Spec Sheet Meltdown
My phone has more cores than yours.
People love to use spec comparison tables to rationlise their purchasing decisions with numbers. The Samsung Galaxy S3 is better than the iPhone 5 because it has more processors, faster processors, bigger this, more of that. This method of comparison is a relic of the PC era long gone. Even in the PC era, comparing a Mac to a PC on specs alone was already silly enough, comparing phones this way is plain stupid.
There's more to these devices than the numbers in the silicon.
I know this from first hand experience.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to buy a Nexus 7 tablet from Google. I really wanted to try out Android and see if it would suit me. I was getting bored of the stale, limited iOS and wanted to see what else was out there. I chose the Nexus 7 because it was cheap and it runs stock Android. Devices that HTC and Samsung release are running modified versions of Android with different skins over the top. Google releases 'nexus' devices which are running an untouched version of Android, the best and most optimised version to use. Anyway, I bought the Nexus 7 and I loved it, both the device and the Android software... for a couple of weeks. After this time, I have begun to see the issues with Android devices.
The Nexus 7 is running very powerful hardware with the latest version of stock Android, it was the best stock Android experience Google could offer me at the time. Does the experience match up to an iPad? Nope.
I made sure to keep my experience with the Nexus 7 as close to a regular consumer would have to the device. I chose not to delve into the realm of flashing custom ROMs onto it, or to perform any other hardcore optimisations to it. This way, it would be compared to the iPad more evenly. I took my time getting accustomed to the way Android worked, I did my fair share of customising the launcher, trying out other launchers, and moving widgets and icons all over the place. It was fun and made the device feel like it was 'mine'. But then, I had a couple of realisations.
Firstly, I removed all the widgets from my homescreen. Before, I had two widgets for some Gmail accounts, one Google Reader scrollable feed, and one scrollable Twitter feed. I chose these larger, more functional widgets because I didn't the see the point in seeing one random Facebook news feed item scrolling through a tiny widget that I would never use. So I went for the 'closest to the app' widgets I could find. I removed them all because I came to the realisation that the widgets were good enough to see if something was updated, but not good enough to move through the content without entering the application. Notifications were informing me of email, reader and twitter updates anyway, so the widgets became pointless space wasters, too small and unusable to flow through the content the way I wanted. An example, the reader widget had no "mark all as read" button on it, so I would have to enter the application anyway to mark everything as read, thus rendering the widget pointless. It was a similar situation for my email and twitter widgets. I see the appeal in smaller widgets such as a clock or the weather, but these larger widgets do not replace the applications. I finally understood why Apple never messed with the static grid of iOS icons, it really doesn't need to.
Taking half a second longer to launch the full application is worth the trade-off of having a simple home screen with no pseudo-functional widgets to deal with.
With continued use of the Nexus 7 I also came to the conclusion that Android applications are much less optimised than iOS ones. For example, on an iPad 2 in my house I would use PDFpen to annotate PDF's. The application is amazing, everything works smoothly and it responds to my fingers flawlessly. On the Nexus 7, I searched for a similar PDF experience. I tried 5 different applications, including the default PDF viewer on the Nexus 7, and Adobe's official PDF app. None of them could provide the experience the iPad could. Keep in mind, the iPad 2's hardware is nowhere near as powerful as the Nexus 7's. The Nexus should be able to fly through PDF's with ease, but no, ALL of the applications were laggy and unresponsive. Plainly, they were designed and performed poorly in comparison to even the worser iOS PDF apps. I finally experienced the downsides of Android. These applications were not optimised for any specific pieces of hardware, my Nexus 7 was just another one of thousands of Android devices which the application would have to work on. It's just not possible for the experience on my Nexus 7 to be the best possible.
I now knew why Android devices needed such powerful hardware, it has to try and lug around these slow, un-optimised apps to work at a 'decent' performance level. The stock Google apps are much better, but still don't come close to the experience of a one and a half year old iPad, with mediocre hardware by comparison.
Pinching in and out to zoom on anything with the Nexus 7 is a completely disjointed experience to say the least. Google Maps is an amazing application on Android, but zooming in and out becomes a laborious task on the Nexus 7. On an iPad it feels like the device is responding directly to my fingers' touch, if something goes wrong, it was something I did with my fingers. Not so on the Nexus 7.
When you touch the screen it feels as if your touch is being filtered through a blender of computations and then 70% of what you put in is spat out the other end in inconsistent dribbles.
That is the best way to describe scrolling, pinching and zooming on the Nexus 7, in any application. Keep in mind this device is running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, with all the enhancements that Project Butter brings. I can't imagine how terribly Android used to respond. Some users might say I'm nitpicking, and they would gladly give up some touch responsiveness for a much more powerful operating system. Or they use the line that 'it doesn't take much hardware to run a 4x4 grid of static icons'. Well apparently, it takes a massive load of hardware to zoom in and out of a text filled web page as smoothly as 'not much hardware'. The only place I see Android excelling long past iOS is in sharing files between applications and file management in general. I see why Apple doesn't allow this sort of control, they don't want the user to ruin anything. I can easily see the average person ruining the Nexus 7 from lack of knowledge of the file system in place.
Is Android better because of widgets? They're pointless. Is Android better because of the hardware these devices have? Un-optimised, poorly designed applications and terrible touch responsiveness, no thanks. Is Android better? No.
Even after discovering these issues, I still eagerly awaited the new Nexus phone Google would announce. Here it is, the Nexus 4. The lack of LTE on this device is disappointing, but worse is the fans who are defending it.
The same Android fans who ridiculed Apple for not including LTE in the iPhone 4S, the same fans who ridicule Apple for being technological laggards who steal features and play catch up on hardware are now mimicking Apple's words from a year ago.
"LTE isn't wide spread enough yet, HSDPA+ is good enough for the moment." Sorry guys, it's a year later, even the laggards at Apple have LTE. Price should not be a factor here, Google's Nexus phones are the flagship Android devices, showcasing what's possible with both the latest hardware and software. Google doesn't sell many of them, so I don't see price as a reason for the exclusion of LTE. It comes across that Google were just too lazy to deal with the carrier relationships surrounding LTE.
The more I think about all these competing technologies, the more I realise that these machines should be stable, work the way we expect them to, and perform like 2012 hardware should allow them to. We shouldn't have to deal with poorly designed apps and unresponsive zooming. That's why iOS remains the best, most cohesive mobile platform for the tech geek, and his mother.
I'm a hardcore tech geek, and knowing that my apps are optimised for my hardware, knowing that my pinching and zooming is as responsive as possible, that it works without me tinkering with it, is infinitely better than a half-assed widget, a quick settings toggle and a bigger number on a spec sheet.