199 Days with Android

Introduction

A hundred and ninety-nine days ago (give or take a few hours), I made the transition from the iPhone 4 to the HTC One X. Twenty-nine days after that swap, I shared my experience with you all. After that post, I received many requests do to a follow-up once I'd spent more time with Android, and - although it is common knowledge that the sequel can (almost) never be as good as the original - I decided it was worth writing about. A hundred and ninety-nine days seemed as good of a milestone as any, especially considering how significantly the mobile landscape has changed in the last few months, with notable handsets like the iPhone 5, Lumia 920, and Nexus 4 entering the market.

So, am I still happy with Android? Do I at all regret my choice to go with the One X rather than wait for the iPhone 5 or Windows Phone 8? Well...the simple answers are yes to the first one, and no to the second one - but nothing in life is ever really that simple. What I will say is that half a year with Android has given me more appreciation for both Android and iOS. So, let's revisit some of the statements I made in the previous post, and how they stood the test of time.

"It seemed that Android might finally be reaching a level of stability and UI smoothness that was on-par with the iPhone."

I would say this is still true, especially since the release of Jelly Bean. In my experience, it's still not as smooth or as reliable as iOS, but it's impressively close given the variety of hardware that Android runs on. It's hard to compete with a company that builds the hardware and the software together, but Android is definitely smooth and stable enough for my day to day needs. I never feel the frustration I felt when trying to use pre-ICS Android handsets.

One thing worth noting: I believe Google made a mistake by taking Chrome out of beta so early. The stock Android browser runs significantly smoother than Chrome, and the performance of Chrome can give people a poor impression of Android's overall performance. A page that scrolls smooth on the stock Browser will often lag and stutter on Chrome. It is, to be frank, unacceptable - especially considering that the Nexus 4 only comes with Chrome. I love the functionality of Chrome, but as a browser, it still has a long way to go, unfortunately.

"I honestly think I was just getting bored with iOS."

Yes, but here's the thing, Naive Me From a Few Months Ago - boredom isn't necessarily a bad thing. Android was almost crippling in the amount of choice it provided me. Which ROM do I want to run? Do I want to tolerate a Stock-based ROM for the improved camera features? Or do I want to run an AOSP ROM because of the improved overall experience? Which one will get me the best battery life? Do I want to install a custom kernel? If I install a kernel, what governor should I use for the best battery life/performance balance and DEAR GOD MAKE IT STOP I JUST WANT A WORKING SMARTPHONE.

Of course, "just having a working smartphone" is an option with Android - this indecision is a result of my own OCD, not issues with Android. Android is just responsible for providing the choice - I'm the one who has to figure out what I want out of it. What I said in my previous post - that iOS is what Apple wants it to be and Android is, for better or worse, what you make of it - remains as true now as it was then.

That's why, after all of that, I decided to install CM10, with whatever benefits and drawbacks come with that, and give up on changing ROMs every month just for the possibility of a minor boost in camera or battery performance. If I was happy with being "told" what I want with an iPhone, why couldn't I accept the same experience with Android? The difference is that I'd be telling myself what I wanted, rather than Apple telling me. This gave me the performance and reliability I'm used to from iOS, with the benefits of the customization and flexibility of Android. I wish I'd figured this out earlier, though. I guess that's why everyone says just buy a damn Nexus.

"The build quality seemed to be nearly on-par with my iPhone 4, while offering a better screen, a better camera, and above-average battery life."

That screen, you guys. That screen. I am quite pleased that despite the never-ending specs race that is the Android phone world, the One X's screen remains unmatched, with the possible exceptions of the iPhone 5 and the Droid DNA. The camera is still good enough for my needs, though I will admit to some 920-envy, and I occasionally miss the Sense-exclusive features of the camera software. And, although the battery life on CM10 could be better, I am rarely far away from a USB cord or my external battery. Something I learned during my time with the iPhone 4 - no matter how good a phone's battery is, it will almost always die at the worst possible time (unless you have a Note 2, perhaps) so I may as well be prepared for this reality, rather than stress over how much every little thing I do might be impacting battery life.

