The Android Experiment, Cold Turkey iPhone.
My friends have always been divided, either you use the iPhone and can’t imagine otherwise, or you use Android (and swallow the jokes about battery life and clunky UI) — but you tout the ecosystem, and features like tethering. Either way at the end of the day we seem to get by just fine, other than when I’m trying to use iMessage on my laptop and you have an Android device… :)
As I defined in my other blog post “Google’s Project FI, can you hear me now?”, I was interested in trying out their experimental cellular “carrier” and the only option was a Nexus 6. Once it arrived, I laid out all the devices I was planning to bring on my trip and started thinking hard about lugging them around for an extended period of time, and the utility they would bring me.
First was my iPhone, constantly checking all the things, calling people, apps for basically every service I can imagine. But, for the most part, I had that covered with Nexus 6 — after all, I was planning not to be doing anything mission critical or work related. Therefore, even if something wasn’t working fantastically it wasn’t really that big of a deal.
The second thing was my MS Surface, JK! I don’t have a surface, but I do have an iPad Mini, which is normally clutch for travel since the transatlantic flight is brutally long. So I started thinking about the content I was going to load on it, and the lack of VLC for iPad, which has led me to questionable audio quality and sometimes no video on the movies I’ve uploaded. Interestingly enough, VLC exists on Android and it works like a charm. Given the massive screen on the Nexus 6, I installed an app called Android File Transfer on my mini, and boom media content! This eliminated my need for the iPad, how fancy.
Next, I took a hard look at my Kindle. I had and continue to have a list of books queued up on there that is dauntingly long. So of course, with all this “downtime”, I would be reading like a boss, right? With that screen perfect for reading, how could I possibly not bring it? So I installed the Kindle App on the Android, pulled down all the books, and spent an hour reading. The giant screen, dimmed a bit, actually did a mediocre job. Good enough for someone who reads for an hour then falls asleep, nearly every time. Another device into the drawer!
Next up was my Canon Powershot S100 with a 12.1 MP with 5x zoom, I knew that I wouldn’t be bringing the Nikon 7000d because it’s a beast and I am working hard to conserve space. However this guy, is tiny and if I really need a camera — I am going to be majorly bummed that it’s not along for the ride. So I threw it into the pack, but with the 13 MP camera on the Nexus 6, I actually never took it out of it’s case. Yeah, I was amazed too. Although I think we can all agree, that a camera in your hand is worth 2 in your giant backpack sitting in your hostel room.
I did consider not bringing a laptop, but lets be real, doing any significant writing without a real keyboard is simply torture. And my old Macbook Air is still so light that it was practically unnoticeable. Also, I did need to “occasionally pop into iMessage” just to see if anything extraordinarily interesting was going on back home.
So yes, I was planning to do everything that one normally does with technology on an Android Phablet, having wandered San Francisco trying all these things, I did notice that even if I was super conscious of closing un-used apps, and installed all the “save battery” things, it still wasn’t enough. Not that it was abnormally bad, about where my iPhone 5 was when I upgraded. So I did a little research and purchased two external batteries.
The first is the LinearFlux Lithium Card, which had great reviews and looks awesome because it has built in facilities for charging and connecting to the Device. However as I found out, at a full charge, this bad boy (I know, it’s tiny) can only provide about 20% charge on your battery. Now this is fine if you are planning to go out for the evening, and 20% will help you get a cab home. But for me, I wanted to walk around all day using my device like crazy.
The second, is the Anker 2nd Gen Astro E4 — which is of course a brick with a lot more weight, but functioned exactly as I had hoped. I put it in my day pack fully charged, and ran a cable through the water hose hole of my little daypack (camelback) and into my pocket. Endless usage, in fact I don’t think I ever got to the point where that thing was completely dead. So I can’t tell you exactly how many charges it could handle, but I re-charged 3 times fully in one day and still had juice leftover.
The comparison started immediately, tradeoff’s between one platform and the other, once all my apps were installed and configured, I was able to do anything I needed, or expected to do. However in regards to services, “OK Google” is simply amazing, in comparison to Siri — they don’t even compare. In fact, I didn’t fully realize the awesomeness and the vision of Siri until I got used to telling my Nexus 6 what to do. Additionally, Google Drive integration is amazing — I had already been using it on my laptops, and normally I check into flights on my computer, so saving tickets to the travel folder in my Google drive and having it magically available when I get to the line at the airport or train station is badass. Also, Google is now parsing my whole life and telling me when to leave my hotel to get to a specific flight or location before it’s too late. I found it a combination of incredibly creepy, and super useful. As I traveled, it was pretty awesome that after looking up a map to a specific location that the next morning it would let me know how long it would take to go see that sight or activity. Not to mention just a deeper and cleaner integration to all Google Services, and as I am a heavy user of Google apps and Gmail/Inbox, things just worked.
It’s a little hard to explain how useful the Google Service integrations are without spending a few days actually using Android, but Google Now is incredibly usable, and it will be hard to get used to not having such an accurate and insight view view of things I care about, aggregated all in one place.
Google does this thing called stories, which was pretty interesting because after taking photos in a new place and walking around, they would put together a little slideshow type experience with locations and photos that were easy to share with family and friends. Also occasionally, they would take a photo i’d taken and make it awesome and black/white, which was sometimes a good look and sometimes not.
There is a distinct lack of snappiness I experienced the whole time I was using the Android, it wasn’t slow, just didn’t feel crisp. Booting Android takes forever, whenever there are updates, and the Camera took too long to lock in HDR photos. Managing the apps is problematic, and I developed a tick of constantly closing all apps, just to make sure I wasn’t burning power unnecessarily. I do have to admit that the giant screen wound up simply being awesome, and the iPhone 6 now feels tiny and insignificant. By default, it was pretty irritating that every app constantly notified me when anything happened, I get emails constantly, why would I want a notification for every single one? So I turned it off, but the idea that I have to go download another app, to show a count of unread emails on my home screen seems insane to me.
Now let’s talk about the whole SMS thing, the default SMS app is pretty bad, but it immediately told me that Google Hangouts was going to takeover. It was surprisingly useful, and denoted whether it was an SMS or a gchat conversation, but also let me call people direct from there. I think for work, doing hangouts and interacting with co-workers this way could be pretty slick.
I have not yet used the new Apple Music stuff, but I did download a few albums with Google Play Music, and found the experience to be pretty solid. They also have a great selection of music not in English, which is fun because music is a big part of my process with my languages obsession.
Google translate audio and camera filter both worked well (put the camera over something in another language, and Google translates for you realtime). The Google play ecosystem was actually a little confusing, because it seems like it’s really multiple app stores, that have been shoe horned into one. I found the UI widgets other than icons, basically useless, and after installing any app I would go check it’s background data and power usage, and if it seemed unreasonable, it would get the axe.
I found pattern unlock, better than entering in a code, the swype keyboard is very usable, I got very used to that and found a dramatic increase in my typing speed. I also found the Nexus 6 location services and Google Maps integration to be much faster and more accurate. I realize that you can get some of this stuff to happen on iPhone, but I tried the swype integration and it was terrible. I’m not sure I’m interested in messing with the iPhone unlock screen, the consequences seem potentially quite frustrating.
As you can see there are endless strengths and weaknesses on both sides, it was really fun forcing myself to experience the other side. At this point I am actually carrying both around in my bag all day — how ridiculous. I hope your mobile platform argument over beers, just got that much more interesting. May the force be with you.