Posted on Thu 31 March 2016

Trying Android

Lately I've been feeling frustrated with the Apple community. That is, people who love Apple, who sing Apple's praises no matter what they do, who never liked the idea of f.lux but think Night Shift is the bee's knees, who think there's something wrong when they don't buy something from every single Apple event, and so on...

It's starting to feel like a grimy circle jerk that I don't want to be part of.

At the same time, the gap between Android and iOS is closing. Apple has recently added several features to iOS that had previously made Android much better for fans of customisation, like third-party keyboards and widgets. And since introducing material design, Android has started looking a whole lot prettier, which I considered something iOS had over Android in the past.

I had an Android phone years ago. After my iPhone 3Gs got worn out, I switched to a Samsung Galaxy running Android. I don't remember why I made the switch, but it's possible it was simply a matter of price. I'd bought the 3GS with a one-off government payout designed to stimulate the economy and help us avoid financial crisis. It's not always so easy to happen on $1000 to buy yourself a new iPhone.

But when it came time to upgrade from my Galaxy, I'd reached the end of my tether with Android. I'd been constantly frustrated by apps that weren't available on Android, or came to Android much later than iOS, or were available on both platforms but essentially neglected on Android. I had become so enamoured with software that the lack of great apps available for Android was enough to make me switch back to iOS.

Until now, I've stuck by that reasoning. But more recently Android apps have caught up a lot. And with material design and more attention from developers, the average design quality of Android apps has increased.

I'm also using more Web services these days that have apps across different platforms with fairly similar mobile experiences. For instance: Todoist, Instagram, Babbel, Duolingo, Slack, Telegram, and Instapaper.

Josh still had his old Nexus 4 knocking around, so he dug it out and reset it for me a few weeks ago. I spent a day setting it up and using it around the house (it doesn't have a SIM card in it). After that day I was relieved to return to my iPhone but also felt I could use an Android phone full-time if I had to, which was comforting.

This week I felt the familiar pang of frustration with Apple, iOS's problems, and the double standards of the Apple community, so I dug out the Nexus again. This time I found myself even more enamoured with Android, and not-so-comforted when returning to my iPhone 6s.

It's worth noting there are pros and cons to both platforms, and I can't declare either as an outright "winner". I'm also not about to buy a new Nexus, though I am considering it for when my iPhone 6s is up for replacement.

What I like about Android

There are quite a few things that I like much better in Android than iOS.

Hardware buttons

I really hate clicking the home button on my iPhone. Whenever I've jailbroken my phone in the past, I've always used a tweak that lets me swipe to close and switch apps. With Android, I can go back, go to the home screen, or switch apps without ever clicking a physical button. It's all done with gentle taps. These buttons take a while to get used to, but I like them much better than the iOS physical button.

Interacting with notifications on the lock screen

First of all, there's an option to dismiss all notifications when you pull down the drawer from the top. That's very handy. Lately I've had my iOS notifications set to group by day so I can dismiss a whole day's worth at once, but it's still not as useful as a simple "dismiss everything" option.

Secondly, I like the gestures Android uses for notification interactions on the lock screen. You can double tap to open immediately, or pull down on a notification to see more information and quick options like "archive" for an email. I like the extra information I can see this way, and I find the interactions feel more natural than the iOS swipe-to-the-side approach.

Google login is seamless

This is not a huge point, because I try not to use social logins for accounts if I can help it, but whenever I do need to login with my Google account, the process is seamless.

Coloured light to show notifications

Just below the bottom of the screen of the Nexus I've been using is a tiny light that can change colour. It flashes in different colours to show me when I have a notification, and what app it came from. I find this incredibly useful, and it means I waste less time turning on the screen to check if I missed anything.

The app switcher feels good

I like the app switching approach on Android. Using the hardware button, I can tap rather than clicking a button (or force touch + swiping, which I do a lot on iOS to avoid clicking the home button, but which I find very awkward). Once in the app switcher view, I'm looking at a stack of vertical cards. I find it quite easy to swipe through these and close apps or find the one I'm looking for. Perhaps it's just because I can see more apps at once than I can when switching apps on iOS, but regardless, I like it.

Material design

As far as defaults go, I think material design wins hands-down over iOS. I find the iOS defaults since iOS 7 ugly and boring. I actually really like it when iOS apps use material design, even though it might seem lazy or strange. So long as the app's UX fits iOS patterns, I'd always choose a material design UI over the default iOS style.

Better keyboards

I use the SwiftKey keyboard on iOS. This is an app I used a lot when I used to have an Android phone, and I sorely missed it on iOS before third-party keyboards were allowed. But even now, SwiftKey on iOS is a long way behind the Android version, and none of the other third-party keyboards are good enough to be my default.

On Android, not only is SwiftKey better, but the built-in Google keyboard is great. It has swiping and long-press for punctuation and numbers. I actually ended up using the Google keyboard as my default on Android, because I had some trouble with the SwiftKey space bar and the default keyboard is just as good, as far as I can tell.

The date picker

Besides the design of iOS, probably the thing I hate most is the abhorrent date picker. It's unusable in the extreme. Android has not only a more sensible option, but a much better looking one. It uses an actual calendar that you can tap on to view dates, seeing the month, day of the week, and date in context and all at once, unlike the stupid scrolling wheel in iOS.

What I missed about iOS

There were a few things I found myself longing for while testing Android. Some of these I could adjust to not having, but others I would always miss if I switched to Android full-time.