"I absolutely adore the beta for SwiftKey 3...and this is coming from someone who swore by the iOS keyboard for years."

Yup - SwiftKey is still awesome. I find the iOS keyboard frustratingly lacking when I go back to use it on my iPad or my old iPhone. Where is my swipe to backspace? Why can't I hold down a letter to get to a special character? Where is my swipe-able punctuation mark? Why doesn't the keyboard learn from my personal usage? Where where why why where argh.

I am entirely serious when I say that if I went back to the iPhone, SwiftKey is one of the things I'd miss the most. It's just that good. I really wish Apple would unlock the keyboard to third-party options, or at least implement new toggle-able options in the stock keyboard.

"Stock iOS is generally more stable than stock Android (in my limited experience), but a heavily-modified jailbroken iOS is (in much much more extensive experience) generally less stable (and at times much laggier) than stock - or even rooted - Android."

Now that I have more experience with Android, I would question some of this. Although jailbroken iOS devices will be laggier and have the occasional re-spring, I can at least trust that things like Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS will continue to function without issue. On custom ROMs, this can be a complete crapshoot - though, to be fair, the iPhone doesn't even have the option of installing a custom ROM. Still, there's something to be said for connecting a Bluetooth device to my iPhone and knowing it will Just Work (tm). I still don't have that level of confidence with Android, and I miss that. I would like to think I'd have that confidence with a Nexus phone, but without personal experience, I'm not comfortable saying that's the case.

"The iPhone is a black box, both hardware-wise and software-wise."

Still true, but again - this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The iPhone doesn't really need to be anything more than a block box. On the flip side, at times it feels like diagnostic tools - specifically for battery usage - are a borderline-necessity if you want to get the most out of Android. Of course, when you do want those same diagnostic tools on iOS, they just aren't there, which is a whole different frustration. Whether you prefer "having them and often needing them" to "not having them and almost never needing them" comes down to personal preference, but without question it does make troubleshooting iOS that much more difficult. I had a co-worker who was having severe iPhone 4 battery problems, but there was essentially no way to investigate the issue because iOS simply doesn't have the tools.

"I miss a few aspects of the iOS ecosystem - leaving the iOS ecosystem was actually my greatest fear, but it turns out I wasn't nearly as tethered to it as I originally thought."

Although I definitely miss a few iOS-specific features - most notably iMessage - Android has encouraged me to seek out platform-agnostic cloud-based services to replace those from iOS. As I learned to harness the underrated functionality of Android's Intent system, I realized I could essentially build my own ecosystem by picking and choosing what services I wanted to use, and Android would treat them (almost) as well as it treats native solutions - definitely far better than iOS does, at least. Of course, I wrote a whole post about creating your own ecosystem, so I won't repeat myself here, suffice it to say that while I occasionally miss the simplicity of Apple's offerings, I prefer the flexibility of platform agnostic tools. To once more egotistically quote myself:

"There's no arguing that most or all of Google's Android-based solutions are still some of the best, but it's nice to know there's stuff out there that's been able to reach equivalent functionality, just by leveraging the powers of Defaults and Intents. As much as I love other Android-specific features like Widgets, it's the loss of this sort of inter-app functionality that would really make me miss Android if I were to ever go back to iOS. Apple gives you a pre-packaged solution that works well for many (perhaps even most) people, while Google gives you the pieces to build your own, potentially-more-powerful solution - which is something I love taking advantage of."

It is also worth mentioning Android's platform-specific features, most notably, the integrated Google Maps Navigation and Google Now. I am very glad I don't have to depend on Apple's Maps on my phone...whether you believe the issues with the service are overblown or not, I personally have years of trust invested into Google Maps, and I don't have any need or desire to start building that trust again with a whole new mapping service.

