Saturday, April 10, 2010

Switching to Android: Part 1 - Introduction

The other day I was lucky enough to get a nexus one for gratis. Actually, strictly speaking it was for writing an application for Android called WikiNotes (I wrote it in my spare time while working for Google  as an Android Advocate - it was intended to demonstrate how intents and the android application lifecycle worked, but ended up being a pretty useful app). When I left Google, Dan Morrill kept up the development of the app and submitted it to the android marketplace where (from reports) it has done reasonably well. Anyway, just a few days ago I picked up my shiny new Nexus One - a nice, but unexpected, reward (maybe some karma catchup?).

I decided that I would write up my experiences of switching to it from the iPhone 3G that I have been using for the past 18 months, and I intend to be honest, both with praise and criticism, as I switch to the new device (which I will be doing - I have already decided that much).

The Nexus One came to me at a good time. I have been becoming less and less satisfied with the iPhone, primarily because I use it so much and the seemingly small limitations that Apple imposes on how I may use their device have grown over time into much more serious impediments. I will cover these limitations in detail as this series goes on, and discuss how Android improves on them (or in some cases doesn't! Life is  not perfect in the Android world either, but it is better).

So let's start with a few of the higher level niggles with the iPhone. Of course, top of the list is lack of background applications. For a multimedia device, inability to keep applications like pandora or running in the background is extremely irritating. I jailbroke my iPhone to get around some of this, and could after a fashion listen to Pandora when replying to an SMS for example, but it all relied on me enabling backgrounding for that app, and it was far from a smooth user experience. Apple just announced that backgrounding was being added to the 4.0 iPhone OS, which is great, but apparently not for older devices like mine because they can't do it. Ummm, yeah, actually they can on jailbroken devices, and I am sure apple could make it smooth if they wanted to, regardless - I am out of that scene now.

Another one is that my battery life is nowhere near where it used to be. This is not due to jailbreaking (it has been that way for over a year), but more to do with the service cycle of Li Ion batteries, and the fact that they don't hold their charge in the same way after a year or two. Not a problem in most phones, but of course I can't just take out the battery and replace it with a fresh one. That's just lame, and I didn't realize how annoying it is until now. I could take it into an apple store to get it changed, but really, why? Why can't I just put a new one in myself?

So - enough of the iPhone, for the rest of this blog posting I am going to stick to my first impressions of the Nexus One. More details will be in future postings.

The Nexus One is the first Android phone that (in my opinion) measures up to the build quality and overall slickness of the iPhone (don't get me wrong - control-obsession aside, Apple did put together a marvelous device). The Nexus One is what android devices should have been all along.

The device is slim, slick and feels well built. It has an easily replaced battery, easy access to the SIM card, and a micro SD card slot with a 4G card provided with the device (but capable of taking 16G or maybe even 32G in the future). Easily replaceable storage. A nice feature (especially for large or varied media collections).

The first stumbling block was the connector. I had expected the now-defacto standard mini-USB, but it was something different - what turned out to be a micro-USB. Apparently this is the wave of the future, but the future does not yet seem to be here - a check at Target for example shows a ton of mini-USB chargers and cables, but nothing micro-USB yet. It wasn't hard to find some inexpensive converters at though: so I ordered a couple for all of my power chargers and cables that already use mini-USB.

The battery life is, as everyone seems to say, pretty much the same as the iPhone. The gauge is a little more honest (my iPhone reported itself as fully charged for half of the day, then started dropping quickly, while the Nexus One seems a little more linear in its estimations). One nice thing is that road warriors or power users can put in a double capacity battery (with a bulging battery cover to match). This will spoil the sleek looks, but it's a flexibility that iPhones can only get with awkward external battery pack options.

Here are a few more high-level things I have noticed about the Nexus One compared to the iPhone:

  • Audio quality through the headphones is at least as good as the iPhone, the included headphones sound fine but are a bit less comfortable than the white iPhone standard ones - either way, much higher quality sounding headphones can be found (I like koss personally)
  • Mysteriously, the maximum output from the Nexus is lower than that possible on the iPhone - I am not sure if this is because of some kind of effort to prevent hearing damage. Several third party apps drive the volume much higher, so clearly it is not a hardware limitation
  • The speaker built into the nexus one sounds more tinny than the iPhone - this includes the ringer audio sadly
  • The mic is phenomenal, eliminating almost all background noise, and this translates to much more clarity when speaking to people, and might explain some of the eerily accurate speech recognition that the phone is capable of
  • The animations are slightly more jerky than the iPhone, for example list scrolling or app-starting, but not bad by any means. The overall speed seems much higher than my 3G (although the 3GS is probably as fast). It does feel nice and snappy in use
  • The screen is amazing - high resolution, smooth fonts, vivid colors
  • Multi-touch works well, and typing on the soft keyboard is familiar from the iPhone and just as easy
There is, of course, plenty more to say, but I think that's good for part 1. In the next blog posting, I will take a look at the applications I used most on the iPhone, and their equivalent (or lack thereof) for Android.

1 comment:

NickH said...

I've personally never understood the argument that the iPhone has the best UI. To me, its like a jigsaw puzzle was dropped on the ground - just a huge collection of icons. It reminds me of windows 3.0.

Oddly, once the iPhone OS4 comes out, then the iPhone will have just about all the functionality of windows 3.0, incuding folders for the program manager! Wow. Innovation indeed.

How much fun would it be to have an iPhone with the full complement of 100,000 apps installed?

Yeah, you want the notes application? Oh, thats easy... Just scroll left 96,482 times, and it's the third app down on the left...