Ever since I got the Galaxy Nexus, I’ve been meaning to write up a little post on why I think Android is the cat’s meow these days. I’ve had this sitting in the hopper, title and all, for a week or two. So imagine my surprise this morning when I saw a headline to the exact opposite effect entitled Why I Hate Android on MG Seigler’s blog.
Seigler’s reasons for hating Android are mostly political. In fact he’d be more accurate to say he hates Google than Android, as his problems aren’t with the OS as much as with what Google did to promote it.
I really only have two disagreements with his arguments. First and foremost, this:
Apple, for all the shit they get for being “closed” and “evil”, has actually done far more to wrestle control back from the carriers and put it into the hands of consumers.
Bullshit. Apple wrested control from the carriers and put it into Apple’s hands. Say what you want about net neutrality on mobile networks, but I have no doubt that Apple wants it any more than Google does. They both just want to sell units. You can’t change the search engine in iOS away from the few that pay Apple for placement.
The second is the importance of net neutrality on mobile networks. I feel like the market will solve this problem. With wired internet, like the cable and DSL connections that most of us have only one or two options for, local monopolies and duopolies have ensured that there is no free market at play. With wireless companies I already have four choices of national networks plus regional carriers. And there are companies like Clearwire and Light Squared building nationwide 4g dumb pipes on which anyone with startup costs could one day potentially build a 5th or 6th.
I care about having a neutral net, and the market will provide me one. I wouldn’t be surprised if carriers like Verizon offer two tiers, one neutral (i.e. what they have now) and one discounted where you’re forced to use their selected partners. For instance all your searches might have to go through Bing. I might have to pay a little more for my neutral net, but I’m ok with that.
Anyway, political arguments aside, I can finally say for the first time after about a year and a half on Android that I’m finally recommending it to the non-techies in my life. Up until the Galaxy Nexus I’ve been telling most people who ask me what smartphone they should get (which, as you might imagine, there are quite a few of) to just get an iPhone. No longer, and here’s why.
Android is far more open (hardware).
While I still think the iPhone 4 and 4s are the best looking devices on the market (why does nobody else use metal?) overall I’ll take a big honking Super AMOLED screen any day. Even if the phone looks like a big crappy hunk of plastic when you flip it over, I spend about 99.9% of the time I’m using my phone staring at and interacting with a lit up screen.
I’ve used the Retina Display (a term I like about as much as “Genius Bar”) quite a bit and it is a huge step up from previous iPhones. But put one side by side with a Super AMOLED and there’s no comparison.
I’ll grant that this might be a personal preference, but that’s the great thing about Android’s hardware openness. Whatever your preference is, its out there. Need a keyboard? (I did until recently.) Check out the Droid 4. Want 4g now, rather than in a year or two (or whenever Apple gets around to it)? Verizon and Sprint have a plethora of options. Are you a power user who can’t get through the day on one battery? Get yourself 2 external batteries and a charger for $30. For my last phone, the original Galaxy S, I was able to pick that up for $8 at one point.
Android is far more open (software).
One of the great things about Android is the relative lack of restrictions as to what APIs apps have access to. For instance an app can intercept calls and text messages. This makes possible call blockers (a godsend for me) and apps like DeskSMS, which lets you view and respond to your text messages over the web. These are impossible on an iPhone without jail breaking. I’m actually kicking around an idea for a really awesome messaging client that would be pretty revolutionary and that would be totally impossible on iOS.
Another huge, huge win for Android is the concept of an intent. Intents let apps interact with each other. For instance a third-party app that creates an image can send it to another app to be edited, the receive it back to store/share. The share menu found in many apps will allow you to easily send something via email, SMS/MMS, Dropbox, etc.
And my favorite example of software openness of all are the third party keyboards. There are two I love in particular. First and foremost there’s Swype. I hate the stock Android virtual keyboard even worse than iOS’s, but with Swype I’ve been able to ditch hardware keypads entirely. It’s still less pleasant when typing, but a lot less so than it used to be, and the other 75% of the time having a thinner and lighter phone makes up for it.
And my most recent addition is the LastPass keyboard. I’ve been using the LastPass plugin with Dolphin Browser for quite some time, but logging into native apps for web services has been a pain. Not anymore. You just switch keyboards, log into LastPass, and it will automagically type in your usernames and passwords for you. For that reason alone I’d rather have an Android tablet than an iPad at this point.
With Ice Cream Sandwich, Android has finally come into its own in terms of aesthetics and functionality. I’ve found previous versions of it to range from slightly annoying to downright infuriating, but ICS is really a drastic improvement.
I love the new improvements to the notifications shade. The soft keys for home, back, and apps are a nice touch, as is ditching that goofy fourth key. The multitasking pane is an improvement over iOS’s (and an even bigger one over Android’s embarrassing older one). The new app drawer feels slicker, and I love the way widgets and the market are so easily accessible from it.
The built-in apps are all leaps and bounds above previous Android versions. Contacts, Email, Gmail, Messaging, etc. all feel better than iOS to me at long last.
There are still some gripes. If you come from iOS you’ll love the back button. If you come from WebOS you’ll just wonder why it never works properly. If there’s one thing WebOS did amazingly well it’s that.
While it’s not an unadulterated win by any means (there are still many things I prefer about iOS) overall I feel like it’s finally the better platform out of the box.
Regardless, even if you prefer iOS over it, there’s a lot to love about Android. While I’d like to give Windows Phone 7 a try at some point I feel like the lack of an ecosystem and relatively underwhelming hardware won’t make that happen any time soon. Who knows what 2012 will bring though.