In Part 1 of my series on transitioning from an iPhone to Android, I gave the background on why I made the transition, as well as my general purchase experience on switching to the Samsung Galaxy Note II (the Android phone I ended up switching to). In Part 2, I gave an in-depth review of the Galaxy Note II’s hardware, comparing it to both my iPhone 4, the iPhone 5, as well as other popular Android smartphones (the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One).
In Part 3 of this series, I want to touch on the heart of switching to an Android phone, the Android OS (Operating System) itself.
Jelly Bean and TouchWiz
The Samsung Galaxy Note II currently ships with the Jelly Bean (4.1) release of Android OS, masked behind Samsung’s TouchWiz interface (versus stock Android). Jelly Bean seems like a solid Android release for a person like myself to switch into, and all in all, it feels pretty stable. I’ve had a couple of minor app crashes since switching, but nothing more than I would encounter on iOS, and after I ran some app updates, things were even better. Multitouch gestures (zooming, scrolling, etc.) feel just as responsive as they did on iOS. I haven’t experienced any lag or performance degradation at all.
As for TouchWiz itself, I’m personally fine with not using “stock Android”. I’m not a huge fan of “stock Android” anyway, and TouchWiz seems more geared toward someone who’s coming over from an iPhone. The nature themes (water ripple effect when unlocking, etc.) also add a nice layer of eye and touch candy as well. In order to fully benefit from the GUI experience, however, I did need to add a few personal customizations, which I’ll touch on later.
While I’m on the subject of the OS version, a question that might come up is, am I worried at all about software updates or fragmentation now that I’m on Android? The answer, in reality, is no.
First of all, I’m off this kick about being on “the cutting edge” of software updates. I’ve been taking advantage of frequent updates on iOS and Macs now for a little bit, and I’ll have to say, while it’s true that I get more functionality added to my system with each update, the headaches that come with each major OS upgrade have been a pain as well. I’m personally in a position right now where I’d rather have slower, more stable, OS updates than simply piling on new updates every so often for the sake of being on the “cutting edge”. I’d rather wait a little while on OS updates and ensure by the time I get them, many of the kinks and bugs are worked out, then to jump on the OS update bandwagon on Day 1 and have to endure the bugs and kinks that come with it. I’m even personally looking at switching to Ubuntu LTS (Ubuntu Christian Edition to be exact) as one of my day-to-day desktop operating systems simply because it’s more stable and major OS updates don’t happen as often as other systems. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather have fewer OS updates that work that a boatload of OS updates that causes me headaches. When I do get updates for my phone, they’ll pass from Google, down to Samsung, down to AT&T, before they reach my phone. That should give each of the development teams plenty of time to hammer out any major bugs before the update hits my phone. Does it mean waiting longer for the update? Sure does. Am I willing to wait? Yes, I am.
Second of all, switching to an Android phone already feels more advanced than being on an iPhone. Many of the features I’m enjoying today, I’d have to wait a while (if ever) to enjoy them on an iPhone. So already switching to an Android phone puts me “ahead” technologically. Any additional updates I get pushed to my phone will simply be a nice plus in addition to everything I’m already enjoying out-of-the-box. Additionally, I’m sure that at least over the life of my contract, I’ll get enough updates and features added to my phone through software updates. I just have to exercise a little patience and wait for them to be delivered in due timing. I can do that.
Third, I can still download app updates as soon as they are released. Due to the fact that the Note II comes connected to Google’s Play Store, I’ll still receive updates to applications as soon as they are released, and I don’t even have to wait for an approval process to take place either. I’ll touch more on the Play Store later on in this review.
Additionally, when it comes to “fragmentation”, I’m not worried. Again, all of the apps I’m downloading off the Play Store work with my Note II, and new versions of apps will probably continue to work for my Note II during the life of my contract if not longer. Additionally, while iOS isn’t as diverse in terms of “fragmentation” as Android is, iOS is not 100% immune to its own “fragmentation” itself. Take iOS 6 for example. My iPhone 4 was capable of running iOS 6. However, I did not get to enjoy any of the major features that really made iOS 6 shine (FaceTime over Cellular, 3D views in Maps, etc.). While some of these features might have required a more powerful processor to run, some of them (such as FaceTime over Cellular) should have DEFINITELY worked on the iPhone 4. I personally looked at the technical specs. It was more than possible. Apple has now created it’s own set of “fragmentation” by leaving off all of the features that really shine in some OS updates on older hardware, even though some of those features are absolutely capable of running on the existing hardware. Sure, I was able to update to iOS 6, but if I really wanted to take full advantage of iOS 6, I still needed a new phone. Even if Android follows a similar path with OS updates, I’m not much worse off in terms of “fragmentation” than I was with the iPhone.
