The Journey – How I Ended Up With My First Android Phone
I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but for the past three or four months my iPhone 4 seemed to age exponentially. It was my unscientific opinion that it was starting to slow down (noticeably so), and apps like Rdio and Facebook were becoming increasingly more frustrating to use. After months of watching the iPhone 4 grind away, I had pretty much decided its days were numbered. In fact, it was all but a certainty that I’d be moving on to greener pastures before Christmas. With the implementation of two-year contracts here in Canada though, the cost of the iPhone increased by about $50. For the 32GB model that I was looking at, my carrier was charging $329 on a two-year contract, and this seemed borderline insane to me. So what did I do? I started looking at devices in the Android world.
The problem however, was that I’ve never been a fan of Android hardware. I always felt like they were too “plasticy”, feeling almost like a child’s toy and not like the solid aluminum and glass I had become accustomed to with Apple.
My Introduction to the HTC One
My reasoning was always fairly simple in this regard; iPhone’s are made of aluminum and glass, while the Samsung’s and LG’s of the world are made primarily of flimsy plastic. This statement held true until I became aware of the HTC One. When I saw this phone in person for the first time I think my jaw actually hit the floor. For the first time that I could recall there was an Android device on the market which was on par with Apple in terms of build quality and design. In fact, it made my iPhone 4 look and feel like it was ten years old!
I was quite drawn to the larger screen (4.7″ vs Apple’s 4″) and higher resolution, but also to the stereo speakers located on the top and bottom of the phone. I know what you’re thinking – who cares about the speakers? Well, it is nice to be able to hear the phone when you’re watching a video or speaking with someone in a chat, but where it really comes in handy is with voice calls on speakerphone. If you own an iPhone just think of the last time you had to cup the speakers to help funnel the sound in your direction. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about! As I researched the HTC One, the reviews that I read online said the screen and the speakers were in fact, amazing. Over the course of the next few weeks I found myself test driving the HTC One at every opportunity. Every time I stopped at the mall or visited my local Best Buy it resulted in me finding an excuse to go play with the HTC One. The more I got used to it, the more I loved its larger screen size and the more the thought about that $329 iPhone. In my view, the HTC One was just as good if not better than the iPhone 5S, and on top of all that, it was $200 cheaper. Definitely worth a shot, wouldn’t you say? Especially when the HTC would offer me a completely new experience with a larger screen, and the new iPhone would be pretty much exactly the same as my then current device. I was getting sick of iOS, I didn’t think the $200 price difference could be justified, and the more I demoed the HTC One, the more I liked it. I also started to have flashbacks to a TV commercial that always resonated with me, though I have no idea why. I guess you could say marketing really does work because every time I see a HTC phone or hear the name, I think of this commercial that was aired a few years back. Damn, to this day it STILL makes me want to own an HTC phone. Sorry. I know that’s shallow, but it does.
My Decision – The HTC One
As the weeks went by I found myself getting closer and closer to taking the “Android plunge”. So much so in fact, that I ultimately decided to go for it.
I went into my local cellphone store and met with a lady there whom I had purchased the phone from a few days earlier using a corporate plan. She handed me the HTC One and its accompanying box and said “what a great choice, this phone is awesome!“. I smiled back and said with full conviction, “thanks, I’m just so sick of Apple stuff right now, I need a change“. I walked out of the store and went on about my business, pleased as I could be. Not only had I just picked up a cutting edge phone with a big screen and a healthy dosage of computing power, but I was leaving behind the sea of iPhone’s that I encounter daily at work and at home among friends. What can I say, sometimes I like being different.
My First Hiccup
When I arrived home I began to set things up on my new phone. As I was doing so, I encountered a folder on the home screen that contained eight pre-installed applications by my cell carrier – something you would NEVER see on an Apple device. I had done my research and I was aware that the carriers had greater control over an Android device, so this wasn’t at all unexpected. That’s not to say it didn’t tick me off though. I then began to think about the Android 4.4 update that was rolling out worldwide called KitKat. It wasn’t yet available on my HTC One though. Why? Well, updates typically roll out based on a particular schedule for your phone which is determined by the phone manufacturer (in this case HTC) and your carrier (in this case Rogers). Again, this wasn’t unexpected, but I had come from the world of iOS where when an update is available you plug-in and get it – all without relying on your phone’s manufacturer or your carrier.
My First Custom Home Screen
I quickly put this update business in the back of my mind and continued to set up the phone. My email accounts were set up easily (Gmail/Outlook) and my calendar which is also on Google was completely seamless. I then downloaded a handful of apps and got things looking and functioning the way I wanted. Here’s a quick sample of my home screen:
…Thinking About That First Hiccup Again
I was feeling pretty good about things up to this point, and pretty much every app I had on my iPhone was available on the Google Play store, so there were no complaints in that department. The more I used the phone that evening though, the more I couldn’t shake the thought of those carrier apps that were on my screen when I unpacked the phone. I then started thinking about the forthcoming KitKat update again. I knew it would be available to me soon, but how long would my phone be supported? Would the next version make it through the gates at HTC? Would my carrier push the update? The answer to all of those was “almost certainly”, but it still bugged me somewhat. UPDATE: I just saw this article regarding the HTC One update to KitKat. Mid-January seems to be the target and it’s rolling out on Google devices now, so I’ll let you be the judge on how speedy that is.
