writing about tech

Tag: android (page 1 of 5)

The Galaxy S6 is going to make my life so much easier

The Galaxy S6 is a fantastic phone. I never thought I’d say that about a Samsung phone, but the results are in, and my first-hand use of one today confirmed it. The screen is amazing, the build and design are first-class, the camera is fast and solid and reliable, and the software is…well, tolerable, which is a big improvement for Samsung. I can’t wait for it to come out, though not because I’ll be buying one. Rather, I’m excited because the question I get asked the most by my friends is “What smartphone should I buy?”, and now I have a very simple answer.

Do you want an iPhone? Buy an iPhone.

Do you want an Android phone? Buy the Galaxy S6.

Before the S6, this was a much more complicated answer, usually involving a great deal of back-and-forth. What carrier are you on? What features are most important to you? What compromises are you willing to make?

Those days are finally gone. Like the iPhone, the Galaxy S6 isn’t the best phone in every category, but it’s one of the best all-around packages you’re going to find, and it’s hard to go wrong with it. HTC spent three years trying to be the “iPhone of Android” – the best all-around Android device with the fewest compromises – and while they came damn close, Samsung finally tried to make a premium-feeling device and they got it in one. It doesn’t have the best software, but it’s no longer offensively bad. It doesn’t have a removal battery or SD card, but it has wireless charging, which is pretty great. It’s not the perfect phone because there is no perfect phone, but it’s a damn good fit for a lot of people.

Of course, things could become more complicated if someone has to have an SD card or has to have a removal battery, or has to have a huge (or tiny) phone, or has to have the most possible battery life, or has to have stock Android. But if you have such specific requirements, there’s usually only one or two choices anyway.  And if you don’t have any of those requirements?

Just buy the iPhone or the Galaxy S6.

What iOS does that Andron’t

Today, Dropbox announced support for iOS8’s sharing system:

You can now count Dropbox among the third-party apps that work with Apple’s sharing system, as of today. The company just pushed out a new update to its iOS app that inserts a “save to Dropbox” option in the sharing pane for certain types of files.

In the comments of that article, someone asked a perfectly valid question:

I’m a rare Android user within my group of friends. I’d say something around 90% of the people I hang out with have iPhones and almost all of them assume their iPhone has the latest and greatest technology available on the market. I’m honestly not trying to troll, but could someone provide a list or a few features that iPhone has than Android doesn’t?

Historically, iOS has been more polished, while Android has been more feature-filled. With the release of iOS8, the two operating systems are closer to parity than ever before, but there are still certainly differences, and there are features my Android phone had that I still miss on my iPhone – the ability to set default apps, more powerful background processing, and custom keyboards that actually work being just some of those. Asking what features iOS has that Android doesn’t made for an interesting philosophical question – when people think about iPhones and iPads, the benefits they think of are usually on the hardware side, not on the software side.  Still, there are definitely things iOS does that Android doesn’t – here’s what I came up with:

  • Touch ID, technically a hardware feature, is worth mentioning due to its deep integration with iOS. As-of iOS8, third-party apps can leverage it, making both unlocking your phone, logging into sensitive apps, and buying products easier than ever.
  • I’ve mentioned this before, but the main reason I switched back to the iPhone from Android was battery life.  While the iPhone’s battery isn’t necessarily  better in my experience, but it’s substantially more reliable, in that I can put it into standby and it actually stays idle, rather than draining my battery in the background. I classify this as iOS-specific behavior, as iOS does a better job at allowing me, as the user, to specify what an app can or can’t do in the background. Facebook is allowed to access my location while in use, but not in the background, and it doesn’t have the ability to update its data while in the background, because I don’t need either of those features. That same permission-centric functionality just doesn’t exist on Android; iOS even goes so far as to warn me when an app is using my location in the background and gives me the option to stop it.
  • iMessage  is something iOS nails that Android stil hasn’t matched. Seamless transfer between data-based and SMS-based communication is pretty fantastic, especially when communicating with fellow iOS users. The ability to send both iMessages and SMS messages directly, and even take and receive phone calls, from a Mac or iPad is also pretty great, and while Android can match some of that functionality with third-party apps, it’s not as well integrated, as it isn’t native.  Interestingly, I find this also helps my phone last longer – if I’m making a phone call or sending an SMS from my computer or iPad, then that’s even more time my phone is spending on standby. I don’t even really use my phone at home for that reason, since my laptop and tablet can seamlessly take over for it.
  • The last one: native OS cloud backups. You’d think this is something where Android would dominate iOS, given Google’s history with cloud services, but nope. While you can re-download all of your apps on a new Android device, the data doesn’t usually come with those apps. iOS does complete cloud backups, with all of your app data intact. Get a new iOS device, enter your iCloud credentials, and you’ll be up and running with everything just as you left it, right down to SMS history. And, if you don’t trust iCloud, you can just as easily run backups to any computer running iTunes. This is a big thing for me, as I love the peace of mind that comes with knowing my iOS devices are backed up on a nightly basis. It’s also frustrating because I think Android needs that functionality more than iOS does. I don’t really tweak my iOS devices, but I would mess around with my Android devices quite a bit. The ability to easily restore all of my apps and data any time I flashed a new ROM would’ve been pretty awesome. There were third-party services to handle this, but they all felt sub-par in some way, and seemed to do just as much harm as good sometimes.

