I used to get a new unsubsidized cell phone every year. That’s right, every year I’d save up around $400 and dish it out for a shiny new gadget. You can say that I had a mild obsession with cell phones but that addiction was strangely curbed when I bought my first smartphone, the iPhone 3G. Up until that point, I was an Ericsson/Sony Ericsson fanboy. I had tasted other flavors of the rainbow, including Nokia, Samsung, and LG, but Sony Ericsson had won me over in the dumbphone/featurephone era. So on that summery July 11 morning I arrived at the nearest AT&T store at 5am and walked out with a white 32GB iPhone 3G. The iPhone 3GS was released a year later and I didn’t upgrade. The iPhone 4 two years later and still no upgrade. My iPhone lasted me an entire two-and-a-half years before I finally decommissioned it. By that point it had become an absolute pain to use due to its outdated hardware running iOS 4. Oh yeah, and AT&T was dropping 40% of all my calls. It pained me to have to switch to a carrier that didn’t have the iPhone, but I did some very heavy research and in November 2010 I switched to Verizon and joined the Android bandwagon with my Motorola Droid 2 Global. Would my new phone match up to my iPhone and rid me of unnecessary gadget expenditures for another two-and-a-half years? Would Android’s open and powerful OS make me wonder how I ever was able to stay with iOS for so long?
For me, going from iOS 4 to Android 2.2 was a small learning experience. Last summer I had bought a T-Mobile MyTouch 3G for my then-girlfriend during our anniversary week. Of course, it was a little bit of a gift to myself as much as it was to my significant other because I totally nerdraged over it when I was setting it up for her. Oh the shiny Android goodness! For a brief time I was able to explore the system and get a basic overview of how Android worked, so when I bought my Droid 2 Global I had a rough idea of what the operating system was like.
Getting around in Android was a bit difficult at first. I had been more or less brainwashed by the iPhone UI so I would get extremely frustrated when trying to find a simple setting like setting up my screen lock. “Let’s see, screen lock deals with the display so let me go to Display Settings…OK there’s Screen Timeout, so if I go in there it should let me adjust the password…wait, what the hell, where is it. Location and Security? What the hell?”
I never really got to hate Motoblur’s look because Motoblur was my first thorough Android experience. I found it more shiny and refreshing than iOS. The home screen widgets were also super-convenient, such as buttons that let me toggle my WiFi or GPS without digging through the settings. On my iPhone, I had to jailbreak in order to be able to do something similar, and jailbreaking iOS4 simply wasn’t an option because it bogged my phone down tremendously. So Motoblur wasn’t as off-putting to me as it was to other Android users. After a few days I managed to get the hang of things.
The Motorola Droid 2 Global is a one solid phone when it comes to hardware. It is a thicker than the iPhone due to it’s slide-out keyboard (in fact, the iPhone 3G fits snugly underneath the phone’s display when the keyboard is pulled out) and therefore heavier but it isn’t thicker and heavier to the point of discomfort. Never have I felt like I was carrying a brick around with my D2G. The feel of the D2G alone is much sturdier than the iPhone. The casing on the iPhone, including the back, felt a bit plasticky compared to the D2G.
Clocking in at 1.2 Ghz stock, the Droid 2 Global is blazingly fast. Touch response is amazing, although sometimes too amazing. One issue on the iPhone that made me particularly grumpy was the time it took to switch between programs or perform simple tasks, like loading up the email client. On the D2G it is almost instantaneous. You can tell that Android is specifically tailored for power users, people who want to do a lot of things at once on their phones while flipping back and forth between programs. Even with iOS 4’s faux-multitasking it still doesn’t compare to the optimization Android has for this stuff, especially when partnered with a beefy processor. Apple’s once-a-year release schedule is no longer enough to keep up with trends that are now changing on a bi-yearly basis. Android on the other hand, is perfectly suited for this fast paced environment.
In particular, Google integration with the iPhone sucks big time. Of course, Android was made for Google integration so it is a bit of an unfair comparison. However, Google’s services are increasingly becoming a necessity instead of a commodity. Apple’s grudge against Google is prevalent in its half-assed integration into iOS. Sometimes you got to give a little instead of taking your ball and going home, and Apple is refusing to do that.
Perhaps the most blatant refusal of Apple to bring iOS up to date with the times is Android’s biggest ace: widgets. The days of having to open up an entire program to check a small detail died back in the mid-2000s. Apple actually embraced this with its release of Dashboard for OSX. A simple button brought up an overlay with widgets of your choice that gave you immediate information without needing to take any extra steps or use any additional programs. It’s a bit surprising that six years later Apple hasn’t brought that philosophy to iOS. Perhaps it believes that opening up each app individually doesn’t take too much time, but there were infinite times where I wished that I could see some basic information on my lock screen such as the weather or an RSS feed instead of having to unlock and open up each individual app to do this. Granted, jailbreaking allows you to overcome this obstacle but the point still stands that Android has this functionality stock, whereas iPhone requires an entire jailbreaking process as well as navigating the ridiculously painful Cydia app just to unlock such functionality.