Upon switching to Android, I now have to be a little more conscious in terms of security than I did with my iPhone. No longer am I inside Apple’s walled garden where every app goes through a rigorous approval process before I have the chance to download it onto my phone. I’m now open to doing more on my phone, but I also have to keep an eye open for security as well
Thankfully though, I still don’t have to majorly worry or fret over security on Android. For starters, I run security software on my phone. I chose Thirtyseven4 as my security software provider. For other Christian Computing Magazine readers, Thirtyseven4 should be a familiar face since one of Thirtyseven4’s executives will now be writing articles for Christian Computing Magazine. Thirtyseven4 is an excellent Christian company that I am pleased to do business with, and I’m using Thirtyseven4 to protect all of my devices, whether PC, Mac, or Android. It feels great to support a Christian cause while staying protected. Thirtyseven4 also includes remote tracking, locking, and wiping of the phone (similar to iCloud’s Find my iPhone), as well as automatic security updates and background scanning. I’m fully protected, yet Thrityseven4 is still optimized enough not to drain my battery or affect performance on my phone. Thirtyseven4 also works. I attempted to download an app containing adware once, and Thrityseven4 instantly caught it and kept it from installing on my phone. With Thirtyseven4 on my phone, I still don’t have to worry about security. I’m protected.
Additionally, Android’s OS includes full device encryption (including encrypting a removable SD card), as well as other standard security measures such as VPN support for any common VPN protocol (additionally, other VPN protocols such as OpenVPN can be supported by installing an app). Android also includes something similar to OS X’s “Gatekeeper”, allowing users to choose whether to allow non-Play Store apps to be installed on the phone. This allows for another level of security on the phone, while still allowing power users to have additional flexibility.
Also, as long as I continue to practice “standard precautions”, I still don’t have to overly worry or fret about security. When installing apps, I simply need to look for apps from either major developers I trust, as well as read reviews and simply don’t install apps from lesser-known developers or applications with poor reviews. In addition, before installing an app, a message appears showing all the permissions the app will have when installing it. If I don’t like what permissions the app has access to, it’s simple, don’t install the app. Additionally, being careful what links I click in emails and text messages, etc., all of the other “standard precautions” that apply to using any device, will ensure I remain protected. I should treat my phone the same way I’d treat any other computing device.
One thing I like about Android that I feel is slightly more secure than the iPhone. There’s a setting that allows me to makes passwords completely not visible (even for a couple of seconds when I type the letters), ensuring that when typing passwords into my phone, they’re not the least bit visible at all. That is one security feature I really like about Android.
The Note II comes with similar default apps to the iPhone, and most of them are either on par in terms of app quality that they were on the iPhone, with some of them actually being better (in my personal opinion) to their iPhone counterparts.
The stock Phone, Messages, Music, and Mail apps that come with the Note II feel as good as they did on the iPhone, with a few additional advantages (I can swipe over a contact in the Phone or Messages app to call the person, etc.). I haven’t figured out how to utilize all of the handy shortcuts some of these apps include, but using the basics just as I did on the iPhone feels about the same.
The Calendar app included on the Note II is definitely superior to the iPhone’s calendar app. I prefer to look at my schedule in month view since I like to see my month at-a-glance. On the iPhone’s cramped screen, using month view is confusing to say the least. Even on an iPhone 5, month view isn’t much improved. On the Note II, however, with it’s larger screen, month view feels more like a true desktop calendar app. Appointments in month view are far easier to read and make quick edits to, so I can now truly see all of my month’s tasks at-a-glance. It’s really enhanced my productivity. The Calendar app even includes year view (similar to OS X Mountain Lion ’s calendar), and while a nice addition (since the iPhone doesn’t even include it), I’ll probably use monthly view more often. It’s nice to have the option though.
