About two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to play with a new toy. It was an Android smartphone, and since I use an Apple iPhone (3GS) and a BlackBerry Bold 9780 as my primary devices, I was excited at the prospect of using an Android device, particularly since this was running on the latest version of Android, version 2.3, which is also popularly known as Gingerbread. Since I haven’t upgraded my iPhone to the iPhone 4, I was contemplating moving to an Android device and to see if I should wait it out till the iPhone 5 comes out.
Before I talk about my experience, I want to say, I’m not going to mention the brand or the model I used. I don’t want this to come out like a paid promo for a device or a brand, and given my professional background, it could very easily be interpreted that way.
First off, I found the said device to be quick, snappy and it had a brilliant display. Considering the fact that I’m still using the iPhone 3GS, I found this to be refreshing as the 3GS is starting to feel sluggish these days and in comparison, the screen on the 3GS is just plain old dull. I know if I upgraded to the iPhone 4, most of this wouldn’t be an issue but since I have the 3GS, any new device these days would fare better in terms of processor speed and display technology. The BlackBerry Bold is a much smaller screen and isn’t a touch-screen device so you can’t really make a comparison here. However as compared to the BlackBerry OS 6.0, I found the skinned version of Gingerbread that this manufacturer uses to be much faster than OS 6.0.
Home Screen, Menus & Widgets
Another refreshing change on the device was the widgets on the home screen. This is something I remember seeing in the earlier versions of BlackBerry devices but disappeared somewhere along the process. On the iPhone, this sadly lacks and there is little customization possible on the home screen.
Social media integration is also something that virtually every Android skin seems to be working on. On the iPhone the notification system is still weak. On the BlackBerry it’s improved and with OS 6.0, RIM has tried to include their Social Feeds App but you’re still better of using UberSocial and the Facebook App. On this device though, it seemed seamlessly integrated. Considering more of how we communicate these days is via social networking, this was a real plus point for this device.
The camera on this device was decent. Whether it was video or still photographs, I found this to do the job just fine. How good a camera is, though, depends so much on individual models and manufacturers that you can’t really credit Android for this.
As far as the menu’s go, I found it more difficult to navigate through the Android device as compared to my BlackBerry and iPhone. The main reason was the lack of folders. I didn’t like the fact that I had to scroll through five screens to find an App whereas on my iPhone I know I can limit everything to three screens if I need to, and have them sorted the way I like them. On the BlackBerry it isn’t as much of an issue either just because you don’t tend to end up with as many Apps as you would on an iOS or Android device.
What I did like on the Android device was the number of Apps that were available. While there aren’t as many Apps available as you would have in the iTunes App store for Apple devices (and don’t bother trying to compare with BlackBerry’s AppWorld), you tended to find most of the important Apps that you’d use on a regular basis (i.e. games like Angry Birds, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or Twicca on Android, Skype, Tango, sports & news Apps etc.).
However, what I did find frustrating was navigating through Google Market. I somehow still find the iTunes App store much easier to use and the overall user experience is still stronger on this. I did however try using Google Market on my laptop and it was great to see Apps loaded over the air directly onto my device. No cables, no connecting to my laptop, no worries.
What I did find cumbersome was trying to move or delete Apps. It doesn’t seem as straightforward as the iPhone where you get to the wobble screen and just press on the little “X” button that appears on top of each App, or on the BlackBerry where you press the menu button and just select Delete. On this device, there was a lot more work to be done and you just wish it was a one or two step process. Maybe it could’ve been done easier and I totally missed this but I didn’t see it.
This also brings me to another issue that bugged me: the lack of help. With so many Android devices and so many versions running on different skins, finding help online was more difficult. What works on one device with one skin, may not work on another one. Comparatively finding support online for Apple’s iOS is relatively simple as there are really only two devices that are being used and very fewer versions of iOS than Android.
Having said that, one novel App I liked which came standard on this particular device is a flashlight or torch function. It seems simple enough and I did indeed end up using it once because I needed some light, and switching on the flash did certainly help. I know you can get this on other devices and operating systems now as well, but I liked the fact that this came standard.
Gmail, Surfing and Migrating Contacts
Being an OS owned by Google, Gmail integration is surely one of their strengths here. The Gmail App on the BlackBerry is a pain to use and I haven’t even bothered trying to connect my Gmail account on my iPhone, but this was a joy to use.
The browser on this device was also fabulous. The BlackBerry browser is rather more difficult to use and because of the smaller screen size, you don’t quite get the same web experience. The iPhone is nice but I found this device just better overall. What I did find on this particular device though was that it had a relatively poor WiFi range. I’ve thus far found the BlackBerry to be the best, followed by my iPhone, but this device just didn’t cut it.
Moving contacts was probably one of the easiest operations I’ve seen on a smartphone. I’ve moved contacts from one BlackBerry to another or from the BlackBerry to the iPhone, but it always required that I had to connect to my laptop to do it. Here it was done wirelessly using Bluetooth and I’ve never seen all my contacts migrate from one device to another that quickly. Everything moved perfectly and I just wished all manufacturers and OS platforms were this easy.
Connectivity to a PC / Mac
If there was one major gripe I had with this device it was connectivity to a PC or Mac. The synchronization process when it connected to my PC wasn’t as smooth and was terribly slow. Once you’ve connected your BlackBerry to the Desktop Manager or had your iPhone connect to iTunes, you find things just happen. This sadly wasn’t the case here.
Trying to connect this device to my iTunes library to copy some music on to it also was a multi-step process which I don’t think I would be prepared for everything I wanted to sync or update my playlist. Moving a podcast was even more complicated and I eventually gave up trying to do this. When I did copy music onto the device though, the output was great and I had no complaints on this.
Even worse was though was trying to connect this Android device to my Mac. It just wasn’t going to happen and I found the support for MacBook’s to be extremely poor. The BlackBerry connectivity on a Mac isn’t great either, but it’s much better than this.
What did I choose to do finally?
When Sunday morning came around and it was time for me to head off to work, I had a choice to make. Which phone did I want to use, the iPhone or the Android device? As much as I liked the whole Android experience, I just missed iOS too much. Out came the SIM card and straight into the SIM tray of the iPhone it went.
Had I not used an iPhone, I would’ve probably stuck to this device but with Gingerbread looking as good as it is, I do certainly hope the future versions of Android operating systems move forwards from here and close the gap on iOS. Fragmentation within the Android environment is a major issue at the moment and with the experience being so different from device to device due to manufacturer skins and so many different versions of Android OS floating around, it is going to be a challenge that Google hopefully addresses.
Where is the Android device in the meantime? Don’t worry, it found a good home and is currently being used by my wife, and since it’s the first touch screen device she’s used, she may end up keeping it longer than the one weekend I had this device for.