Exaforge

Cloud, DevOps, Evangelism

Trying Out Android...Again

The Start

For the first time in 4 years, I spent a signficant and notable time using an Android device as my primary device. My last experience was with an HTC Thunderbolt 4G running HTC Sense 2, and it was terrible. Laggy, slow, dropped calls, etc. Even with third party ROMs (like Cyanogen 7 at the time) it was improved, but bad. I very quickly shelved it (I still have it, actually) and stayed with my iPhones.

Recently, though, I was frustrated with some of the limitations iOS places on me:

  • Inability to set default apps. I want to use Chrome by default, dammit!
    • Although I will say, unlike many, I like the packaged email and calendar apps
  • Inability to consistently switch to an alternate keyboard. yes in iOS 8 there are 3rd party keyboards, but they remain inconsistently presented/enabled, and sometimes simple fail to appear at all.
  • The inability of Siri to control 3rd party apps (I want Siri to search spotify).
  • Some of the limits that come with external device and make them less useful (I’m looking at you, Pebble Watch!)
  • Lame bluetooth options and support.

So with a bunch of research, I decided to pick up a modern, flagship level Android phone to give a try…I’ve certainly changed in 4 years, and so can Android. With input from a number of Android-loving colleagues, I narrowed down the choices to 3 phones that had strong hardware specs and excellent reviews, along with a nearly-stock interface experience. These were the Samsung Galaxy S5, the HTC One M8 and the Samsung Note 4.

I eliminated the Note 4 as simply being too large. The S5 and One M8 were similarly priced on Swappa with similar specs and similarly glowing reviews, I chose the HTC One M8 as it was already available with Android 5 (Lollipop) out of the box. Ordered and arrived 2 days later.

After 4 days with the phone, here’s my thoughts.

The Good:

  • Interface customization - I do love the choices that I have, from icon positioning, to themes, to colors to being able to pick a default app for many things.
  • System customization - Tasker itself is an amazing tool, and was actually a large part of me trying Android again. I love how many options there are to make changes. An example is Bluetooth - it annoys the daylights out of me how its impossible to get iOS to connect only via a single blueooth profile, not just everything supported.
  • Power options - The many options to save power on the phone. Love it. Wish my iPhone could do that.
  • Homescreen widgets - being able to swipe to a screen with a customized view of my calendar and other stuff is brilliant.
  • Sound - This isn’t android specific, but the speakers on this device are phenomenal. Truly impressive for a mobile device.
  • Google Now - its not perfect, but it does a REALLY good job of predicting whats valuable for me. While this technically exists on iOS, the experience on a proper android platform shows what it really should be.

The Mediocre:

  • Battery life - the battery life on this device is supposed to be on the average side, and it drains VERY quickly, even at low brightness, etc. Heck, I was using it to stream podcasts over bluetooth with google maps navigation enabled (so pretty much every radio and high power option it has enabled) during my drive to work this morning. It was plugged in to a standard charger (same 500ma one I use with my iPhone 6), and still managed to have less charge upon arrival than when I left - unbelievable. From research, this level of power consumption is not uncommon.
  • Consistency - the lack of interface consistency is a strongly double edged sword…its nice when it lets you do something otherwise impossible, but terrible when a designer makes strange decisions.
  • Notifications - The mess that is the notification/tool bar at the top. A horrific mix of colors, icons, inconsistent interfaces and notifications that cant be removed. I love having some of that info up there, but the limited control sucks.
  • OK Google is, well, just OK. It can do thing Siri can’t, but some things it sucks at (like starting a timer in a quick, easy way). Its not better than Siri, its not worse. Just different.

The Bad:

  • Stability - Mysterious ‘ has stopped' messages. Well, thats certainly helpful. Perhaps you could provide some details as to why? Any why this happens with stock apps on a regular basis floors me. Its just lazy.
  • Integration - Lack of system-wide integration of media access. I miss that some apps (like Messages) can take a picture directly, but some cant (like Messages+ from Verizon). It just seems/feels haphazard.
  • Lag - Random, unpredictable interface lags. I had hoped this would be improved since my last go around with Android 4 years ago, but its very common to have 3-4 of these random ‘stalls’ per hour for me, with a phone that is 100% stock from a system perspective (only well known Play Store apps installed, and only about 10 of those).
  • Search - The system wide ‘Google Search’ thast should be a Spotlight equivalent is a disgrace, and Google should be ashamed of themselves for having such poor search results of a limited search space. If I search spotify, its not reasonable to suggest I want the support emails I got from them 43 days ago to show up before a link to the app itself.
  • Screen utilization - So many of the Android devices have large, high resolution screens, which is awesome. However, their default (and sometimes unchangeable) font sizes, icon sizes, keyboard sizes, etc., ultimately make for terrible use of that space. It feels like someone gave me a nicely sized sheet of Letter paper, told me to draw a complex diagram, but gave me a Marks-A-Lot size marker to work with.

The Other:

  • Camera - The camera on this phone is truly slow and terrible. The picture quality is atrocious, but thats not android’s fault, thats the phone, and something I knew left much to be desired before I bought it. As to the camera speed - I can only get about 1 picture per second out of it, much less than the 30+/sec that I can from my iPhone. I’m not sure how much of this is the phone hardware and how much is Android.
  • HTC Blink - The HTC Blink interface/launcher is silly and a waste. Fortunately, you can replace it (and I did, with Nova Launcher), which I was happy with.

Conclusion

So, overall, I think its passable. The apps I found for my top use cases[1] were overall very good (and in some cases notably better than iOS equivalents) and reasonably stable. But, to me, its not good, just passable, where I find iOS good (but not great). So, this phone will go back on Swappa and the experiment will have cost me about $20 in total, which I find reasonable.


[1]

  • Facebook: Facebook App
  • Twitter: Fenix
  • Slack: Slack App
  • Reddit: Sync for Reddit
  • Podcasts: Podcast Addict
  • Spotify: Spotify App
  • Maps: Google Maps
  • Browser: Chrome
  • Messages: Messages+ from Verizon and stock Messages
  • Calendar: Sunrise Calendar
  • Email: Outlook Preview