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iOS To Android – The Switch

I’ve just completed a week long switch from iOS to Android having been challenged by Matt to experiment with the enemy. He suggested the test a couple of weeks ago after he upgraded the device on his Vodafone contract. I was relatively quick to accept, knowing it would be a good way of broadening my knowledge and giving me an opportunity to see what else is out there. I’ve used iOS for nearly six years now and while my opinion on Android has changed dramatically over the past twelve months, I’ve never felt it was possible to switch because of my feeling that I’m very tied in – I wrote about that here.

I’m going to avoid talking about hardware as much as possible because I’ll be reviewing the device I used in another post. I’ll also break down this piece into sections for easier reading – it could get quite long. I received a new Samsung Galaxy Note 2 last Friday and eagerly started setting up a fairly long list of things I use everyday. Facebook, Twitter, contacts, three separate email accounts, bookmarks and an array of other applications.

Initial Setup

I began with my contacts which are all stored in Contacts on my Mac and of course iCloud. I first had to login to my Gmail account on the Google website before selecting contacts from the drop-down menu. From here, there’s an import option. Brilliant, I thought; I’ll simply export my contacts from my Mac and that’ll be it. Or so I thought. The import option doesn’t accept the format I could export in and so I was forced to download an application that would convert the exported file into another format. With that done, I imported them into Gmail. The next task was to sync those to my phone, so I added the Google account. Contacts imported successfully but I was immediately aware that all the details had imported into the notes section.

Every contact was there, without display pictures, but all their information was buried in the notes section which rendered them completely useless. It wasn’t until the following day when I had time to look into it in more detail that I found I could export my existing contacts in a batch vCard format and that Google would indeed accept this. Very simple when you know how! Still, nobody had display pictures so I copied Facebook display pictures to the people I contact regularly.

Next, I downloaded all the apps I regularly use which was a pleasure because the Play Store is fantastic. Very lightweight, extremely quick and much more usable than the Apple App Store which always seems to take half an hour or so to load properly. Facebook, Twitter (Falcon Pro), Chrome, Runkeeper, Tapatalk, YouTube and more were installed and setup within the space of a few minutes.

Since I had now transitioned over to Chrome on my Mac, I had already seamlessly imported my Safari bookmarks – now I just had to sync them with my phone. Which, was done automatically after I added my Google account to the phone.

One major problem I could foresee was using my iCloud email. This is hugely important to me because it’s the email I’ve used primarily for eight years not only for personal things but also for work. I have roughly 18,000 emails stored in folders on the iCloud server which equates to pretty much 5GB. Hence, I was worried about having to switch to Gmail for a week.

Despite Matt and my previous research suggesting I couldn’t use iCloud email on Android, I now found this to be incorrect and that I could in-fact use it. I found the setup information after a single Google search and entered the relevant settings on the phone. Straight away it worked, but unfortunately because I was having to use the default email client to receive it, it wasn’t ‘push’. For those un-aware, ‘push’ allows you to receive things immediately after they’re received. Without push, you either have to manually check for new emails or set an interval at which the phone will check itself. I set this to five minutes and decided to put up with it, but it wasn’t ideal. I thought about forwarding everything to my Gmail account but decided this was a workaround I could do without.

Changing What I Use

I was now left without Photostream which allowed me to send or receive photographs in a shared stream and also to upload my latest 1000 snaps to my computer and other devices. How was I to back-up my photographs automatically now? Dropbox provided the answer to my questions and I actually found it to be better in a lot of ways to what I had previously been using.

Android allows things to truly happen in the background, and because of this Dropbox is allowed to automatically upload new photographs and video to your account as soon as you take them. I turned off the option to do this when I wasn’t connected to Wifi so I could preserve some battery life. Everything was synced ten times quicker than Photostream ever manages to and I of course now had files stored in the cloud that I can access from literally anywhere and not just on the devices I own. It also leaves me with the option of what I do and don’t add to iPhoto on my Mac – I can delete any poor images before I import and my iPhoto doesn’t get clogged up. I was of course un-able to easily share photographs with my other half now that I didn’t have iMessage either.

