Android, Android, Or Android

I’m an Android fan. Over the years I’ve used lots of smartphones running lots of OSs, and Android just works for me.
And yes, I used an iPhone for 5 months before abandoning it. Why? The primary reason was the keyboard. I use my phone for email more than I do texting or talking, and so, for me, the keyboard is critical. Everyone said give it a few months and you’ll get used to it, but nope, in all that time I was never able to write a single email or text message without having to go back and make corrections. Plus, iPhone always felt like I was using someone else’s device, not one that I could tweak and adjust and tinker until it looked and felt like mine. So, sorry, no iPhone for me. (It’s worth noting that when it comes to tablets, I have 5 of them, iPad is my favorite. I use my phone for email far more than I do the tablet, so the iPad keyboard does not stress me out as much as the iPhone one does).
What about Windows phones? The new Nokia Lumia devices running Windows are spectacular, boasting what appears to be the very best email client and support on any device out there right now. And I actually could see myself using one in the future. Perhaps.
For now though, it’s Android for me, and has been for several years. I like the OS, I like the options, I like the openness, and I like the flexibility to make the phone my own.
But unlike iOS where you have a single device vendor offering a single experience, Android consumers have lots of options to choose from, and the differences between them range from subtle to significant. Over, the past few years I have tried and used lots of Android phones, and I do mean lots. And here is what I have learned:
Part of what gives Android its flexibility is the fact that device vendors can tweak and enhance the OS to create a unique customer experience. (Of course, this is also what makes Android devices far less consistent than iOS devices). Device vendors do this by creating custom overlays (skins) that sit on top of the Android OS itself. You can indeed buy devices running pure unadulterated Android (for example, the Galaxy Nexus) but most Android devices come with vendor created skins which create the vendor specific Android experience. Ok, keep that in mind, we’ll come back to it in a moment.
Motorola brought us the Atrix (and its successor, the Atrix 2), the Droid devices, and more. I’ve made the switch to Motorola Android devices twice, and gave up both times. For starters, I found the Atrix case to be too plasticy and flimsy, it felt too light and crushable. But the bigger issue for me was the Motorola Android skin, Moto Blur, which at times feels just too heavy and intrusive and in-your-face. Requiring the creation of a Moto Blur account just to turn the phone on and use it? Unacceptable. Custom versions of stock Android apps? Great idea, but not when they feel slower and more sluggish. I’ve heard that Motorola has recently made changes to Moto Blur so address some of these issues, but I have yet to try the changes for myself. Bottom line, based on my Motorola experiences I’d be hard pressed to try one again anytime soon.
Next up is Samsung, currently the number one Android device maker in the world. At various times I have owned and used 4 different Samsung devices (and several immediate family members have these, too), and the experience makes it easy to understand why these are so popular. Earlier devices, like the Captivate (local version of the Galaxy S) had a really poorly designed case that could open too easily, but those issues have long been addressed. The Galaxy S2 (both the 3G version and the considerably larger LTE version) are well built, feel good to hold, are fast and responsive, and boast gorgeous screens. TouchWiz is Samsung’s Android skin, and in addition to being bright and colorful and even fun, it adds useful social integration features, and also replaces or enhances stock apps. But I also find it irritatingly juvenile. From the colored text messaging bubbles to the overly cartoony app icons, at times TouchWiz feels in the way. But my biggest problem with the Samsung devices (and I experienced this on all of them) was a reliability issue with the mail clients. As I noted previously, e-mail is a huge part of what I use my phone for, and I need Gmail and Exchange clients that are capable and powerful and responsive. And while I appreciated the extra features that Samsung added to the stock Android mail clients, problems like mail getting stuck in the Outbox folder forever made them close to unusable. Still, I stuck with Samsung for a long time, and could see myself using one again in the future.
Which brings me to HTC. I was first introduced to the HTC Desire HD by my colleague Serge Jespers who was thoroughly enjoying trying to make me jealous of the screen and performance. He succeeded. I bought the local version of the Desire HD in early 2011, and was hooked. The phone was heavy, but featured a rubberized back, and an industrial design inspired curved case that just felt so good to hold. It also featured one of the worst battery and SIM compartments I have ever seen, impossible to open and harder to close – you can’t have it all. HTC has their own Android skin called Sense. It feels lighter weight than Moto Blur or TouchWiz, it’s definitely cleaner and more professional looking, and best of all, the enhanced versions of the stock apps feel right and intuitive and even native. Oh, and I have yet to find a single undelivered piece of email in an outbox folder on any HTC device to date. The downside? The AT&T version of the Desire HD was needlessly crippled by really poor radio inclusion which cause no 3G in Europe and no coverage at all in Japan. So a while back I updated to the HTC Vivid, an LTE phone with every radio you could want (it works everywhere), and a stunning screen. It also features a pretty but terribly designed back cover that slides off at the most inopportune times.
You see the problem? I like stock Android, but HTC Sense really does work for me. I want a phone that feels good to hold, and has a solid well thought out case. And I also want every possible radio, a top notch screen, and killer performance. Yep, I want it all.
HTC phones are currently my Android devices of choice. They are not perfect, but they are the best for the type of use (and abuse) I throw their way.
As for what is next? The HTC One X is now days away. Could it be the perfect phone? Stay tuned …

6 responses to “Android, Android, Or Android”

  1. matt williams Avatar
    matt williams

    How often do you change phones? Just curious. (Sent from my android)

  2. Ben Forta Avatar
    Ben Forta

    Matt, constantly! 🙂 I have kept phones for 6-9 months, others for days or weeks.

  3. Serge Jespers Avatar
    Serge Jespers

    Keep an eye on my blog this afternoon 😉

  4. Serge Jespers Avatar
    Serge Jespers

    Here’s what I think about the HTC One X after using for a few days:

  5. Joel Cox Avatar
    Joel Cox

    I recently went from an HTC Incredible to a Motorola Razr Maxx. I like the Razr better overall (bigger screen, much better battery life), but as you note, the HTC Sense interface is cleaner and better looking.

  6. Adam Tuttle Avatar
    Adam Tuttle

    Have you considered Cyanogen Mod? I love the tweaks they make to stock Android, and it looks and feels professional. If you can find hardware you like and it has CM9+ available, I’d give that a shot.

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