My old smartphone, the Samsung Captivate (AT&T’s version of the Samsung Galaxy S) was driving me nuts. The GPS never worked even after Samsung provide an update. And that was only after months of ignoring user complaints. Scrolling through the UI and web browser was laggy and felt sluggish. The speaker would occasionally stop working and its output sounded muffled until you hit the back of the phone. I often let Daniel watch videos on my phone while I changed his diaper but he would get upset when the sound would cut out. It was cute though when he figured out that he could restore it by smacking the phone.
I was absolutely ready for an upgrade. The question was, “Which phone should I get next?” I really hate Apple so I dreaded feeding the Evil Empire. At least I knew what to expect if I got another iPhone. And my latest experience with Android phones was less than exemplary. In particular, I disliked the following about Android:
2nd-rate Apps – As an Android user I always hated feeling like a 2nd-rate citizen. The Android version of apps (e.g., Facebook, Bejeweled 2) usually came much later (e.g., Instagram) than their iPhone counterparts and often weren’t as good. It felt like these apps were created as an afterthought just to say, “Hey, we have an Android version too!” I can imagine the following conversation at some mobile development companies:
Fred: Hey Bob. You took a Java programming class in college, right? Why don’t you take a crack at porting this iPhone app over to Android?
Bob: Okay, sure.
Limited games — As a gamer, this really bugs me. Most of the great games are only released on the iPhone/iPad. I get jealous when I see some of the games that are only available for my wife’s iPad 2. Higher quality games are starting to get ported over to Android but they often have problems with various devices and run slower than their iOS counterparts.
Slow updates – I can’t stand how slow it takes for Android phones to get updated to the latest OS version. Android is now at version 4.0 known as Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) but only about 1% of all Android users are using it. Some phones have barely been upgraded to the previous version, 2.3.x known as Gingerbread. Many are still stuck at Froyo (2.2.x) or lower!
I upgraded old phone to Gingerbread but I had to jump through so many hoops just to do it. Most people aren’t as technically inclined or motivated to do the same so they are unfortunately left behind. What is the point of Google releasing new Android versions when most of the users are never able to get it and ultimately enjoy what it brings?
Phone manufacturers like to modify the Android source code to add their own custom “skins” to differentiate themselves from other manufacturers. Then phone carriers like to add their own bloatware on top of that. There are many conflicting reports as to whom or what is holding up the update process. Regardless, Google should have figured out by now how to push their latest Android OS updates despite the individual changes made by manufacturers and carriers.
Bloatware – Bloatware is software that companies add to products to make more money but are generally useless. I can’t stand it when laptop/PC manufacturers add bloatware to their devices and it equally sucks when carriers do the same with Android phones.
The worst part is that you often cannot uninstall most of these bloatware apps (without jumping through hoops). You should not have to do all of this extra computer hackery just to get rid of this crap from your phones. I understand that carriers are in the business of making money but at least give users the option to uninstall apps they do not want to keep.
Poor battery life — Battery life sucks on a lot of Android phones. It really stinks having to carry an extra charger cable with you just to get through an entire day. A lot of apps sync with servers periodically throughout the day and it is confusing for users to determine which apps are actually running in the background. Sometimes these apps run even after you stopped using them or launch unexpectedly on their own.
To muddy the waters a bit, many Android users fixate on apps called “task killers” to automatically terminate apps loaded into memory. However being loaded into memory does not equate to running and draining battery life. Due to how Android handles memory management, these “task killers” are not actually needed. However the Google/Android community has done a poor job of educating users and killing these things off.
Price — It’s a disturbing trend seeing some carriers (I’m looking at you, Verizon) starting to charge $300 for new Android smartphones on a 2-year contract. If this continues $300 will be the new $200. I hope consumers are smart enough to vote with their wallets and not buy smartphones at this price.
UI inconsistencies — I am OCD so I cannot stand the little inconsistencies throughout the OS. I can’t help but notice these inconsistencies.
In some apps, the “Menu” button would do one thing; in another app, it may do nothing. Sometimes the “Back” button would make you go back to the last screen that you were on; other times it would exit you out of the app.
I think Android’s original design was flawed when they picked out which buttons were mandatory. The meaning of these buttons are too ambiguous and as a result, app developers were equally confused in how to implement them. It was a mistake to have this many hardware buttons and it was a bigger mistake to keep them around for this long.
Lack of polish — I really disliked that nothing felt polished in Android. The default email, video player, and music player apps were serviceable but generally lacked features or were somewhat clunky to use. Every phone manufacturer likes to make their own variants of these stock apps but none of them felt complete. Google should have created clean, simple, elegant, full featured versions of each of these apps from the start and made it part of Android. Then the end-user could ultimately decide to install different apps if they wanted something beyond what the defaults apps could provide.
Flash — My last complaint about Android is the hype surrounding Flash support. Playing Flash videos on the phone is often very slow and unresponsive, playback is choppy, and it is a battery hog. I am not surprised that Adobe has finally announced that they are killing off active development for mobile Flash. I hate to admit that Steve Jobs was absolutely right about this. Flash was just a bullet point used to pump up Android over Apple but in reality, it is just a gimmick.
Despite having many flaws and annoyances, there are still many things that I love about Android that I would sorely miss if I went back to an Apple product. I’ll share that list in my next post…