Tuesday, August 17, 2010

One Week With Android

Well, it's been just over a week since I got my Samsung Captivate (which is selling for $50 right now!) and I figured I'd share my experiences switching to it from my old iPhone 3G. Sadly, I have to say it's still a bit rough around the edges. I've had a number of problems with it, but none of them have been insurmountable.

The Good

Even though I'm still on Android 2.1 (FroYo, aka 2.2, won't be pushed on my phone until September or so), I've had no problems at all with performance. Everything starts up pretty quickly for the most part (occasional lag spikes, but I got those on my old iPhone as well). The 2.2 update will supposedly make my phone even faster, so I'm excited about that.

All the apps I cared about are available in the Android Market (things like a twitter client, Amazon shopping app, Google Maps (duh), Fandango and a handful of others). I was also able to find apps like Adobe Reader and Quickoffice for loading pdfs and MS Office documents (which is handy and something that I never found on iPhone).

Likely due to a higher-resolution screen, the YouTube video quality on my Samsung Captivate also exceeds that of my old iPhone 3G. Not sure how it compares to the iPhone 4.

What I really like about the Android is that editing my Google Contacts auto-updates my phone within seconds of making the changes which is really nice. I didn't pay for the MobileMe service for iPhone (which supposedly adds this feature), so it's a nice bonus that has saved me a bit of time and trouble already.

The Bad

While the music player on Android isn't bad (it's quite usable), it lacks some finishing touches that Apple put into theirs. For example, iPhone's music player remembers the most recent audio track and position you were listening to when you launch it. No amount of browsing your music collection will confuse it. This is not true with Android's. A "Go back 30 seconds" button would also be a really nice addition to Android's music player that iPhone has and I've found to be quite useful over the past 2 years.

When making a call, the iPhone's display is much much nicer than Android's and the Contacts app itself is more intuitive. I don't even understand what most of the tabs are in Android's Contacts app, for instance.


The Ugly

The following 2 problems are the absolute worst usability problems I have encountered, and they are pretty bad.

It took me a while to figure this out, but when you plug your Android phone into your PC, the PC won't see your Android device over USB Mass Storage at all until you open up your phone's "Notifications" area and tap on the notification saying something about connecting via USB. Once you do that, it opens up a dialog with the option to mount the drives. Only after you take these steps does the Android device show up as a USB Mass Storage device on your PC. This is just awful. Why are these manual steps even needed at all? If I have edited my phone's settings and selected "USB Mass Storage", it should just assume that's what I want to do when I plug it into a PC. There's no good reason for it to make me manually go through those steps. It also seems I'm not the first to be confused by this as there are a number of users complaining about this on various Android forums. From what I've seen, things have gotten better in Android 2.2 (it no longer makes you navigate to the "Notifications" area, but it still requires you to interact with a Mount/Cancel dialog).

The above photograph is what happened when I tried to place a call to about half the people in my contacts list. Yea, that's right, it crashed. After a bit of fiddling, I was able to figure out what it was about those contacts which caused the problem and submitted a bug report. Luckily, the workaround that I found was trivial and so I just loaded a web browser and edited the Birthday field info for those contacts and waited a second or two for the Android to auto-sync. Had I not been able to find a solution to this problem, I would have returned my phone and gone back to iPhone.

TL;DR

Android has a lot of room for improvement (buggy, unpolished), but if you are a Linux Desktop user like myself, you'll probably feel right at home.

22 comments:

boombatower said...

Having the Android device control mounting is a major win. I leave my device plugged into my computer all day since it allows it to sit on my desk while still being plugged in. Having it mounted the entire time would be rather silly.

prcutler said...

You're so right about mounting the phone - it took me days till I figured that out when I got my N1.

But don't worry, Froyo / 2.2 fixes that too.

Paul

Matt Philmon said...

I don't have an Android but my guess is that if you lose the phone and someone picks it up, and they can't guess your unlock... maybe this stops them from simply plugging it into the computer to access your files over USB?

Anonymous said...

Android 2.2 opens a window or should I say Activity, with a big button to mount the device as USB Mass storage, making it much simpler that opening the notifications area.

I like the no automount because that way I can plug it in any Windows machine (when I do not carry the charger) and charge it without my files being infected. Another reason is that nobody can mount it is 10 seconds and extract my files if my phone screen is locked. I know, someone could extract the memory card, but at least on my Nexus One, they will need to remove the battery, so the casual copying is noticed by me

Weird about the music player, mine (Nexus One) remember the song position and IIRC it did it too on 2.1 (I had it for more than a month using 2.1). I do not know, maybe is because I have the Music player widget added to the "desktop"

Anonymous said...

Android 2.2 opens a window or should I say Activity, with a big button to mount the device as USB Mass storage, making it much simpler that opening the notifications area.

I like the no automount because that way I can plug it in any Windows machine (when I do not carry the charger) and charge it without my files being infected. Another reason is that nobody can mount it is 10 seconds and extract my files if my phone screen is locked. I know, someone could extract the memory card, but at least on my Nexus One, they will need to remove the battery, so the casual copying is noticed by me

Weird about the music player, mine (Nexus One) remember the song position and IIRC it did it too on 2.1 (I had it for more than a month using 2.1). I do not know, maybe is because I have the Music player widget added to the "desktop"

Calum said...

My wife's had her Samsung Galaxy i5700 (also on 2.1) for about the same length of time, and the two big usability problems she (and by extension, we) have had with it are:

* Figuring out how to assign an MP3 file as a ringtone to a contact. Turned out to be completely ass-backwards; you have to play the MP3, tag it as a ringtone in the media player, then go back to the contact where it will finally appear in the list of available ringtones.

