Android (un)Inspired

It’s a rant, and it’s not MINI related – but I’ve posted about iPhones a few times, and there’s an amount of overlap between the communities; something about wanting form and function, perhaps.
But I’ve been frustrated with my iPhone 3GS for a while; primarily the screen is just too small, expecially since getting an iPad last year. It’s also probably related to poorer close vision as I approach 50(!), though I guess glasses might solve that.

Margaret switched from T-Mobile to AT&T this past weekend, renewing my plan as now a family plan, so I’m staying with AT&T – in any case, Verizon doesn’t work in England! So I figured I’d get myself a new phone too, and the current iPhone 4 might have more dots and a better camera than mine, but it’s still a small display … I got tempted by the much bigger display of an Android phone, the HTC Inspire 4G.

Problem #1 is, of course, that it’s different to an iPhone that I’ve used for the past three years; little and big differences – one is that there’s no screen capture function, so here’s a picture of the HTC Inspire, taken by iPhone!

That screenshot is the best bit of this new Android phone, and what sold it to me – a big clear colorful screen with useful information right on the home page, courtesy of customizable “widgets”; I’ve got time and weather but I could have chosen lots of other things. Customizing is an easy drag-and-drop affair, too.
Notifications are really nice on Android too, all clustered in to the status bar at the top as little symbols, but a quick drag down gives a list of all of them – and tapping any one takes you to the “trigger” (email, or whatever). Very nice!
iPhone notifications are pathetic, with a single message box when you turn on the phone, which I always half see just as I slide to unlock, and it’s gone before I properly read it. Now it’s “hunt the non-zero count” among all Apps, but you may never discover just what that original half-seen message was …

Even with the lovely big screen, and notifications, as the post title hints, I’m less than enthusiastic so far. There’s a long list of issues, and some might yet be sufficient “show stoppers” to get this Android phone returned …

Battery life is poor, or worse. The first day, with some experimenting, it struggled to last 8 hours; today, we’re down to 33%; you’ll see on the screenshot I had to install a battery percentage widget, since the built-in status symbol doesn’t give enough indication of remaining battery.
This phone will need daily charging – never had to do that with my iPhones.

This might be AT&T fault (maybe because my account switched from Apple to Android?); I can’t get voicemail to work. There’s no visual voicemail of course, but calling the AT&T voicemail says “we need more information to direct you to the appropriate voicemail box” – what does that mean? Meanwhile unanswered calls to my phone don’t go to voicemail anyway!

Perhaps because the phone is brand new, there’s minimal documentation anywhere; this led me to follow the screen instructions initially, which gave me HTC-branded mail and FaceBook Apps, that work annoyingly different (The HTC mail keeps creating new IMAP folders in my Gmail for example).
Eventually I had to do a factory restore and set the phone up all over again.

Having set up syncing to my Gmail (mail, contacts), it seems that syncing is not reliable. More than once new messages have not appeared – and sending a message took more than an hour one time (with available WiFi continuously); as an additional annoyance there’s no lovely “whoosh” or any sound, to confirm that a message has been sent.

Talking of WiFi, it seems flaky too – apparently the HTC Inspire WiFi antenna designer used to work at Apple as holding the phone at the bottom seems to drastically reduce WiFi reception.

Getting music, ringtones, and photos on to the phone is challenging, at best. You can connect to a computer as a USB drive; but there’s no default folders to put anything in to.
A Google search suggested to create an “MP3” folder and put ringtones in to it, then access them from the Music player in the phone, from where there is a “set as ringtone” function. Hardly easy – but it did work. Except for the >300K ringtone file I had, which always worked fine on my iPhone, but is rejected by Android.
Even though iTunes is criticized for doing music/photo/App/etc syncing, it’s far better than the Android/Mac solution of “figure it out if you can” …

Much worse is that the Android phone might be incompatible with Mac computers! After writing some music to the phone, it decided that it’s microSD card was now “read only”. Read only means you can’t take photos – oh, and you can’t format it to solve the problem either!
Solution, after Google search – remove microSD card and connect to Windows computer using adaptor (which thankfully a work colleague had); use CHKDSK/F on the Windows computer (which did find issues).
So for now, the phone can again take photos – but will it fail again when I connect to my Mac next time?

This issue of microSD cards seems stupid anyway! There’s “internal” memory (1GB) in the phone, and there’s the card (8GB as delivered) – and apparently some things must go in one or the other place. Why must a phone user deal with such technically detailed stuff? Just have “storage” like an iPhone, not different types of storage!

Other annoyances include the “HTC Hub”; not sure what it is yet – because for more than a day it couldn’t “connect to server”. Oh, it just worked when I checked it, but failed after a few seconds. And now it’s working again. Slow and unreliable access to a few sounds and extra widgets, ok.

