Yeah, it's been a while. I'm not even going to try to make any excuses, life has just been busy. However, I did get a new phone! So I thought I'd write a little something about that experience. Anyone who's known me for the past couple of years knows that I've been a pretty unapologetic fan of webOS and the Palm Pre. My cell phone history is shorter than I'm sure most people my age - I went from a non-color Sanyo clamshell, to a color Smasung clamshell, to a slightly better LG clamshell, to a Palm Treo 650 (2007), to a Palm Pre (2009), and finally a Samsung Galaxy S2. For someone who loves technology so much, you'd think I'd be a little more eager with my gadgets, but I'm nothing if not a passionate person, and I act on that passion. So unless you can get me really passionate about your next big thing, I'm too pragmatic to jump ship. Once I got the Pre, I finally felt like I had a phone that matched my lifestyle. It multitasked (much like I do), it had a qwerty keyboard (that I could get up to 40 WPM on), and the UI was simple and elegant. Back then, Android was pretty ugly, Blackberry was starting to decline, and the iPhone was still an unstoppable juggernaut. The tide has really turned now. Palm has gone under, Blackberry has one foot in the grave, the iPhone is as commonplace as a clamshell phone was about 5 years ago, and Android is finally a major player in the race (sorry Microsoft, Windows Phones still haven't gotten much traction despite an excellent redesign). I'd actually posit something pretty, controversial: Android has overtaken the iPhone.
Let's pull back a bit though so I can talk a little bit about my decision to leave the Pre and why I chose the Galaxy S2. The funniest thing turned me from a webOS fan to a deserter: HP replaced Google Maps with Bing Maps. It seems pretty minor, right? I had endured Palm being bought out, I endured the lack of developer support, I endured the fact that using the headphone jack would totally hork the phone's audio, I endured having to trade in my phone about 4 times due to hardware issues, and I had endured practically total abandonment from HP, but I was annoyed beyond repair that they'd take an app that I actually liked overall and forced me to use an app that just didn't work as well and I had no choice in the matter. Soon after that, I noticed that my battery life was getting much worse as were speeds in general on my device. I stopped overclocking to deal with battery life, but now it was too slow. I hated to say it, but I was going to have to give up on phones with physical keyboards. Much like a Joss Whedon television show, they've been going extinct. Cut down in their prime (ok, maybe not, but I still liked them).
I walked into my friendly neighborhood Sprint store (the one on Union seriously is pretty friendly) in November to browse what they had and the only phones that piqued my interest were the Motorola Photon 4G, the iPhone, and the Samsung Galaxy S2 Epic 4G Touch (clearly they were high when they decided on that name). Pretty much all the other phones sucked. There was one Android candybar phone with a keyboard that was ok, but not thrilling. The iPhone was at the bottom of my list for a couple of simple reasons: I really dislike the UI and the keyboard. The Android UI may not have been intuitive at first when I played with it, but I liked what I saw online of Ice Cream Sandwich and I was blown away by the keyboard for the Photon 4G and the Galaxy S2. Swype is the coolest thing since sliced bread. I was aware of it before and thought it was gimmicky, but when I played with it in the store it worked immediately for me - I was shocked how intuitive it was. I could type on par with a physical keyboard, and the phones are big enough that turning it to landscape mode gives you a usable keyboard with two thumbs. I gave an edge to the Galaxy S2 because it was a little thinner and the screen seemed a little prettier than the Photon 4G, and comparing speeds to the iPhone I was sure that the Galaxy S2 was on par. I was hoping to wait a bit longer before jumping ship, but the Pre speeds were really getting to me and I lost my Zune HD at the end of December so I had no mp3 player. In the end, I decided on the Galaxy S2 3 weeks ago because Motorola announced that the Photon 4G would not see Ice Cream Sandwich but leaked ROMs confirmed that Samsung was working on it for the Galaxy S2.
So how was the switch from webOS to Android? I have to admit, a little rocky. I was happy as soon as I had the Galaxy S2 in my hot little hands because the screen was so impressive, the phone was running at speeds I didn't realize were possible on phones, and it was so thin that I could keep it in my pocket rather than getting a hip holster. The webOS UI took me maybe 30 minutes to figure out everything for - Android took me a few days to really sort out. The learning curve is pretty steep. As much as I love the Swype keyboard, you do have to learn some of the tricks to be really proficient at it. The stock launcher (even with TouchWiz) is meh - you get a lot more usability out of something like GO Launcher EX. That was only the tip of the iceberg of tips and tricks to using Android. Whereas webOS just worked right out of the box, Android Gingerbread only worked at a very nominal experience. The synergy that I came to love on webOS wasn't available on Android - I had to hand manage merging duplicate contacts. App backup was all on me to deal with, as well. Most of all, it took me a few days to get used to not multi-tasking. What's funny is that I can operate faster because of the fact that I can context switch even faster on this hardware versus the Pre hardware, especially by holding the home button to get to recently used apps. What I learned through it all was one key thing: Android is really only for people who are tinkerers or technologists. If you want something that just works, you really don't want Android. I've come to really enjoy it and it provides an awesomely customizable experience, but I'm shocked at how many normal people are using it. I'm sure a lot of them aren't happy with it either and that's where the iPhone succeeds.
People I know who have gone from Android to the iPhone have really hated it and it's because the experience is so curated. There's no swype, there's no JuiceDefender (this thing seriously doubles my battery life - it's ridiculous), no Dolphin Browser HD, no widgets, no lock screen customizations, and the list goes on. Meanwhile, Android has pretty much everything on the iPhone, and then some - the upcoming version even has more attractive multi-tasking, face recognition unlock, NFC support, and a few other fun things that you previously needed apps for (like panoramic pictures and lock screen customization). I should adjust my statement earlier: Android has overtaken the iPhone in technology. I think the iPhone rightfully should have more market share because it's such a simpler experience. You don't have a fragmented platform where certain things only work on certain phones - there's a few iPhones and it's pretty clear which features are new and not available for older models. It's kind of interesting that we're now pretty much in a two party system when it comes to phones and I think both platforms are great competition for one another - 5 years ago I would've said that cell phones really haven't been going anywhere but now I can say that I think we're really going to continue to see a lot of innovation.
Personally, I'm glad to be on the Android bandwagon. I've been able to use it for podcasts and music effectively (unlike the Pre), the browser is surprisingly usable, the games are surprisingly engaging, and there's so many fun productivity apps (like depositing checks and HeyTell and many more). I hope to see Samsung (who I think has really been doing the best job of producing high quality phones across all carriers) and Google continue to deliver high quality products continue to raise the bar set by Apple.
This Week in Tech 602: Normcore Phone
5 hours ago