Even something as simple as personalization is relatively limited to iOS. You can change the background, but that’s it. The personalization of iOS as a whole is extremely limited, to the point of non-existence. For some reason people were ecstatic when Apple allowed people to use custom backgrounds but that’s nothing more than a bullshit bone thrown your way. The most basic example of Android customization is downloading a widely available program from the Market such as Launcher Pro or ADW. Is there anything that remotely compares to these programs on the App Store? Not a chance, Apple is blatantly enforcing conformity by making sure that all of its devices have some uniformed look. Granted, this is a great brand awareness campaign, but at the same time it takes away the thing that Apple supposedly promotes of its users: individuality.
The biggest advantage Android has over iOS is that it comes so feature-rich from the get-go that iOS users must jailbreak their device to be on an even playing field. And jailbreaking comes with its fair share of disadvantages. I’ve already mentioned how abysmal Cydia is to use. Even with its most recent updates, it still feels like an application created by first year Java students. iPhone users may laugh at Android users because Android users may suffer from random device restarts, but the burden of using Springboard is much heavier. The amount of times Springboard has crashed, gone into “safe mode” (what is this, Windows?), or required a soft reboot on my iPhone dwarfs the amount of times my Droid 2 Global has restarted itself randomly. The clear advantage lies with Android since it can accomplish everything iPhone users need Cydia to do, minus the instability and added steps.
This all doesn’t mean Android has won me over from Camp iOS though. The pros of Android over iPhone I’ve listed above come with their fair share of cons. First and foremost is the Android Market, which seems like it was coded by the same guy behind Cydia, except with optimization. Within days of purchasing my new phone I quickly came to despise the Android Market. Even AppBrain, the addon that’s supposed to be “Market done right” was just an added paperweight in my phone’s memory. With the recent Market overhaul, AppBrain became a bit more obsolete, but the Market still is terrible. Google, the greatest search behemoth to ever grace the Internet was completely inept in implementing a search mechanism into the Android Market that didn’t function like Yahoo! search of 1996. The Apple App Store is the holy grail compared to the Market and it is the one thing I long from iOS the most.
The thing I wanted the most, though, when I had an iPhone was a phone whose camera could record video and take pictures with flash. When I got my Motorola, I got exactly that and I was excited! The excitement lasted about 3 minutes until I took my first picture, a simple indoor shot of my kitchen. It looked terrible. I fiddled with the flash and the exposure settings, thinking that perhaps the LED was too bright. Nope, still crappy. For some reason the photo capturing software built in to this phone is pretty lackluster. In fact, in some situations my iPhone did a better job at taking pictures, despite its lower resolution and no flash. The iPhone’s camera seemed to do a better job at capturing colors as they truly were. The Droid 2 Global seemed to oversaturate the photos with a green hue. This was very apparent in low-light conditions. I tested both phones out indoors with low light and the iPhone camera put the D2G camera to shame. To be fair, I tested the D2G with no flash, but even with flash everything indoors had an unnatural florescent white glow to it, sort of like taking a picture of your face extremely up close with flash. Here’s a comparison of the indoor and outdoor shots. Note that they are in full resolution, so they will be big files (I figured someone might want to dig deep in the pixels).
I rarely use WiFi on my Droid 2 Global because apparently it supports b/g/n WiFi but it craps out after b/g. Most likely this is a hardware issue with my phone and I’m sure I can take it in and they’d give me a shiny new phone, unless they give me crap about it being rooted. But this isn’t without a silver lining. My iPhone relied heavily on WiFi. Wherever I was, if there was WiFi around then I’d be sure to connect to it from my phone. Relying on 3G, let alone AT&T was an absolute no-no. I was hoping that this would be the case with my D2G but not so much. Obviously the 802.11n wouldn’t work on my device so I figured I’d be fine with regular old b/g. After all, that’s how I rolled on my iPhone, so it wouldn’t be that much of a difference. Unfortunately things didn’t work out that way. WiFi worked for a few minutes and then would crap out and take a few minutes to load a page. Best of all, I couldn’t simply refresh or go to a different page. I had to wait for the page to give me the “connection failed” error or something of that sort in order to start over. Yup, definitely an issue with my phone’s WiFi. But here’s where the silver lining comes in: Verizon. All of my data usage on my phone is done almost exclusively on Verizon’s network. Not only is it as fast as 802.11g on my device, but it is a workhorse when it comes to reliability. With very few exceptions, my connection has been solid and fast all over the city. Would I be able to say the same about my iPhone on AT&T? Certainly not. I guess this is a trade-off then. My iPhone had reliable WiFi connectivity but terrible cellular connectivity. My D2G has reliable 3G but abysmal WiFi.
