Just to mention, I’ve had an iPhone since the release of the 3G, and had upgraded every major cycle up until last year. I still work on a Macbook Pro and think it’s the greatest laptop available, so this opinion is generally unbiased.
But yes, I’ve switched over to Android. Why do you ask? It kind of boiled down to a couple of reasons.
I was originally thinking about getting one anyways, as we’re designing more Android apps these days, and I wanted to make the best possible experience for Android users when using one of our apps. I wasn’t the happiest with the release of iOS7 from a design point of view, as it felt like more of a reskin instead of a major overhaul (debatable, but whatever). The other reason was that my iPhone was stolen. Simple enough.
This will be focused on the OS (Kitkat 4.4.2), what I like about it, what I don’t like about it, and how to tweak your Android experience to retain some of the best parts about iOS.
I’ll say right away the transition wasn’t easy. Not because I had to relearn a different OS, or the device itself was so radically different, but was something else – iMessage killed the ability for my phone to receive SMS from iPhone users once I made the switch.
For about a week, I was getting fewer and fewer messages not just because my iPhone friends hated seeing my new little green bubble when they talked to me but was because a setting on their phones wasn’t allowing it. In the iPhone messages settings, a toggle allows users to send messages via SMS when iMessage wasn’t working.
For some strange reason, that setting was off on both my girlfriends and moms phone (that I know of so far) so they couldn’t send me any messages. I know for a fact that neither of them changed the setting themselves as both don’t really like to tinker with settings, and my moms phone was under a week old. This is far from an uncommon problem, and is one of the largest gripes from people switching over to Android. It feels like Steve Job’s ghost is punishing me.
Here are some things that left a sour taste as a first impression.
The first thing I noticed immediately is that I missed iMessage. I use it a ton at work on my Macbook so I don’t have to pick up my phone to the message, and as soon as that went away, it became really noticeable.
The other thing is that app icons themselves don’t have notifications! This was mind blowing to me, because at a glance I couldn’t see what apps had how many notifications – I had to drag down the notification bar and do everything from there.
There are also 2 stock photo apps that essentially do the exact same thing. One is called gallery and one is called photos, and they both just allow you to…look at your photos. The differences between the 2 are so small that it boggles my mind how they are both stock apps. More details can be found in this article here.
Lastly, I tend to use airplay mirroring a ton of my Apple TV, especially when I have people over listening to music or watching YouTube videos. Frankly, it’s all I use it for and my Apple TV because useless when my iPhone was stolen.
Thankfully, most of those issues can be fixed with a little tweaking; overall, the good outweighs the bad.
Android 4.4.2 feels good. I used an Android a couple years ago, and the experience was pretty painful when it was in its infancy. These days (especially on the Nexus 5), everything is blazing fast, from opening multiple apps to scrolling long pages.
Going back to my gripes and the inability to send messages from my Mac – turns out I can send SMS on my Mac without having to pick up my phone using an incredible app called AirDroid. It’s essentially a device manager app that allows you to do pretty well everything you can on your phone, from looking at missed calls, sending texts, viewing photos/video, checking storage, as well as a ton more. The best part is that it’s somehow magically free.
The ability to customize the UI of the OS makes this a designers sandbox. Don’t like the stock look of the launcher or the app icons? Simply change them all with a 3rd party app launcher. Here you can see my new homescreen on the right with some new app icons, as well as a background that changes every few minutes using the 500px app. When I swipe to the left, I can quickly see a monthly calendar and a daily agenda using the Today app, which has a pretty slick UI.
I’m now also able to display badge notifications (mostly) using an app called TeslaUnread. While it works fine for the gmail app, I’m still waiting on the latest update that will allow it to work with the Google Hangout app (for SMS). I’m also using NotifierPro to bring my sms notifications more to the forefront, which uses photos of my contact as well. You can see the stock version vs. mine here.
Last but not least, to solve my airplay mirroring woes I found a simple solution – The super cheap Google Chromecast. Now I can mirror to my TV not just with my Android, but from my Mac and PC as well.
iTunes is a piece of shit.
As an Rdio user, I don’t need the bloated software for music at all, yet I’m forced to have it installed on my PC and Mac if I want to manage my apps. The beauty of the Google Play store (apart from the design) is that it’s all web-based, so I don’t need to install anything. I also don’t need to input my password for purchases, which I personally love. It’s also nice seeing my friend’s reviews right off the bat. I’m definitely more willing to try something if someone I know has rated it well.
Another great change coming from iTunes to the Play Store is that you’re actually able to return an app up to 15 minutes after you’ve purchased it, which is amazing if it crashes on your device, or the screenshots happen to be misleading.
The last thing I want to mention is the ability to install 3rd party keyboards which make the typing experience much better on Android. I’m currently using SwiftKey, which has amazing text prediction based on my typing style on Twitter and Facebook, allows me to type by swiping one finger across letters without ever lifting it (which is oh so amazing when you get used to it), as well as changing the hitboxes on the keys based on where I’m tapping them.
Coming from iOS, I’ve always managed to hit the lowest possible spots on the keyboard. At first, this made for quite a few errors, but over time it learned what I was doing and shifted the hitboxes down to compensate.
Android is as good as the time you put into it.
I can’t really put it any better than that. If you’re willing to tinker with things to get them how you want it, the experience can be tailored to you, which can be superior. If you don’t want to deal with any of that and want a polished OS right out of the box then stick with iOS. I don’t mind tinkering with software, and as a designer it makes me smile to be able to visually overhaul this thing whenever I see fit.
One thing to note is that the Nexus 5 delivers a pure Android experience. If you’re buying an Android through a carrier, just be prepared to deal with their awful 3rd party apps that are forced upon you when you buy the device.