29 Days With Android: Day 8 - My First Week With ICS

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Week 1 in the bag and I won’t lie: even I didn't think I’d make it this far along on the Android platform. I’ve been a Mac guy for so long now, the very thought of switching to anything else terrifies me. But, something interesting happened: I slowed down. I gathered my thoughts. And I dissected them one by one. Why did I initially want the iPhone 5? Why did I initially want the Retina Macbook Pro? Why is Alessandra Ambrosio so fucking hot? All 3 have the same answer: They are sexy devices.

But did I really need them? (Alessandra aside). I wrote a blog post earlier this year about Apple’s brilliant marketing tactics. No company on this planet makes you feel the NEED to buy their products better than Apple. And if you need further proof of just how talented Steve Jobs was at selling “his” gadgets, check out the video below:

Perhaps Apple needs to find new words to describe their products, but you have to admit, Apple has perfected the art of giving keynotes. Whether that’s because they pack the room full of fanboys & Apple employees, or simply make quality shit, no one can deny the buzz that centers around the unveiling of a new Apple product. Many companies have tried to replicate Apple’s success and most, if not all them, have failed.

Fast-forward to today, and I’m starting to feel differently than I did 4 years ago when I purchased my first iPhone. Yes, I  most definitely would have purchased the iPhone 5 had it been readily available for me to buy on launch day. However, I was late to the party when attempting to pre-order the device online, giving me 3-4 weeks to mull over my decision. This was the exact same way I felt before purchasing Apple’s new Retina Display Macbook Pro. Was I really about to drop $3k dollars on a laptop?  After thinking it over for 2 weeks, I finally came to my senses, and spent $1600 on a new, custom built PC with a gorgeous 24 inch monitor, which spec wise, beats the shit out of the three-thousand dollar laptop I was about to purchase from Apple.

Don’t confuse me for a hater. I think the new Retina Display MacBook Pro is gorgeous, and incredibly powerful, but you have to admit, the price is a little ridiculous. So while waiting for my iPhone 5 to ship (3-4 weeks), I had time to examine what the iPhone 5 really was: Just a new iPhone. Yes, it had LTE, a bigger screen, a faster processor,  sexy looks, and a stellar camera.  And YES, this could be the phone I ultimately end up with, but it wasn’t anything we haven’t already seen on older Android devices. It wasn’t revolutionary. Nor did I expect it to be. Perhaps we have hit that point where smartphones will simply evolve through various iterations  instead of revolutionize. Regardless, it was time to give Android a shot. So I cancelled my iPhone 5 pre-order, and got myself the HTC One X.

After a full week with the device, I wanted to break this update  into two sections: Hardware and software, and how I’ve adapted to both.

 

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The Hardware:

I really do like the HTC One X. As I’ve previously stated, the extra screen real estate is fantastic. Using applications like Facebook, Twitter, and Flipboard are a breeze on the One X,  and it truly makes for an overall better experience when compared to my old iPhone 4. (Especially using Flipboard) Infact, I find myself using my iPad much less now that I have a cell phone with a 4.7 inch display. Reading web articles through Google Reader and Chrome is much easier, and I’m finally using my cell phone for something I would often reserve specifically for my iPad: watching video. I never watched a ton of video on my iPhone 4 because I felt the screen was too small. Not a problem on the One X.

Though the larger screen size is nice, I find the HTC One X challenging to use with only one hand. This wasn’t a giant turn-off for me simply because my fingers are short and fat, making texting with one hand nearly impossible on ANY device. But, whether I’m surfing the web or exiting out of applications, I almost always have to use two hands to operate the One X because my fingers cannot reach certain areas of the phone, depending on how I am holding it. This wasn't a problem on  my old phone, however I also used two hands to text and run other applications when using my iPhone 4, thus using two hands isn't necessarily a deal breaker for me.

In terms of the phone’s design, and feel, the HTC One X is a solidly built device that easily fits into my pocket and is easy to hold. Though substantially larger than my iPhone 4, I don’t really notice the difference while carrying the One X as I go throughout my daily routine. My only true gripe is that it renders all of my old iPhone 4 accessories useless. Then again, so would the iPhone 5.

