Life With Android, 1 Year Later

A little over a year ago I turned off my iPhone 3 and fired up a new HTC Evo Android handset, the initial experience I wrote about here. I recently upgraded my handset from the Evo to the just released Samsung Epic Touch and wanted to share some thoughts about Android after having lived with it for a full year.

As you might surmise given that I just upgraded my handset, I’m pretty happy with Android but first let’s get some of the negative comments out of the way. Power management is a huge issue with all of these handsets, especially the ones with 4.3″ displays and lot’s of network options. Apple has done a remarkably good job of reconciling hardware and software power issues, Google needs to do better on power management in the platform and providing reference material to hardware providers in order to maximize the consumer experience in this area.

The Android UI is one which only an engineer can truly love… lot’s of icons, buttons, menus, and gestures. I know that this has been an area of focus for the Android team and they have brought on board some significant talent to lead the way to a new and improved user experience. While the current UX is not bad or in any way impairs my usage, improvements can’t come fast enough.

The Android marketplace is very noisy, a function of the explosion of applications that have become available but also a result of an interaction model that favors the carrier’s desire to feature apps of their choosing. It’s time to revamp the Android market(s) by moving away from the category navigation model to a strong search function where someone can use the search facility to find apps by stacking up metadata strings (e.g. category, keyword, rating, free/paid, etc.).

That’s really the sum total of complaints and shortcomings I would point out. Android is, today, a remarkably mature mobile platform and ecosystem and benefits greatly from hardware innovation and a highly extensible core operating system. The HTC Evo I had was one of the best phones I have ever owned and the Samsung Epic Touch is quickly proving itself as one of the best handsets on the market.

Despite being really large the handset is also very thin and light, which is probably a function of the highly evolved AMOLED display which fuses the glass and the display components together in a compact package. It’s also worth pointing out that the display is manufactured by Samsung so they clearly benefit from having a degree of verticalization in their design and manufacturing operations, something few other hardware manufacturers could boast of.

Battery life on the Epic Touch is far better than the Evo, even when the bluetooth, GPS, and wifi networks are spun up. This is a large battery at 1800 mAh, which gives a reported 10 hours of talk time, but time will tell because new batteries always perform admirably… it’s when you have been using it for 6 months that a true representation of battery life emerges.

The display quality is nothing short of fantastic, and when coupled with a very crisp 8 megapixel camera makes for pleasing experiences while taking images and video. I also noticed that the camera is very speedy in terms of reducing latency and lag, a welcome addition.

I could go on about the hardware but this isn’t intended to be a hardware review so let me close by simply saying that the Epic Touch is a significant achievement in hardware design. One of the reasons why I went with Android in the first place is that I didn’t want to be limited exclusively to what Apple decided I should have for hardware and software… Google has done a commendable job of recruiting great hardware partners and the array of handsets that are available meet a wide range of consumer requirements.

On the software side the portfolio of Android apps is deep and broad, the only application that I would like to have which is not available is Instagram. I like the ability to have additional items in my share menu, which was always a pain point for me on the iPhone and the integration of Google Apps is rich, as would be expected.

All things considered, I am glad I switched over to Android and look forward to getting a tablet later in the year when new devices are expected.

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Sprint Needs to Step Up: Android/Evo Error Messages

Back in July I dumped my iPhone for a new Evo from Sprint. I have enjoyed the phone (yeah the battery life sucks) and services (LOVE the mobile hotspot functionality!) however there has been a single persistent problem that has been causing me grief and it’s time for Sprint to step up and fix it.

When Sprint made the Android 2.2 update available I installed it on my relatively new Evo… I had it just a few weeks. Immediately following the update I started getting “android.process.acore” error messages and a force close message where the app I was using would, well, force close (how very Mac). Sprint replaced the handset 3 times and each time following the upgrade I started getting error messages.

The last time it was replaced I told the Sprint store to just update the software and provision the handset and I would pick it up… still generating the error messages. Clearly this is not a problem with apps I may be running as the last update was done on a virgin handset by Sprint and it’s still happening.

The local Sprint store told me today that a software update that has not been previously disclosed and for which no details are available would resolve this issue, however, not surprisingly I guess, a date has not been made available.