And then there’s Bluetooth … my iPhone syncs to my Audi Q5, and from the car I can access all my contacts. Say I choose “Margaret”, then the car lists her details including two phone numbers (home and mobile); I can voice command “Call Margaret Mobile” to call her.
Well, the Android phone also syncs to the Q5, and makes contacts available – but somehow it doesn’t distinguish different phone numbers. So now Margaret has two separate entries, both identical except for the actual number. I can’t say “Call Margaret Mobile” any more, and if I say “Call Margaret” then the car offers two choices – Margaret, or Margaret. I can’t tell which one is her mobile number!
Maybe it’s the cars fault, but how did Apple get it right and Android wrong?

Well, that’ll do!
If I can get voicemail to work, that’ll be a start; maybe I’ll use Google Voice to give me something similar to Visual Voicemail. I can learn to charge the phone more – but I need to be able to trust syncing for my Gmail mail/contacts/calendar, which I don’t, yet. Someone at Android has to figure out the Bluetooth phone directory issue, too.
But it is a nice big display!

17 thoughts on “Android (un)Inspired

  1. Strangely, this morning the car contacts directory *did* group Margarets two numbers together, marking them home and cell – but my numbers remained separated.

  2. A friend has one of the many different Android phones. He loves it and hates it and after a year is waiting for the iPhone 5.

    He suggests this… the good thing about the Apple phone, 1 developer with a fully developed platform, app and connectivity the bad thing about the iPhone, 1 developer dictatorship. The Android he felt had too many cooks making too many recipes for the same peach pie and though his had many neat features it had no real base of operations.

    Just the fact that this addition of the Verizon iPhone is useless in many countries, last I heard only 20, around the world and you can’t do some multi functions that my AT&T can keeps me away from it’s phone. I did read that the iPhone 5 may be more of a world phone.

    The only issue I have with my iPhone, connectivity but I’ve seen it get better recently and I’m not sure why screen size makes any difference. Get glasses…;-)

    Nice write up.

  3. Oh yeah… I must comment on the fact that Apple has revolutionized 2 industries that 1. people thought was a dead item… iReaders and 2. made all the “Smart” phone makers look at their products say we must be better at what we do.

    In my view the Android platform is good for Apple as it keeps them making better their products better for you and I, the Apple fanatics.

  4. A little off subject but I find it odd I haven’t seen any numbers on Verizon iPhone sales? I think maybe it’s poorly timed release so close to the 5 may have made sales a bit lighter than anticipated?

  5. yea, sometimes Android can be annoying. I’ve been using mine for almost a year and have gotten it running the way I want/like for the most part. Odd that you jumped ship backwards as I can’t wait to get an iPhone. That said…

    #1 – Battery life. Keep wifi turned on if you have a connection. The data will come down from that instead of the radio. It helps. You can also buy an uprated battery (1450mh is rediculous) for about $50 from Amazon or the store. I haven’t, but reports are that you can go 1 full day on a charge, even with heavy use.

    #2 – Switch to using Google voice. Not sure it will help, but I think it works well (at least for capturing voicemail)

    #3 – Don’t use the built in mail app. It sucks. Using the gmail app (and any google app for that matter) where possible. You will find it to be a much better experience. Same goes with Facebook. The Friendfeed app in Sense is wacky. Download the normal apps.

    #4 – See #3. This is bulletproof on my Incredible for both mail and calendars. Bullet. Proof.

    #5 – Try using a case. This isn’t a problem with my phone, but I’ve not had ANY signal issues with it and have always had a case on it.

    #6 – Doubletwist. Mac and Windows. They also have an app in the store that lets you sync over wifi (after the desktop app is installed). Oh, and it’s free.

    #7 – Another ‘it’s never happened to me’. Do make sure that you are actually ejecting the drive (or drives) after you do any file transfers. Your Mac should see this as a camera and iphoto should even open once the drive is mounted. Ejecting is key.

    #8 – I get that. The only way to work around the confusion is to make sure you go into the Settings of each app and tell it to save to the SD card when possible. Do this for the gallery for sure!

    #9 – Assume anything HTC and internet is less than beta and doesn’t work. In my experience, the only good Sense apps are the clock and weather widgets. The rest is crap.

    Can’t help with #10 or #11.

    1 other thing; I don’t care who you talk to or who recommends it, do NOT install a task killer, and if you have, remove it. It’s not necessary at all and will actually help reduce battery life in some cases, not make it better. I power cycle about twice a week instead and it’s been working for me.

    Another battery killer is anything that uses that GPS. And it will make your phone run hot. And amybe make it slow to charge. I’ve stopped using Nav almost entirely. When I do use it, I reboot when I’m done to make sure that’s it’s actually powered off.

    Easy? No. Too technical? Absolutely! But once you use it for about a week or two you get the hang of it.

    Hope this helped!

  6. It definitely took a while to get used to my Android after the iPhone but unless Apple brings one out that’s covered in chocolate buttons I doubt I will ever go back.