The stock keyboard included on the Note II is also superior to the iPhone’s keyboard. First of all, with a larger screen size, the Note II’s keyboard includes both letters and a row of numbers along the top of the keyboard. I can now type a number without having to hit a button and “switch” keyboards anymore just to type a number. This was an adjustment for me to learn at first (since I kept trying to actually switch keyboards!), but once I finally mentally got it down that I no longer have to switch keyboards just to type a number, I really enjoyed the convenience.
Autocorrect is also superior on the Note II’s keyboard than it is on the iPhone. On the iPhone, I’d simply get a hover asking me to correct the typing. On the Note II, a row of multiple options appears just above the keyboard. Not only does the keyboard automatically correct my typing, autocorrect on the Note II’s keyboard is smart. It learns my typing habits and automatically recommends words for me, saving me from having to type succeeding words in some areas. For example, if I’m inputting my address into a web form, and under city, I type “Hot”, the Note II’s keyboard will automatically suggest my next word could be “Springs”. I can tap on the word and keep going without even having to type the next word.
Additionally, the Note II comes with a Swype-style keyboard (in addition to Swype itself), making it even easier to type on the screen without lifting one’s fingers to type. I’ve tried this out a little bit, but I’ll admit I need more practice in learning how to use it. “Swype typing” is totally new to me, but it does seem handy. The Note II’s keyboard also includes voice typing (which in my tests worked well) and the ability to convert handwriting to text using the S Pen.
Another feature I like about Android is the App Drawer. It’s very handy to have instant access to all the apps on my phone while still being tucked away and not cluttering up my Home Screen. The App Drawer keeps applications more organized on my phone. I can still customize my Home Screens with my most frequently-used apps, but all of my apps are still a tap away if I need them.
Android also uses Google Maps as the default maps and navigation app on the phone, which itself is superior to Apple’s Maps (Apple’s Maps in iOS 6 had a few serious flaws, completely leaving out the city of Branson, MO, and putting my street right through my own house!). Additionally, on the iPhone 4, I didn’t get voice-guided navigation included in Apple’s Maps, whereas I do now have voice-guided navigation out-of-the-box on Google Maps. Additionally, one can choose any third-party mapping app as a default mapping app. I’m currently testing out Waze, and I’m considering it as my main mapping app, even over Google Maps. It’s very flexible that I can choose any navigation app as my default mapping app, which is another nice plus.
The Note II also comes with Polaris Office, which is a nice built-in office productivity application. I’ve found Kingsoft Office (free off the Play Store) to be superior to Polaris Office, so I’ll probably stick with Kingsoft Office as my main office productivity app. While I no longer have iWork running on my phone (so I don’t have all of iWork’s “pretty” templates), Kingsoft Office feels more like a pocket version of Microsoft Office or LibreOffice, and while iWork was handy, it was still limited to being a part of the Apple ecosystem and not exceptionally compatible with mainline office programs such as Microsoft Office (at least without going through exporting and converting).
In addition, the Note II comes with Chat ON, Samsung’s messaging app that works across a broad range of smartphones. While not integrated into the Messages app like Apple’s iMessage is, Chat ON is really more functional since I can chat with a wide range of people, whether they’re using a Samsung phone or not. Chat ON is also very flexible, customizable, and handy for quickly replying to chats. I’ve found it on par or superior to iMessage. If Samsung built Chat ON directly into the Messages app, it’d even be more convenient.
Another feature I like on the Note II is multi-window mode. Multi-window mode allows users to run two apps on the Note II’s screen at once. I could be surfing the web while replying to an email or watching a video while sending off a text message. Multi-window brings an entirely new meaning to multitasking, and it’s truly revolutionary. The only drawback to muiti-window mode is that it is limited to a select number of apps for now. If either more app developers would add multi-window capabilities to their apps, or Samsung would release a software update opening up multi-window mode to all included apps, this feature would even be more handy to me. I personally love the feature, and as soon as more apps include it, I’ll enjoy using it even more.
