My experiment with Android. Again.

I've been an Apple fanboy for years. I own more Apple devices than most small countries. I recently misplaced my phone at work and brought up Find My iPhone during a meeting and folks looked at me like I had a problem when they saw my list of devices. This didn't even include the ones that aren't on my primary iCloud account. Yes, I have a problem.

I currently use an iPad mini at home to read on/surf in the evenings and my phone is an iPhone 5. So when the rumors of the retina mini came out, I was ready to dive in to get the higher resolution screen, not to mention upgrading the innards from essentially and iPad 2 to an iPad Air. I was not happy, however, when the price tag came out at $399 compared to $329, so in protest I bought a Nexus 7 (2nd gen).

I'm not new to Android. I had a Nook that I rooted back in the day and an original Kindle Fire that I rooted and passed down to my mom. I played with both of them for some period of time, but eventually decided that I preferred the iPad experience over the Android tablets. So would that happen this time around?  Would I have a 4 week honeymoon period again with Android then get bored and go back to iOS?

The first thing I did when I got the device was unlock the bootloader and root it. This was dead simple. Compared to iOS and Jailbreaking, it's a walk in the park. No need to wait around for an exploit to be found because Google gives you the ability to unlock the bootloader, thus allowing you to execute code/install things on the OS prior to Android booting. This makes it easy to boot into recovery and install the su commands required for root access. Also, no restrictions on what version of Android I could run; no version signing like Apple that explicitly locks you into the most current version (at least on current hardware).

So the good and bad about my experiences. These are based off of daily use of the device for a period of about 4 weeks. I'd say I used the device a minimum of an hour a day. I'll start with good:

  • Vivid screen and speed - The Nexus 7's screen is gorgeous.  Colors pop, especially compared to the iPad mini (even the retina Mini, unfortunately).  Everything is clearer and apps open and close very quickly.
  • Back/Home/Task Manager buttons - Android has this down.  Back button works in apps to go back, but also works to take you out of the app (to the home screen).  iOS has no dedicated back button or gesture (unless you're jailbroken where you can use LastApp and or a combination of Activator to accomplish this).  The task manager also has a dedicated button which is much more helpful than the double click on iOS. I despise using a physical home button on iOS (which is why I've used Zephyr for years). 
  • More app flexibility - The Google Play store allows you to download lock screen widgets, notification add-ons, home screen toggles, apps that require root, and questionable apps (such as Media Dog). Apple's eco-system has all of these on lockdown. 
  • Mail Experience - Google's mail client and Exchange client on KitKat 4.4 is great. Swiping to delete is easy, and the letter icons that start with the sender's first name make it easy to tell where mail is from. The compose screen on these messages and keyboard is less than desirable, but being able to see the whole, long subject of a mail message is something iOS does not have.
iOS 7 on the left. Notice long subjects are simply cut off; no wrapping. KitKat on the right shows icons for the sender, full subjects, conversation arrows, categories. 
  • Notifications - I really with iOS would take the notification system from Android. Being able to quickly see new messages, even respond from the notification center is huge. iOS's notification center options, even in iOS 7 and even on a Jailbroken iOS device still pale in comparison to Android.
  • 15 minute returns - If you don't like an App in the Play Store, you can return it within 15 minutes and get your money back. I took advantage of this several times on the quest for Flickr apps. Sadly, I came up empty handed. 
I was pretty happy for the most part with the Nexus, but there were a few things that I could not overlook and kept me going back to iOS.
  • Scrolling - KitKat 4.4.2 still does not have scrolling fixed. Scrolling is jumpy and it's impossible to read things as you scroll as you can on iOS.  Using both TweetCaster twitter client and Facebook on Nexus compared to iOS was a completely different experience. iOS's rubber band scrolling with accurate physics beats Android hands down.
  • App Store - The Play Store is like the Big Lots to Apple's Target. Yes, there are more free apps, but they mostly suck or have ads, and the ad-free versions are always $4.99 (which is more than most iOS App Store apps). I could not find a decent Twitter app that correctly handled TweetMarker locations (so I could use Tweetbot for Mac) or anything that worked anything near as well as Tweetbot on iOS. The apps in the Play store are clunky and feel like enlarged phone apps on the Nexus, where as iPad apps feel like they were built for a tablet.  Using something like the NY Times on Nexus vs iPad was night and day difference. I also searched for other apps to match what I did on my iPad and came up empty handed on a number of occasions (Flicker app that lets you bulk-delete items from your Photostream, an app that lets you FTP/SFTP your images off of your device while adding timestamps to the name keeping track of the ones that have synced, and a decent replacement for Tweetbot). App selection and the quality of the apps in the Play Store felt a few years behind the iOS store. There are apps on my iPad which cannot be duplicated in quality or function to anything in the Google Play store, I tried, I bought, I returned. 
  • Battery Life - Battery life on the Nexus 7 was not what I expected. I even went through the trouble to install different kernels that helped on battery life, setup apps with policies to slumber/terminate apps instead of having them run in the background, etc. Still, an idle Nexus 7 went down about 8% in 12 hours, where as an idle iPad goes down about 2% in 24 hours. I charge my iPad about once very 2 weeks; the Nexus would require more diligence about plugging in.
  • Tap to scroll to top - This may sound like a minor thing, but Android does not have a way to quickly scroll to the top of the screen. You actually have to scroll. iOS offers the ability to double tap the status bar and the current window scrolls to the top. I looked and looked in the XDA forums but nobody had a solution. 
So needless to say I traded in the Nexus 7 and upgraded to an iPad mini retina. I couldn't justify keeping my old iPad mini around for things that didn't work on the Nexus 7 and thus having two devices. The trade in (Nexus 7 and 1st gen iPad mini) should be about the same cost as the retina anyway. Not to mention iOS 7 just got Jailbroken so many of the customizations and things I liked about Android are on their way to iOS. I enjoyed dipping my toe back in to the Android waters and will do it again when my FreedomPop HTC EVO 4G comes (I'm not expecting miracles).

In the meantime, Google needs to focus on enticing developers to create apps that people will switch sides for (something like Tweetbot). They also need to encourage developers to develop tablet apps. I'm wondering if this is difficult because the fragmentation caused by different vendors and screen sizes. Developers aside, Google still has to fix the fluidity and smoothness of their tablet experience. Scrolling should not be jumpy and "switchers" should have much the same experience as they did with iOS or they're going to simply go back like I did.


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