Finally, to sum up hardware, I have to talk about LTE and screen size, and how it affects battery life. Since the HTC One X sports a sharp 4.7 inch display with blazing fast LTE, my cell phone usage has dramatically increased. I watch more video, send more tweets, update Facebook more often, surf the web, read articles, listen to Pandora, Spotify, podcasts, etc.  This kills my battery life. I have to constantly be aware of how often I am using my phone, and for what purpose or I could find myself with a dead battery around the middle of the afternoon. This isn’t to say my usage or battery life on other devices would be dramatically better, however at 1800 milliamp hours, the One X’s irreplaceable battery is smaller than many of its competitors.

 

The Software:

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Let me get this out of the way first: I do not like HTC Sense. I do not like any GUI layover on Android. Bloatware is bad enough, but HTC Sense seems to negatively affect the One X’s performance. I am starting to think to get the best Android experience, I have but two options: Root my phone, and install a true vanilla-version of Android OS, or purchase a Nexus device. The Galaxy Nexus is not available on AT&T with LTE, and the new Nexus phone has yet to be announced (although rumors suggest several new Nexus devices will be launching later this year). I just don’t understand why OEM’s insist on embedding their own GUI skins on top of Android. It often bogs down the phone, and usually prolongs the time it takes to receive OTA updates when a new version of Android releases. It’s the one thing I loved about the iPhone: No horrendous bloatware, and immediate updates to iOS when a new version is released.

I attempted to root my phone and install Jelly Bean (Android 4.1), however since my phone was manufactured quite recently, there was still no unlock available for me at the time this article was written. Perhaps that will change shortly, but even if I successfully root my device, and install a base version of Android, many HTC One X users have reported that certain features on the phone stop working as a result of stripping Sense from the OS. Mainly the video camera.

This does not mean I hate Android. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Android has evolved into a great mobile platform, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know my new operating system. Here is the best way I can describe my switch from iOS to Android: It’s like breaking up with a beautiful girl you’ve been dating for years after things got bland and boring. You immediately run out and  find someone new who is also attractive, but way more exciting. She has new & unique features, is a total mystery, and definitely keeps things interesting.   The only problem is you’re not entirely sure if she’s exciting because she is NEW, or because she truly blows your mind. You constantly battle back & forth in your head if you should return to the woman who, despite the occasional hiccup, always treated you right, or if you should stick it out with this new broad who, although exciting, is a total enigma.

I don’t want this to equate to playing it safe versus living dangerously, because both iOS and Android are great operating systems. However, I feel with iOS, what you see is what you get, and with Android, it’s up to you to make it what you want it to be. Right now, I want to root my phone, and experience Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but I can’t. HTC claims OTA Jelly Bean updates are headed to the One X “soon”, but soon could mean 3 months from now. I only have 21 days.

However, even with HTC Sense holding my phone hostage, I did discover some great features in Android. The app market is not a ghost town like many Android haters would have you believe. In some instances, Google Play, and other app stores can offer you a wider variety of programs. There is no heavy curation centered around Android, which could be good or bad, depending on how you look at things, but so far, most of the apps I used on my iPhone 4 can also be found on Android.

 

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And then there is SwiftKey, which has got to be the best keyboard application ever written. Writing emails and texting contacts on my HTC One X is leaps and bounds better than anything iOS has offered. The Google integration is fantastic, and I really enjoy playing around with widgets and other UI customizations.  Voice dictation is easily on par with iOS if not better, the Google Maps & Navigation app is amazing, and Android’s notification center gives me quick and easy access to everything from Airplane Mode to Bluetooth. I have yet to test the new Google Now and voice assistant features in Jelly Bean 4.1 but from what I've seen in various demos, it’s amazing.

 

WEEK 1 Conclusion:

I will continue to follow through with my month-long experiment using Android, and happily so. Do I miss iOS? Of course. Apple has a much better Phone App than Android, and the overall look and feel of iOS is much cleaner. The iPhone camera and app is also better than the One X equivalent  and I miss iMessaging hundreds of free text messages to my countless friends still using the iPhone. Still,  Android is growing on me. I just need to experience the OS the right way. My plan is to either root my phone, and install Android 4.1 ASAP, or possibly experiment with a new device, such as the Galaxy S3 or the Galaxy Nexus. (Although TouchWiz is arguably worse than HTC Sense). Google’s OS fragmentation has really turned me off, yet I know Google  is working hard to resolve these issues, and streamline the updating process. But for now I shall continue to explore what Android has to offer, so if you have any tips or pointers, please feel free to send them my way.

Till another day....

T.