    The only thing that irritates me about my Incredible now is the battery life and I have changed the way I use the phone to accommodate that. Should I have to? Probably not, but its like driving the Mini, I overlook a lot of problems because I prefer the experience.

    All comes down to what you like, or which shrine you worship at 🙂

  7. Many thanks, Don!
    Your HTC advice seems good, since going to Android Apps my mail/etc seems better.
    I looked at DoubleTwist but it doesn’t recognize Aperture for photos.

    AT&T got voicemail working, but of course it’s the old fashioned “Press 7 to delete” type; I’ll try Google Voice next.

    Battery lasted well today, still 70% – the solution is to have loads of work so you don’t use the phone at all!

  8. But aren’t you just loving how OPEN Android is Ian..??
    It baffles me why Google and handset makers think that the majority of phone users know or care about the OS licensing of their handset. They just want something that works. You don’t get into the software on your washing machine, why should you on a phone. It’s an appliance that just needs to do it’s job the best it can. The fact that Google have moved the conversation to ‘closed’ vs ‘open’ rather than discussing the usability and actual user experience of the different OS choices is very clever on their part, but bad for everyday users.

    I remember having internal / external storage issues with an old Dell Windows Mobile handheld (not a phone) and I can’t imagine going back to an OS / hardware combination that still has that kind of problem. It’s as if they did no testing except by people who were involved in the actual development.

    Fixes to the issues that involve turning off GPS, WiFi etc just seem crazy to me too. What’s the point in having all this technology if it’s awkward to use it. I used to have to turn the Bluetooth on and off on my iPhone 3GS and so I never used it because it was two or three layers down in a menu. The battery life on the iPhone 4 is so good that I leave BT on all the time now and every time I get in my car it automatically connects and switches music over to the car if I have something playing as I get in. That’s how it should work. Anything else is defeating the purpose of having the tech in the first place.

    I know I sound like an Apple fanboy, and I am, but only because their stuff WORKS. Nothing I’ve seen from any Android phone has made me want to swtich. I think I’d be more inclined to look at WinPhone7 before I looked at Android. The improvements to the screen and battery life on the iPhone 4 were two huge advances over the 3GS I had before and I don’t regret the purchase at all. The only thing I’d want on an iPhone that it doesn’t have is carrier unlocking and that’s the fault of the crooks at AT&T. I would love to use it in the UK with a local PAYG SIM. Other than that, I’d just get glasses..! 😉

  9. Ian,
    Is it true that AT&T have preloaded this phone with apps you can’t remove and that they run in the background? Maybe that’s some of the battery life problem.
    Also, I’ve read that you can’t install some third party apps like Swype – is that true?

  10. Gavin,
    I picked up my iPhone last night, and there are now little things that are wrong on the Apple version – double tap to get to the “recent apps” list instead of a long press for example. And of course, notifications on Apple are awful as we all know!
    Android solves the bluetooth battery problem by letting you add a widget to the home screen that toggles bluetooth on/off 😉

    I don’t know what “swype” is, but it does not appear in the Android market. I know that AT&T said “no third party apps” in their contract – but I don’t see that any different to “no jailbroken apps” on iPhone.

  11. No 3rd party app? At all? Does that mean you can’t connect to Android Marketplace, only some AT&T-approved app store? Yet again, the carriers subvert the ‘open’ OS to make it closed to the end user…

    The long press on the home button always brought up voice control didn’t it? I don’t remember them changing that. Apple’s software is not perfect, I’ll agree. Notifications should be done in a non-modal way and the switch on the iPad should never have been changed from rotation lock. I have had to explain to my mother at least 4 times how to get to the rotation lock in software… But hopefully both of those things will change in the next OS release, at least according to rumors. The problem I see with Android is that there’s the OS, which you may or may not be able to get the latest version of because the carrier and the hardware maker both have to coordinate to make that happen and then there’s the enhancement layer on top, all of which need to be updated in sync. It just seems that there’s a lot more places for things to go wrong in an Android installation…

    BTW, Swype is a keyboard entry alternative. You move your finger across the keyboard without lifting and the software figures out what word you were tracing. I haven’t used it myself, but people who have it swear by it.

  12. Swype is in beta still you need to go to their site and apply to be a beta tester:

    Also you should look into customizing your launcher … Check out LauncherPro and read the documentation on it prior to messing with it, it literally changes the entire feel of the phone and is available in the market.

    Check out this site to get an idea of how launcher pro can help you customize the look of your Android:

    Also like DB said .. be sure to use the Google Apps instead of the HTC ones as they rock. I use to have a iPhone3GS my self but I couldnt deal with the dropped calls, lack of notifications and no native Gmail app. You have to remember Android is still young but just look at how many features have been added and how much it has been improved in the last year alone. It went from Android trying to play catch up with apple to now apple playing catch up with Android.

  13. For all the press I’ve seen about Swype, I thought it was a real product. The people who can get it seem to think it’s the only thing to use.

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