Of course, as I said at the beginning, this is largely a thought experiment – at the end of the day, iOS and Android aren’t all that different anymore, so it’s less about the OS and more about the hardware and ecosystem you want to invest in. There are still some things Android does better, and there are still some things iOS does better, but for the most part, you get roughly the same experience on both platforms, regardless of what die-hards want you to believe.

Apple may slow down and catch its breath with iOS9

9to5Mac reports:

Following the success of OS X Snow Leopard for Macs in 2009, one of iOS 9’s standout ‘features’ will be a directed focus on stabilizing and optimizing the operating system.

This would be great news, if true. Android and iOS are at near-feature-parity these days – both OSes do certain things a little better and certain things a little worse, but overall they both provide very similar smartphone experiences. We’re starting to reach the end of what these devices can do without some hardware innovation, especially in the battery area. Now, it’s time for both Apple and Google to slow down and do a bit of polishing.

Daily Drivers Update, January 2015

Another year, another daily driver update. This is a big one (no pun intended) – my move from using an Android phone for almost three years, back to using an iPhone.

Phone

Old and Busted: HTC One (M7)

New Hotness: iPhone 6 Plus

The iOS vs. Android debate is a never ending quagmire that I don’t really want to venture into here, suffice it to say that in January of 2015, I decided to try using an iPhone again, and it turns out I really liked it. There’s a variety of reasons, but really, at the end of the day, it came down to battery life and camera performance. This is a fantastic phone, if you can put up with iOS and the somewhat-absurd size.

 

iPhone 6 Plus Conclusions: Battery, battery, battery. Also camera.

Two weeks ago, I purchased an iPhone 6 Plus, largely due to my issues with battery life on Android phones.  If you’ve been following my posts,  you’ve probably figured out that I’ve decided to keep the iPhone and stick with iOS for awhile. I wish I could say I had some grand, all-consuming revelation, but really, it comes down to the same reason I decided to try an iPhone again in the first place: battery life.

My rule for the last two weeks was a simple one: if I was going to keep the iPhone, it had to last all day, every day, only being plugged in at night when I get to bed.  Day two (New Year’s Eve) was actually a close call – it came off the charger early for work, and was used heavily throughout the day to coordinate my NYE party, stream music, etc. It scraped by with 10% left when I finally went to bed at 2 AM.

Since that day, though, I’ve come nowhere close to hitting that 10% mark. Sitting at home right now, after work, 11 or so hours after my phone came off the charger, my phone is at about 70% percent. When I go to bed, I will likely have more than 50% remaining – probably closer to 60%, actually. That means I could have used my phone way, way, way more, and still had battery to spare.  One morning, I went running for two and a half hours, with RunKeeper tracking in the background the whole time, streaming podcasts to my Bluetooth headphones, and still had 88% battery left.

These numbers are about average from what I’ve seen in my two weeks of usage.  They are also quite possibly irrelevant to you, as we likely live in different places, work in different places, and use our phones very differently.  It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison to anything except my own previous experiences with phones – and in that regard, I can say it’s exceptional. I rarely play games or stream video, but I also don’t baby it – I simply use it when I need it. You know, like a tool should be used.

The key to this is standby time: when the phone’s screen is off, it is actually asleep, unless I’m intentionally doing something in the background, or it’s running one of the apps I’ve decided I want running in the background. It’s a bit of a revelation to use a phone whose battery life I don’t have to worry about, at all – in that regard, it’s more like having an iPad Nano than an iPhone. The iPad is a device I use every day without concern for the battery – and my phone now falls squarely in that same category. Until recently, I never would have thought that possible.

I’m not going to pretend there aren’t Android phones which, under the right conditions, would provide me the same results – I’m sure those Android phones exist. The problem is deeper than that: after owning three Android phones, and an Android tablet, I simply don’t trust Android to manage my phone’s battery life anymore.  Given how I use my devices, I fear that buying an Android phone with a bigger battery would just be a bandaid over the larger problem of Android’s battery management. As long as a background app or process has the ability to wake my device and keep it awake, I will always have reason to doubt my phone’s reliability – and at this point,  that’s an unacceptable scenario.  I don’t own technology to babysit it; I own technology to use it.