Leaving iMessage was pretty hard and also quite difficult to disable (thanks Apple). I was now fully SMS based which presented a few problems when I found people still iMessaging my iPad or Mac. I had to actually sign out of iMessage on all my iDevices to stop this happening – turning it off didn’t seem to have much effect and I had messages waiting once I re-enabled it. Thankfully, I have 5000 included text messages on my contract so going over that wasn’t a problem – but sending images to people most definitely was. I have a close friend who is working in Abu Dhabi at the moment and his regular updates with video or photographs were now far more difficult to receive. I suggested he email them but that’s a horribly inefficient way to receive a two minute video these days. I could’ve downloaded WhatsApp – but he would’ve had to as well, and that’s a pain when he’s getting on perfectly fine with iMessage!

I mentioned previously about losing the ability to use iTunes Match but I found this to be a complete non issue through my week of testing. I’m not someone who lives with music in my ears constantly and in-fact rarely listen to music while I’m out and about. I didn’t feel the need once in seven days to listen to music on my phone. However, this would ultimately have arisen at some stage and when it did, I would have had to sign up to Google Music. This is a free service that acts in a similar way to iTunes Match and uploads all your music to the cloud, giving you access wherever you are. In contrast to what I previously believed, iTunes Match obviously wouldn’t be lost – I now use it more of a backup rather than my only way of access.

What About All My iOS Purchases?

Another thing I thought about was ‘losing’ all of the apps I’ve purchased on iOS. Over five and a half years, I imagine I’ve spent hundreds of pounds on both apps and iBooks, but once I made the switch it didn’t seem to matter. Sure, I’ve spent money on those items but it’s irrelevant afterwards, it’s just something you accept. You don’t sell a car after owning it for three years and regret all the money you spent on petrol, new tyres or car washes.

Siri, S-Voice or Google Now?

At the moment, you would have to say both Siri and the Google Now. Siri allows me to perform tasks on the operating system such as calling a contact, setting an alarm or timer or making notes. However, when it comes to commands it doesn’t understand, it’s weak and it offers very little. If I ask the question “how old is Bear Grylls”, Siri says it doesn’t understand and then asks if I want to search the Internet for an answer. Google Now will perform an internet search, return the result visually and also read it out – “Bear Grylls is 38 years old”. Aside from system commands, Google Now returns everything and far more than Siri will.

Weather, sports results, IMDB profiles, snippets of facts, mostly anything can be found from a simple voice search. It’s also far prettier than Siri in it’s current form. It’s flat, it’s clean, it’s minimal. More importantly, it’s not skeuomorphic.

Now, what about S-Voice? It’s essentially an identical rip-off of Siri. It looks very, very similar and acts in exactly the same way. I found it didn’t pick up my voice as well as Siri and I found the look (while very similar to Siri) looked even worse. That’s Samsung for you though; more on that later. However, S-Voice does return results from web searches, which Siri does not.

I found S-Voice to be a total gimmick and while I didn’t use Siri regularly on my iPhone after the novelty of asking it silly questions wore off, I did continue to set alarms or timers when I needed them. In the case of S-Voice, I disabled it and never used it again.

With that said, Google Now is a phenomenal service that I used a lot. It shows you cards you have pre-set such as weather, directions to home or your favourite teams scores. All automatically updated and if applicable, updated based on your locations. For example, it tells me how to get home and how long it will take. This even includes telling you what buses to get, what time your train is or exactly where you should walk. It’s powerful and very convenient. Lets hope Apple allows this service on the iOS – though I can’t see it happening myself.

TouchWiz

TouchWiz is a skin Samsung places on all their Android devices over the top of what would otherwise be stock Android – which you find on Google devices such as the Nexus 4. HTC use their own version called ‘Sense‘. They simply change the look and some functions of the OS.

Settings comparison.

Settings comparison with Touch Wiz and Stock Android.

This was something I really wasn’t looking forward to – I was already aware that TouchWiz was ugly in comparison to stock Android. The notification centre is green and black, the settings icons are different colours and shapes; the Phone app, amongst many others is blue and black and white and green and has horrible borders, shadows and inconsistent default contact icons. Samsung have basically taken what could otherwise look really nice and made it look horrible.

Phone app comparison with Touch Wiz and Stock Android.

Phone app comparison with Touch Wiz and Stock Android.

This probably doesn’t matter to the everyday user, the average person that doesn’t really notice these things, but for me, as someone keen on design, TouchWiz ranks about ten times higher on the disgusting scale than the fake leather found in Apple’s address book. I honestly don’t understand why they would have done this when their devices are sold in such volume. If I’m correct in thinking that the average person doesn’t notice, then why not make it beautiful anyway? This way, the people that do notice will be happy and Joe Bloggs will be none the wiser. Surely that’s a win win?

