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June 29th 2012 2:10 pm

An iPhone user five years later: I'm trying Android

Five years ago today the original iPhone launched. I remember it very well -- partly because it seemed like half the staff of Engadget was crashing at my place for the initial US release. The hype was totally out of control considering the first iPhone was a $600 unsubsidized 2G device on a single US carrier. Still, it felt like the future. It WAS the future. I've used every subsequent model of iPhone every day since.

A lot's happened since then, though. Most notably: Android.

As a technology critic, it's always been part of my job to keep up on what's out there (even if my daily driver doesn't necessarily change). For as much time as I spend on non-iPhone platforms (and that's increasingly less these days -- Marc Perton's been doing an awesome job heading up our reviews program), I haven't really spent what I'd consider a really meaningful amount of time on another mobile platform since the introduction of the HTC G1. For as many phones as I've tested, I've never gone iPhone cold-turkey.

It also occurs to me that Android's gotten enormously better. Ice Cream Sandwich, and now Jelly Bean, both feel like big steps forward for the platform (on phones, anyway). I also put a lot of stock in the design work that Matias Duarte, now Senior Director of Android UX, has put into the platform since coming over from Palm. In short, I think Android a hell of a lot more viable these days than ever before.

So I'm going to do something I think most iPhone users would find anathema: I'm going to take the Android challenge. That is to say, I'm going to try switching to Android.

I'm doing it because I feel it's important I know Android even better than I do -- but that's are easy, obvious justification for a switch. That'd be the same reason for just borrowing a Nexus for the afternoon and playing with it in my spare minutes.

The real reason I'm trying a switch is that while I think iOS still sets the bar for mobile interaction (and has undergone some very important iterations over the last couple of years), I don't think it's changed in many truly meaningful ways to the consumer as of late. iOS 6 is better than iOS 5, but it's still very much the same.

Which is to say, this experiment doesn't come from a place of dissatisfaction with iOS, but more that it springs from the same kind of intellectual curiosity that caused me to switch to the iPhone in the first place. It will, for example, challenge me to question my assumptions about exactly what it is I think Apple should do next that they're not doing in iOS 6.

Also, I think it's important to experience new things in technology, even if it's on devices so personal that a significant change will makes your life feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable for a while.

So, here are simple the rules I'm setting for this experiment:
  1. I'll use a Galaxy Nexus (gdgt Score 92, former Must-have: gdgt.com­/samsung­/galaxy­/nexus/) with Jelly Bean as my daily driver for an indeterminate amount of time (but absolutely no less than seven days).
  2. I will have my iPhone 4S on me most of the time in case I need emergency (read: work-related) access to something I haven't been able to get on Android. But I will not be "double-fisting" it -- meaning only my Android device will actually have service and be in use. For all intents and purposes, I won't really have an iPhone anymore.
  3. Perhaps most importantly: I will do things the Android way. That means endeavoring to learn and use Android as it was intended, and not just trying to replicate iOS experiences I'm most familiar with.
  4. Related to doing things the Android way, I won't be rooting the device or installing any mods, ROMs, etc. I haven't jailbroken my iPhone in years, so I'm going to go for the same raw, stock consumer experience with Android.
  5. I'll post my findings here on gdgt every day or two (provided I actually have anything interesting to say).
I'll be honest, I cut over at midnight last night and already this switch feels more than a little uncomfortable. As technology experts and enthusiasts know, it's one thing to test a device, but another thing entirely to displace your favorite product and make it your primary -- and your phone is by far your most personal device of all.

But I'm also pretty stoked. My thick, clumsy thumbs are already enjoying the additional screen real estate of the Galaxy Nexus, and I'm having fun catching up on all the thoughtful details Google's implemented into Android.
My early expectations? I think I'll be back to the iPhone. I'm not expecting to fall for Android. But if there's one thing I truly love about technology, it's when products defy my expectations.

P.S. -If you're an iPhone user with access to a recent Android device, I'd love if you joined in on the experiment and shared your own experiences switching to Android for a week, a month, or forever. I'll leave comments open on this thread and any subsequent updates so folks can check in, if they're so inclined.