The Note II also includes two different apps for utilizing voice search capabilities: S Voice and Google Voice Search. S Voice is Samsung’s response to Apple’s Siri, and Google Voice Search is Google’s answer to providing instant information at one’s voice commands. I found S Voice to work quite well for me, and putting it through the same battery of tests I put Siri on an iPhone 5 through in an Apple Store, I found S Voice handled most of the tasks as well as Siri did. S Voice is able to call or message my contacts, launch applications, check weather reports, perform calculations, and still has a little Siri-like humor along the way. About the only thing S Voice did poorly for me on is perform distance calculations for navigation. For that, I had to turn to Google Voice Search, which handled that information flawlessly. Google Voice Search is also extremely functional, performing calculations, answering questions, checking weather reports, and searching for information extremely fast and accurate, faster than both S Voice and Siri combined. When using Google Voice Search, information displays just about instantly when I’m done speaking. Combined together, both S voice and Google Voice Search give me powerful voice searching functionality on my Note II.
Syncing on the Note II and Android is pretty flawless and simple. However, just because I’ve switched to an Android phone, doesn’t mean I’m ready to jump full force into Google’s syncing capabilities. In fact, I’m trying to slowly transition away from using any third party personal clouds as much as possible (Google, iCloud, Microsoft, Dropbox, etc.) to rolling my own personal cloud on my Baptist Host hosting package. Doing so allows me to bring my personal cloud under one roof, reduce my hosting expenses, ensure my data can run on virtually any platform (using all web standards and free, open source software), as well as ensuring my data remains under my control. It feels better knowing that I’m in control of my data, not some other cloud provider. Additionally, Baptist Host is run by a fundamental Baptist pastor with similar theological beliefs to mine, so I’m getting to support a fellow brother in Christ with my hosting needs. That alone makes me feel great.
The Note II synced up to my Baptist Host IMAP mail server flawlessly. I was sending and receiving emails (and being able to read them on the gorgeous 5.5” HD screen) in no time. CalDAV and CardDAV syncing took a little more effort, but it wasn’t difficult. Surprisingly, the Note II doesn’t include CalDAV or CardDAV syncing out-of-the-box (with the exception of Google sync, on the other hand, the iPhone does). It was still no issue though getting CalDAV and CardDAV syncing working. As the old saying goes, “there’s an app for that”. A few moments in the play store, and I found the perfect CardDAV and CalDAV syncing apps that plug right into the built-in syncing services on the phone, and moments later, my phone was in perfect sync with my Baptist Host CalDAV and CardDAV syncing servers running on OwnCloud. The app’s developer offers excellent support as well. I had a few questions for him about two-way syncing, and he was incredibly responsive. The Note II also does work with Microsoft Exchange servers out-of-the-box as well and can also sync data over a Samsung account (although I’m currently not using either feature).
Where Android really shines in syncing is through two methods: drive mounting and the AirDroid app. Unlike the iPhone, Android phones (like the Note II) can be easily mounted on the desktop as a flash drive using the MicroUSB charging cable. This means that I now have an 80GB flash drive in my pocket, which is excellent. I can easily plug my phone into my computer and mount it as a flash drive. How I wish the iPhone could do this natively. Some iPods support “iPod Disk Mode”, so it’s really a no brainer that the iPhone would support it as well. Alas, it doesn’t.
Additionally, I’m beta testing an app on my Note II called AirDroid. It is such a pleasure to use. Syncing works place over a Wi-Fi network or even over the 4G network. I simply visit a web browser on my computer, launch the AirDroid app on my phone, login with secure credentials, and it’s a simple matter of dragging and dropping a file onto the web browser (ringtone, music, images, etc.) and presto, the files appear on the phone. It’s like Apple’s AirDrop on a phone. It’s simple, seamless, and makes iTunes feel ancient. It’s over-the-air syncing done right.
As I mentioned above that unlike the iPhone, Android allows for users to install apps from multiple “app stores” (and the Note II includes a switch in the phone that acts as a security “Gatekeeper” to allow users to choose whether they wish to install non-Play Store apps or not). However, the most popular “app store” available for Android, as well as the store that comes default on the Note II, is Google’s Play Store. It’s by far the largest and most functional “app store” available for Android to date.
