Gallavanting with Google: A Mac Guy's Ride With Android (So Far)

Not long ago, I "switched" from an iPhone 4 to a Google/Samsung Nexus S 4G, effectively making the transition from an iOS dominated gadget life to a half and half approach. (I'm too vested in the App Store and I love my iPad 2 as a tablet.)

[Image Via]

Usually, when I tell people about this decision, they ask "Why?" as if it's some strange sort of crime to try something new, or perhaps, as a self-professed Apple fan, that it's sacriledge to go to the dark side of Droid. That's all nonsense. I simply was sick of AT&T, and wanted to give Android a true go at everyday use.

I also envied the talk of custom roms and kernels, and longed for the ability to tweak and hack my phone as I please without hassle. (Yes, jailbreaking is kind of a hassle, since Apple doesn't really support or like it, where the Android community seems to embrace it.)

Anyway, what do I think so far? Here's some of my first impressions for would-be switchers and curious minds.

Yes, it can do everything the iPhone can

Pretty much every major online service I use has a dedicated app on Android, including Evernote, Netflix, Pogoplug, whatever. I haven't found one thing I can't do on my Nexus S that I could do on the iPhone.

But it's not as smooth about it

The debate rages on as to whether Android is (or can be) as smooth as iOS. In my experience, it's not. The Galaxy Nexus is probably much, much better but my current phone does show some UI lagginess at times. It's not bad or annoying, just not the meticulously cut and polished jewel that iOS is. 

Android at least "feels" more open

There is some debate whether Android is more "open" or not compared to iOS. Whatever the case, it certainly feels a heck of a lot easier to play around with the way the phone works. All you really have to do it root the phone, which gives apps permission to modify more deeply held internal settings. For example, if your kernel supports it, you can easily overclock your phone.

Sideloading apps

You can install software directly through the file system, enabling easy beta testing or installing apps from "unapproved" sources.

Availability of other app stores

The Android Market isn't all--you can download apps from the Amazon App Store, GetJar, and many other locations if you like.

Not ideal for gamers

While Android has a decent selection of games, the real scene is on iOS, where indie and commercial developers alike have their real focus. 

High degree of customization

Without the need to jailbreak or do anything funky, you get a pretty high degree of customization in Ice Cream Sandwich, from all sorts of widgets to animated backgrounds and more. Superfluous at times, but cool.

Battery life sucks, at least for me

Battery life on various Android devices remains a common gripe across the tech community. No doubt that some devices are great for battery life, but having tried several ROMs and kernels in both Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich and pretty much every optimization I could find, I still can't squeeze a day of use out of the thing. I'm talking normal use, too, not 8 hours of 4G hotspot streaming.

Custom ROMs and kernels are AWESOME

If you're the build-your-own-PC type, Android is the phone for you. You can essentially transform your device into something completely different, thanks to the devoted members of xda-developers, and there's a "flavor" for everyone.

This enabled me to upgrade my Nexus S 4G to a fully-operation, stable version of Ice Cream Sandwich--important, because Sprint's upgrade could take months or more to arrive. It was simple, too--with a one-click unroot procedure and some simple instructions on the xda forums, I was off to the races.

Note that you may need to install additional drivers or software to do this--some research is required before you jump in, but if you're the modder type, you already knew that!

Google Apps are extremely useful

Having an Android phone will change the way you use some Google apps, namely Maps (which is much improved including true turn-by-turn navigation) Google Talk (which is integrated) Google + (which is also integrated) and especially Google Voice, which on the Nexus S is fully integrated as the main text messaging client. Gmail, of course, is also fully integrated.

Did I mention Google Voice integration?

Not every Android phone has this, but the Nexus S on Sprint's network allows full Google Voice integration with your mobile phone number. This means that someone can send an SMS to my cell, but it is delivered through Google Voice, meaning I can respond to or send texts from any Internet browser... from my same mobile number. This has proven extremely useful.

Google Music is pretty epic

No understatement, Google Music is damn sweet. As a music player, it's only OK, but as a way to access your music without having to clog up your phone's storage, it's a dream. The integration is direct and seamless, and you can easily download music to your phone that you want to have available offline. In fact, the Google Music web service is largely transparent to me--it just works--something that is often associated with Apple.

Sharing is much easier on Android

One of my favorite features on Android is the univeral "Share" action. When you install an app that can be used to share content to or from, an entry is added to this menu, which can then be accessed by any other app in the system. For example, I install Read it Later, and can then share articles to it from pretty much any other app with a Share button, e.g., Google Reader, any Internet browser, and so on. Same thing with photos, files, and more.

iOS runs into a problem where which apps can share is determined by the app itself, creating situations where, for example, I can only share an article I want to read later to Instapaper, but not to Read it Later or another service.

You don't feel like a hipster

iPhones are so ubiquitous now, yet those who own them often feel "special." Apple is no longer the underground, indie thing to do folks. An Android phone with a custom, tweaked, and overclocked rom is a lot more unique.

Plus, do you REALLY want to look like this:

Dude, you're a barista...

[Image Via Blogspot]

So is Android better than iPhone?

In some ways yes, and in some ways, not at all. It just depends on the type of experience you are looking for.

All things considered, if you're thinking of going Android, I'd go with the Nexus S or the Galaxy Nexus, being the "purest" Android phones available and closest to the experience Google intended. At least, I think so!

Share your comments

I am absolutely, positively NOT an expert on Android, having only gotten into it a few months ago. I've learned a lot and I love what I see for the most part, but think there's a lot of room for improvement. I do plan on sticking with Android for some time, but who knows, perhaps a switch to the iPhone 5 or 6 will come sometime down the road... let me know what you think.


Check out Locale, change your phone's behaviour based on anything. For example, if it's sleeping hours, I'm at home, and plugged in, my phone gets very quiet. It also plays a song when it is sundown and I'm at home, if I'm not at home, it plays it when I get home if it is still night . Yes sundown, not 7 pm. And it can do so much more.

Also check out Shush!, turn your ringer off, it pops up a dialog (great dial UI) for when too turn out back on.


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