This is it. I have had it with you, Android. Good-bye.
It was late 2008 and I was lusting after the first Android handset, the venerable G1. With subsidies being quite ungenerous here in the Czech lands, it was out of reach for me, costing upwards of 350 EUR. Later, I got a loaner Motorola Droid, which was so bulky I once dropped it face down on the street and scratched its display, and finally I purchased HTC Desire. That was January 2010.
It was a tumultuous relationship. The original HTC ROM didn’t allow for many applications to be installed as it was running out of available memory very soon. Hence I set up on the long and, ultimately, doomed journey of running community distributions. I put to work, in no particular order:
And I’m done. And before you think I’ve headed the obvious direction, to the Apple’s offering, let me say right now that I’ve returned to the brand that used to dominate the phone market like no other: Nokia. Yes, I bought the E6-00 model, full QWERTY keyboard, VGA gorilla display, touch-and-type, whatever: I got it because I need a phone that I can, you know, make phone calls with.
For me, Android worked great until I happened to arrive in this point in my career when I need to make quite a lot of plain old phone calls. Without further ado, here is a list of annoyances and little pains it’s given me during our affair:
1. Speed. Or, lack thereof.
Android is the phone equivalent of Microsoft Windows. It’s quite fast out-of-the box on a reasonably powered device such as HTC Desire. Yet it’s getting progressively slower over time as you install apps, many of them running background services. I can now see Steve Job’s wisdom in not allowing multitasking on the iPhone until recently. It incurs real, measurable cost on user experience.
After just weeks of running Runnymede HTC Sense 3.5 ROM, there were split-second delays after every interaction I had with the device. Unlocking it, popping-out the app menu, opening the dialer, every basic command would not complete immediately but only after a slight delay. It was as if the phone was hesitant in allowing me to do whatever I wanted to do. I don’t need a phone with an attitude.
True, some AOSP distributions like Oxygen were a bit faster, but they had their own share of problems.
2. Making calls is secondary.
Even though the dialer/telephony subsystem has the highest priority, the act of making and receiving phone calls can be unnecessarily cumbersome especially if your requirements include making SIP (internet) calls or using a Bluetooth headset.
Oh yes, Bluetooth. Granted, it’s a standard that is error-prone in other handsets as well. With my Desire, I used two: a cheap Nokia BH-something-or-other and lately a Jabra. The Nokia used to work for some time, but after a certain period, people would report echos on the other end. In the end the mic stopped working when paired with the phone (with my Windows PC it functioned just fine).
I couldn’t get the Jabra to work at all. Not with any of the distributions listed above. Again, does its job just fine when I’m Skyping on my laptop.
Going back to making and receiving calls, this was my workflow:
- Push the power button to light up the screen
- Swipe to unlock
- Touch the dialer icon
- Look at the list of recent calls, with the soft keyboard opened so the list only showed the last 3-5 items; if I wanted to see more, I had to lighly swipe downwards to hide the keyboard, however sometimes the system would interpret it as a click and start the dialing flow – cancel, go to step 3; if I wanted to see the address book, click on another icon and scroll to find a contact; click on the contact card to select a number to dial and start the dialing flow
- Dialing flow: wait for a popup to select GSM/SIP account
- Select SIP or GSM and dial
- After connecting the call, push the power button so that the screen get locked and I wouldn’t accidentally terminate the call
With regards to point #7, it would occasionally happen that the proximity sensor would not sense my cheek anymore and light up the screen. Since I don’t like the feel of plastic on my face, this would happen more often then I’d like.
In summary, calling people involved a cumbersome procedure and was prone to accidental termination due to the malfunctioning sensor. My learned experience with the system tells me that it’s first an application platform and only then a phone.
3. Notifications. As if I cared.
We are now moving away from the Android system itself and towards the app-land. Many apps are working fine and I’ll miss some of them, like the excellent Offi app to look for public transport connections in Germany.
I take issue with how many apps assume I want to be notified of every single event that’s happening in their life. Foursquare, for instance, would pop up a notification every time I’d unlock a badge, even though the app was running in the foreground and it has just informed me about the badge in the main screen!
Gmail, even though indispensable for my daily business interactions, gives me a heads-up every time I receive an e-mail, but as soon as I have more than 1 unread item in my Inbox, it would just show me the count of unread messages, forcing me to open the Gmail app to see if I need to care. No way to quickly see what’s there at a glance. And since opening an app involves some waiting every time, it becomes annoying very quickly.
With any other app, I’d disable their notifications after being annoyed more than a couple of times, but the thing is, I don’t have time to waste on the Settings application. That’s another 5-10 clicks just to remove a pain.
4. The ever-present threat of running out of power.
This is not just Android’s fault, in fact I blame the hardware vendors for not coming up with a disruptive battery technology already. Most today’s smartphones last only a day. Here’s where I have high hopes for my new Nokia as their devices I had used previously would be long-lived once fully charged.
Here is what my working day looked like when I used my Desire:
- Wake up and disable the alarm. Check that the device has charged overnight.
- Go to work, do my stuff.
- Have lunch. Come back from lunch, plug my Desire into a USB port.
- Oops, people are calling me. Unplug Desire, talk over the phone, forget to plug it back in.
- Oh, it’s 5pm already. Time to hit the town. Check the battery – jeez, it’s at 32%. Out on the street, make a Foursquare checkin, then enter the power saving mode, meaning no more Gmail alerts etc.
On a good day I’d make it back home with the phone still on, but I simply could not count on it.
5. Thanks, operators, for your “generous” data allowances!
Granted, it’s primarily the carriers who are to blame, but on an average smartphone data plan (200-300MB), you are forced to use Wifi wherever you can as the phone will happily consume the FUP for its day-to-day operations – that is, syncing shit. The more accounts you have (contacts, social networks, e-mail), the more likely it is that you’ll eat out your data limit on a week 3 of your monthly cycle.
I’d prefer for the phone to make smart choices as to what shit I want synced really often and what can wait, but Android is not really there, and I cannot be bothered configuring it manually (if it’s at all possible).
What I liked: the app ecosystem. I am a grown-up man, hence I don’t have neither time nor sympathy for the Apple’s curation, and I appreciate Google has kept their Market open. Despite its inherent inefficiencies (think half-baked apps, malware, etc.), it gives the customer more bang for buck. You can always uninstall anything you’ve downloaded previously and Google makes sure that the truly evil apps are being eradicated as soon as they claim their first victims.
Plus, many third-party apps are better than what Google has baked in, for instance PowerAMP vs. Music, which is something that can’t happen in the iOS land as Apple does not let developers compete with them but only supplement them.
I also used to enjoy the ability to root the device and tinker with its internals, but as I’ve gotten older and more busy, I no longer want to even think about that. No, I just want my phone to work flawlessly as a phone, with some Internet / app capability that will complement its telephony core competency (but not the other way around). Hence the Nokia.
So here I am. Just looking at the stats and trends, it’s obvious that I am not capturing the sentiments of the majority as the Android (with iOS and Windows Phone) are establishing to be THE handset OS choice for almost everyone. But I couldn’t care less. Here is hoping that Symbian’s fate isn’t completely sealed and I’ll be able to carry on with my Nokia for years to come.