* While trying to move the Quick Search Box from one screen to another (which it seems you can't, or at least we can't figure out how-- a usability issue in itself), my wife accidentally deleted it. Only way we found to get it back was a hard reset, which luckily wasn't a big deal as the phone was only a couple of days old at the time.

Brian said...

I wouldn't look to Samsung's crappy touchwiz bloatware interface as a shining example of a good Android implementation.

Barry Kelly said...

I never mount my Nexus One. Instead, I use a file browser like ES File Explorer, and copy files (movies, music, etc.) onto the device over wifi from a garden variety smb server (Nexenta ZFS file server mostly in my case).

John said...

On my HTC Legend i can set the Default Connection Type to Disk Drive and it would just automount. But I think one of the best Android features is that i can leave it at Charge Only.

rick said...

For a music player, try the 'cubed' music player. It is available in the market as either 'cubed' or if you're on android 2+, as a superscripted '3'.

To boot, the source is also available on github. http://github.com/fabrantes/rockonnggl

Amblin said...

Don't mistake the bad UI in contacts/phone as android. That is something Samsung replaces the more usable(IMHO) stock UI.

Richard Schwarting said...

I don't think that the iPhone's call display is actually more intuitive, but perhaps you're just more familiar with it?

I'm also not sure how Android's contact's tabs could be confusing.
There's the Phone that you can dial from, there's your calling history, there's the list of contacts (e-mail, phone, IM, etc), and there's a list of favourite contacts.

I agree that 2.1 and before, having to manually discover how to mount the phone was ugly. However, automounting it can be dangerous if someone is just plugging it in to charge, and want to be able to still use their file system and not have unplugging it abruptly cause corruption.

That is an ugly crasher :D I'm glad I didn't encounter it :) I'm curious why you find Android in general buggy. Is it mostly due to this crasher? My Nexus One has provided a smooth and polished experience so far.

Adam said...

Too bad you had these issues. My nexus one is simply the best phone I've ever had. I even run ubuntu on it. This let's me get torrents to my phone. yes, that's right. You didn't even root your phone and try out cyanogen mod. Did you try the swype keyboard?

Chris said...

I'd like WebOS on that hardware... :(

Unfortunately I couldn't bring myself to like Android's UI, so I'm stuck with a beautiful OS on a slow-ish Palm Pixi Plus.

Marc said...

Android is quite stable IMO. You need to know that Samsung added stuff (Touchwiz) to the contacts and calling interfaces. I've ran bloth plain Eclair & Froyo (AOSP) and never had any problems with calling/contacts.

MattJ said...

* Figuring out how to assign an MP3 file as a ringtone to a contact. Turned out to be completely ass-backwards; you have to play the MP3, tag it as a ringtone in the media player, then go back to the contact where it will finally appear in the list of available ringtones.

Try Ringdroid from the market

* While trying to move the Quick Search Box from one screen to another (which it seems you can't, or at least we can't figure out how-- a usability issue in itself), my wife accidentally deleted it. Only way we found to get it back was a hard reset, which luckily wasn't a big deal as the phone was only a couple of days old at the time.

Hold down on the google search box until it vibrates and then drag it to the screen you want. To get it back if you delete it simply hold down on a blank area on one of your homescreen and a men will pop up choose add a widget and choose Google Search.

mks said...

Much of the things you mention, aren't there on my vanilla Android, they may come from that Samsung UI.
Also Froyo will NOT make your phone faster. JIT makes some apps run faster at the cost of longer application start-up times.

Laurent Debacker said...

My HTC Hero remembers last played music track. Also, since my 2.1 update, it shows me a prompt to ask what to do with the USB connection. I also never experienced the crash due to birthday. I must say that HTC customizes Android heavily. HTC Android is really good.

mdi said...

the iPhone can synchronize all of your contacts and calendars with Google.

Just follow the instructions on the Google web site. That is how I use it.

Anonymous said...

My Nokia N900 does more or less the same thing about USB mounting, and I think it's a Good Thing. USB mass storage exposes the raw block device, which means only one computer can safely access it at one time, which means if it's mounted on the laptop, applications on your phone cannot access your files.

I'd hate being unable to read e-books/play music while I used a USB cable to charge my N900.

Eugenia said...

Jeff, except the USB mass storage point (which actually is a good one to have, if you just want to just charge your phone off a laptop without making your SD card inaccessible), EVERYTHING else you mention is NOT part of Android. It is Samsung's doing. The music player, the messy phone call screen, the call crashes, are ALL Samsung's tweaks. They don't exist in vanilla Android.

This is why I always get Android phones that have the "With Google" moniker. Because these typically run a more vanilla version of the system that is not tweaked to death.

You should blame Samsung (and HTC with Sense, and Motorola with Moto Blur...) for changing the UI and parts of the system so much, not Android. It's one of my gripes too.

On the other hand, it's the same FREEDOM Linux distributors have to tweak their desktop UIs. Some succeed, some make things worse by introducing *new* bugs! I'm sure you're familiar with the situation.

My suggestion to you: GO VANILLA.

Jeffrey Stedfast said...

Marius, Eugenia: Thanks for the comments and I've come to see your arguments that it should not auto-mount as something I can agree with. I think that Android 2.2's improvements in that area (in making it far more obvious) also help in that regard.

Overall I'm pretty happy with my Android phone and am excited about the update to 2.2. I want to give Samsung's 2.2 a try before going with vanilla, but if I find Samsung's problems persist, I'll for sure be giving vanilla a go.

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