P.P.S. -Great app, mod, widget, etc. suggestions are welcome!

Android Challenge updates:

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97 replies

Good luck! I've been an iPhone user for the last five years as well, but earlier this month I switched to an HTC One X. I rooted it and installed Stock ICS on it and I'm in love. Haven't looked back at the iPhone thus far.
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Do you have a link to a good guide for rooting the One X?
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One of my friends set up for me step-by-step instructions on how to do it: https:­/­/docs.google.com­/document­/d­/1zFNXlGSqMZJWmQ...

However, this is much harder to do if you updated the carrier update when you first got your One X, which was what I did... but this should work for those who didn't update.
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International or AT&T/Rogers?
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That's what I'm thinking of doing. I'd get a Galaxy Nexus for vanilla JellyBean, but I'm just not a fan of regular pentile screens, where as the IPS LCD on the OneX is among the best mobile screens I've seen. Certainly a worthy successor to the tiny (but beautiful) retina screen on my iPhone4.

I'm still sitting on the fence and waiting for the iPhone 5 announcement though. I'm not really excited about anything in iOS6 (and there's even some backward steps with Google Maps being dropped). However I'm heavily invested in the iOS ecosystem (have an ipad2 as well) as well as having invested in a variety of jailbreak tweaks which massively improve the iPhone's capabilities, so this is a big decision for me.

Apple (actually it was Gizmodo to get technical :) ) did unveil a very cool handset with the original iPhone4, so it's not out of the realm of possibilities they'll unveil something awesome again this year, but if the rumours and apparent design leaks are true, there's not much to get excited about.

Anyway we'll see, but my guess is I'll have a OneXL (compatible with Australian LTE) running JB in a couple of months.
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identical to me
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The important thing to keep in mind when testing out a new OS or app is that there's a difference between something being genuinely bad and something just not what we're used to.

I see a lot of reviewers make this mistake because they're accustomed to one platform or another (and this is one reason I try to make sure to have multiple OSes in my life), and say something is less intuitive because the interface is organized differently. It can be hard to tell the difference, and the only real way is to use something for a long enough time to feel confident that the issues that bother you are inherent in the OS or app and not ones born of your own habits.

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We saw this a few months ago with the Galaxy Note. I saw a few reviewer that even wrote open letters to Samsung BEGGING them to stop making them because they thought the screen was too big, and that it was BAD for consumers to have a choice of a phone that size!
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I really think you should try to go for longer than one week. That seems a bit short. ;)
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I rephrased that part. I don't have a timeline in mind. But I won't do it for any less than a week. Realistically, I don't think I could truly learn Android to the level I know iOS in less than two or three weeks of daily use. But we'll see!
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Understandable. And welcome to Android! +1 to many of the other comments here too, especially Swype!
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(and I shouldn't say 'Welcome to Android'...it's not like you've never seen it before)
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I won't lie, I really do miss using Swype. When I first got the Droid X, I totally fell in love -- if you follow me online, you've probably heard one of my many self-piteous complaints over the years at my general suckiness / anatomical incompatibility with typing on touchscreen keyboards.
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I tried Swype, but it just never clicked with me. I have been using SwiftKey for over a year now and am finally happy enough with a virtual keyboard that I have stopped pining for a good phone with a slider. Don't get me wrong, I'd still like one if someone made a really good one on Sprint, but it is no longer a requirement. Without SwiftKey, I'd be stuck in the low-mid tier of devices, which would make me sad. If you are already super happy with Swype, you may not care, but it is definitely the best for the way I type, so you might want to at least give it a try for a few days. Disclaimer: I do not use the default settings even in SwiftKey as I cannot tolerate automated auto-complete on any level, but insist on choosing from suggested words, which is perfect for me.
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The problem with Swype is that you have to trace the entire word, which is faster than typing the whole word, but usually not faster than typing the first one or two letters of the word then choosing it from a list of predicted words, which is what SwiftKey does for you. Also, if Swype thinks the word your tracing is not the word you're trying to input, then you have to fall back on just typing the whole word out.
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I totally agree with you. I switched away from back in doughnut days for this very reason.
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I agree with this; I also tried Swype, but SwiftKey is still king for me. I also use the 'precise' setting so the app doesn't make autocorrects automatically. It's more efficient if you let the app learn from your previous typing activities and just pick out from the three suggested words as you type.
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I used to love Swype, but SwiftKey surpassed it about a year ago imo. Try out SwiftKey if you haven't.
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And it's been greatly improved, especially with the latest beta that brags 4 keyboard types:
  • Touch typing
  • Swyping
  • Hand-writing recognition
  • Speech recognition
Although it's not particularly great at the touch typing nor the hand-writing.
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I'm happy to see someone in your position try this test out, Ryan! Give it a fair shake and see how you like it. I'm not going to say anything as silly as "Android is the best, you should totally switch because iOS sucks!" These devices and operating systems have such subjective differences, and what you prefer is going to differ greatly from person to person. At the end of your experiment, you may just find that the way Apple does things just jives better with you. I just happen to jive better with Android, so that's why I have one.