Out of frustration I called Sprint technical support and an indignant support rep told me 2.2 was “defective” and nobody should update to it and if I hard reset my phone it would go back to the old version. Anyone who has done the hard reset knows it does not roll back the ROM to a previous system software update, and to my knowledge the only way to do this would be to root the phone and install the earlier RUU file with the appropriate utility. Irrespective of technical details, an unpublished fix that consists of going back to an earlier version of the software really isn’t a fix at all.

Sprint needs to step up, there are other people having this error messages post 2.2 and it does render the phone impaired, for example if when writing an email you get this message the email app is shut down and your message is gone with it.

PS- Apple hardware/software has problems but the defining aspect of their customer support response is that they take ownership for fixing what isn’t right.

UPDATE: My friend @mmasnick had a Google engineer look at this problem and they determined that the HTC Facebook app is the culprit. I could not remove the app as it is a default app and deleting it requires rooting the handset, however, I removed the Facebook account attached to that app and the android.process.acore error has stopped.

Leaving iPhone for Android

This week I picked up an HTC Evo to replace my trusty iPhone 3G. My reason for doing this is twofold, featuring a technical and a philosophical reason.

I should also take a paragraph to explain that this post isn’t about what device is better because better is an entirely subjective quality but more significantly the reality is that the delta between the devices coming out of Apple, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung is so narrow that it is of limited value to determine that one device edges out another. The meaningful difference between Apple and everyone else is that Apple alone decides what, when and how you can use your phone and that is the major reason why I am leaving Apple (I also have no love for AT&T and find Verizon to be expensive when all the extras are added in).

The iPhone 4 is a really impressive device, probably best in class, but the incremental advantages it offers over the Evo simply can’t overcome the the complexity of Apple’s relationship with me as a consumer, whether it be their iron grip on the app marketplace or restriction of features at the behest of their carriers, like tethering. I’ll still buy Apple’s computers as long as they exist today, multi-use pieces of hardware free of unreasonable restrictions on usage but when it comes to Apple’s mobile devices I am done with them.

One of the most subtle of shifts in how Android is different than the iPhone is the relationship the device has with my laptop computer, which is to say none at all. In order for an iPhone (and by extension iPad) to be truly useful it has to be synced with a computer at some point, whether for syncing contacts and address book or more significantly the ability iTunes provides to manage apps.

Android devices exist completely outside of my traditional compute experience, to date I have not needed to connect the device to my laptop for any function. Everything happens over-the-air (OTA) and you don’t appreciate the significance of that shift until you actually live it. There are times when I want to get my files from one device to the other but Dropbox’s service makes that a fairly trivial process.

The Evo comes with an 8gb microSD card, which I am assuming can be replaced with a larger capacity card. I particularly like the microSD card approach because it makes moving photos and media from Adobe Lightroom, my preferred solution, into the device an easy process. The card itself isn’t conveniently located though, it’s under the battery which means you have to turn off the device in order to retrieve the card, but you can also use a standard micro USB cable to connect it to your laptop, mounting it like an external drive, just like the iPhone. It used to be that moving files from devices to your computer was a hassle, but today it’s a a breeze.

Speaking of batteries, the Evo does have crappy battery life however the one thing I can do with Evo that I can’t do with an iPhone is replace the battery and I picked up 2 spares for $12 each which ensures that even on a long flight I will have ample battery life. I’m pretty confident that the battery life will improve once I finish geeking out over my new gadget and use it sporadically throughout the day like I did with my iPhone.

Last year I wrote a Droid review based on a phone my wife came home with, at the time I dinged the Android app marketplace for not having my favorite iPhone apps. What a difference a year makes, and this is perhaps the area where Android is rapidly achieving parity with the iPhone and potentially surpassing Apple… every iPhone app that I relied on is now represented in the Android market and these apps are not quick and dirty knockoffs but fully developed versions that take advantage of the many features that the Android platform provides.

As I look at Android right now I see a portfolio of well engineered devices that are by any measure on the very forward edge of mobile technology, an app marketplace that is equivalent to Apple’s, and most significantly a sense of momentum that is closing the gap with Apple in every possible dimension, and all of these factors make me excited to experience the wave of Android tablet devices that developing.