Getting up to Speed on Android
I picked Sprint’s Samsung Galaxy S2 (Epic 4G Touch) since I could save money on a family plan on Sprint, enjoy true 4G data speed with the Galaxy S2, and finally weigh in on the iPhone versus Droid debate as someone with experience owning both. The Sprint salesperson made clear that the Galaxy S2 was the Droid with the lowest return rate and best overall performance, which made it the obvious choice for someone who uses a smartphone heavily. As an app fanatic, I was pleasantly surprised to find most of my favorite iOS apps already available on Google Play — 35 out of 36, to be exact, with Liftopia being the only one missing. While I was sad to miss out on the latest and greatest apps that consistently come out first on iOS — take CarrierCompare as one good example — I was satisfied with the overall Android app ecosystem. Instafetch worked pretty well with my existing Instapaper Pro account and I eventually shelled out $2.99 for iSyncr after spending over an hour trying to get my music on my SD card for free with the built in Wi-Fi Kies program (failed), Winamp (failed), and good old drag and drop (no playlists). iSyncr successfully ported all my music from my computer to my SD card fairly easily, it let me transfer existing iTunes playlists, and it even let me control my music from the phone’s “lock screen” after I installed the companion “Rocket Music Player.” While the lock screen control was a nice and unexpected touch, and iSyncr was well worth $2.99, I can’t help but note that there was something uncomfortable about paying for an app that is explicitly trying to recreate the native iPhone music playing experience. Can’t Android phones just have awesome music integration by default?
I enjoyed getting used to Swype but found that I just couldn’t get my overall speed anywhere close to what I had achieved on my iPhone keyboard. Even one tiny slip up on any word longer than five or six letters required the whole thing to be typed all over again. I recognize that 1 or 2 weeks may not have been a long enough learning period, and that I probably would have tried different keyboards eventually, but I wasn’t typing as quickly as I would have liked using the default keyboard. I also started experiencing serious phone slowdown, which reminded me of the days when I was using my iPhone 3G when it was 3 years old. When I tapped buttons or opened programs I frequently had to wait several seconds for the phone to respond, which virtually never happened on my fast-as-[censored] iPhone 4S. When I realized that installing and running several different programs may have contributed to this slowdown, I had to learn how to kill background programs on Droid, something I never worried about on my iPhone. I was disappointed to learn that several apps that I had never even launched were running in the background, and even when I manually killed them, they somehow reopened themselves! AirBnB, I love you, but I’m not sure why your Android app needs to always be running. I uninstalled a few memory offenders and eventually got rid of Lookout entirely, which seemed to help speed things back up. However, 40 apps wasn’t even half of how many I had had on my iPhone, so I was beginning to get concerned about how it would perform as I ramp up apps and usage over time.
A Critical Bug
I was really looking forward to the native Google Maps Navigator on Android. I had heard great things about it and can confirm the rumors to be true. When a Droid runs Navigator, it is fantastic. For the first time ever, I had a phone that not only played music on my car speakers, but it gracefully faded music out to give me voice commands of when and where I should be turning! The dealbreaker was that the GPS was buggy. It’s one thing for a GPS to take a few moments to calibrate, it’s another to have an occasional bad data connection let maps load slowly or not at all. Unfortunately, what my Samsung Galaxy S2 did was much worse. I would often go hours at a time without having the benefit of GPS working at all. No wonder I was having such a hard time checking in on Foursquare in places that don’t have Wi-Fi. This was an unacceptable functionality deficiency for a smartphone that led me back to a Sprint store within my 14 day return window. Despite being sold on the Galaxy S2 as the best Droid Sprint has to offer, I would have had to tolerate inconsistent GPS to stay with the Samsung Galaxy S2. Sorry Samsung, but you can’t call it a smartphone if it doesn’t offer consistent GPS functionality. I was sad to have to get a new phone, especially since I was starting to get some serious mileage out of people seeing the oversize Galaxy S2 screen and proclaiming “that thing is giant!” Yes, dear reader, “that’s what she said.”
Navigating the Minefield
If I were to buy another Android, I’d enjoy deep Google Apps integration, real 4G data speeds, and the ability to add 32GB of memory by popping in a $20 SanDisk SD card as opposed to paying $200 to Apple to go from 16GB to 64GB on an iPhone. In the end I couldn’t bring myself to buy another Android phone. I had had a Sprint salesperson tell me that the Galaxy S2 had the lowest return rate and best performance out of all available Droids, but then I had a bad experience. I had had a Sprint manager disagree with me over my comment that my phone was not working properly when he argued that “the Samsung Galaxy S2 does work properly, just not the GPS.” I had an Android owner who has never owned an iPhone tell me that I had brought this problem on to myself since I had not done deep enough research on that specific Android model. If I’m supposed to take for granted that the Android ecosystem is a minefield where you can’t trust the best phone in the store, I’m left with no choice but to go back to Apple.
Samsung Galaxy S2 Epic 4G Touch versus iPhone 4S: Declaring a Winner
My iPhone 4S does many things better than my Samsung Galaxy S2 did in its 12 day chance to win me over. I have a new appreciation for the iPhone’s design, simplicity, ease of use, and detailed attention to user experience. As one key example, I sorely missed the iPhone’s integrated headphone controls, and I’m glad to have them back. When it comes to the iPhone, “it just works,” and it does so exceptionally well. That’s something I’m willing to pay for.
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