Google Now is not something I'd experienced when I wrote my initial post, I have come to love it. It is as creepy as it awesome and, personally, I prefer a pro-active "virtual personal assistant" to a reactive one like Siri. Granted, I still wish Google Now could do some things that Siri does - for example, not being able to create a calendar event is pretty ridiculous, especially considering how great Google Calendar is. Just kidding. As some kind commenters mentioned below, you can create calendar events with the most recent version of Google Now. You don't even need Android 4.2, because the Google Now app is a separate download through the Play Store, which is a nice differentiation from Siri.

I still can't get over how cool it is to have my phone automatically notify me when I should get ready to leave for an event based on my current location and the traffic between here and there. So fucking cool - and it seems like the sky is the limit as to what Google can do with this in the future.

"I will miss the Apple support system."

Still true. Although I've been fortunate so far, I fear for the day I drop my One X and have to work through HTC to get a replacement. There's just no substitute for walking into the Apple store with a broken or defective device and walking out again with a replacement, just waiting for you to restore your device backup.

"The stock Sense experience I started with a month ago was certainly not a bad one, but it also wasn't as smooth as the custom ROM I am using today. I think I'd still be holding onto the One X, if only for the hardware, but I might be a bit more torn by the decision."

I do still think I'd be happy using this phone running the stock Sense experience - when I wrote the original article, I was running an AOSP-themed Sense-based ROM - but CM10 is good enough that I may very well continue to use this phone until the CM team drops support for it, whenever that happens. Of course, being the gadget whore that I am, I will almost certainly be tempted to upgrade again when my contract cycle is up in another year and a half or so - but at least it (probably) won't be because I'm frustrated with the software.

"Am I worried that my phone may not get Jelly Bean or Key Lime Pie?"

I am admittedly worried that the software running my phone comes from an unofficial source. Though I have the highest confidence in the CM team, the fact remains that I am running unsupported software from an aftermarket source, and that aftermarket source has every right to stop updating that software at any point. Chances are they'll actually continue to update the device long after HTC has - which is sad enough - but they have no obligation to do so. Though I happily run their software on my phone, I knowingly do so at my own risk. This is why my next phone will almost certainly be a Nexus device, assuming at that point that there is a Nexus phone with LTE again.

"There are enough customization options, even without custom ROMs, that I think it'll take me quite awhile before getting bored again."

Oh silly, naive past-self. You will soon come to miss the boredom, at least in some regards. Though I am not going to go so far as to say that I am a busy adult with many important things to do, I don't look forward to the possibility of spending another afternoon flashing a new ROM and setting everything up yet-again. When I flashed CM10 a couple of weeks ago, I did so with the hope that this would be the last damn time I did this. It's great to have the option to tinker as much as I want, but I just don't have the time or desire to tweak every last thing to maximize the potential of the hardware.

To my future self: Just get a Nexus, stupid.

"I've learned that between the new iPad, great Android devices like the HTC One X, the new MacBook Pro, and the impending releases of Windows 8, (presumably) Windows 8 Phone, and the next-generation iPhone...it's a fantastic time to be a gadget nerd like me, and no matter what you choose, it's hard to go wrong."

Still as true today as the day I typed this, if not even more so. Although we are currently at a lull in the storm, likely at least until the next CES, these are exciting times.

I'm going to get on my soap box for a second, but on reflection, it's funny how the hardcore fans love to attack each other over what are, in the end, fairly minor differences. If you took a modern iPhone, Android phone, or Windows phone back even 3 or 4 years, any of them would revolutionize the industry. 5 or 6 years ago, smartphones weren't even close to being mainstream - now over half of the US owns one.

If owning both Android and iOS devices has taught me anything, it's that we have these miraculous pocket-sized devices, that can do wondrous things, and yet we sweat over the relatively trivial differences. Obviously there is value in discussing the benefits and drawbacks of each platform - I wouldn't be writing this if I felt otherwise - but crossing the line into attacking others for their personal choice of miraculous pocket-sized device is pretty damn ridiculous.

These continue to be exciting times, and we have too many great discussions waiting for us to get caught up in pointless, petty mud-slinging.