Notification centre comparison with Touch Wiz and Stock Android.

Notification centre comparison with Touch Wiz and Stock Android.

Matt wanted this test to throw me in at the deep end and give me more to talk about than if I’d used his Nexus 4. In that instance, I’d have spoken about a really nice looking operating system but as expected, TouchWiz left me knowing that I’d never buy a Samsung device. Stock Android would probably have left me wondering whether I should buy one immediately.

What I’ll Miss And What I’ll Gain

What will I miss about Android and what will I be glad to leave behind? Thankfully for Android, the latter of the two lists is really short and mostly sits in the corner of TouchWiz. I honestly cannot wait to see the back of that hideous skin. I also won’t miss the ‘bug’ when I pull down the notification centre and the quick settings toggles are scrolled randomly across before jumping back to the start when I let go.

I’ll miss the customisation of Android (see the next section), I’ll miss the automatic Dropbox sync that iOS can’t handle and most of all; I’ll miss having something different.

But I can’t wait to get back push iCloud email and iMessage. That’s the list narrowed down from what I previously expected to miss most. Those two features are the things I miss most and while that doesn’t seem a lot, as I mentioned above, iCloud is a huge deal to me and iMessage is just super convenient.

Customisation

As you all know, I spent quite a while customising my iPhone after Jailbreaking it for the first time a few weeks ago because I wanted change. Android of course gave me that change, but I knew there was a lot more I could do. Initially, I just changed the clock, removed some icons and set up some shortcuts for services such as Google Now. After using the phone every-day and getting used to different functions and features I wanted to start customising it properly. The main point of interest, the bit you see most is the home screen. It’s also the easiest and most obvious bit to change.

I can say, without doubt that this is my favourite thing about Android. The ability to easily customise the look of your home screen and give yourself something fresh whenever you feel like it. There are hundreds, probably thousands of pre-made home screens out there that simply allow you to follow a guide to create it. Even with the customisation options I had after jailbreaking my iPhone, making something decent was very difficult and ultimately, I had a home screen which had smaller icons and no dock. Installing themes on that was very troublesome but on Android, with a bit of work it’s very easy.

Initial Homescreen and then fully customised.

Initial Homescreen and then fully customised.

I managed to use Photoshop and a couple of widgets and a nice launcher to create the home screen you see in the image above. It’s so completely different from what was there previously, you wouldn’t even know this was Android. Each operating system has a ‘default’ look that everyone knows it by. HTC now has that flipboard esque home screen, iOS has a grid of icons and a dock, TouchWiz usually has a clock, some shortcuts or widgets and a dock. This transformation could be a whole new skin to those unaware of the ability to customise.

I really do love the look of this home screen but the best bit is, when I get bored with it, I know I can switch to something completely different within 30 minutes of playing around.

I also made some minor changes to the ‘App Drawer’ – adding a few more rows and columns which suited the humongous display on the Note 2. Otherwise, I left it un-touched.

Summary And Decisions

I’m happy I made the decision to accept this challenge because not only has it given me something new to play with for a week but it’s also opened my eyes further than they already were. I now know for certain that a phone running Stock Android is a match for iOS in virtually every way. Sure, there are features I miss but there’s a lot to gain as well. There are also ways I had to adapt what I did, but not necessarily for the worse.

There’s no way I would purchase a device that runs a skin over the top, so Samsung and co are completely out of luck. However, ignoring that for a moment, the operating system itself is very good. Most, if not all of the apps I use on iOS are available and mostly free on the Play Store too.

I feel that iOS remains the better operating system for most people. It is easier to use and it is easier for things to ‘just work’. But if you’ve become bored with the lack of change in iOS and you’re up for making adjustments and trying something new then I definitely recommend giving Android a go. At first, it’s not that easy but after a week you’ll have already found new ways to do the things you currently do everyday – should they need to change at all. The fact is, you can go back to iOS if you don’t like it.

So, what have I decided?

I’m not doing anything yet. Google IO is coming up in May and there could potentially be a Nexus 5 to replace the current model. If that’s the case and it has a better camera than the current model, I might make a big decision and properly switch. Until then, I’ll stick with the iPhone 5 and iOS. Unfortunately, the poor Nexus 4 camera is enough to put me off buying right now.

Stay tuned in the next few days for a review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, where I’ll talk about hardware, BIG phones and silly Samsung gimmicks.


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