Setting Everything Up On the HTC One
At this point I decided to fire a few text messages to friends, which again worked seamlessly. It was here though that I began to experience what I was missing as a former user of iMessage. Remember above where I said it seems like everyone I know owns an iPhone? Well, it’s true, and they’re all on iMessage. Once again I knew this going in, but as I started actually using it I saw three-way conversations fall by the wayside. Without iMessage, texts can be sent to multiple users but texts sent back are only directed to the original sender, so conversations among three or more people aren’t possible. I didn’t think I used multi-person texting that often but it turns out that wasn’t the case – I used it a lot! I also used picture messaging far more often that I had anticipated. Sure, they’re mostly just goofy pictures sent to my brother or to a friend, but it was something I used frequently. On iMessage this Tom Foolery is free, on SMS, picture-messaging costs extra if it isn’t part of your plan.
It was here that I began to have some minor doubts. You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when something isn’t quite right? It was that, but still 50 miles away at this point.
The more I began to set up the phone the more I began to run into some of the known pitfalls of the HTC One. Again, I knew about these going in, but I was actually experiencing them firsthand now and everything really started to sink in. The poorly placed power button, the awkward way that you add icons to the dock, and volume buttons that lefties like me hit by accident every time they hold the device. I couldn’t pick the thing up without adjusting the volume button one way or the other. I also didn’t really enjoy “Sense 5.0” which is basically HTC’s “skin” that goes on top of Android. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Sense itself was okay, it was the idea that HTC couldn’t leave Android alone – it had to “skin” things and modify them to suit their needs that didn’t sit well with me. Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t care for the thought of software being added after the fact.
It was around this time that I found myself Googling the return policy for my cell phone provider. You know, just in case.
The more I used the device, the more I came across things that I didn’t really like. To be fair, I could probably learn to like these things or even prefer them to the way they are in iOS, but it was almost too much to deal with in a house like mine where Apple and all of their services (e.g. iMessage) reign supreme.
I won’t bore you with the details of each caveat, but if you’re curious, my personal issues were:
- I really liked the notification light on the HTC One because a quick glance at your phone could tell you if you had any texts, emails or phone calls waiting for you. The trade-off is that the screen doesn’t light up when you receive a text message. The phone will sound an alert and turn the notification light on, but the screen won’t light up to show you who the message is from. There are apps to circumvent this issue, but none of which really worked as well as what you get in iOS.
- There is no “Do Not Disturb” (DND) function in Android. My iPhone was setup to go into DND mode every night at 10pm and stay there until 7 am the following morning. That meant that my phone stayed silent and vibration-free all night long. Again, there are apps on Android that accomplish this but of the few I tried they were needlessly complex with a plethora of options. I needed something that “just works”.
- There are no badge icons in Android. Whenever you receive a new email or a notification in iOS you see the little badge icon that is displayed over the app icon. In an instant you can glance at an iOS device and see that you have ten emails, four tweets, a Facebook message and two text messages. You can accomplish the same in Android, but not without pulling down the notification shade and scrolling through a list of notifications which can be as mundane as “Evernote was updated”. Android users will undoubtedly tell you that their notification system is better, and they may have a point. That said, it’s a system I’m not accustomed to and I personally found it to be a bit tedious. Would I have been able to get used to this after a few weeks? Probably.
- Various inconsistencies within the OS. With iOS, developers must adhere to a strict template for their app design. Icons must be the same size and apps must have the same menus and general look and feel. This isn’t so on Android. When seated side by side you could plainly see the Dropbox icon was about 25% larger than the Facebook icon on my HTC One. Not a deal-breaker, but it doesn’t scream “consistency” like iOS.
- For the most part the apps I used in iOS are available on Android. Unfortunatley though, the absence of Tweetbot leaves very little in the way of well-functioning, well designed Twitter applications. I acknowledge this is purely a matter of preference but that’s my take. Furthermore, my go-to app 1Password is but a shell of itself on Android offering a ‘read-only’ version.
- The headphones on the HTC One contain no volume controls!
- HTC One did not play nicely with my Mac. Syncing to iPhoto or adding music was an exercise in frustration. There are ways to do it, but none of them are as easy as plugging in a phone and dragging things to iTunes or iPhoto.
- No hardware button to turn on vibrate mode
In The End, I Just Couldn’t Do It
If I were going to switch to Android the HTC One would DEFINITELY be my phone of choice. After using Android for three days though, I must say I prefer the simplicity of iOS.
I “get” Android. I get why people prefer it over iOS, I get why there are people out there who love its customization potential, and I have to say I really have no quarrel with them. It is a very friendly, very functional OS and it’s extremely powerful. For me though, it just introduced another layer of complexity into my daily work flow that I’m not prepared to take on. Yes, there are ways to get “AirPlay” to work, just like there are ways to set up “Do Not Disturb” or countless ways to customize the phone to your liking. I get it, but I just prefer the way the iPhone integrates with everything I have.
In the end I decided to return my HTC One and go for the iPhone 5S. I don’t have the ability to customize as much, and I don’t have a giant screen with incredible speakers. What I do have though is a device that makes me appreciate things like iMessage, AirPlay and a stringent App Store screening process more than I ever did before. I get tired of iOS at times, and the day may very well come where I leave the Apple ecosystem for more than a mere 72 hours. For now though, I’m happy to just keep on keeping on.
That’s not to say I won’t have my eye on the HTC “M8″ when it drops next spring though!
As of right now, this is how I roll on the white 5S…
What are your thoughts and experiences working with Android and iOS? What are the pros and cons to each in your mind? Let me know in the comment section below!
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