In terms of app selection, the majority of the apps I use on the iPhone have Android counterparts on the Play Store. Granted, there’s a couple apps I use (such as Accordance Bible Software) that haven’t yet made it over to Android yet. I imagine that before long, however, developers will release a version of their software for Android, (especially Accordance since their forums are pretty well lit up with Android app requests). In the meantime, I can run Accordance from my Mac just fine. However, most of the apps I used on the iPhone I was able to re-download on the Play Store, or find easily suitable Android replacements. Since I’ve been “simplifying my life” recently, phasing out websites, accounts, and social networks I seldom use, as well as reducing my dependency on third-party cloud services, the amount of apps I need on a regular basis has also dramatically reduced. The only (small) gripe I have about the Play Store is having to re-purchase a handful of my apps, but the amount of apps I had to re-purchase was rather small, and it was a well-worth enough investment to get a better phone out of the deal. Additionally, I like the fact that the Play Store allows for carrier billing. I was able to enter my AT&T account information into the Play Store, and when purchasing apps, they are automatically billed to my AT&T account instead of my credit card. I like this better, since it’s one less place I have to keep a credit card on file, as well as I have the convenience of paying for app purchases on my AT&T bill instead of my credit card bill.
In terms of app quality, the experience of Android apps seems pretty much on par with the experience of iPhone apps. Most of the Android apps I’ve been using look and feel quite similar to their iPhone counterparts, with a few small differences. However, apps do not feel any less powerful or include less functionality than they do on the iPhone. On the other hand, in some instances, applications are more functional on Android than they are on the iPhone. Take our WeatherBug Elite app for example (Disclaimer: I work for WeatherBug). While the app feels similar to its iPhone counterpart, I gain additional functionality with the Android app such as: weather alert notifications, integrated Google Maps-based interactive map with additional weather layers such as alert polygons and lightning, as well as the ability to place the temperature up in my status bar, something I’ve wished to do for years on the iPhone and never could. Now, no matter what application I’m running, I always have the temperature easily available to me at-a-glance, and I love having such a handy feature. In some instances, Android apps are simply more functional than their iPhone counterparts, with WeatherBug Elite being an excellent example.
Only one small refinement could possibly improve the design quality of some apps. Since I’m operating on such a large screen device (with a 5.5” screen), every once in a while, I’ll run into a app that displays slightly pixelated artwork at times. It reminds me of when I switched from my iPhone 3G to the iPhone 4. Some of the app developers needed to update the artwork on their apps in order to render more clearly on the iPhone 4’s Retina Display. It’s a similar situation with the Note II. If app developers would take the time to ensure the artwork of their applications is high resolution and render as good on a large screen (such as the Note II) as it does on smaller screens (like the HTC One and Galaxy S4), then things would be perfect in a design sense. In most cases, this isn’t an issue, but it’s a minor thing that some developers could easily correct with a little extra attention.
One more advantage of the Play Store I particularly enjoy: automatic app updates. The Play Store has the ability to automatically update applications both over Wi-Fi and even over 4G (since I’m on a pretty hefty data plan, I can easily afford to automatically update apps over 4G). This is extremely convenient since I no longer have to worry about keeping my apps current anymore. All the work is done for me, automatically, effortlessly. No more manual trips to the App Store to check for updates, and for slightly larger apps, no more trips to iTunes to have to download updates to my computer, plug my phone in, and sync my apps with iTunes anymore! Apps intelligently keep themselves up-to-date. It’s excellent.
Another feature I’m enjoying with Android is widgets: mini applications that can be pinned to Home Screens to display useful information. Here’s an area where Apple could have had a major advantage over Android early on but chose not to. Apple already had access to thousands of widgets at its disposal with OS X’s Dashboard feature on the Mac. Apple was running its own Dashboard Widget Gallery on Apple.com about the time the iPhone shipped. Apple could have easily baked the Dashboard Widget Gallery into iOS and allowed iPhone users to run widgets on their iPhone out-of-the-box. It would have been easy, handy, and Apple had the ability to pull off this functionality way before Android even got started.
Alas, Apple allowed this opportunity to completely pass them by.
