My Android experiment

Many friends and such have asked me why I was so quick to drop my Android phone and go running back to an iPhone. There are soooo many reasons, I felt the need to do a blog post about it.

First, let me say, Android may work fine for you. Stick with it if you’ve never used an iPhone. If you have an iPhone and have always had an iPhone, read on. 

Let’s start with the back story. I’ve had an iPhone since day one (pretty much). I started with an iPhone 2G (the first iPhone) around about the time iOS 2 came out. It had the app store finally. It was also my first smart phone. So I’ve been using iPhones for a long time. I skipped the 3G and the 3GS, though my wife had the 3G for awhile. She had a 2G as well. We used the iPhone 2G’s (and her 3G) on T-Mobile without a data plan, so they were just phones with WiFi support. We finally switched to Verizon when Verizon got the iPhone 4, so about 6 months after the iPhone 4 had rolled out, maybe 9? Now we had a data plan. But Verizon is greedy, caps on text messages, caps on minutes, and while we managed to not get capped data, if we ever wanted a new (subsidized) phone, we’d have data caps as well. 

So we went to Sprint for the iPhone 5. Sprint has unlimited everything. Or so they claim. This is where the story begins. We HAD to get out from under Sprint. They’d drop our calls constantly, data didn’t work at all, even in major cities like Tacoma, Washington, or San Mateo, California. But escaping Sprint was hard, the phones were LOCKED to Sprint, FOREVER. And they wanted a $900 early termination fee. So we waited a bit, and the Nexus 5 came out. 

Finally bit the bullet and bought a pair of Nexus 5’s around December 2014. One for me, one for my wife, directly from Google’s online store. Had them in our hands 2 days later, was rather impressive. Got service with MetroPCS who had a pretty good pre-paid plan. No contract, unlimited everything (2.5G data cap at 4G speeds, but unlimited 3G data), $50/line/month, with $5/line off for multiple lines.. So where we had been paying Sprint $190/month after taxes for worthless “service”, we were no paying $90 after taxes/month with no contract, cancel anytime, unlimited everything. MetroPCS rocks!

Anyways, that’s the back story. 6+ years on iPhones, all the while everyone insisting that iOS was just taking Android’s ideas. For the record, we’d been on iOS 7 for a couple months before leaving Sprint (and our iPhones), iOS 7 was a real game changer for the iPhone, all sorts of improvements in usability.

Lets start with the positive, the Nexus 5 has a huge screen. 5” is perfect, still fits in any pocket, but way bigger. I watch a lot of YouTube videos (podcasts?) in bed in the evenings, that bigger screen never gets old. Also, managing to cram 1080p into a 5” screen, hella gorgeous! And the Gorilla Glass they use on the Nexus 5. Amazingly fingerprint resistant. I don’t know how they do it, but it never ceased to amaze me how clean the glass was when the screen was off.

Downsides started right away. It’s got this lock screen with a lock on it. You put your finger on it and a ring comes up, but there’s only the option to unlock the phone. Apparently older versions of Android had the ability to quick launch apps from that screen. For some reason they removed that in 4.4? Strange that they left the ring there, and why would you remove a feature?

The on screen volume control slider. Use the volume buttons during a video to change the volume level, and this big black box comes up and blocks out at least a third of the center of your video, for like 5 seconds. It’s excruciating and maddening at the same time. My TV in 1992 had a transparent on screen volume slider. Why does this state of the art phone have a video blocking slider in 2014?

The camera was unusably slow for taking still shots when I got the phone, but they quickly came out with an OS update that made it better. Not better enough to capture any useful action shots (on purpose, anyways) but it was better. But it sucked solo bad at shooting video. The iPhone 4 was better than this thing. It couldn’t maintain focus, tap focus had been removed in this version of Android, so you couldn’t tell it to focus on one specific thing. Often, it’d sit there focusing in and out oscillating during the video. I’d get comments on my YouTube channel about it. Nothing I could do about it.

The keyboard! I got it thinking, hey, it’s a 5” screen, it’ll be way easier to type on! NO. It was so horribly bad at detecting which letter I had intended to hit that I began to avoid typing on the thing at all costs. I told my wife, I now understand why the Android guys were so adamant about slide out keyboards being a requirement. This on screen keyboard is unusable. There was one day where my kid brought me his iPod Touch, and I had to type something into it, maybe my wifi passphrase or something, but I typed some whole sentence out without a single mistake. That’s when it dawned on me, I wasn’t a bad typer on phones, that Nexus just doesn’t detect my keystrokes correctly. Everyone insisted I try “SwiftKey”, ok, but it’s not free.. I have to pay an extra $3 to have a decent keyboard? I tried the demo version that was good for two weeks. They were right, it worked as good or better than the iPhone keyboard I was used to. It’s a shame Google can’t put that kind of shine and polish on such a fundamental part of their OS.

