Alright, the first update from the Android Challenge! For reference, I'll be writing and editing these a few days behind so as to make sure my reactions aren't initial or superficial, but have actually stuck with me.
Android fans, I'll warn you now: this first update (which the first three days) will probably be a lot more negative than subsequent updates. I'd wager that's mostly because the biggest, most irritating differences one will encounter during a switch to any new platform will be the ones you notice right up front.
For those new to this thread, background on the Android Challenge here: gdgt.com/discuss/an-iphone-user-five-years-later-i...
tl;dr for the first time in five years I'm leaving the iPhone and trying an Android device as my primary device. Here's how it's going.
This is weird. Definitely a major sense of insecurity. It's not a feeling of "I can't live without my iPhone.", but more like, "Well, now I'm not so sure I'll be able to do _____ when I need it." Kind of reminds me of taking a big trip with an iPad, but no laptop, or being overseas without cellphone service. It's by no means desperate situation, but I'm nowhere near as confident. Remember, I've tested and used many Android phones, but I've never left the iPhone home and used it as my one and only device. I want to ask all kinds of questions of Android folks, but I'm going to do my best to be as self sufficient as possible on this.
I'm already really liking the device and form factor so far. I wouldn't say it feels significantly higher quality or anything, but it does feel a little more organic than the slabs I've been using for a while now. I forget that the iPhone's super small, uniform, dense form-factor makes it feel significantly heftier than larger phones like the Galaxy Nexus.
As confirmed in our review data, the Galaxy Nexus's camera is awful. Just painfully bad -- definitely deserving of the pitiful 5.9 / 10 we have it at (gdgt.com/samsung/galaxy/nexus/). That said, this isn't a hardware review, this is about an iPhone user going Android, so I'm gonna try to keep it on track.
One major area where hardware and software intersect, though, is in device size and scale, and I am having some real dexterity issues when it comes to the size of this phone. I don't have super long thumbs, and I'm noticing that many of the most common actions in Android apps require taps to the upper part of the device, which I'm finding to be extremely difficult.
Now, the ability to tap any point on your device's screen with a single thumb is a long-debated issue in the tech space, and my assumption prior to switching to Android was that phone makers probably needed to curb the growth of mobile screen sizes to better enable better one-handed usage. Now, though, I think I may be wrong that screen size is the primary culprit.
There might be a better way to deal with the problem of using larger phones one-handed.
Most of what's on your screen at any given moment tends to be either passive areas (i.e. the data and content of a given app) or active areas (such as application chrome, the keyboard, etc.). Too often the chrome is split between top and bottom, with key elements out of reach on larger displays. But if it were easier to get at the active UI elements, that might alleviate some of the issues with using larger devices one-handed.
I may be wrong on this, but I don't think devices need to be smaller so much as on-screen interfaces should just be much more bottom-heavy with the UI, and top heavy with content. In other words, perhaps mobile interfaces should be better optimized for the way our thumbs work.
Given their very passive stance on interaction guidelines to date, I doubt Google will push hard to balance software usability with physical screen real estate. But this actually feels like it might be a problem that can be solved by rethinking interface design guidelines for larger devices.
Being big on email, one of the first things I noticed: the Gmail app that Android users constantly rave about is actually not very good. It's not awful, and I'd be willing to go on the record that it's probably a bit better than Apple's iOS Mail app (but that's not saying much).
The interface is busy as hell. Why are attachments posted at the top of the message? And why don't rich emails format properly / zoom out? I don't get it. I thought the Gmail app was supposed to be a hallmark feature of Android. Sparrow is, in my opinion, lightyears ahead -- push or no push.
Still, while the Gmail app isn't what I'd call great, it's workable and I'm definitely able to get by. Its push and notification tray integration is pretty great, I will grant it that -- in fact, I'd say it's significantly better than anything on the iPhone. Quickly glancing at incoming email without opening the app is actually a pretty pleasurable and addictive experience. Apple got a little closer with last year's revamped notifications, but it's not quite this good.
I was getting ready to go out for a run on day two, but Rdio wouldn't play anything. The app boots fine, I'm logged in, on WiFi, but there's just silence -- no playback errors or dialogs. I tried logging in and out, nothing; so I consulted the interwebs, which suggested I uninstall and reinstall the app. That seemed to fix it. All told, I spent 25 minutes trying to get the thing to just play some music.
This may or may not have even been Android's fault, it's really hard to say given the lack of information. But it's definitely not the kind of thing I've ever seen happen in iOS, and it really soured my morning with Android. But we're cool now -- everything's working pretty well and I can play music.
Boy, the iMessage situation I got myself into was pretty bad -- but don't worry, it's definitely not Android's fault. Let me explain. Okay, so the way iMessage works is: if an iOS user has communicated with you in iMessage before, that client will continue to try to send you things via iMessage (regardless of whether that it's actually receiving messages from you in SMS or iMessage). It's a little confusing, but this is part of how you can switch between iMessage on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
So when I switched to an Android phone and texted folks on iOS, they were replying back to an iMessages-enabled iPhone that was turned off. Which basically meant communication was mysteriously one-way for a couple of days. Not fun.
Eventually I learned I needed to get on my iPhone and disable iMessage from that device. This, in turn, instructs Apple's iMessage network to disallow iMessages to me, and forces my iOS-using friends to instead send as SMS. Blech. But we're back in business.
Coming soon in Android Challenge updates!
- Google Now: could it be my favorite new mobile thing of 2012?
- Extreme ambivalence about the back button: it may just be the most simultaneously awesome / sucky navigation element anywhere.
- Thoughts on Android app consistency.
- I am starting to believe it's not just the iPhone, and that I'm just naturally terrible at typing on touchscreen keyboards -- but will Android be able to help me?
- Lots more!