Widgets on Android can be very fun and convenient to use. For example, on my primary Home Screen, I have a WeatherBug widget that gives me the current conditions and the three day forecast at-a-glance (tapping on the widget launches WeatherBug Elite). I have another WeatherBug widget that gives me the local radar at-a-glance. On the iPhone, accessing the forecast or radar would have required me to launch the WeatherBug app or launch the radar app (I use RadarScope as my primary radar app) on my iPhone in order to check this information. Is the WeatherBug app and RadarScope app I use still more powerful? Absolutely. If I want to dig into an hourly forecast, I still need to launch the WeatherBug app. If I want to track lightning, wind shear, hail, or any detailed storm tracking, I still need to launch the RadarScope app. However, if I quickly want to know what the current conditions are, if it’s going to rain tomorrow, of if there’s a line of storms and rain headed my way, I no longer have to dig into any apps. I can whip my phone out of my pocket, and all the information I need is right there, at a moment’s glance on the Home Screen. That’s the convenience and flexibility of widgets, providing the information I need the most at a moment’s notice.
I have similar widgets on another Home Screen for checking my calendar and text messages. A quick swipe to the left, and I can see today’s appointments on my calendar, as well as any upcoming appointments. Right below the Calendar widget, I can see all of my text messages at a glance with the Messages widget. I can easily reply to or compose a new text message right from the Messages widget (which whisks me into the Messages app). All of this information is, again, right at my fingertips, at-a-glance. Are the dedicated apps still more powerful than the widgets? Absolutely. But having this information instantly accessible and linked to the apps themselves is very powerful and handy. Widgets are simply small, flexible mini-apps that provide all the information I need when I need it the most.
Here’s really the major crux about switching to Android: virtually unlimited customization of the OS.
One thing in particular that I like is that I can disable or hide apps that came included with my phone. For example, my phone came with a few AT&T service apps that I’ll never use, as well as there’s a few Samsung and Google apps I’ll never use. Guess what? I can take a trip to the App Manager under Settings and disable them with a tap. If I ever need them back, a simple tap re-enables them. While my Note II came with more built-in apps I’ll never use than my iPhone did, being able to disable built-in apps is handy, since my iPhone also came with built-in apps I never used, or was forced to use for the sake of integration. A couple examples. My iPhone came with Game Center. I never really used it. Sure, I could remain signed out of Game Center and just not touch it, but it still cluttered a spot on my Home Screen. The only way to “hide” it would be to dump it in a folder with other built-in apps I didn’t want to use and push them off on the last Home Screen. It’d be “functional”, but being able to completely disable it would be even better. Additionally, take the web browser for instance. On Android, I’ve decided to go with FireFox as my default web browser. I’m slowly going to be using Ubuntu more for my day-to-day OS, and being able to sync FireFox on my desktop with FireFox on my phone will be great. Using Android, I can set FireFox to completely be my default browser instead of using the stock browser that shipped with the phone (And while the stock browser is one app that cannot be completely disabled under App Manager, I was able to hide it from the app drawer, so between hiding it in the app drawer and setting FireFox as my default browser, I never have to touch the stock browser at all. For the few included apps that can’t be disabled through the App Manager, they can easily be hidden from the app drawer, which is another nice plus). On the iPhone, not only could I not even download FireFox on my iPhone (since Apple won’t allow non-WebKit-based browsers on the iPhone), even if I could, I’d have to jump through hoops to use it. I tried using other browsers besides Safari on the iPhone (such as Google Chrome). The browsers themselves were excellent, but since there is no way to set another browser besides Safari as default, working with another browser besides Safari on the iPhone requires a lot of copy/pasting and hopping around. It’s just not worth it. On Android, switching default browsers is blissfully simple.
Home Screens also feel more customizable in Android. I can more easily add, remove, and move around full Home Screens, as well as pin apps, web apps (which yes, still link to FireFox as my default browser), and even widgets on Home Screens. I use a few Home Screens for keeping my most used apps and widgets at my fingertips, then rely on the app drawer for launching additional apps. It’s simply better organization.
In another review on Android I read, an Android user creates temporary Home Screens for trips he’s taking, projects he’s working on, etc. This is also another intelligent use of Home Screens on Android. I could create a Home Screen for a trip I’m taking or for a project I’m working on, leaving my other Home Screens still in tact, then when the project or trip is finished, toss the Home Screen, leaving the rest of my Home Screen organization untouched. Trying to do this on the iPhone would definitely require more effort, plus there wouldn’t be a way to pin widgets to Home Screens either.
