These days it’s enough to produce an iPhone from your pocket to be labeled with several unpleasant stereotypes, such as a fanboy, living in a reality distortion filed, (unjustly) rich, a zombie, likely gay, etc. I don’t think I managed to convince people otherwise either, so now y’all can yell ‘Ha!’ because my new phone is an Android. This is going to be one giant post detailing my experiences so far.
A bit of a background: up until now my main phone was an iPhone 3G from Softbank. Since Japanese carriers don’t offer unlock, upon returning to Hungary I was left with no other choice but to jailbreak and carrier-unlock myself. If anything, this made the iPhone perform even worse under the latest software versions. 4.1 was marred with constant 8-minute reboots rendering the phone nigh unusable, but even after upgrading to 4.2.1 everything was still painfully slow (albeit stable). Seeing how Android worked on my brother’s ZTE Blade I was tempted to make the switch, but not until the massive price drop of the Nexus S by T-Mobile did I make the move.
The first thing to notice after unboxing is how the whole device is slightly curved, including the screen, making it look quite elegant. It’s also really nifty that the front does not have any real buttons: the usual four controls are part of the touchscreen. This I really liked; – coming from an iPhone – the less physical buttons there are the better.
The back is cheap-looking plastic partly enameled with a dotted mesh. However, the lower part has a slight bump due to which it sits very comfortably in hand and has the right balance. It is also possible to tell which side’s up without looking at the phone directly.
Even though it’s bigger than the iPhone, it feels lighter, no doubt thanks to the toy-plastic housing. I suppose time will tell how sturdy the design is after all. It’s still admirable that they managed to improve upon the usual soapbox look, anyway.
My only woe is that they put the wake-up button to the right side. On average I try to push the non-existent button on the top a few thousand times per day. Habits like this die hard.
The screen does not only impress by its curvature: it’s gorgeous. The resolution is a little lower than the iPhone 4’s retina display but still a huge improvement from that of the 3G’s. (Even bro’s Blade has a better looking screen than my old iPhone.)
I had no issues with touch responsiveness. Some complained on forums about the device gathering fingerprints easily but that doesn’t bother me at all and also I consider it inevitable anyway.
The phone came with Android 2.3.3 but offered the latest 2.3.4 to be installed over the air instantly. Every observation in this post is based on this stock Gingerbread version.
For starters I was amazed by the sheer speed. After the iOS 4.x & iPhone 3G combo it felt like driving your own car instead of mass transit. I’m sure that an iPhone 4 offers the same blazing performance, but for a good deal more money.
I wasn’t a complete stranger to Android of course, and contrary to popular belief I am not a religious zealot of all things Apple either. For instance I liked the sleekness of the black tinted Gingerbread UI instantly, and once the basic logic of Android is understood, it is quite easy to operate.
The fact that not only icons but Widgets can be placed on the home screen is a welcome addition. I managed to set up my spaces quickly. The only irksome task was organizing the icons: unlike the iPhone they did not seem to move around automatically when I tried to change their order.
The reason why the Nexus S appealed to me anyway, was the fact that it’s a Google standard device. Hopefully I won’t have to wait ages for any third party manufacturer to port the latest OS version or put up with some modified “UI enhancement” they hastily put together.
Things are not so ideal once third party apps come into the picture though. If Google has a HIG and/or a CSM these documents must be locked deep in some vault so that developers may not even glance at them accidentally. I was shocked by the sheer ugliness of most of the apps in the Market. I mean, Jesus H. Christ, the 1990s called and they want their UI elements back. Why is it so hard to use the stock controls for example?
The Market is a jumbled mass of horribleness anyway. It badly seeks some kind of prioritization algorithm. Even searching for popular titles doesn’t guarantee an official result on the first page and when I tried to find all the EA Games offers I got a bunch of cheat codes and walkthrough apps instead.
I don’t really see myself just browsing around for interesting apps like I did with the App Store and so far searching for app ideas on the web proved to be more fruitful than doing so in the Market.
This one didn’t go too smoothly. Started well enough when – to my surprise – the stock everything-but-gmail app found all the required settings automatically and proceeded to download the me.com emails. Unfortunately push was out of the question and apparently if I deleted something it still remained on the server. The game breaking omission however was the fact that apparently the stock email app is unable to move emails between folders. I understand that they want to steer people towards gmail but this is ridiculous. Exchange isn’t supported either which makes all the snide comments of the fanboy community about iOS’s late Exchange support somewhat interesting.
I was recommended K-9 mail which I promptly downloaded. It lasted about five minutes on the Nexus. The settings just went on and on and the contextual menus were absolutely arbitrary. For some reason it only managed to activate push on the Inbox and the Drafts folder as well. (Probably unimportant to most people but the application icon is really ugly, too.) I miss the iPhone’s Mail app a lot: nothing I saw in the Market even came close.
Finally this morning I threw in the towel and set up a migration of emails to my gmail account. Google won.
One thing I cannot live without is music. I started out with the built-in music app, but that didn’t recognize ALAC, which I use for most of my lossless albums. Unfortunately every other music player I checked out in the Market was so unbelievably disgusting I resignedly turned back to the stock player.
Apparently a piece of software called doubleTwist offers the best iTunes integration for Android. The first go was a fiasco: it only copied one track of each album over but subsequent attempts had better results. At the moment I set up the OTA sync as well. The promised functionality is automatically watching iTunes playlist changes and syncing new songs to the phone whenever it’s connected to the home network.
On one hand it’s nice that I can just upload something to the USB storage and it can be played instantly. On the other, however, I miss the convenience of making playlists in iTunes and then just syncing them.
On the bright side I got instant Last.fm scrobbling. This is where Android really shines, I suppose. Unlike the clunky iPhone/iPod sync-when-connected iTunes hack the Last.fm app just hooked itself with the music player and uploaded every song on the fly. It just worked.
Less great was the earphone experience. The in-ears given by Samsung are really uncomfortable and prone to fall out from the slightest movement of the head. It took me about ten steps to shake them both out while running.
Naturally there’s no Nike+ for Android. My choice of substitute was RunKeeper. The first few workouts were quite promising. The GPS tracked very accurately and when we ran together with my brother the in-shoe sensor and RunKeeper were in complete sync. I’m only missing my 1500 kilometer purple level from Nike+.
One thing that’s definitely worse is the audio feedback. Apple excels at such things, their girl coach voice sounds natural and smooth. RunKeeper’s is much less sophisticated and for some reason it doesn’t soften the music while speaking either. You can guess who wins, the audio feedback or Mark Jansen’s growls.
The camera is a nice improvement from the iPhone and the flash LED can be used as a weapon to blind people. PicPlz offers the same functionality in place of Instagram. I’m missing Soundtracking though; I just started getting into it. Another drawback is that the Last.fm app is not fooled easily and doesn’t stream radio, unlike the iPhone version.
I was happy to find the official Cut The Rope for Android. (Way better than the overhyped Angry Birds.) It would be nice to know if NFS: Shift has any multiplayer though and Scrabble is sorely missed. We loved Scrabble during train trips, my brother and I.
So far so good. The much celebrated openness of Android more often than not feels like an uncontrolled mess to me. I’m not interested in homebrew ROMs or modding but constructive comments and great app suggestions are very welcome.