Getting to know Android

I’ve head iOS devices for a really long time. My first one I got during PyCON UK 2008 in Birmingham with a 2nd gen iPod touch, kind of as a mobile movie player. Over the years I grew quite fond of the aesthetics and the general look and feel of the iPhone 3GS and later on the iPad 2. But somehow, over the years, I also grew somehow tired of it. I couldn’t help myself feeling a bit underwhelmed by the waste the primary “screen” of the OS represented. Instead of useful information you’re always greeted by your favorite apps.

I don’t want to take part in that whole Android vs. iOS fanboy war so I’ll just leave it at that: I definitely see the usefulness of a widget concept when it comes to screen-estate on small devices.

And when I saw Ice Cream Sandwich in November in Berlin during the #GDDDE I definitely wanted to give it a try. My previous cell-phone plan had expired and had been overpriced to begin with. So, I had gotten a contract without minimum length a month before #GDDDE just to keep all my options open, and in December I finally decided on getting the Android 4.0 flagship handset by Samsung, the Galaxy Nexus.

Probably the first thing I did was install all the apps (if available) that I had used on iOS before: Evernote, Spotify, Scotty and a couple more. Then came the first important step: Getting podcasts.

In case I start to babble again: At the end of the article is a tl;dr section ;-)


Podcasts on ICS

With iOS podcasts are straight forward. iTunes can handle them for you and it was all I needed since 2008. In fact, podcasts are for me the most important thing of the morning after reading the news, so getting a good experience on my new phone is crucial.

For Android and years ago I had heard of Google Listen, so this was the first app I tried. Not bad, but kind of completely outdated. I definitely looks like the experiment it actually is. So after looking around a little bit I stumbled upon Pocket Casts. Both of them handle not only the playback of the weekly shows but also all other aspects of subscription management. Sure, I could have used Pocket Casts also on my iPhone but here I was more or less forced to jump into the water on undetermined temperature… and it was perfect ;-)

The experience

So my primary use-cases are all covered: E-mail (even better thanks to GMail integration), music, podcasts and note-taking. As for the rest of Android and ICS, I got used to the different UI pretty quickly. Within perhaps a day I was as quickly with my Galaxy Nexus finding my way from e-mails to news-posts and back as I was using my iPhone. Is iOS more consistent? Perhaps, but more in the positioning of buttons than the actual look and feel of apps. After Game Center Apple fanboys should probably think twice before dissing Android apps ;-)

Another big plus for me is the whole integration of online contacts with the classic contact management. I admit I’m a pretty heavy Google+ user so I really like that all my contacts there are already synchronized. Same goes for Twitter (I haven’t installed the Facebook app yet simply because I don’t use Facebook that often and try to not use it at all except for logging into Spotify).

And since I’m a Google+ user I also use GMail quite heavily, which, naturally, integrates extremely nicely with the rest of the system. In general the whole system seems to offer enough hooks for developers to integrate their apps into the core aspects of Android. For example, the browser offers a “share” button which has Evernote and todo.txt hooked into it. Mobile Safari didn’t allow me to send content straight to Evernote which had become extremely annoying to me over the last couple of months.

And the bad parts

I guess, over the last couple of paragraphs I’ve, despite my original plan, started to read like some Android fanboy and partially that is also true. But, naturally, iOS and iPhones haven’t come to be where they are right now by being a bad choice. The whole integration between iTunes and the players and apps on all iOS devices is something Google can’t provide right now. Amazon perhaps in the future.

Another integration issue is the one of hardware. With my iPhone I could simply go into a store and buy a pair of headphones labelled as “works with the iPhone” and things like pausing playback, increasing and decreasing the volume worked right away. Not so much with the Galaxy Nexus. But at least after an update Pocket Casts can use my earphones’ pause button :-)

But this is pretty much all the negative I can write about my experience with Android so far. I’m pretty sure there are more dark corners to be discovered but for now I’m extremely happy I dared the switch :-) I’m probably also closer than ever to wanting to develop for a mobile device thanks to the more open developer infrastructure. But more on this if I really find the time to dive into Dalvik ;-)

TL;DR

  • I’m positively surprised by how Android feels with ICS
  • All the apps I need are there and sometimes even more stable than on iOS (e.g. Spotify).
  • Don’t use Google Listen for podcasts but instead invest in something like Pocket Casts if podcasts are important to you.
  • Pause buttons on headphones seem to work, volume buttons do not.
  • Contact integration with Google accounts and Twitter is really handy.
  • Sharing integration not only with Google services but also things like Evernote work out of the box (after installing Evernote)
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