Mike McBride

My Android Experience, and Why I Switched Back to iOS

Monday, May 13, 2013

NB: I wrote this article in early 2012, so a few things have changed in the realm of iPhones and Android. The iPhone charger is different, so there aren't as many iPhone 5 chargers laying around at people's houses, the iPhone increased screen size by half an inch, and Android has put out a couple of new versions of their OS that are far better than the OS version I was using when I switched. Although I'd be willing to give Android another try, I'd be wary of it, and I'd still never use anything other than a Google Nexus phone or other phone running stock Android.

First off, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed my Android phone (I had the Samsung Galaxy SII Skyrocket for AT&T). It is a wonderful piece of technology. Being a huge fan of Google products, I can't stress enough how much I loved the deep integration with Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Music (LOVE the Android Google Music app) and all my other Google accounts. This is not an Android bashing post by any means, because they have a great operating system and have had great success. But there are reasonsĀ I decided to go back to my old iPhone after less than 6 months on Android, and here's why.

My biggest reason: hardware. I love the iPhone hardware. Despite the fact that I am a big fan of PCs and open source software, I'll be the first to admit that Apple blows the pants off everyone else in the hardware department, and the iPhone is no exception here. The touchscreen quality, ease of use, and reliability of the phone are phenomenal. Not to say that the touchscreen technology on the Android phones is poor - HTC and Samsung make great touchscreen devices (I've not used a Motorola touchscreen but I'd assume they are getting pretty good as well). They just aren't as fluid or responsive as the iPhone is, and I found that I missed it a lot. Another thing that I thought I loved at first and came to not like as much is the size of the phone. My Android phone was huge. I loved it when I was browsing websites on my phone (which wasn't that often since 80% of my day I'm in front of a computer), but aside from that, it wasn't as great as I initially thought it would be. At times, the screen was so big that using the phone became a two-handed job. I love that on my iPhone I can reach anywhere on the screen without having to reposition the phone in my hand. This became a great annoyance the more I used the phone, and something I never thought about until it happened. This is not to say that all Android phones have this problem, but lately the general trend in these devices has been to bigger screen sizes.

So what about the software, you ask? I do love the Android software. I love that you can customize every dark corner of your phone's OS. I love the ability to flash custom ROMs and the flexibility it affords. I love the open source nature of the OS. I love the way Google handles multitasking. I am a HUGE fan of how Android handles notifications (I think miss this the most). And I don't even need to tell you how much I love the uber-deep Google integration (but I already did... twice). I'm not about to say that I don't miss parts of the software, because I do.

Google has come a long way from the beginning of Android, and they have a wonderful piece of software on their hands, but there are also a few things that really annoy me about the OS. For example, the drawback to their awesome multitasking is crappy battery life. I never paid attention to my battery life with my iPhone before switching to Android, because it was so great. I didn't realize how spoiled I was getting - I assumed all phones had gotten much better battery life recently (I had a Blackberry for 2 years prior to my iPhone, and it also got great battery life). How wrong I was... Before implementing some battery-saving practices to my phone use (turning off GPS and Wifi when not in use, charging when I'm in my car, and significantly cutting back on playing games), my battery would be below 40% when I left work at the end of the day. Another thing that wrecks battery life is the widgets. As wonderful as they are (and it was a huge selling point for me when switching from the iPhone), they suck the life out of your battery like a thirsty child going to town on a juice box. Going back to iOS means I lost out on some cool widgets, but it also means I don't have to worry if my phone will die when I forget my charger at my apartment if I stay out for the night (not to mention almost everyone has an iPod or iPhone, so there are chargers aplenty almost anywhere you go).

Let's talk about another software-related component of the OS: the user interface. Let me start by saying that I had a Samsung device, which came with their own Touchwiz UI. In my opinion, it sucks. Sure, there are a couple of cool tweaks they added (predictive dialing and the swipe left or right on a contact to call or text them are great features), but overall I was very unimpressed. I've used phones of friends who have the Nexus devices (Google's phones), which run the stock UI and I much prefer them. I did install a launcher to change things up a bit (for you non-Android users, that's like changing the theme of a phone), but that only goes so far. Although the new release of Android 4.0 has proven to make things more user-friendly, the interface still takes a lot of exploring and tinkering with to really get used to. The iPhone, on the other hand, is easy to use and intuitive. Things are where you'd expect them to be, and I hardly ever had to go hunting for settings. Some people (including myself) love the ability to tinker with how things look and feel, and iOS doesn't give you that ability. The drawback to this is that some people do not like the look and feel of iOS and they aren't able to change it. I am not one of those people. Despite being a tinkerer, I do love the simplicity of the iPhone and iOS and I don't care that I can't change it. The more I used Android and played around with the settings and tweaks, the more I found myself disappointed because something wasn't compatible with my phone or it didn't work the way I wanted it to work. I never had that problem with the iPhone because I couldn't tweak anything, but that's a trade-off I'm willing to take.

The last category I have is kind of a smorgasbord of items. As a techie, I think it's cool that you can access the file system in Android, but it can be very confusing for people who don't know what it is. People can delete backup files of their data without even knowing what they're doing, and that's a poor design decision in my mind. Another thing that I missed about the iPhone was the apps. Everyone who has a great idea for an app these days develops it for the iPhone and typically it gets ported to Android a little later, if ever. I have definitely trimmed down on the number of apps that I keep on my phone, but I missed having so many great options for software. It's a shame, really, since Android apps are significantly easier to create and publish (the drawback to Android app development is that there are so many different phones with differing screen sizes, processors, etc. that make compatibility much more difficult). I really hope that Android app development continues to get more popular, because there's a large market, and since it is open source, anyone can create an app (and they're written in Java, which is way easier than Apple's app-development language). Another con of Android for me (and maybe this belongs in the software section) is the amount of crapware or bloatware that comes pre-installed on your phone. I don't want Need for Speed racing on my phone, so please don't pre-install it. Furthermore, these bloat apps are not removable, which is a HUGE pain. I love that Apple doesn't put that kind of stuff on their phone. Granted the iPhone does come with some apps you can't uninstall, there are only 3 or 4 that I never use (why in the world would you install a compass app and not let people remove it? Never made sense to me) and I'm really okay with having them on there. Finally is iTunes sync. Let me say this: I'm not a big fan of iTunes because, unless you use an Apple computer, it is way too big of a program (big meaning it is a resource hog -- it hooks into everything and slows down your PC), but it is dead simple, it gets the job done, and syncing your music through iPhone to iTunes couldn't be smoother. I liked how you could drag and drop files into a folder to get them on your phone for Android (and I REALLY loved that you can upgrade the storage capacity on your phone by adding an SD card - that's something Apple needs to add), but it was also very easy to lose track of where I stored files that I wanted to put on my phone, and not always easy to find where they were once I had them on there. Overall, Android could make things a lot more intuitive in syncing media.

Looking back, I enjoyed my time learning a new phone and operating system. I liked getting to explore the nooks and crannies in Android that just don't exist on the iPhone, but that's my nature as a tech nerd. In the end, I'm finding that I spend a lot less time trying to tweak my phone, which gives me more time to do other things. I don't sit on iPhone forums reading about what hacks I can implement to make my phone do something fancy. After spending so much time with a phone that gives me the ability to do all kinds of things like that, I realize that I don't want or need any of it. I have plenty of computers and other gadgets I can tweak (that's what my Linux machine is for). With the iPhone, I can worry less about tweaking it and just let it be a phone, which I am finding quite refreshing.