Reliability is really what the iPhone 6 Plus is all about. It’s a boring answer, but for many of us, it’s also the only answer that matters. Vlad Savov explained why the iPhone’s camera is still the camera to beat better than I ever could, but it boils down to this: I can take my phone out, snap a random photo, and, 99% of the time, get reliable, in-focus results.  I don’t even get that kind of reliability from my point-and-shoot, the fantastic Sony RX100M2.  Obviously the image quality and shooting capabilities of the Sony camera are still far superior, and the camera still comes along to more important events, but I no longer feel the need to dual-wield a phone and a point and shoot on a day-to-day basis.  On my Android phones, and to a lesser extent on my point-and-shoot, I rely on burst mode shots to make sure at least one will be in focus. I haven’t felt the need to do that with the iPhone; I only use burst mode for capturing motion or trying to get a very specific moment in time. I can hold the iPhone in one shaky hand, take a single photo, and, almost every time, it still comes through completely focused. I took a little video to demonstrate:

Photos from the sample video:

2015-01-13 20.35.22 2015-01-13 20.35.23 2015-01-13 20.35.24 2015-01-13 20.35.25 2015-01-13 20.35.27

It’s frustrating because no Android OEM has managed to replicate whatever software algorithms Apple has – there’s certainly nothing special about the hardware optics, so it has to be done in the software. I imagine it’s quickly taking a bunch of photos when you hit the shutter key and either using that data to piece together an in-focus shot, or choosing the most in-focus of the ones it took, or some combination of those techniques. I honestly thought the iPhone’s camera abilities were exaggerated until I started using one again – but now, I am a believer, and it will be hard to settle for anything less.

It feels like a shame to talk about the iPhone 6 Plus without at least mentioning TouchID. I’d had some experience with it on the iPad Air, so I mostly knew what to expect, and I can’t really add much to what others have said.  Personally, it’s hard to imagine going back to a phone that doesn’t allow me to secure my device in such a way – I put my thumb on the home button, push it down to wake up the device, and it unlocks almost instantly:

2015-01-13 21.17.04 (1)

Trusted Devices on Android is good, but TouchID is fantastic, especially now that third-party apps can leverage it. Paying for apps in the App Store, logging into the Amazon app, opening the Mint and Alarm.com app, paying for stuff at NFC terminals – all secured with TouchID.  Speaking of payment – Apple Pay is probably worth its own post at some point, but man, it is good. I used Google Wallet in the past, but Apple Pay definitely has the advantage when it comes to implementation. I simply point the top of my phone at an NFC terminal, an image of my credit card appears, I put my thumb on the TouchID sensor, and it’s done. This is the future, folks – and it’s kind-of neat.

So, does all of this mean I’m “switching” to iOS? Technically, yes, I guess, but I don’t really like the term “switching”, or the connotations that come with it. I’ve opted to use an iPhone as my daily driver for the foreseeable future simply because, at this moment in time, it’s the best device for my needs. A few years ago, Apple and I diverged – their phones weren’t big enough and the OS wasn’t flexible or interesting enough. Today, enough has changed that using an iPhone again just makes sense for me. I no longer feel like I’m making a major compromise when it comes to software or hardware, and the benefits – incredibly reliable all-day battery life and a best-in-class camera – are impossible to ignore.

I hope this isn’t a permanent change. I enjoy having a foot in the iOS world and the Android world, as I feel it forces me to broaden my perspective, both as a tech enthusiast, and with regards to the services I choose to use. Eventually, I hope to see an Android device released that, like the HTC One X before it, offers enough of an advantage over the iPhone that I can’t resist it.

Today, I am an iPhone user again. Tomorrow? I don’t know what I’ll be, but I can’t wait to find out – and that’s why I find the tech world such an exciting place.

What two screenshots taught me about the philosophies of iOS and Android

I have ranted enough about my frustrations trying to diagnose and combat random Android battery drain, and since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll just show the following screenshots.

iOS:

2015-01-06 14.12.47

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Android:

2014-12-30 06.44.13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the key difference here? Simple: iOS is kind enough to point out apps that are draining my battery in the background. Of course, there’s another obvious difference, and I definitely miss the battery graph from Android, especially its ability to predict how much longer the battery will last. However, when it comes to actually diagnosing why my battery might be misbehaving, nothing beats telling me which apps, specifically, are performing battery-draining background tasks.  Even better, iOS gives me fine-grain control over which apps can do so.  I quickly identified a few apps that I didn’t need refreshing their data in the background and shut the door on them:

2015-01-06 14.51.20

Oh Facebook – you remain delightfully terrible on ANY platform

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s important to note that this does not prevent push notifications from coming through; it just keeps those apps from running background processes to update their information.