I just have two comments about how you're conducting your little test:

1) I'm sorry, but seven days isn't nearly long enough. That's a long product review period, but nothing for a test of "can I use this as my daily driver?" I think at the end of the week you can't honestly say you've stopped trying to replicate your iOS experience. I'd have to recommend two weeks at absolute minimum, preferably three, and ideally four.

2) A HUGE part of this test is going to be the services surrounding the device your using. Sure, I'm curious how you feel about your comparisons of notification systems, app stores, home screens, etc. But I'm more curious whether you're an iTunes user and how the transition is (although I know for a fact you're an rdio user because I follow you on there :) ). I'm sure you will, but please spend a decent amount of time on your updates on how the two phones fit into your personal use of the services you have. Personally, the entire reason I bought a G1 the month it was released and have stuck with Android ever since is solely because of the GMail app. The rest of the things I prefer about Android are part of the icing on the cake for me, but it's how the phone uses GMail that's important to me (and the iOS GMail app doesn't count for me because I can't make it the default - and it's not as good).

Anyway, again, I'm interested to see the updates. I'll be reading!
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iTunes isn't really core to using iOS like it once was. I get what you are getting at though, and it's a good point.
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I would say to make a fair assessment you should use it like a normal consumer, meaning no rooting your device. Looking forward to hearing the results. I tried this with WP7 and ended up back on the iPhone.
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I agree. I'm going to add that to my rules.
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Wow, this is crazy. I am doing this EXACT same thing, and was going to write a blog about it. Good luck with everything. I am much more impressed with Jelly Bean than I am with iOS 6
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Me too. And I've been using iOS since 2008. I think Apple made a massive mistake by not upgrading the core UI elements and appearance of iOS6. Instead they've just prettied up a few of their native apps. I can't be the only one tiring of Apple's "shiny blue UI" that hasn't changed significantly since it's release in 2007.

And let's not get onto to lack of features. iOS6 deserves to be called iOS 5.2 at best. Where as JellyBean has ten times the improvements and It's only gone up to 4.1!

The next iPhone will no doubt still be a big hit with consumers, but more tech savvy people that already make use of many of Google's products are making the switch to Android.
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I wouldn't say ten times. It got a little better. The theming in Jellybean is nice since they've de-tron'd it. The smoothness is outstanding. Google Now is very much gimmick, at least to me. It's definitely a nice change, and it's definitely a smoother experience than iOS, but it wasn't a huge leap forward. I'm glad they called it 4.1.
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Yeah you're right, I did exaggerate a bit :) . Jelly bean's improvements seem to be mostly behind the scenes but it still looks like a great upgrade.

I stand by my comment about Apple's iOS6 deserving to be called 5.2. Or maybe 5.5 at most, but to move to 6 should indicate a massive OS upgrade with a ton of improvements. I've played with iOS6 and apart from Apple's refreshed native apps and Facebook integration (yippee) there's not much to get excited about, particularly as an iPhone4 owner I miss out on a lot of the new features like native by turn. Speaking of maps, I will also lose GoogleMaps and and am forced to go with Apple's new and incomplete maps solution (which is a joke in Australia compared to the detail of GoogleMaps + street view).