Perhaps my most disheartening experience with Android was rooting it. Nothing was wrong with the rooting process itself, it was quick, simple, and went smoothly. Rooting my phone allowed me to take screenshots using ShootMe and it allowed me to block advertisements completely with AdFree. So where was the problem? The problem, primarily, was with the development community, indirectly. It seems that your choice of Android device must also factor in what device will also have a good-sized developer community supporting it. If you choose a device that isn’t embraced by the developer community, then you’re straight out of luck for what you can do with your rooted phone. Unfortunately this was the case with the Droid 2 Global. It’s a bit of a surprise since it doesn’t differ too much from the Droid 2, which does have a large developer community behind it. Custom ROMs were almost impossible to find for the Droid 2 Global. The advantage the iPhone has by offering one device every year instead of dozens is most prevalent with this. The features that come with jailbreaking an iOS device are available widely for all iPhones. For Android, the root development market is just as fragmented as Android’s version market share. That bloatware I was hoping to remove from my phone? Forget about it.
So both iOS and Android have their fair share of pros and cons. There really isn’t a clear line between which one is “better.” However, there are a few things that are Android exclusive that are simply unacceptable for a smartphone to succumb to. The first is the on-screen keyboard. Affecting all Android devices, the on-screen Android keyboard is an absolute joke. Most, if not all Android owners, switch to a third-party keyboard within a few days of ownership. Luckily my phone came with Swype already built in so I had a nice honeymoon period with that. I was using Swype for about a month until I came to the ugly realization that I was going back correcting every god damn word. Yes, typing is faster with Swype, but you spend an equivalent amount of time going back and fixing any errors or auto-corrects that occurred. So I shopped around and I landed with SwiftKey. SwiftKey is the closest thing to an iOS keyboard for Android. Unfortunately it tries to mimic iPhone’s auto-correct feature a bit too much. In fact, it completely outdoes the iPhone’s auto-correct by trying to auto-correct every inevitable typo with the wrong word. I am back to the stock keyboard now. I’m typing slow, but at least I’m typing with less frustration. So far there is no soft-keyboard that remotely comes close to the accuracy and speed of the stock iOS one. You’ll never catch me writing a post on my Android like I had done a few times with my iPhone.
Longer typing time translates to increased battery drain, and Android is a battery hog regardless the device. Motorola was particularly moronic when it came to the Droid 2 Global. Not only was this device their fastest one yet, clocking at 1.2 Ghz, but it also featured auto-on CDMA and GSM antennas. More battery consumption is a no-brainer when it comes to this device. For Motorola, giving it a bigger battery was not a no-brainer. In fact, Motorola gave this device the same exact battery that is found in the original Motorola Droid. I was averaging a battery life of about four hours of regular use. By regular I mean doing the same exact stuff I did with my iPhone (email, browsing, reading news, texting, Twitter, Facebook, and listening to music). I never really played games on my iPhone (gaming on touchscreen cellphones sucks ass) so it wasn’t like I was running any intense processes. With my jailbroken iPhone my battery life did drop significantly, but I was able to offset that by dropping the display brightness so I could squeeze out a day of normal use. At medium brightness set to auto on my D2G, my display was chewing up about 40% of my battery life. I ran my D2G’s brightness at the absolute lowest with auto turned off and I was able to squeeze out an extra hour of battery life. I had to go buy an extended battery for $60 from Verizon to somewhat rectify the issue. I now am able to get about 7 hours of juice from my phone, sometimes 8, but I’ve had to stop doing certain things that were normal for me to do on the iPhone. Listening to music is one of them. I do carry around the phone’s USB cable to charge it when I can, but there are many times during the week where I will be nowhere near another computer, electrical outlet, or car charger for most of the day. Simply put, Android is absolute crap when it comes to battery life, for any phone.