I make this comparison not to bash Android, but rather because I believe it specifically illustrates the different philosophies of iOS and Android. Android and iOS both empower their users, but in different ways. Android empowers them with freedom, while iOS empowers them with control. iOS allows me to specifically limit the behavior of certain apps if I decide I don’t need or want a particular piece of functionality, or if I believe an app is misbehaving.Android takes more of an all-or-nothing approach to permissions – unless, of course, you download a third-party tool to enable that functionality.

Essentially, Android errs on the side of the app developer, while iOS errs on the side of the user.  This difference is perhaps best illustrated in the screenshot below:

2015-01-02 23.31.10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice the “App Explanation” portion at the bottom. It’s a little thing, but it’s important – what it shows is that yes, Apple will let a developer’s app use your location in the background, but only if the developer is willing to explain to the user why it needs to do so.

This brings us back to freedom: many of the things I can do to limit third-party apps can  be done in Android, thanks to the freedom it provides users. I can root and download a tool to manage permissions or to hibernate apps with something like Greenify. However, it requires more effort on the user’s part, and let’s face it: most users simply don’t want to mess with their phones any more than they have to, which I think is a perfectly reasonable position to take.

Perhaps it boils down to this: iOS attempts to pro-actively protect the user from misbehaving third-party apps, while Android empowers the user to deal with it themselves – if they have the time and motivation. It’s the difference between standing guard in front of your house and warning you about possible intruders, or handing you a sword, walking away, and trusting you to learn to defend yourself with it. Both approaches are valid for difference people.  Personally? After nearly a week of using iOS as my daily driver, I find myself enjoying a mobile OS that seems to have the user’ best interest at heart, even if it means sacrificing some freedom when it comes to what I’m able to do with my phone.

It’s frustrating because I know Android can do better, and it wouldn’t even take that much. The tools to deal with app-level permissions are already in Android, they’re just hidden from the user.  The tools to monitor battery usage are already in Android, they’re just not good enough to pinpoint the behavior of a rogue process.  All it takes is for the folks in Mountain View to put themselves in the user’s shoes and think about protecting the user while empowering them – there’s nothing wrong with handing someone a sword and still making sure you’ve got their back.

The iPhone 6 Plus Experiment: The First Three Days

The following are random thoughts and musings from my first three days of owning an iPhone 6 Plus.