Bugs in the firmware. 4.4.2 came out in December 2013. Bugs were discovered in it pretty soon after it’s release. I think they may have even skipped some that had been found in 4.4.1. Critical bugs like apps being able to leave the camera on and drain the battery dead in 6-8 hours while the phone is “sleeping”. So anyways, they took nearly 7 months to get 4.4.3 out to everyone. It’s like Google was asleep the first half of 2013 or something?? Just to compare, in that same period of time.. Apple came out with 7.0.4 in November (so just a month before 4.4.2) 7.0.5 in January, 7.0.6 in February so those are two bug patch release. Then a major release, 7.1 in March, and 7.1.1 in April - another bug release. So nearly monthly, not semi-annually like Google just did. And everyone gets iOS the day it launches, no waiting up to a month for your device to get the ability to update. This is just a major cultural difference that I don’t understand.

Battery life.. I came from an iPhone 5, I was used to hopping from charging spot to charging spot. So the Nexus 5’s wireless charging was really nice. I put wireless chargers at home at my desk, and on my bench at work. My phone pretty much always sat on the charger if it wasn’t on me. The wireless charger worked great, and really made the bad battery life a non issue. Except when the bugs would get ahold of my battery. Sometimes I’d notice the phone getting crazy hot, or the battery level dropping like a brick (usually both at the same time), which would tell me that I needed to power the phone off, and then back on to get it to stop doing that. Othertimes, I’d wake up in the morning to a battery critical warning, it’d be at 13%, sometimes as low as 5% when I woke up. It had been fully charged when I picked it up off the charger at my desk to take it to bed. Was it busy hacking the pentagon while I was asleep??

Google Play Music… So I got “Google Play Music Manager” and installed it on my computer to sync my iTunes library with Google’s cloud services. It was surprisingly user friendly and promised me I’d now be able to play all of my music library from Google’s cloud. Sort of.. Queue up a song and it quick downloads it to the phone, then plays it. Creates a bunch of lag before starting the song, wastes a ton of bandwidth (because I often skip a dozen songs before finding one I’m in the mood for), and the real capper — It saves the song to the phone, wasting space on the phone. And several times, there were songs I KNOW are in my library, but when I searched for them to play them, Google Play hadn’t actually sunc them. Nothing like wanting a specific song at a specific time, knowing you own it, and it not being there. I got the feeling that Google was censoring my music, based on the ones that it chose not to sync.

The google app store.. Ugg, what a mess. So many fake applications, knock offs of the real ones, it was appalling. And the adds, ugg. But this is where I do have a plus side to Android. I was able to install an ad blocker that got rid of the banner ads in almost every app I had. It was rather awesome.

But to install the ad blocker, the phone has to be unlocked. And for no apparent reason, google wipes the phone while unlocking it. It seems to be a form of punishment, because there’s no real reason to wipe it during that process. You know, I’ve wiped my iPhone to Jailbreak it in the past, or gone to the Apple store to get a replacement phone when the home button stopped working. 

So what happens when you wipe an iPhone, or get a new one? You plug it into your computer, and it says “Oh hey, new phone. Would you like to sync this as an image of your old iPhone?” Yes, yes I would. A minute later, my phone is EXACTLY like I left it, right down to my alarm clock being set, and if you load the calculator app, it’s still got the last result displayed on it. You know, the last few JailBreaks for the iPhone have been seamless, takes moments, maybe a couple reboots, but doesn’t even wipe the phone anymore.

How about when you wipe an Android phone, replace it, or simply unlock it which wipes it? Well everything is gone, except your contacts, if you’re lucky. All your text message history, gone. Pictures - did you sync them? Apps? Gotta figure out which ones you had and redownload/install them. Including putting them in folders and arranging them where you want them all over again. Widgets have to be reconfigured and replaced in their spots. It’s a disaster that can take an entire day to recover from. And YES I had the “Backup to Google” or whatever it is enabled in the Settings app. I’m not sure what it backed up, or where, or if it did, how to retrieve that, but it sure didn’t seem to do anything.

Performance wise, it was pretty ok. It seemed like the frame rate on YouTube videos was just barely high enough, they weren’t as smooth to my eyes as on the iPhone. But the quad core 2.6GHz CPU and 2GB of ram really did the trick to keep this thing flying in apps. I never felt like it was slower than my iPhone 5 had been. At least until I went back to an iPhone which seems far more fluid. The springiness of the UI is way more fluid and springy on the iPhone. 

