By: Hillel Fuld
A few days ago, I decided to open up a Samsung Galaxy I was given by Samsung as part of a blogger’s campaign. As you probably know, I was not looking to begin using it as my primary device, since I love my Berry, but I figured I would see what all the hype was about. Well, after a few days, I can say that Google did a pretty decent job on their debut into the mobile world. The interface is attractive and relatively intuitive. The App Market is impressive, and the entire platform’s openness is praise worthy.
The Galaxy itself in also an impressive device with a 5mp camera, Wifi, GPS, a thin 11 mm body, a nice 3.2′ capacitive touch screen, and 8GB of onboard storage. However, the phone’s 528 MHz processor does not do the OS justice with common lagging and general sluggishness. Another issue I have with the device is the lack of a second camera for video calling, but all this is dwarfed by the problems I have with the Android OS.
As much as I wanted to love the device and its OS, in its current state, I could not see myself using it as my primary mobile phone. Like I said, I am more than satisfied with my BlackBerry Bold, but if I was in the market for a new phone, I would not be looking in the direction of Android, at least not Android 1.0. The problems I had with the usability are too fundamental, and no app can solve them, no matter how hard they try.
The following is a list of the issues I had with the Android OS, and the reasons I would get another BlackBerry or an iPhone over Android any day:
- Keyboard: One of the reasons I love RIM’s devices so much is because of the keyboards. In fact, it is for this reason primarily that I do not use an iPhone. I need to be able to input text quickly and accurately. Whether I am emailing, IMing, tweeting, or texting, I need my phone’s keyboard to be comfortable to use. The iPhone keyboard, although virtual, at least has unprecedented corrective software to prevent writing mistakes. Nothing beats the Bold’s keyboard in terms of ease of use.The Android keyboard took the worst of both worlds. It is virtual, so you do not get the sensation of actually pressing a physical key and it is also small and lacks good corrective software. I was unable to get out one sentence without numerous errors, something that I almost never experienced on the BlackBerry or my iPod Touch. They keys are way too small and no matter how much I tried, I could not figure out how to change the device’s default keyboard. I was told that there are apps that fix this, but even after searching for hours, I could not find one that worked well. However, even if such an app exists, this is something Google should have designed as part of the actual OS, a good keyboard. For me, this is the biggest problem I have with Android, I cannot benefit from its advanced features if I am unable to input text efficiently.
- Background Apps: I know what you are thinking: “What now? Android supports background apps, so where is he going with this?” Well, let me tell you that if this is the way Android runs background apps, I prefer the iPhone with its lack of ability to run multiple apps simultaneously. Let me explain. It is true that the iPhone can only run one app at a time, and it is this, along with the lack of a physical keyboard that keeps me and my BlackBerry together, but Android does something even worse than the iPhone. You can run as many apps as you want on the Android platform (depending on the phone’s processor of course), but you cannot choose which apps to run and which apps to close.Naturally, when I first turned the Galaxy on, I began to download apps. Once I got the hang of the phone, I started to test out the various apps I had heard about. The first thing I noticed was a missing Exit option. Android apps cannot be exited? After some quick research (that consisted of 3 or 4 tweets), it became apparent to me that Google’s concept with Android’s task management is “Leave everything running and let the phone decide what to close”. There is of course an indirect way to close apps, but besides that, you need to download a 3rd party app to exit apps on Android.I hate this about Android. The philosophy of taking the decision away from the user is not new to Google, but with not having the ability to exit an app, Google has taken it too far. I have to say that as important as background apps are to me, my phone’s overall performance and battery life are more important. To force the user to download an app in order to perform the most basic operation on their phone is unacceptable and a major flaw in the Android platform. Of course, on this front, BlackBerry and other similar platforms has iPhone and Android beat with the ability to run background apps, and choose with apps are running and when.
- Synchronization or Lack Thereof: In my opinion, there is no current match in the mobile world for the iPhone/iTunes tag team, but most other platforms have come up with their own solution to syncing your phone’s information. As far as I know, and I might be wrong about this since I am new to Android, there is no iTunes-like application for the Android platform. If you are not interested in syncing your Google contacts, or if you are one of the two people in the world who do not use Gmail, you are in trouble. Now, the truth be told, most Android users are also utilizing other Google products, so their syncing experience is actually top notch. However, to not offer an alternate solution for those of us who do not want Google to have access to everything we do, is amateurish and not professional on the part of Google. This is just a sign of lack of maturity on the part of the Android platform.
- Errors, Errors, and More Errors: I cannot speak for all Android users, but my Android device, pretty much right out of the box, began giving me errors about this process or that one terminating unexpectedly. Pretty much every time I turn the phone on, I am met with one error or another, sometimes about the keyboard process, and sometimes even the Android process, ie the operating system of the phone fails.This is not the biggest deal in the world since with one click the error goes away, but when these error messages keep popping up, it can start to get pretty annoying. As I have written on many occasions, while Apple is known for releasing products only after all the bugs and errors have been worked out, Google, generally speaking takes the other side of the spectrum. They have been known to release products at an early beta stage, and to depend on user feedback to work out all the quirks. These might be an acceptable strategy with products like Gmail or Google Wave, but when we are talking about a mobile device that people are using all day every day, this concept can be problematic.
- Too Open? I am going to go out on a limb here and say something some folks might strongly disagree with. While Apple’s famous app approval policy might be taking it a bit too far, there has to be a point in between Apple and Google, that will not reject 5 out of 6 apps but will maintain a basic level of quality among the apps being offered to consumers. Let me explain. As much as I despise Apple’s philosophy of “This is our phone and our App Store, we will decide what gets approved”, Google’s lack of any philosophy can also become a problem.
For example, I was looking for a replacement keyboard for the phone, and when typing the words keyboard or better keyboard into the App Market’s search engine, I was surprised to see over 100 results.So I had 100 apps from which to choose, what’s wrong with that? Well, if they were apps, I would have been a happy man. They weren’t, they were all skins for an app that I could not even find buried among all the skins. Any developer can create pretty much anything that works on Android, and it will be approved for the App Market. Where does this leave the consumer? I have to admit, after trying out Android for a few days, I am really beginning to miss Apple’s App Store, its high standards, and amazing user experience.
When downloading an app for the iPhone OS, you can be sure it will be a good app that works, and works well.Out of the 20 or so apps I downloaded on my first day with Android, 10 of them were quickly deleted since they caused problems with the phone, did not work well, or just generally offered a sub par user experience. I appreciate Google’s concept of openness with the Android platform, I really do, but there has to be some sort of red line about what makes into the Android App Market and what does not.
In conclusion, I have not heard any complaints about the Droid and Android 2.0, so I will give Google the benefit of the doubt and assume they fixed the above issues. However, if they did not and besides the physical keyboard on the Droid, all the other problems are still present, it will just strengthen my belief that Android will never produce the iPhone killer so many people believed that it would.
Please let me know what your experiences with Android have been in the comments.