  • Holy Hell, this is thing is big.
  • I’m still torn on the size. For some things, it’s great. For others, it can be frustrating. Most of my smartphone use is generally two-handed, so the lack of one-handed usability isn’t really a big deal, but the weight balance of the phone seems a bit off, so it feels unstable at times even when used with two hands.  If battery life wasn’t a concern, I might actually go with the standard iPhone 6. Of course, after moving from the 3.5-inch iPhone 4 to the 4.7-inch HTC One X, I remember the iPhone felt like a toy.  Similarly, I may not be able to go back to a smaller phone once I’m used to the 6 Plus.
  • Unfortunately, Apple made the same mistake HTC did this year – it made a big, somewhat-slippery phone. Big is fine; slippery is not. It’s not as slippery as I’d been lead to read in reviews, but it’s also not quite as grippy as other phones I’ve used.
  • I generally hate cases, but this time gave in and bought Apple’s official leather case…and promptly took it off again a couple of hours later. It’ll probably going back to Best Buy. It’s fine if you want a case, I guess, and it felt nice enough in the hand, but I very much like the design of the 6 Plus, and dislike covering that up.  It also made the power button annoyingly un-responsive. I might try a clear case but, despite the obvious danger, I prefer carrying my phones case-less.  All of the cases for the 6 Plus will also inevitably ruin the feel of the curved glass on the sides, as well as make edge-gestures less responsive.
  • As I said: I love the design of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus…as long as you don’t look at those lines on the back. Ick. Also, while I appreciate the desire to have the device lay flat on a table, I miss the in-hand feel of a device with a curved back.
  • Because of the pseudo-tablet nature of the device, I find myself using it in landscape more frequently than other phones I’ve used in the past, especially since Apple’s apps have been optimized to use the bigger screen more effectively. Unfortunately, while the home screen displays in landscape, the lock screen does not. This seems like a silly oversight on Apple’s part.
  • The camera is so, so, so good, you guys. It may not take the best possible image in every possible scenario, but the overall reliability is exceptional. I don’t think I’ve taken a single blurry photo with the thing, nor have I taken a shot with poor white balance. It’s also really great to use an iPhone with burst-mode.
  • Android has definitely taken strides towards being a more fluid experience, but Android on top-of-the-line hardware still doesn’t compare to iOS on top-of-the-line hardware. It is difficult to beat the user experience you get when a company is fully in control of a device’s hardware and software. It’s absurd that a device like the Nexus 6 still has performance problems. Yes, this is likely due to the fact that Lollipop is encrypted by default – but if that’s the case, it’s Google’s job to make sure the UX doesn’t suffer.
  • Battery life is very, very solid – I think this the first time I’ve gone to bed with my phone having more than 50% remaining. I still charge it every night, because I’m anal like that, but it’s refreshing to know that I don’t have to.  Still, you certainly can kill it if you try – I haven’t yet, but I came close my first night, since it was off the charger at 9 AM and I didn’t go to bed until around 2 AM.   So far, it seems as though it will meet my needs when it comes to having a phone that won’t die before the end of the day regardless of what I do with it; in that area, it’s feels closer to an iPad than a smartphone.
  • This is the first smartphone I’ve ever had where I don’t bother to recharging after using RunKeeper or in-car navigation.  Of course, I also don’t typically spend my day playing graphically intensive games or watching hours of video – those activities will kill any smartphone pretty quickly, and that’s where tablets shine over phones.
  • I miss Android’s battery graph. The usage-breakdown-by-app is helpful, but not nearly as helpful as seeing what particular locations/activities/etc. drain my battery more than others.
  • Part of me wonders how battery life would be on a similarly-sized Android phone; benchmarks put the Note 4 and 6 Plus at roughly the same levels of battery performance, but I’ve yet to use an Android device (phone or tablet) that didn’t experience much greater levels of battery drain while on standby. It’s really all about that standby time; 1-2% idle drain per hour, rather than 5% or more. It seems like a small difference, but it adds up throughout the day. So far I haven’t had to turn anything off on the phone, either – for example, Google Now seems to have retained almost all of its location-centric functionality without the battery drain often seen on Android.
  • iOS8 has solved most of the issues I had with iOS, with the glaring exception of setting default apps. With the Today view, I don’t even miss widgets on the home screen – the notification pull-down is debatably a more logical place for them, since you can get to them anywhere.  The Today screen feels like a more powerful version of DashClock, which is one of the only widgets I used anyway.
  • Notifications on iOS are in many ways almost on-par with Android at this point, especially with the addition of notification actions, some of which are actually more useful than their Android counterparts.  For example, I’m more likely to want to mark an e-mail as read than delete it. Some things – like replying to an SMS or iMessage directly from the notification – are actually implemented better on iOS.  Unfortunately, some third-party apps – most notably Google’s – still haven’t implemented these features. Why can’t I mark a message as “Done” from an Inbox notification?  It’s not like Inbox is an older app with legacy code to worry about.
  • I also prefer the way Android 4.4 and earlier displays notifications in the status bar without intruding on screen real-estate, but unfortunately, with heads-up notifications in Android 5.0, this behavior is now essentially identical between the two platforms.  That, combined with the lockscreen notifications of Lollipop, means that, notification-wise, the two platforms are more indistinguishable than they’ve ever been. I miss the status bar icons from Android, but badge counts on app icons serve a similar purpose for me.
  • The Settings screen is insane at this point, and really needs a search option.
  • Touch ID is as great as I expected. I hate passcodes on phones to the point where I’d typically leave my phone unsecured, but Touch ID is the perfect compromise. It makes going without Android’s Trusted Devices feature much easier, and is arguably even more secure.
  • My FitBit’s background sync disconnects my headphones the same way it did on my HTC One running KitKat. Apparently this is a known issue; it’s a shame FitBit doesn’t seem interested in resolving it.
  • On the subject of bluetooth issues: once in awhile, the volume of music and podcasts on my car stereo randomly dips for a couple of seconds. This is something I remember happening on my old iPhone 4, as well as occasionally on my Android phones, but it seems more noticeable with the 6 Plus.
  • I forgot how well-integrated media playback is in iOS. iOS does a much better job of remembering what audio app I was using last (PocketCasts or Play Music, for example) and resuming that app when I hit play/pause on my headphones or Pebble.
  • I still really miss my Moto 360…
  • …but that being said, I’m using a Pebble again and the software’s gotten quite a bit better since the last time I used it. It also seems to work perfectly well with the iPhone. Just being able to dismiss notifications from my watch is a pretty nice change, and makes me miss the Moto 360 a little less.
  • I like than I can activate Siri for my Bluetooth headphones with a long-press; on Android, this would, for some absurd reason, launch the voice dialer rather than Google Now, even on Android 5.0. It’s not quite as convenient as voice commands on the Moto 360, but it’s a decent replacement for a quick note or reminder…
  • …speaking of which, I have yet to find a way of replacing my previous habit of adding items to Wunderlist using voice commands. This is one specific area where I expected my workflow to suffer, so I’m not particularly surprised to see it, but it’s still an adjustment.
  • People sometimes cite iTunes as a reason to avoid using iOS, but I still haven’t had any use for it. Podcasts are managed and sync’d by PocketCasts, while my music still lives happily in Google Play Music, and iCloud backups are handled automatically.
  • I miss being able to download apps from my desktop browser, though. Apple desperately need a web-based app store.
  • I also miss Muzei, my old live wallpaper that would randomly select a new background from my Flickr photos every hour.
  • As an iPad and MacBook owner, I loved the theory of Apple’s Hand-off and Continuity features, but actually using them was still a minor revelation. While I was able to replicate much of the same functionality via third-party apps and services on Android, there’s something reassuring about having it work natively. I was also reminded just how many of my friends use iMessage when I watched 90% of my text conversations turn blue – highlighting one of those few major iOS features that Android has been unable to match, even three years after its introduction.
  • iMessage seems far more reliable than I remember it being during its initial introduction, and there are definite benefits to being seamlessly integrated into the same chat experience that most of my friends are using – especially when you’re a social planner like I am.
  • The ability to make calls and send texts from my iPad means that, at home and at work at least, it is now able to serve as a complete surrogate for my phone. My dream of my smartphone becoming a dumb data/text/phone router while at home is almost a reality – the only missing piece of the puzzle is the notification mirroring functionality I’d grown to enjoy with PushBullet.
  • When out and about, the ability to start a mobile hotspot for my iPad or MacBook without having to even touch the phone is one of those small touches that it’s hard to go without once you’ve experienced it.
  • Speaking of Apple services: why does iOS still blow Android away when it comes to full-device backups?  I can plug my iPhone in every night and confidently know everything I care about (including text message history) will be backed up and available on another device.  This is still a fantasy on Android, which is especially absurd when you consider that cloud services is what Google does.

