A little bit more than a month ago I finally decided it was time to make the jump. I was ready to dump my iPhone and join the Android craze. A couple of things happened at the time that made me finally go for it. One of them was that my very old iPhone was starting to show its age, battery life was horrible, performance even worse and I got left behind on software updates. However, the most important factor that finally drove me to get an Android phone was the arrival of the LG Optimus T on T-Mobile. In my opinion, the Optimus T – or the Optimus One line in general – is right up there along the Nexus One and the Droid as an Android milestone. It’s a phone geek’s dream come true, the fact that you can get a free smartphone that performs very well and also looks good. This is possible mainly because of Android. This wouldn’t happen in a world of Windows Phone 7 or iOS. Like icing on a cake, T-Mobile also announced a new 10$/month 200MB data plan. It was the last nail on the coffin, I was finally breaking out of the walled garden.
I got the Optimus T through Wirefly for free with a contract extension and a 10$/month data plan. For only 10 more bucks a month I was upgrading to a much better and advanced phone than the one I previously had. A couple of days later I was holding my first Android phone in one hand while throwing my iPhone in the drawer with the other. I’ve been reading about Android pretty much since the beginning but had never actually held one for more than five minutes, nonetheless I immediately knew where everything was and how it all worked. Watching countless hours of phone reviews on YouTube will do that to you. But there’s nothing like actually holding something in your hand and using it yourself. After a while of using my brand new Android phone, I realized it was a quite different experience to iOS’ – sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. So here’s what I like about Android and what I miss from my iPhone.
I consider myself a pretty heavy Google user. I use everything from Gmail and Reader to Chrome and Picasa on a daily a basis. So Android seemed like a natural fit into my already “Googlified” life. As a Google user, I felt pretty much alienated using iOS where Google integration is next to nonexistent. On the other hand, a couple of minutes after using Android I had all my contacts, emails, events, text messages and pictures already on my phone all synced up – it was one of those “wow” moments. After just five minutes of use I felt right at home with all my data on the phone. Another advantage of using a “Google phone” is that you get all the Google goodies before anybody else. Evidence shows that it might take up to a year for Google to move one of their Android app to iOS. iPhone users just got the Google Voice app on the App Store more than a year after it was available on Android, that’s a long time in the tech world. Not only does Google develops for Android first but they also focus much more on it. All Google apps on Android are miles ahead in term of functionality than their iOS counterparts. Look no further than Google Maps for Android compared to its iOS brethren.
Notifications is one of those things on iOS that you just can’t believe how bad it is. In fact, it doesn’t feel like it belongs on iOS, that’s how bad it is. It stops you from doing whatever you’re doing with a huge dialog that makes you decide right there what you want to do with it, do I cancel? Do I read it now? What if I forget to read it later? It’s just a mess. After using Android’s notification system for more than a minute I can’t go back to using iOS unless I turn off notifications altogether. If I had to choose one thing the Android team got right from the very beginning, it would be the notification bar. It gets the job done beautifully and seamlessly.
One of the first things I did with my Optimus T was to customize it. I immediately added a music player widget, downloaded LauncherPro, Aquarium Live Wallpaper, and The Office theme song ringtone. All within the phone and without jailbreaking it. You can’t say the same for iOS. iOS customization begins and ends with changing your static, boring, non-moving wallpaper. Say all you want about widgets and live wallpaper and their effect on battery life but people love this kind of stuff. Having your phone look just like everybody else’s is no fun.
No more iTunes
People often place iTunes as one of the advantages of iOS. I for one couldn’t be happier I don’t have to use it ever again. Seriously, not having to use iTunes anymore is reason enough to switch to Android. It’s slow, bloated, buggy, and gets in your way all the time. Maybe on Mac OS is a different story, on Windows however it is a nightmare. Want to quickly copy a song you like? Sync with iTunes. Want to copy a photo? Sync with a iTunes or email it to yourself – ugh. Want to add a ringtone? Sync with iTunes. Want to copy a movie? Sync with iTunes. Everything is done through iTunes and iTunes only. Also, don’t even try buying an unofficial iPhone/iPod USB cable or you’ll be deeply disappointed when iTunes doesn’t let you sync. It’s one of those Apple things designed to keep you inside their little world. On Android, I sync my photos with Picasa from the cloud, I download ringtones and wallpapers with the Zedge app, and I use Grooveshark and Pandora for music. Talk about better media management. Moreover, that new Android Market web app is not that far away either.
Another advantage of Android is speed. Not only how fast things work but how fast you can get things done. Want to check the weather outside really quick? Just take a glance at the Weather widget. Want to check Twitter or Facebook in a hurry? There’s a widget for that. All of these require you to launch an app on iOS and take a lot more time. So who cares if apps on iOS launch half a second quicker than on Android if it takes you five more minutes to do the same thing you do in five seconds on Android. One last thing I love about Android is the way third-party apps can add options to the “Share” menu. One example of this is when I’m using the browser I can quickly tap “Share page” and then share it on Twitter or Facebook because I have those apps installed. To accomplish this simple task – like tweeting a URL – on iOS would require you to do some annoying copy-pasting and typing. The level of integration that third-party apps can achieve within the Android OS is much deeper than on iOS.
Even though I’m loving my Android phone, there’re some things I miss about my iPhone. Mainly the user interface and the experience. There’s a price to pay when you give developers too much freedom and very few tools to build a great UI. They most of the time do a horrible job. Many of the apps in the Android Market are developed by a one-man or two-man team. These developers in most cases have excellent coding skills but not very good design skills – and not all have the money to hire a UI designer. The result is horrible looking apps and inconsistency across all of them. This is one aspect Google really needs to focus on by providing great and easy to use tools to build slick looking UIs. Getting rid of the menu button wouldn’t hurt either. Honeycomb is looking to be a major step in the right direction, so hopefully this issue will be a thing of the past soon.
Software support and bugs
I’ve read about software bugs being a sore spot for Android a couple of times before but experienced it for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I was using my phone when all of the sudden it rebooted out of the blue. When it turned back on it wouldn’t recognize the SD card. This would happen randomly and a couple of times a day. It was very annoying when I’d pull out my phone and try to launch an app and it wouldn’t work ’cause of the SD card error. I turned to Google for answers but couldn’t find anything, just a couple of people with the same problem. I searched the T-Mobile forum and nothing. The Android help forum, nothing. The LG website, nothing. I was on my own. I briefly considered buying a new SD card when the problem suddenly went away. It hasn’t happened again to this day. It’s probably some kind of weird software bug that’ll be fixed on a future update. The problem is I had nobody to turn to when it happened. If this had happened with my iPhone I would’ve just turned to Apple for help and that’s it. Software bugs are something we can live with on our PCs but are totally unacceptable on our phones. Something as crucial as a phone needs to work 24/7 and be 100% reliable. In fact I’d rather see Google fix all the bugs on Android than release any new features. I’d trade new capabilities for being able to use my phone without worries. That’s why I was kind of glad Gingerbread didn’t have that many new features, but instead Google focused on performance and developer APIs and tools.
So there you have it, that’s some of Android’s pros and cons from a former iPhone user’s point of view. Of course the pros far outweigh the cons. Also, the phone will only get better with future updates so I’m not worried too much about software bugs or the interface. These issues are easily fixable, unlike Apple’s walled garden which can’t be fixed by a software update and will probably never will. Something is very wrong when somebody tells you that you can’t use an app or a feature on a phone that you bought with your hard-earned money. I’m now very happy with my Android phone – something I couldn’t say about my iPhone. Have a Happy New Year.