Additionally, one can completely replace stock Home Screens and the stock app drawer with any form of custom launcher. I personally like the stock Home Screen and app drawer setup that comes with the Note II (dubbed TouchWiz Home). However, I wanted to see how things would be if I added a little personal customization to my phone. I installed an app called Go Launcher that allows me to completely replace and customize my Home Screens and app drawer with custom icons, transition animations, etc. Since I’m coming from an iPhone, I found an iPhone skin that allows me to skin the default app icons to look and feel like iPhone app icons, helping me adjust to the transition even more. Go Launcher has a wealth of skins available for it, so I could easily skin my phone’s icons to look like other Android phones (such as HTC Sense), other types of smartphones (such as Windows Phone 8 or BlackBerry 10), or even to resemble desktop machines (such as Macs or Ubuntu). However I wish my phone’s icons to look like, I can change the themes endlessly to my heart’s content.
In addition, Android’s Settings allows for simply more customization on the phone in general. I can easily access more advances settings such as mapping controls to hardware buttons, customizing keyboard and input, customizing Home Screens and the Lock Screen, etc. When browsing through Settings, I generally had more options available to me that I could use to customize my phone with, better tailoring it to my personal tastes and usage.
Additionally, with a few included AT&T apps, I can pin a few shortcuts to frequently used features on my phone’s Home Screens that I’d otherwise have to dig into apps or Settings to change. For example, I can pin both Mobile Hotspot and Visual Voicemail to my phone’s Home Screens where I can easily access them a tap away. This is simply more handy than having to dig into apps and Settings to access these features.
Notifications and customization go a little hand-in-hand, and you’ll see why in a moment. First of all, notifications, out-of-the-box, were almost on par with notifications I experienced on the iPhone. Most apps displayed banner notifications, and swiping down from the top of the screen displayed them in the Notification Center, very similar to the iPhone. I say almost on par, because there were a couple of exceptions. Mail notifications didn’t appear out-of-the-box as banner notifications, and on the stock Lock Screen, notifications appeared as icons instead of detailed banners. This is something I did miss about my iPhone at first. However, the situation was easily remedied and brought back to being fully on par (or better) than the iPhone with a simple app called LockerPro. With LockerPro, I was able to customize my phone’s Lock Screen, putting full-text banner notifications back on the Lock Screen, feeling very similar to the experience I had with my iPhone. Additionally, LockerPro allows users to customize theLock Screen with widgets and app shortcuts, so I can access my WeatherBug forecast widget on my Lock Screen, as well as get quick access to apps such as the Phone, Messages, or Mail app.
A couple of things I like about Android’s Notification Center better than I do the iPhone’s. For starters, Android puts shortcuts to frequently used settings right in the Notification Center. I can easily turn WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Multi-Window Mode, etc., on or off, right from the Notification Center. I can also easily adjust the screen brightness or volume from the Notification Center as well. Changing most of these settings would require a trip to the Settings app under the iPhone. In Android, they’re all a tap away.
Additionally, customization comes back into play with the Notification Center that gives me an extra edge I enjoy. For example, I have a weather “widget” set in my Notification Center that gives me the current weather conditions anytime I pull down the Notification Center. It looks and feels similar to Apple’s weather “widget” on the iPhone’s Notification Center. However, here’s where the difference lies. The beauty with the “widget” on Android is that I have it customized so that tapping it launches WeatherBug Elite, as well as the data itself is being displayed from my personal WeatherBug station, whereas using the same type of “widget” on the iPhone’s Notification Center displays data from some other weather source, and tapping on the “widget” would take me to Apple’s built-in weather app, not WeatherBug Elite (and Apple’s weather app is far more stripped down and less neighborhood-level accurate than WeatherBug Elite). Here again we see that I have more levels of customization on Android than I do iPhone. I can tailor the phone to use the apps I choose as my default apps instead of sticking with Apple’s built-in apps, allowing me for greater power, flexibility, and customization than I ever could on the iPhone.
This wraps up Part 3 of my experience of transitioning from an iPhone to Android. In the final segment in this series, I touch on my experiences of switching wireless carriers: why I switched from Verizon back to AT&T.