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A lot of people are saying that now that Apple is cutting off Google's contractual obligation to supply maps, they won't have to follow Apple's orders, and will be able to offer a full featured maps app in the store. Then you'll get the true Google maps experience, rather than the Apple gimped one. Should be pretty sweet.
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The core of the Android experience is the integration with various Google services - not just GMail, but Google Calendar, your Google contacts list (which your Android handset can integrate with your contact lists from Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. to create extremely useful unified contacts), Google Maps (including Navigation), etc. If you're mainly using non-Google versions to those services Android is just a good phone OS - it will never be a great experience.

When you are using all Google's services though, Android can be pretty great - organise your calendar or contacts from your phone or desktop and have it instantly sync to the other, navigate to a friend's house by opening Navigator, selecting your friend's name from your contacts list, then choosing one of three routes with times calculated from live traffic data, spot their house if you've never seen it before and can't make out the street numbers by matching it against the Street View photo shown once you get close...

As for great apps, first the official Google ones:
  • Google Maps and Street View for Google Maps
  • Google Chrome
  • Google+
  • Google Talk
  • Google Earth
And some others:
  • KiesCast (from Samsung) - the best free podcatcher I've found
  • Barcode Scanner - straightforward QR an barcode reader
  • Jota - simple, techie-focussed text editor
  • SoundHound
  • XE Currency - handy currency converter, once you turn off the shake-to-reset "feature"
There are obviously many more (I have over 150 apps installed on my Galaxy S II), but I've tried to keep the list short and of general appeal.
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How well does Google Calendar on Android handle calendar invites that come from Outlook? On OS X it's mediocre and completely unacceptable on the iPhone. I get at least a dozen of these each week and need a better way of handling these.
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Google does a "all in one calendar party!" with everything you add as an account and sync against. So I get things like facebook, google+ events, exchange from work, two google accounts, and my ancient mobile.me account calendar events in one calendar.
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Ryan, welcome! Don't forget to try SlideIt Keyboard (or Swype). The input mechanism allowed by after-market android keyboards is game-changing for me.

Also, for less important, but equally good experiences, try:
  1. Animated widgets pro - I use it to create one entire screen of awesome-looking speed dial widgets.
  2. Any.do - In addition to being a great to-do list, it intercepts missed phone calls and gives you a nice-looking alert with 1-click access to set a reminder to call the person back.
  3. An just don't be shy with widgets generally. being able to see your most-valued info right on a homescreen is great.
I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes for you.
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I keep hearing Swiftkey is the keyboard to beat!
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+1 on Swiftkey. I used Swype for almost a year and would never go back. In the end it was just a source of frustration. Once you realize how great the predictive text is in Swiftkey......
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The great thing about Android is that users have the option to do stuff like this. Swype is pretty good, but I switched to SwiftKey last year and saw a big improvement in my accuracy and speed.
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Go through the Swype tutorial (may have to install Swype first of course)....I haven't looked back since doing that. It is so nice not having to be precise with actions and still have the intent registered.
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I was using swype until I installed Jelly Bean. The predictive keyboard I think is actually easier to type with. To each his own though. I was pretty impressed with it while I was using it.
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I used Switfkey religiously with ICS. JB's native, predictive keyboard has changed that. It's definitely better at predictions. I imagine that's because Google has leagues more information about me, and how I communicate, so it's already tailored to me.
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I use Swiftkey currently. I thought it was Swipe, but yet Swiftkey is the keyboard to beat!
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If anything, install multiple keyboards to take advantage of Android's ability to change keyboards on the fly. I highly recommend Hacker's Keyboard if you want to be able to program on the go (not sure if you actually do, but Droidedit is a great program for that.)
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SwiftKey is awesome but past 2.3, I didn't feel the need to install any third party keyboards. The stock ICS/JB keyboard on a screen as large as the Galaxy Nexus should be pretty good already.
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Swype was good, but I now use FlexT9 keyboard and do a lot of voice dictation instead of typing. I love it.
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I made the switch over to Android from iOS back in November and haven't missed it at all.

For me, the sheer level of customizability in Android is what's got me hooked. The fact that you can just swap out many if the stock apps and utilities for third party ones is fantastic.