Notification Center widgets

I was surprised to miss these, as I think Notification Center widgets have a ways to go. They so often resize themselves as they load that pulling down the Today screen means I'm always seeing weird animations and having to wait before I can tap anything, lest it move from under my finger while I'm tapping.

However, I've always found Android's widgets to be a bit ugly—partly be cause there's no consistency. They also tend to take up a lot of room, so I can't fit all the widgets I use on iOS onto one Android home screen.

Consistent icons

Speaking of consistency, I find Android's home screens a bit ugly due to the lack of consistency in icon shapes. Although it might seem restrictive that Apple makes you use a square for iOS, the consistency makes the phone look better, in my opinion.

1Password integration

Using the 1Password action extension and direct 1Password integration makes it a lot easier to log into many iOS apps. Not everyone has made this possible, and I understand why after looking into the extra work required for a direct integration myself, but I really missed this when logging into accounts on Android. Even in the browser, where on iOS I can use the share sheet to log in to any website with 1Password, Android lacks this option and forces me into switching to the 1Password app to copy passwords. When I'm logging into an account with two-factor authentication on (which I have for any account that offers it), this means switching twice to copy different passwords. It can be a real pain, and I imagine this would continue to bother me if I used Android full-time.

Sharing takes an extra tap

Since the share menu is often hidden inside the overflow (three dots) menu on Android, it takes an extra tap to share anything. This isn't the case in every app, but it's common enough that I found myself missing how much faster sharing is on iOS.

3D Touch

Since getting my iPhone 6s, I've been using 3D Touch a lot. I mostly use it for quickly adding a new task or for doing a quick search. I've found it really useful, and I'm sad to not have those shortcuts available on Android.

Safari reader view

Reader view in Safari is easily one of my most-used features on iOS. I also use it on my Mac, and rely on it heavily. I find it frustrating to read articles online with ads or social sharing buttons in the way. Reader view not only lets me choose a comfortable font for reading, it lets me use a dark mode at night, and gives me almost the full screen just for the text I'm reading.

Considerations before switching

Though I'm seriously thinking about switching to an Android phone full-time, there are a few things I still need to weigh up before jumping in.

The theme with these considerations is that Android is available on so many different phones that I'd have to do a lot more research to choose the right one. With Apple, at most I have to weigh up three device options at a time. Usually I'm just choosing between two, and they're easy to compare thanks to Apple.com's comparison charts. Just the fact that choosing an Android phone is more effort is a consideration in itself, since I don't like the process of shopping—just enjoying the new toy once I have it.

Battery life

Android isn't as good as iOS at preserving battery life. It's getting better all the time, but it's still not as efficient, so I'm probably going to end up with a bigger phone, bigger battery, and shorter battery life than my 6s. I work at home, and I'm rarely away from a charger for more than a few hours, so in reality this isn't a huge consideration. It mostly means I'd have to get used to charging my phone every night again. It's good to be aware of the sacrifice I'd be making, but I think this would affect other people a lot more than me.

Camera

Android phones also seem to have struggled to match iPhones in terms of camera quality. I'm no aficionado but when I do take an occasional photo, I've come to take the quality of my iPhone camera for granted.

Thankfully, the Nexus 5x, which is the most likely Android candidate for me right now, is on par with the 6s for camera quality.

Apple watch

Probably the biggest consideration for me is my Apple Watch, which won't work with an Android phone. I'm not enamoured enough by Android Wear to switch at this stage, and I really love my Apple Watch. But to keep using it alongside an Android phone, I'd have to carry my 6s purely to keep my watch working. And I'd need a SIM card in the 6s for my watch to be useful outside the house. My iPhone also needs to be my main phone for calls and messages if my watch is going to be useful for alerting me to those.

There's not really a good way around the watch problem. Apart from the cost of a new phone, which I don't actually need right now, this is the main thing holding me back from switching to Android.

iOS development

The last thing worth consideration is iOS development. I'm not planning to switch to Android development any time soon. Josh has us covered for that for Hello Code products, and I've really enjoyed learning Objective-C and Swift so far. Although I don't love how hard I have to work to get around Apple's restrictions sometimes to get my apps to do what I want them to, I really do enjoy iOS development. And I'm so new to it that I don't want to switch to anything else yet.

Having said that, I think it's feasible to develop for iOS while mainly using an Android phone.


For now I'm sticking with my iPhone. It's not quite six months old and I just upgraded my iPad, so I don't want to go overboard with throwing money around for new gadgets.

(In an earlier draft I wrote "I don't want to go overboard with throwing money at Apple," because my default is to assume any phone/tablet/computer I buy equals money in Apple's pocket. A sure sign I've spent too long entrenched in the ways of a single technology company.)

I've put the old Nexus away for now, so I'm not tempted to play with it and dream about buying a new one. I'm well aware that some of the draw of Android is simply the novelty, so I would need to spend a week or two using the old Nexus to really make sure I'm ready to make the leap to Android.

For now, I'm settling back into using my iPhone 6s. I've also cleared out my podcast app and my RSS reader of the people whose Apple attitudes make me cringe. I find it tiring to constantly be battered by opinions of people with blinkers on and double standards. Staying away from those opinions makes me a feel a lot better, if a little left out.


P.S. I make some stuff you might like: Exist, a personal analytics app to help you understand your life, and Larder, a bookmarking app for developers.

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