So far, I’m surprised how little I miss about Android – but I also know I’m only three days in, and this could quickly change as little annoyances add up. I’m impressed by the strides Apple has taken with iOS, though – they continue to take the right inspiration from Android, while implementing those ideas in such a way that it’s much less likely for a rogue third-party app to negatively impact my experience.  While it is certainly still a walled garden, it is a much prettier walled garden, and when it comes to the computing device I use most on a daily basis, I’ve become more willing accept some minor limitations in exchange for reliability.

Of course, what really matters is long-term reliability – proving to be “reliable” over the course of three days isn’t particularly impressive. I’ll certainly report back if anything changes in this (or any other) regard.

The iPhone 6 Plus Experiment

Oh God what have I done

Oh God what have I done

As many of you probably know, I’ve used Android phones for almost three years now – my last iPhone was the fantastic iPhone 4 – but I’ve recently grown frustrated with inconsistent behavior and performance of Android. Battery life has always been a problem, and it recently grew to a head, but it’s not the only problem I’ve had with Android.  Media controls and integration continue to be a struggle for Android. Third-party app performance is less than ideal.  New apps and services still typically come to iOS first, despite Android’s significant marketshare advantage.  Apple’s ecosystem remains untouchable; if you want an accessory or service for your device, it’s almost certainly available.  The Apple Store remains the gold standard for customer service on consumer electronics, and nothing from any Android OEM has come close.

Personally, I don’t have a strong preference for either platform; I like and appreciate each one for what it is. I’m not a fan of companies, but of devices – specifically, devices that seamlessly fit into our lives.  My chief problem with iOS has always been that it expects the user to fit their workflow to match how Apple wants you to do things; my chief problem with Android has always been that it often demands a fair amount of micromanagement on the user’s part if you want an ideal experience. For me, it comes down to that core struggle: user experience vs. personal workflow.

After a couple weeks of toying with the idea of getting an iPhone 6 Plus, and after being incredibly impressed by the iPad Air 2 I got about a month ago, I finally decided it was worth revisiting the possibility of using an iPhone as a daily driver.  So, at lunch yesterday, I gave into a whim, and here I am, less than a day into owning a new iPhone 6 Plus.

The question that I can’t answer without actually using an iPhone again full time is whether or not I can live with iOS’ limitations on my primary mobile device. It’s one thing when it’s a secondary device used primarily for leisure and content consumption; it’s another when it’s the device that drives my day to day activities.  I’ve become accustomed to adapting a device to my workflow; can I return to adapting my workflow to a device

So, here we go – a two-week experiment with an iPhone 6 Plus.  Here’s what I’m anticipating, both positive and negative:

What I’m looking forward to

Touch ID

I have Touch ID on my iPad Air, and it’s pretty amazing. It’s been more than a year since this feature was initially introduced with the 5S, and no competing phone has been able to match the simplicity and accuracy of Apple’s implementation.