Speaking of battery life, I made a phone call on my first day with my Droid 2 Global. I was talking to a friend who had an Android phone as well and mid-conversation I interrupted him and asked, “Dude, either you’re making me blush pretty hard or this phone has gotten pretty damn hot.” Fortunately he wasn’t making any lewd sexual passes at me, but he did respond with, “Oh yeah, I had forgotten Android phones do that. Yeah, mine does that too, but I can’t tell cause of the case I have on it.” Yes, this phone gets hot. Very hot. And it is very unsettling. The phone call probably lasted 10 minutes and by the time that call was done my ear was red and sweaty from the heat, and so were my fingers. About a week after I got my phone I was having issues with the SD card so I took it to a Verizon store and they replaced it. The tech had been fiddling with settings on the phone to see if it was a software issue for a few minutes. He then told me he was going to remove the SD card and try to plug it into a computer. He uncapped my phone, removed the battery, put his finger on the SD card and let out an “ouch!” Apparently, the heat had made the SD card a bit too hot to handle. I asked the Verizon rep if the heat was normal for my phone, because it would get hot very quickly and quite often whenever it was used. He told me that most newer Android phones were like this due to their fast processors. Well then, congratulations Android users. You now officially carry an active firebomb in your pockets.
Perhaps my phone wouldn’t get so hot if it didn’t have Verizon’s bloatware on it. I found it quite funny that I received an app update for Blockbuster about a month after they went into bankruptcy. I wouldn’t mind the bloatware if I was allowed to uninstall it after their trial periods expired. For example, CityID was given to me free-to-try for a week. After that, I had to pay for the service which I refused to do. Since I was unable to uninstall it, it just sat in the app list, taking up precious screen real estate. This wouldn’t be a problem because in time my eyes became trained to ignore it (similarly to how our eyes are trained to ignore advertisements on webpages and focus only on content). It did, however, become a major problem when bloatware like CityID continued to run as background processes that I couldn’t kill off. Bye bye battery life and hello overheating phone. Luckily a developer was kind enough to release Bloat Manager for the Droid 2 Global to kill off (not remove) the applications you choose to disable. That’s right, I had to root my phone, which is breaks your warranty, in order to save my device from issues of battery drain and overheating.
Speaking of overheating, could that be the reason of the random restarts my Android experiences? Many people have told me that random restarts are common amongst Android devices. I don’t entirely believe that the device restarts itself because it got too hot. The random restarts occur randomly, hence the name. Regardless, random restarts are completely unacceptable for any device. How many times has your PC randomly restarted? Your Mac? iPhone? Blackberry? WP7 device? Quite frankly, when random restarts occur in devices that all share the operating system as a common denominator, then something is seriously wrong with the operating system. My phone has randomly restarted on me in the middle of a phone call, while typing an email, and (I’m going to hell for this) in church on Holy Saturday. The worst part was that even though my phone was set to vibrate, the restart reset all that and made that extremely loud and obnoxious chiming noise…twice. I can understand phones freezing or crashing from trying to do too many things at once, but the phone was sitting in my pocket doing absolutely nothing. Fortunately random restarts aren’t that common for me. It’s just that when they do happen, they happen at precisely the wrong time. I still would take random restarts over ShitSpringBoard though.
I bought the Droid 2 Global on a one-year contract from Verizon. I knew that LTE was around the corner and would be solidly in place by late 2011 and I also knew that the iPhone would be on Verizon’s network by then, in case I was planning on going back. So after six months, am I looking forward to November so I can get a new iPhone, or am I sticking to my guns with Android? I’ve exhaustively gone through my experiences with my phone and with Android and paralleled them fairly to iOS. Both have their fair share of pros and cons. Honestly, if you took the best qualities from an iPhone and the best qualities from an Android phone and combined them into a single device, you’d have the best smartphone ever made. Android is not clearly superior to iOS just as iOS is not clearly superior to Android. Don’t let the blind fanboys tell you otherwise. There is no such thing as the perfect smartphone and there probably won’t be. Whether you choose iOS or Android you will have a love-hate relationship with your phone. While using my iPhone I longed for the openness and freedom that Android provided for its userbase. Now on Android, I long for the closed and walled garden of iOS to save me from the inconsistencies that exist with being open and free.
Completely closed doesn’t work well in today’s environment as we’ve seen with Apple. Completely open also backfires as we’ve seen with Android. Android seems to be tightening the rope a bit as of late so perhaps it is headed in the middle-ground direction for future Android builds. Apple has shown no intention to give any leeway on iOS. It’s too early to tell what I will do in November. The industry changes every six months and by November anything is possible. I don’t see anything groundbreaking coming our way with the next iPhone this fall and Android’s Honeycomb is more or less blah. Android has not won me over and iOS has not lost me. But Windows Phone 7 is definitely enticing me…slowly. I wouldn’t be caught dead with a Windows Phone 7 device as of this moment, but come the end of this year with Nokia WP7 devices around the corner, things could change. But like I said, every 6 months things change in the wireless industry. Both Android and iOS fanboys are correct when it comes to certain arguments, but their dirty secret is that neither of them can say that they’re 100% satisfied with their phones and have never had a single moment where they wanted to throw it through a wall. My advice? Choose your poison wisely. If you want functionality, go with Android. If you want usability, go with an iPhone.