My one weekend with Android
A while ago I decided to get an Android smartphone. Sounds like a very simple decision right, but as somewhat of an Apple fanboy for many years, I kind of shocked myself with this decision.
It all started with my desire to buy a smartwatch, and the choice between an Apple Watch or one of the many Android Wear watches. Not really a contest - the Apple Watch is too expensive, too square, doesn’t have an always-on screen, is slow, you can’t install custom watch faces, etc etc. So I decided to buy the Huawei Watch in silver with a black leather band, got it on sale for 250 euros. Come on Apple, you really have to do a lot better to get me to buy yours.
Android Wear watches actually work with iOS as well, but there was one small problem: the firmware of the watch needed to be updated first using an Android phone. After some thinking I decided to simply buy a cheap Android phone, use it to update the watch, and then keep it around to test websites or something. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that I wanted to give Android a fair shot and try it as my main phone for real. Who knows, maybe I’d like it and make the switch, why not? The Android Wear watches are much more useful when paired to an Android phone, there is enough about Apple that annoys me, so yeah, let’s just try it. And let’s buy a proper Android phone then - if I don’t like it I can always return it within 14 days.
And thus on a Friday afternoon I bought the watch and the Nexus 5x. Stock Android, not Samsung, big beautiful screen, all this for a third of the price of an iPhone. Damn, switching to Android would save me a lot of money each year. The first impressions were very positive: the hardware is beautiful, the screen big and bright, Android these days looks very good and coherent, the standard keyboard is a lot better than the default one from iOS as well.
Then I got security update after security update, and each time the phone had to restart. Quite the horrible experience as a brand new owner who just wants to try out his new gadget. I understand that Google has changed this for the upcoming Android Nougat, but I still had to go through all these updates.
I used the phone full time from that Friday afternoon to the next Monday afternoon and sadly there were a lot more problems. Some big, some small, but in the end I decided to send the phone back.
One of the things I noticed first is how the Android counterparts of my most used iOS apps were of substantial lower quality. They didn’t look as good, were slower, buggier, had less features, sometimes all of the above. Even first party apps like the Google Authenticator look so much better on iOS. There is also a lot more crap on the Google Play store. Maybe the quality will improve over time but right now the quality apps are on iOS, simple as that.
I use Safari as my main browser on macOS and its bookmarks are synced via iCloud to my iPhone and my iPad. Even if I would switch to the Android phone, I’d still keep my iPhone for app development, I still have my Macbook and iPad and so I need to make sure that my bookmarks get synced between all four devices.
Safari doesn’t sync bookmarks to Android, so I would need to switch browsers on my Macbook and iOS devices. I tried Firefox but it was slow as hell on Android while zoomed in, and on macOS I don’t like its two-finger back swipe behavior.
Chrome had its own problems: on Android you can’t use Duckduckgo as the standard browser, and you can’t install adblockers or Ghostery either. It wasn’t a deal breaker because Chrome on the desktop at least doesn’t have these problems and that’s where I do most of my browsing. Still, it’s sad that I would have to compromise and this was only the beginning.
On macOS and iOS I use Apple’s Notes app, which is plenty powerful for me, and very simple to use. No bloat, it just works perfectly for me. Of course this isn’t available for Android so I would need to switch to a different notes app. I tried a couple (Google Keep, Evernote, Microsoft’s OneNote) but wasn’t very happy with any of them. Switching to Android kept making me feel like I was forced to make too many other switches.
I do use Apple’s Photos app on macOS but I don’t use the iCloud Photo Library (way too many problems with that which deserves its own blog post) so I wasn’t concerned about Android compatibility. I’d just import pictures into the Photos app just like I do with my iPhone or my Fujifilm camera.
I was really turned off by the standard camera app on Android though. No sweep panorama? That is my most used photo feature on iOS! I love panorama’s! I guess on Android it’s easier to install 3rd party apps and set them as the default camera application, but the few options I looked at all looked crappy. Again the app quality issue.
All my music is stored in iTunes and I use iTunes Match so all my music is uploaded to the cloud and streamed to my iPad, iPhone and my Apple TV. It works very well (one of the few iCloud services that consistently works well for me). But you guessed it, of course this doesn’t work on Android. Do I need to upload all my music to Google Play Music? It doesn’t have a proper desktop app, I’d still want to keep my music in iCloud for the Apple TV, so do I use two different music libraries? How can I rate a song when there is no single source of truth? This is all just horrible and it was at this moment I realized I had to send back the Android phone. Having to switch browsers and notes apps was annoying enough, but this was a deal breaker.
Some stuff worked perfectly: email, contacts, calendars. My email is already hosted with Google so that was super easy to set up. I used iCloud for contacts and calendars but simply imported that all to my Google account and it worked fine. I actually kept my contacts and calendar events with Google even after returning the Android phone. It’s good not to be too dependent on iCloud in case I’ll get an Android device in the future (but as a secondary device for developing apps I think).
I didn’t really care for the separation between home screens and separate app drawer on Android, and widgets seemed a bit silly to me too. I ended up making it look and feel more like iOS. It’s awesome how much you can customize, literally every piece of the UI can be replaced. I wish iOS would be more open as well. The Android keyboard was way way better than the iOS one.
While the Nexus 5x overall was fine, it sometimes was a bit slow. My biggest problem with it however was with the fingerprint reader which is located on the back. This meant that every time I wanted to unlock the phone I needed to pick it up. With the iPhone it can just lay on my desk, I place a finger on the home button and it wakes up and unlocks. So much easier.
I think that Android is certainly a fine mobile operating system and I’m glad I used it for 72 hours, even if only to know what the “others” are talking about. It’s just that I am too locked in with Apple’s ecosystem, there is a lot of stuff I use on macOS and the iPad that I want to keep like it is: bookmarks, notes, music all come to mind.
If Apple would make Safari, Notes and Music available on Android I could in theory see myself making the switch. It’s never going to happen of course which is kind of sad. On the other hand, there is a lot about Google which scares me, like their data collection and their refusal to add content blockers to their store. I certainly feel that my privacy is important to Apple, and I trust them a lot more. So yeah, for now at least I am staying in the Apple camp (while proudly wearing my Android Wear watch).