Thinking about mobile phones – a small test of android.

ios-vs-androidMy phone is dying, I have used iPhones since the iPhone 3gs, I loved the 4s and I still use the 5s, (yes my phone is 3 years old). I had wanted to wait to see if the iPhone7 was the stunning leap forward is design and shape and deliciousness for mobile phone design. Perhaps it would be slither of glass resplendent with all the advanced tech for futuristic pop culture. Alas we got an iPhone6s-s, a refinement and incremental change on the 6s which was a refinement and incremental change on the 6. Given this I wonder about changing off apple for a year. My wife is very happy on android and her phones are good quality, shiny and attractive. So borrowed one to see how it compares.

Apple or Android.
It should be noted Apple aren’t really that innovative. (OK, the invention of the mouse was pretty revolutionary if they did invent it!), but since then they are not noted for inventions. The iPad was inspired by Steve Jobs watching people use a stylus on Microsoft tablets at a social event; Apples iPhone was definitely not the first smart phone; the watch and TV were both late arrivals to the smart watch and TV box market respectively. What Apple does have is control of the devices manufacture, software and cloud backend. This means that Apple can ensure that all software works on all forms of its hardware, also that all apps will run to a certain standard on all devices. For Android, Google controls the software and the cloud backend, but manufacture of the devices is in the main not controlled by them. This can be advantageous for google, allowing them to concentrate on their strengths, but it can also lead to a second layer of software engineering by companies such as Samsung, who include wrapper software to go between the Android software and the Samsung device. The effect of this is that android updates may need adjusted by the Hardware company for your particular phone before you can update.

Why not consider microsoft?
Microsoft devices are good generally, with Apple and Google both taking inspiration (while being legally different) by Microsoft design. For this test I do not have a Microsoft device to test so I cannot include it.

The test subjects,
Samsung galaxy IV running android 5.0.1
iPhone 5s running iOS 9.3.5
the reason for picking these older phones are
1- that iPhone is what I currently use.
2- that Samsung is what I have available to test and they are both about 3 years old.
3- all the hardware and software should work at the best it has ever been, right? (after three years testing, development and refinement.)

Initial impressions
The Samsung is big. much bigger that the 4.7inch iPhone, it is also lighter, much lighter, the iPhone feels like it has some heft to it. The iPhone feels better out of the case, while the Samsung feels plastic-y out of the case. When in the case they both feel like cases. The Samsung has a bright screen, due to a water incident a year or so ago the iPhone screen is permanently darkened.

Test task one – perform a factory reset.
iPhone – plug it in to computer, iTunes launches. On the iTunes page for your iPhone, you have the option to restore iPhone, click the button and a couple of confirmation boxes and it resets the phone.
Google doesn’t have the same software interface for the phone, so reseting the phone was trickier. I looked under settings in the phone menu with no success. A google search revealed the reset is achieved by booting into the equivalent of safe mode on your phone,
(Turn off phone. Press select button, volume up and power button at the same time and hold until after the Samsung logo appears, then let go of the power button while holding the other two.)
The problem with this is the screen is massive but the text on the screen in this new menu is tiny. I struggled to read what the options were. In this mode you use the volume up/down buttons to navigate and the power button to confirm. As a user experience, it is hostile and it clearly places the android phone as a computer in your pocket.  After performing this reset I then had to update the Android software on the phone. While iTunes handles this as one process with the factory reset if you wish, the android has a separate download and then update time. I took a good 30min to download and install all the updates on the phone.

task two – add apps to the phone
Both iOS and Android start you with a number of default apps on the phone with varying degrees of usefulness. iOS has considerably less of these default apps than Android. Both software platforms have shops where you can buy or download new apps. You do this by making an account, storing credit card details and a password, and then downloading apps. Both have search facilities and google play store search is better than the apple store search.