Battery life

Given my rant yesterday, this probably isn’t a surprise, but it’s still worth mentioning.  Standby times on iOS devices tends to be solid, and I’m expecting no less from my 6 Plus.  I’m also not holding anything back – it’s configured more-or-less the same way my Android phone was, at least within the limitations of iOS.  PocketCasts and Play Music are set to automatically download.  FitBit and weather apps are syncing in the background. Notifications are being pushed to my Pebble. Google Now is…Google Nowing.  Like with my Android phones, I have no intention of babying this thing to save battery life. It will meet my demands or I will (eventually) find a device that will.  Battery life is something I’ve always compromised on – I’m the guy who always has his phone plugged in at work – and I’m tired of making that compromise. Assuming I’m not spending all day playing games or streaming my video, my phone should last me all day. Period.

A pure experience

iPhones are still the best example for how to release a phone without any carrier interference. While you do have to deal with Apple’s “bloatware” (its usefulness likely dependent on how deep you want to go into Apple’s ecosystem), at least the carriers can’t touch the hardware or software. Android is getting better in this regard, but you still generally have to buy a phone unlocked if you want a carrier-free experience – even the Nexus 6, if purchased through AT&T, gets their logo stuck on the back. Of course, as we learned from the iOS 8.0.1, the downside to a lack of carrier intervention in the update process is that it can lead to a glitchy software update rolling out to thousands of phones – but that remains the exception, rather than the rule.

One of the best mobile phone cameras, ever

I currently use a Sony RX100M2 as my primary camera, but the iPhone 6 Plus’ camera is a breath of fresh air after coming from an HTC One (which is great in some ways and flawed in others) and a Nexus 5. It’s not that those cameras are objectively terrible, but what they are is not reliable. I’m excited to use a phone with a fast camera that’s quite good in most conditions – it may mean my point and shoot can get left at home a bit more often.

Apps, apps, apps

I’ve greatly enjoyed the quality of apps I’ve seen on the iPad Air, and I’m excited to see that quality brought to my mobile handset.  My daily go-to apps like RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal seem to be better designed and perform better than their Android counterparts.  Even Chrome seems to run a bit better on iOS, likely due to the fact that it has to share the Safari browser engine, essentially becoming a fancy Google-centric Safari wrapper. Given Chrome’s performance on OS X, sometimes I wish the OS X version was also just a fancy Safari wrapper.

Apple’s ecosystem

Although I’ve already put a good deal of effort into making third-parties work together in Android to deliver functionality similar to Continuity, there’s something reassuring when it’s a native solution as opposed to a hacked-together solution dependent on multiple third-party apps (in my case, PushBullet and MySMS).  As an iPad and MacBook owner, I’m already excited to be sending texts from those devices using the native messaging app on each.

Reliable Bluetooth audio controls

Now we’ve reaching the nitty gritty, but I’ve found that one of the more frustrating aspects of Android in my day-to-day usage is that the Bluetooth controls on my go-to set of headphones simply aren’t very reliable. It’s been this way on ever Android device I’ve used in the last couple of years – the Nexus 5, the Nexus 7, and the HTC One.  All of them have varying degrees of problems (the Nexus 7 would typically drop connection entirely after a couple of minutes), the most common being that the phone would take commands from the Bluetooth headphones as suggestions. Pause? I guess, when I get around to it. Go back? Eh, maybe. We’ll see. As someone who often uses headphones for hours a day, between running and working, this adds up to a pretty frustrating experience. I had reached the point where I was using my headphones on my iPad more frequently than my phone, just because I knew the damn things would work right.  For the record, I don’t think this is a problem with the headphones, either.  My Moto 360’s Bluetooth audio controls are often fairly delayed as well.  As a bonus, iOS also displays a battery meter for the connected headphones – something Android can’t do, regardless of you root and ROM it.

A cooler phone

This one…probably sounds weird.  I don’t mean cooler as in hipper – I mean, literally, cooler. I’ve yet to have an Android device (phone or tablet) that didn’t run hot while under load including, occasionally, while it was just sitting in my pocket. I’m hopeful that Apple’s marriage of software to hardware will better handle thermal issues.

The size

I’m excited to try a bigger phone, with all the benefits it can bring. I’m also worried it’s simply too big, however.

 

What I’ll miss

Complete freedom

This is the obvious and predicable choice, but it doesn’t make any less true. Everything positive I’ve ever said about Android remains true, and while iOS8 has made strides towards being more open with the additions of Extensions and Today Widgets, it still doesn’t adapt to my personal workflow the same way Android does.  Whether or not I can put up with doing things the “iPhone way” will largely determine how this experiment plays out.

Android Wear

This is actually a big one.  Despite recent frustrations, I still love my Moto 360, and not being able to use it is a huge, huge hurdle on my potential move back to iOS. I still have an old Pebble, which is…fine, I suppose, but I already miss Android Wear. There’s always a chance Android Wear could work with iOS, at least on the same level as Pebble, but today, that’s simply not a reality.