To me, Android feels much more like using a an actual computer whereas in iOS you're kind of stuck playing by Apple's rules, for better or worse.
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See, this is exactly what I like about Android over iOS and even Windows Phone. Those other platforms are fine, but nothing gives me the raw power I can get from Android. And with ICS and JB, that power is packaged in such a beautiful interface that to me it's no contest.
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Ryan, like you, my current position at work requires the daily use and implementation of multiple smartphones from various manufacturers. Unlike you however, I am not a famous Gadget Reviewer, though a I do wish I were sometimes. I am a Senior Engineer in Software Configuration Management for a development team that produces mobile applications for multiple operating systems and devices. I am one of two members on my team, and I am lucky enough to be able to SIM swap frequently between an iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy Note GT-N7000, Samsung Galaxy Nexus I9250 (Pentaband GSM), and a brand new Samsung Galaxy S III I9300. All the Android phones I work with are international versions, and unlocked. My job allows me access to devices I would not have purchased for myself, and to explore these devices without tethering them to a specific carrier contract.

This next paragraph pains me to write in certain ways, because I have been a dedicated Apple zealot, and sometimes, shamefully so, even an Apple bigot, for at least the last two decades. I have personally owned the iPhone first generation, 3GS, and 4S. For the last 5 months however, starting with the Galaxy Note, then the Nexus and One X, and finally the Galaxy S III, my heart has strayed to the point that I feel I've finally left the Apple iPhone cult for the foreseeable future, and have been converted to Google's Android worldview. I won't compare and contrast here, but I will offer an unordered list of items that have convinced me to shed Apple's iPhone and purchase an Android phone for myself should I be required to if my job or career circumstances would change.
  • The ability to specify third-party apps as default handlers. This may be my primary driver for preferring to use Android over iOS. I see no indication from Apple that they have reconsidered their sequestered approach to locking the user into using Apple application for system utilities and services. The Sparrow debacle was the final straw for me with regards to this issue.
  • The larger screen sizes and resolutions of the Android devices I have used have provided some surprising usage results for me. Since I'm able to specify SwiftKey 3 as my default keyboard, and the increased screen size on these Android devices allows for larger targets for individual keys, my overall input and accuracy of typing has increased dramatically. And yes, in a "Post PC" world, the keyboard becomes even more important on mobile devices, and Apple is lagging behind miserably in these areas because of their stubbornness in providing alternatives to users for key services and utilities.
  • Apple's iCloud approach has been their best effort yet at a consumer SaaS implementation, but they still cannot match the parity of Google's offering with the glaring exclusion of entertainment meda. However, I will add Rdio and Spotify have slowly weened me from the iTunes leash.
  • Widgets. Notifications. Launcher customization. Enough said there.
  • ICS and Jelly Bean are now at parity with Apple's iOS in terms of touch and swipe fluidity and responsiveness.
  • Finally, I realize that I am not as much of an app junkie as I thought I was. I have 95 applications currently installed on my Android devices. Out of that total, about 12 of those applications I use on a daily basis, while the others I use infrequently for very specific purposes, such as travel, navigation, check-in services, etc... The applications I use as daily drivers are as good on Android as their iPhone counterparts.
Ryan, I am looking forward to hearing about your experience after using and exploring Android. I love GDGT because of the fidelity of comments within these discussion threads, and the honest and open minded approach readers of this site use when discussing these gizmos they love or loathe. Good luck, and I hope you enjoy using Android as much as I have.
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I am actually in the same boat. I am really liking what android is doing. Ive been an iphone user for 5 years and Im just bored with the UI. Its practically been the same since day one! Im thinking about getting an unlocked nexus with a smart talk sim.
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What's a smart talk SIM?
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I think he meant Straight Talk, but it's one of many smaller U.S. based wireless carriers (The others are Tracfone, Net10, etc. All GSM.) that offer affordable prepaid plans (typically between $40-$50/month for unlimitted everything, although it's 3G since I don't think they have 4G yet). They also provide both mini-SIM and micro-SIM cards so you can use their service with an unlocked GSM or AT&T/T-Mobile compatible device. www.straighttalk.com/
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