October 16, 2014

On moving to android and really liking it

Posted in: Tech
By: Peter Costello

search

Or…Seriously, let me tell you all about my phone.

This was something I began writing about 3 or 4 months ago when I switched from iPhone to android and never really got around to finishing. In a previous life, I used to watch mac rumours waiting for the next iPhone to drop, checking specs, reviews and features with fervour and if I was to say what the one main difference in my life after having made the switch to android is, it would be that I’ve lost interest in phones.

That said, there is possibly still some value in the words below, some of it may now be irrelevant as the iPhone 6/6+ and iOS8 have been released and the apple and android operating systems leapfrog each other constantly, however, there were things I wanted to know before I made the switch and I’m sure there are others out there googling the same information. So here goes…

Why I switched

iPhones are rad. No Doubt! But the thing is, I just wasn’t excited enough to warrant spending almost $1000 AUD to buy one outright (and I’m still not, the 6 hasn’t changed anything there). I’m not saying I wanted change for change sake but I did want a change and apart from an increase in performance, the screen was starting to feel a bit small, I really wasn’t excited about thumb scanner technology, I was pretty interested in the camera but not $1000.00 worth of interested. Android on the flip side was affordable, seemed to have matured somewhat to a certain extent, the unknown.

But was it really unknown

I am a Chrome user and I use a few google apps here and there, how different could it be? I basically live in chrome, I love it. It is by far and away the best browser out there. Safari got lost somewhere along the way, firefox is a pig there just isn’t anything else going on for mac users really.

Anyway… Like I said, I live in Chrome and it’s this that has been the nicest surprise of moving to android. It’s that the phone knows what Im doing at work, at home and on the phone and does a pretty good job at putting it into the right context at the right time. It’s this kind of tech that makes me think, wearables might actually work. Not Glass! But you know, maybe the watches or maybe even a more holistic internet of things. There is a lot to like about android and also a few disappointing things too. Below are some of the things I have enjoyed and some others that I have found frustrating.

Some of the things that I’ve really liked so far…

Google Now

This feels like it’s just getting started but has the potential to be really awesome, like minority report awesome without the lame blue glass interface. In short, the phone and Chrome learn about me, my interests, where I’m going, at what time, etc. etc. and serve up topical information where appropriate. I could worry about the phone knowing too much about me, it clearly reads my mail, but then it presents what it knows in such a way that is useful and accompanies it with even more useful information.

For example, I recently travelled abroad on business, Google now saw the ticket in my email, at an appropriate time reminded me of flight details, provided weather reports for my destination, Placed a currency converter on the Now page, reminded me of the time at home, pointed me to interesting places while I was away (This was average at best, but can only really get better). I think it even gave me a translator panel on the “Now” panel. In short, it was awesome!

Search Everywhere

Kind obvious being an operating system made by a search giant but having the ever present search bar is great. Not only is it a web search but also works as an app launcher akin to alfred, which is another app I love on the mac, and suits my user style perfectly you should totally check it out and spring the 15 quid for a licence.

Sharing

Share anything from anywhere. This I really like, It’s not just sharing to your Facebook or whatever but sharing to email, tweet, saving to evernote or pocket or instagram add it to your to do list or just copy it to your clipboard. It’s all baked in. What ever service you’re rocking, you can pretty much share to them. Really, really handy and well executed.

The Keyboard

Oh my god the keyboard! Why isn’t apple doing the gesture type thing?(Correction, I understand that this is now something you can do on iOS8 although I couldn’t work it out when I had a quick play with one in store) At first I thought it was clunky and a nerd gimmick but after a few hours of dragging my finger around the keyboard, actually typing seems so arduous. Silly almost. (after a couple of months, it’s not silly almost, but most definitely ridiculous!)

Universal Back Button

It sounds really obvious but a back button is just the tits. The fact that I can click a link in an email or twitter or wherever, go to a website or app, click around and then hit back a couple of times to get back to where I was, be it in the same or a different app is awesome. I know I can do this with multi tasking or whatever but hitting back feels more natural. I’m all for progress and learning new patterns but I still like the good old back button.

Widgets

When I was on iPhone, I remember wanting a 1 button way of turning on my personal hotspot rather than having to dig through the phones settings in order to find the switch. One of the nice things in android (for nerds at least) is the ability to shortcut to specific settings or a particular email folder from your home screen. These are called widgets, there’s loads of them, most of them I don’t really use but the settings and mail short cuts are awesome. As is the Settings widget for screen wifi GPS, etc.

I believe that this was also introduced with iOS8 but I haven’t yet had a chance to look at it.

Automation (or getting the phone to think for me).

Battery life is a bit of an issue on Android which is definitely a con but there are a couple of things you can do. The settings widget mentioned above is a great way to quickly turn WIFI, Bluetooth and Location Services on or off as well as turning the screen brightness down to save power, but you can also have your phone listen for when your battery hits a certain level and automatically turn all those battery chugging services off. I use an app called agent to do this for me.

I also run a couple of other tasks throughout the Agent app. I Turn my Wifi and mobile data on and off when I arrive and leave various destinations, Send auto responds to text messages and phone calls while I’m driving. Best of all though, when I get to the office, it turns the volume on my phone ringer up to full so I don’t miss any important calls (from my boss).

Things that still kinda suck about Android

Calendar syncing

To be honest, this isn’t really an android thing. It’s a calendar thing and it’s rubbish! Why, in 2014, is a calendar format not universal?

Google, Microsoft, Apple pull your fingers out. People work on one system and live on another or deal with people who do and need to make appointments with those people and it makes sense for those appointments show up at work and at home and on your phone This is totally a first world problem. But it just shouldn’t be an issue.

I recently installed Sunrise Calendar, for android and so far it seems like it might be pretty good, but it’s still not as easy as I want it to be. Time will tell.

Some of the Apps

The android ecosystem is growing at an exponential rate and the quality of apps is getting better all the time but overall, the quality of apps is not of as high a standard as those on iOS. There are a lot of apps that are sort of at the same level as those on the “app store” about 5 years ago.

It’s changing but something I noticed while going through some of my app purchases on an old iPhone recently. While I was blown away at how small the screen was, the thing that I really noticed was “Man these apps are really awesome. That said, I do now spend a lot less on apps☺

Finally on Apps is that coming from iPhone, there are a lot of apps,#TextExpander#1password#Things#ByWord, I’m talking to you, that simply haven’t got an android version. I have found a replacement for things and byword but text expander I’m lost without, I’m sure there are a number of reasons why certain apps don’t port but I feel like in 2014, we should really be platform independent. I don’t want to go through another whole mac windows thing. I just want to make cool stuff.

To wrap it up, I like android, I like it a lot! I also like iOS, they both have really strong points and features, etc. but after having played with an iPhone 6 and 6+ in an apple store, I’m still not excited by it as a device, that said, I’m also not excited by any of the new android handsets. I have a nexus 5, it does pretty much everything I need it to and that’s about it. I hope something in this long winded ramble is of use to someone out there.

If asked for my advice… if you’re not totally married to iOS (and I was) and you’re thinking about giving android a go, you should. It’s good! After a week or so I don’t think you’ll look back. It is worth noting that my experience of android is entirely though the use of a Nexus 5 and I can’t speak for other handsets. So you know, at your own peril and all that.

Thanks for reading☺