Default Apps

This is another tough one. While Google has done a commendable job of ensuring its own apps work together inside iOS, there’s still a lot more than can be done. I should be able to ask Siri for directions and have her open Google Maps. I should be able to ask Siri to take a note and have it go into whatever app is able to handle that communication. This is something I use all the time with Android Wear, and not being able to create to-do items in my to-do app of choice is going to be a frustrating hurdle.

Google Now

I’m a huge Google Now user and lover, and I’m going to try using Google Now on the iPhone, but I’m concerned about how well it will perform when it’s not an integral part of the OS. Of course, this could go both ways: perhaps I can get most of the benefits of Google Now within the app restrictions of iOS, thus giving me much of the functionality without the battery life hit. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

An IR Blaster

This is specific to my uses, but I had my HTC One setup as a universal remote for my TV and audio system. Obviously this isn’t a deal breaker – I can go back to using my regular remotes, like a peasant – but it was a really, really nice feature.

Wireless Charging

My current phone didn’t have this, but the Nexus 5 did, and it’s a convenience you find it difficult to give up once you’re used to.  At least Apple’s Lightning cables are a step above Micro USB in user-friendliness, though.

The size

Hardware-wise, I still think the HTC One was, like the iPhone 4, close to perfect.  It feels right in your hand, and the size is pretty ideal.  While I’m excited to try a larger phone for the first time, I already miss some aspects of the One’s form factor.

 

So, those are my expectations going into this experiment. As I said at the beginning, I haven’t used an iPhone on a regular basis in almost three years, so I’m excited to see the ways the platform has changed and grown. Even if I don’t end up keeping the 6 Plus, at least I’ll come away with a better understanding of what the platform is capable of.

My increasing frustration with Android in a single screenshot

Let’s be clear – I like Android, a lot. The freedom it provides is still unparalleled, even with iOS8’s recent strides towards being more open.

Now, with that said…the last couple of weeks have tested my patience with misbehaving technology. It started with the way Lollipop handles notifications and has been further exacerbated by an issue with Lollipop on the Moto 360 that makes notifications unreliable. Yes, you read that right: somehow Google (or Motorola, or both) managed to release a smartwatch update that broke the core functionality of a smartwatch. Nailed it, guys.

These little glitches have been adding up, especially as I look toward getting a new phone in 2015. I’m not going to lie: I’ve been tempted to run out and buy an iPhone 6 Plus on more than one occasion, and it’s not out of love for iOS, but out of frustration for the maddeningly inconsistent experience on Android. Android is great! You know, usually. Until it isn’t.

Tonight was close to being the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It wasn’t even anything new, but just something I’d seen happen before – an event that had its significance increased by other recent frustrations. A few hours ago, my phone’s battery randomly decided to eat itself, even though I wasn’t using it, and it was on WiFi the whole time:

2014-12-30_2006.13.57.0.png

The detailed usage stats are useless, as usual, only telling me that “Android OS” was responsible, without giving any further explanation as to the actual root cause.

This is simply unacceptable. Fortunately I was home and didn’t need my phone tonight, but what if I had? Why does Google think it’s okay for a rogue process or app to completely hijack my phone? Ideally the OS itself would detect and deal with this scenario, but it’s not even trying. The least it could do is warm me that hey dude your battery is draining really fucking fast you might want to do something about it.

Did a reboot fix this? Yes. Should I have to reboot my phone to fix this? No, of course I shouldn’t. That’s insane. There’s nothing I can do with a reboot that Android shouldn’t be able to do on its own. Either a third-party app is being allowed to run completely out of control, and that behavior is being reported as “Android OS” or the OS itself is doing something awful, which is even worse.

Where do we go from here? I honestly don’t know. I’d like to wait and see where Google takes Android 5.0 in the next couple of months. I love the freedom Android gives me, and I love that I can set up my phone to match my own ideal workflow.

But you know what? I’m also tired of having to micromanage my phone just for the benefits of that freedom. This process and battery management stuff is just one example of something Google should’ve worked out years ago; not something I’m still fighting as we reach the end of 2014.

My 10 Second Review of Hearthstone

Despite first being released on PCs, Hearthstone is, I believe, the inevitable result of tablet gaming.  I’ve long felt that tablets are an ideal medium for board and card games – I’m also hopelessly addicted to Ascension, for example –  and Blizzard embraced that by creating an incredibly-polished collectible card game that anyone can pick up and play.  The twist is that many of the rules would be incredibly complicated (if not impossible) to implement in a physical game, which I think is where tablet card games truly shine.  I can’t even imagine playing the physical version of the aforementioned Ascension, since there’s just so much to keep track of.

I would seriously recommend it to anyone who owns a tablet (especially now that it’s on Android), but I take no responsibility if you end up hopelessly addicted.  You have be warned.

(But seriously, it’s super-fun).

Olderposts

Copyright © 2019 writing about tech

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