On the google play store I downloaded some of the key apps I use on iOS currently:
Lastpass – password vault
Runkeeper – exercise tracking
Spotify – music streaming
Podcast addict – podcast downloading and management
Hootsuite – twitter client
Dropbox – document cloud storage
Dropbox paper – note taking app (in beta, so trialing to see if it will take the place of Evernote long term.)
Evernote – notetaking app

On iOS the apps all run, but last pass does not offer to fill in the passwords within other apps login screens. You have to cut and paste which isn’t a very joined up experience. On Android the experience was generally good, with the exception of the Dropbox app, which stopped working and crashed on opening over a 24hr period, until I ran a software update. Secondly Spotify refuses to accept my password of let me log in (seven days now). I struggle to remember when a big high profile app that I use regularly behaved like this iOS over the last 6-7 years for me.

task three – add music to the phone
The iPhone plugs into your computer directly. As I have iTunes installed, it launches asking what you want to do with the phone, using tick boxes you select which music you wish to load and click the sync button, loading music is through the iTunes user interface. This requires a wire, a computer and your phone. With the advent of streaming services (including the purchase of the beats streaming service a year or two ago, Apple has introduced Apple Music, a subscription service where for a £9.99 monthly fee you can stream all the music you could want over the internet, including every piece of music in your iTunes library..
Googles preferred method of putting music on your phone is to upload all your music to their Google music service in the cloud. Then stream the songs from the cloud as you want or need them. This is great if you live with a reliable fast internet connection. (I don’t so this option is less great for me). The free layer of Google Play Music gives you streaming and 50000 song uploads, but song downloads for offline playback are only available as part of the £9.99 monthly membership.
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So how do you get the music onto the android phone using a cable rather than the cloud. Google guides you to download a programme called “Android File Transfer”. On opening this I was slightly shocked at how paired back it was. I dislike iTunes, but its graphical user interface is a graphical user interface. The AFT programme is a barebones file transfer manager. It felt like a computer thing which required a repertoire of computer knowledge to use. (I didn’t find a How to guide, and the lack of a empty music folder into which to insert files was disconcerting.) Having used file transfer programmes before I had an idea what i was doing and managed to get the stuff on the phone. But is was not intuitive to navigate a hierarchy of files to find where the files are and then create new folders within the phone or SD Card to place these files in. (and how do you handle playlists?)

Task four – general life.
in general life the battery lasts about the same for both of phones, the back button on the android phone is kinda handy and the screen is big and shiny. The iPhone does well and survives most things I put it through. In comparison the android feels slightly slower and less responsive than the iPhone. The only major black mark against the android was its refusal to connect with the Bluetooth in the car. this is unfortunate as I use this Bluetooth connection to listen to music and podcasts when I drive. The phone reception is significantly better on the iPhone. Phone call sound is clear and the microphone seems to be of comparable quality.

Conclusion.
I could live with android and be mostly happy. I am sure the Bluetooth issue and the Spotify issue would resolve themselves over time. These problems are problems I have never had with iOS.  The difference between Google as a cloud services company and Apple as a hardware company comes through in this small test, Google want everything in the cloud, (although, I object to the idea of upload all your music to the cloud and we will charge you to download it to your phone as I have already bought it once), as Google have a clear advantage in search and cloud services. Searching the Google Play Store gets you the right result. Uploading your documents to google drive is smooth, with a nice 15gb to fill, and the reports of google photos are very good.

I am reasonably clears I am not buying a new phone for its cloud services. This is perhaps because I am too aware of Apple, as a company’s failings in this area. I don’t trust the cloud of one company for too much, I tend not to use googles cloud services, I don’t use the Facebook app or any of its associated suite of apps as I am wary of using too much from one company especially when that companies main income sources is analysing my data to provide me with tailored advertising. I use different companies for specific cloud based services like, Lastpass for a password vault, Backblaze for hard drive back ups, Evernote for notes, Dropbox for files and sharing.Perhaps it is also a result of living in a borderline rural life where the idea of cloud computing is laughable when it rains.

So to buy the samsung s7 edge would cost an extra £475. the iPhone 7, an extra £600. At the moment the iPhone has clear advantages for me but £125 is a significant figure.