Yeah, you heard that correctly. I have been experimenting with replacing my iPhone with an android phone. Hell is freezing over… yadayadayada.

Android is remarkably good

I was expecting a disaster. And the first android phone I used (galaxy s6 edge+), was a disaster. It hated me from the first instant I touched it. I used the transfer dongle to move my data and the phone vibrated for 3 hours telling me about every reminder in my calendar from the last 5 years of using an iPhone. It would constantly get hot in my pocket. It wouldn’t ring when I was called.

The second one has been a pretty good experience. It is a galaxy note 5. There are a lot of things I really like about it. Android notifications are really good. They come on time, take me where I need to go and go away when I want them to. I still can’t quite pinpoint why I like them better than Apple’s notifications but I do.

The devil is in the detail

Android represents a platform with a substantial amount of customization and options. The home screen with widgets allows for very fast access to quick information like the weather. There are 4 volume controls that are all easily changed. The customization is nearly endless. By contrast, Apple designs things to work a specific way really really well.

Some advantagesgalaxy-note5_gallery_with-spen_black

Samsung pay. This thing beats Apple Pay. Let me rephrase: It makes Apple Pay look like a retarded sibling that everyone loves because they always do the cutest thing. Yeah, that about sums it up. Samsung pay works in many more locations because it is a combination of NFC and MST technologies. This allows it to work at 30 million point of sale locations (basically everywhere). It’s at least as easy to use and edges out Apple Pay in functionality. Example: It actually pulled in all my recent Amex charges for a quick history without even having the amex app installed. Very convenient.

The S Pen. I really like what Samsung did with handwriting recognition and stylus usage. It added enough ability to quickly do things that I found myself preferring the pen to a finger periodically. The handwriting entry when you are on a text control is almost easier than typing. I’d take a full size keyboard over either any day, but when this stylus is compared to two thumbs, it’s a tough call. I also really like being able to “sketch” ideas. Being able to do that immediately on the device is pretty nice.

The camera. Not necessarily the hardware but the app. I understand this is another Samsung enhancement. It makes me feel like I’m carrying around my DSLR in my pocket instead of a camera phone. For me, an amateur photographer, that is a good thing. If a controllable camera is a high priority, a samsung phone should be high on your list.

Notice these advantages are Samsung specific android enhancements. I think samsung has improved the android experience. People are trying to convince me that stock android is better. I just don’t see it. Many of the things I’ve liked appear to be Samsung features or modifications. I don’t see any advantages of using something like a nexus 6p over a Galaxy. The only possible advantage is having earlier access to the latest android OS. That doesn’t matter to me.

Some flaws

One handed typing. For me, my fat palms kept touching something on the bottom corner of the keyboard when trying to reach for the other side. Every single time. I really can’t use this phone without involving a second thumb or a stylus. I tried using the shrunken keyboard, but there was no way to switch back and forth quickly so I gave up. The bezel on the phone is simply too narrow.

Weird navigation. A dedicated back button is a terrible idea. The thing does different stuff based on context. Sometimes it sends you to the previous app, sometimes it goes back a page. In a web browser it is still the only way I’ve found to go back. And I can’t for the life of me figure out how to go forward again (I did finally figure this out. It’s stupid). Swipe gestures don’t work. I can’t find any controls in any menu. On top of that, apps still sometimes have a back arrow (thinking the settings app) but that back arrow behaves exactly like the back button. Meaning, sometimes it takes you up a level and sometimes it takes you to the previous app (This may be a samsung thing from touchwiz. I don’t know). The whole thing is maddening. I can’t believe there are people out there who think this dedicated back button is a good thing. It’s not, those people are crazy. Move on. I am getting used to it, but it’s not a good thing. It makes getting where I want to be more complicated.

Battery life. It has done about as well as my iPhone 6 Plus. Which is not good. I tend to have to do a mid day charge. My iPhone 6s Plus generally easily got through the day with battery to spare.

Fingerprint sensor. This phone lands squarely between the 6 Plus and the 6s Plus sensor. The 6 would constantly fail to recognize me. Or if I had washed my hands or done anything else to them at all it would have difficulty. The 6s plus recognized my print very well and almost too fast nearly all the time. The note 5 is about halfway between those two situations. Much of the time, it works great. But when it doesn’t it won’t recognize at all. This is very frustrating.

Drops signal. In just a few days of testing, several times a day the phone inexplicably has no cell signal. Invariably when I’m trying to use it. I don’t know what this is about, but it needs to stop.

E-mail integration. This is less about e-mail integration and more about an open vs closed environment. There are many apps to use to check e-mail on an android phone. The problem is, none of them can be configured to check both my work and my home e-mail. This goes for calendars as well. The end result is there is no one place I can look to see if I have work and home calendar conflicts. A secondary result of this is I can’t see any of my work data on the connected watch. In contrast, the iPhone uses the native mail and calendar apps to consolidate all of that information and that causes it all to be pushed to the watch as well. This is a serious disability for me.

One of the issues is that I work for IBM which enforces security policies on my mobile devices. On android, this happens to mean dedicated apps to access data instead of using native apps. This is really the cause of the underlying problem. IBM on iOS takes an entirely different approach and provides access to the native apps as well as dedicated apps. You can use either method or both.

The Samsung Gear S2

To get the full experience, I also purchased a Gear S2. After comparing a bunch of watches online, I was hoping this one would be the one for an android phone. It is the most like the Apple Watch in usability. The rotating bezel replaces the digital crown quite nicely. And the two buttons work very well. In fact, this is probably the best hardware experience next to the Apple Watch. The UI is simple, clean, easy and fast. The overall concept is Apple Watch killer material. Especially given it is one of the few that has 3G/GPS capability as an option.

The problem is it really only works well with Samsung apps. This is primarily due to being a Tizen based watch instead of android wear. This is a huge issue as only a few apps really integrate with it right now. And google apps don’t support it at all. Watches made for android shouldn’t exist without smooth google integration. Why bother?

The biggest problem is the e-mail integration issue mentioned above. The primary reason I had an Apple Watch was to have all that information easily accessible. This watch can’t see any of my work related data. The same problem will exist for android wear. The end result is having an Android phone means essentially not having a smart watch. Not ideal.

I have an android wear watch on order that I will try next. I suspect it will fall short as well. I hate to say it, but Apple is clearly in the lead here. Not just in market share, they just did a better job. And that is disappointing given how poor my experience with the Apple Watch has been.

A word on ecosystems

It is really hard to break out of the Apple ecosystem. My wife doesn’t want me to get a new phone because so much of our sharing is tied to iCloud. Things as simple as iCloud Messages is hard to replace. Now that my number is on another platform, it is creating all kinds of communication issues. This is ignoring that I have to find ways to migrate all my data over to google services. And there is no way to move many iTunes purchases (movies, tv shows, apps).

Conclusion

I like android. I’d like to become an android user. But I would not say it’s better. The “Apple Experience” (when it works) is still a far better option for most people. But android is a good OS. And it does a lot of things really well. And, outside of integrating my home and work data, I could be very happy on an android device. In fact, if I didn’t have to integrate my IBM stuff, the switch would be easy.

What do you think?