as I used it more it began to bother me. And it consumes battery.
11. Battery life. A possibility exists I may have acquired a phone with a distressed battery, but a full charge would rarely last me a whole day. iPhone5, even with a ridiculous amount of background apps running (e.g. pedometer), would still last a whole day. An Android fan would likely respond: "At least you can put in a new battery."
12. Multitasking is no where near as efficient as iOS. The display is busy, and takes up excessive screen real estate. It's called multitasking for a reason. I don't need a preview of the app, I just want to go to it. Especially if I have to scroll up, lots of reading and excessive cognition.
13. The Emergency call button on the home screen was super poorly placed. I was constantly activating it by accident. One time somebody even told me: "Umm, you're calling 911."
14. I was never able to open any PDF files. I accidentally chose to always open PDFs with Kindle, and was never able to figure out how to change the default. And I shouldn't have to.
15. Wife & friend reaction — my wife is afraid to touch the S3. She feels like every time she touches it some error will happen. I understand how she felt when walking around a store with the phone in my hand. Even after I locked it, it would seem to still keep doing stuff by error. It even called a friend of mine.
16. The widgets are just plain ugly, they don't really relate to the overall aesthetic. The only widget I kept around was the Google search, which did come in handy.
17. All personal preference, but I found the default background tacky and fonts overly large.
Things that were OK:
2. At first I found them preemptive and distracting, but I started finding the app notification icons on the top useful. That said, I still don't care if my 4G is sending or receiving.
3. I'm not sure how it compares, but I found myself pulling down the notification screen much more. Maybe it's because the Messages app doesn't have a home screen bubble indicator. I did like it, though — it's quick brief of what's happened with email, messages, and more. You can archive right there, clear all notifications, and manage the phone's key settings (brightness, WiFi, spun, airplane mode, and more). iOS7 has a screen similar to this now. Funny to see reverse copycatting happening.
4. At first I was bummed about iMessage, where I was really liking being able to manage all my messages from Gmail, AIM, and iMessage itself. Fortunately, I found an app called MightyText, which was a great replacement. It uses the phone's APIs to create a web interface where you can send and receive text messages. Though a bit buggy, I ended up liking it a lot.
5. No issues with the Play store. I even liked that I didn't have to type in my password every 5 minutes.
6. I didn't mind the action button. If I could figure out how to do something, I'd hit the action button and it would be there 90% of the time.
Things I liked:
1. I generally found typing on the Android keyboard tedious and error prone, but far and away my favorite Android feature was Continuos input "typing." It allows you to type by running your finger over the keyboard, speeding up your typing dramatically. Once you get a sense of what words it will know, and where it will error, it becomes very effective. I bought a keyboard app called SwiftKey, which used this brilliant, had far better auto-correct than the default, and was less error prone. Unfortunately it crashed the phone, and after a restart, the default keyboard always reappeared. I surrendered.
2. I like Android's pattern unlock — much better than the "enter your PIN" ATM experience.
3. Managing your pages. At first, I found the home screen a little confusing. I spent the time moving all the apps to the first page, only to discover it defaults to the "middle page." Only later did I find out that pages can re-ordered, which I thought was very cool and well executed. I love the ability to re-order them, set a specific one as the home screen.
4. The physical Back button. I liked it so much I started wanting to hit a Back button on my iPad — I think that says something. On the S3 it's perfectly placed for your thumb, and I never mis-tapped it.
5. The single bar which allows you select between characters. It's easier and more simple than iPhone's magnifier.
6. App interoperability seems superior, especially with Dropbox. It's easy to send items from place to place.
7. Though I never used it, I like the idea of the SD expansion slot.