Alert sounds! Holy crap the one drove me insane. In the Settings control panel, there is ONE alert sound setting. So you get the same sound wether you got a tweet, a text message, and email, or any other app decided to alert you. Drove me freakin battery. iOS has different sounds for all those things. How can you live with the same sound meaning 10 different things?  What was google thinking? I did like the alert light on the phone, to let me know when I’d missed an alert. And having it sometimes be a different color based on what I’d missed was nice.

I found a pretty nice Podcast app for the Android. It’s called “Podcast Republic”, and it works pretty well, kinda finicky at times, but no worse than the iOS Podcast app really. I listen to a lot of audio podcasts while I’m at work. The reason I bring this up is that I’ve got some issues here. Unplug the headphones while listening to a podcast on the iPhone, and the podcast auto stops. Plug them back in, and you have to resume the podcast manually. On the Android, at least with this app, unplug them and the podcast stops, plug them back in and it auto resumes. Kind of nice actually. But when you unplug them, it doesn’t stop playing cleanly, no, it stops for a moment, then seems to dump the buffer to the external speaker. So you get a second of audio for the whole room to hear. It was odd. Sometimes, it wouldn’t pause the podcast, and it’d just keep talking away. Very annoying, potentially harmful if I’m trying to listen to something not appropriate for work, privately. And the biggest bug of all here.. Get a phone call while it’s paused, while you’re driving. Oh, hold on, let me plug in my hands free.. Bam, right there in the middle of your phone call, the podcast resumes.. WTF. So now you have to hunt down the podcast app in the middle of a phone call, while driving, to pause the audio manually.. Holy crap!

The phone app.. Leave the Android phone app to go do something like use your web browser, and the phone app is a PITA to get back to. Leave the phone app to do that on an iPhone, your status bar at the top of the screen is a different color and says “Touch to return to call” so you can do things like, you know, HANG UP at the end of the call.. Took me forever to get back into the phone app and then find the right part of that phone app to end my phone call on more than one occasion.

The AUDIO.. Really weak. Both the external speaker as well as the headphone pre-amp. I literally had to go buy headphones with an inline amplifier to be able to hear my podcasts above basic background noise. And after using it for 6 months, going back to an iPhone, the iPhone is both WAY louder, and way clearer. I can understand what’s being said solo much better, and the audio has so much more punch behind it.

Auto brightness.. I regretted it every time I enabled this. Sitting in bed, in the pitch black dark, and I don’t know if it saw it’s own reflection off my eyes or what, but it’d go from fairly dark to a little brighter, and then BAM, full 100% intensity in a moment, and near impossible to talk it back down from there. I gave up and just manually turned it up and down, which is annoying when you get to work and it’s nearly impossible to see the screen well enough to turn it back up.

I have a car stereo with a USB port. It supports iPods, iPhones, even iPads. Plug them in, it’ll play the audio off of them, or a podcast, or even an app like Pandora will play through the stereo with that USB port. So what happened when I tried that with the Nexus 5? It started playing some custom [alarm] ringtones I had downloaded! Could not get it to play the music from the Google Play Music app.

So anyways, I used this thing for 6+ months. The day 4.4.3 FINALLY got released, I didn’t feel like waiting for the OTA to get pushed to my phone, which could take up to a month from what I’d read. So I downloaded the firmware from Google and manually pushed it to the phone. Which wiped the phone, all my stuff, hard earned customizations and settings, gone. I was done, too many little problems adding up to a great big disaster. I felt like the phone was detracting from my quality of living. So I took my now erased phone, tossed it up on eBay, sold it in like 15-20 minutes for all but full retail price. Then I drove down to the Apple store and bought a brand new iPhone 5s, unlocked.

Brought the iPhone 5s home, sunc it with my iPhone 5 image from 6 months earlier, and like I said, all my alarms were set, all my apps were back, my songs were back, my podcast app was downloading the latest podcasts, my calculator showed what my gas mileage had been on my last tank of gas before switching phones. All of my old text messages were there. All was instantly right with the world. I miss the bigger screen, and I plan to jump to the bigger iPhone 6 as soon as it’s out because of the screen, but that’s all I miss. Even the battery life on the 5s is better, ignoring the strange massive draw problems the N5 would have.

Many people suggested custom firmware to solve many of these problems, and I did try GravityBox and many of it’s plugins at one point which solved several of my complaints, but it made the battery life much worse. And I didn’t want to go with the experimental hobbyist built custom firmwares, the Nexus runs “vanilla Android” “as google intended it to be”.. So my criticisms are totally valid as this is the way google wants the thing to work, for some reason.

And there you have it, my problems with Android, in a nutshell. It’s hardened my love for iOS, but when people ask me why.. You can see why I might have trouble summarizing it all up. :)

© Una 2011