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Mar 14

The Android Experiment

No SamsungI’ve used Windows-based phones since Windows Mobile 6.5. It’s been a very rocky road as Microsoft has changed direction with seemingly every release. But I’ve stuck it out for one main reason: It’s always struck a balance between customizability – the great Android strength – and stability – the great iOS strength. Maybe stability is the wrong word there for iOS. For while I find the interface to be extremely tedious, it seems to be a very reliable operating system.

So to me, Window phones have always worked that balance between Android and iOS very well. For reasons, I had to ditch my Windows 8.1 phone in January for a Samsung Galaxy S6. While it was my first Android phone it is not my first Android device. Over the past few years I’ve owned a few Android tablets and use them on a nearly daily basis. So I thought I was well prepared to make the jump to the Android universe.

But it’s a whole different world from casually using Android to relying on Android.

As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that Android generally sucks and that Samsung specifically sucks.

Here are the reasons why I can’t wait to get back to Windows Mobile:

  1. Intrusive messages. I was in Charlotte, North Carolina for the first time in my life a few weeks back. So I was using Google Maps to find my way around town. Twice during the trip – and right before having to make a turn – a big white window pops up telling me that “Voicemail has crashed” or some such message. WHAT? Why do I care? I’m about to miss my turn! Who decided putting a pop up about a crash is so important that it should interrupt what you are doing. Isn’t that what the notification center is for?
  2. Battery Life. The battery life on this S6 is terrible.  I was just in New York City on vacation. The phone made it about 10 hours before dying. I had to resort to having my sister carry a battery charger in her purse so I could charge up over the course of the day. Note that I put the phone in battery saver mode and turned off GPS too. That didn’t help. Apparently there is a whole world of Android tweaking that I can pursue to fix this. But why should I? On Windows phones I only experienced this kind of rapid battery drain when using GPS. Otherwise I rarely ever had a problem getting through the day on a charge.
  3. The keyboard suck. I tried both Swype and Swiftkey – recently acquired by Microsoft. I used the default Samsung-provided keyboard for about 4 seconds until I realized that it didn’t support “swipe typing”. Both Swype and Swiftkey kept deciding to use “YoY” instead of the word “you”. The amount of mis-typing I did was higher than on Windows phones. I’ve got a Lumia 640 I just bought. I threw on Windows 10 Mobile and the default typing experience is noticeably better than on Android.
  4. Samsung.
    1. If I ever return to the Android world, I will not be buying a Samsung phone. For starters, the buttons on the front face for “going back” and to “list the running apps” are way too sensitive. I’ve never had so many accidental button presses as on this phone. Which raises the question: Why is there a physical button on the front of the phone? Isn’t the new Android model to go with soft buttons on the screen and ditch this approach? None of my Android tablets have ever had a physical Home button and the new Windows phones are ditching the physical front button too.
    2. The thumb reader. I’ve read that the “Hello Windows” feature on the Lumia 950 phones doesn’t exactly work perfectly. But it’s a rare event that the thumb reader on the phone works on the first try. It almost always fails on the first try, usually works on the second, and rarely requires a 3rd pass. But why so many failures?
    3. The miserable apps provided by Samsung. I was complaining to a friend that the Calendar and Mail clients on Android are basically garbage. he whipped out his Google Nexus 7 and said the problem was I got “Samsung-ed”. Apparently Samsung decided it was a good idea to write their own crappy apps and replace the far-better default Google-provided apps. Had I had the default Google apps I’d probably be happier with my Android experience.
    4. This could be on AT&T too. Android 6 aka Marshmallow was released in October. Yet here I am, 6 moths later, with my phone running Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop).  And I always thought that the Android world was getting updates faster than the Windows world. I guess not. Windows 10 Mobile apparently has fixed this but for some reason Samsung + AT&T = slow updates.
  5. I was also excited to be able to “tap to pay” and I set this up on the phone quickly. I used it like twice and then….it’s so much faster to swipe a debit/credit card than to fumble with the phone! So while I always thought I was missing out in the Windows Phone world, I now realize that it’s not something I ever use when I do have the option to use it. I also tried Samsung Pay. I’m not sure what the point is other than their ability to mimic a card swipe on card readers that don’t support mobile payments. It just seems like so much more Samsung bloatware.

For all I know, Android 6 addresses all of my concerns.

Android does have all the apps. And where there is crossover with Windows Phone, Android has the better apps. So yes, there is an App Gap in the Windows Mobile 10 world. But based on my time with the S6, I’m convinced more than ever that Windows phones are a superior OS in almost every way and the only thing holding it back is the lack of apps. Before this experience, I was indifferent if Microsoft should allow Android apps to run on Windows phones. Now I am convinced that this has to happen.

Microsoft is taking the safe, less complicated route in trying to encourage vendors to easily compile to Windows Universal apps via various technologies such as Windows Bridge and their recent acquisition of Xamarin. But these still require app developers to have to do at least *some* coding to make their apps look right in the Windows world. Taking an .apk file and running it natively on a Windows phone requires absolutely zero effort on the developers part.

But then Microsoft would basically have to support two platforms – the existing Windows environment and then some semblance of an Android environment. Much like Amazon, I imagine Microsoft would have to bring up their own Android store and then certify that Android apps run correctly on Windows phones. But by doing this, the app gap will massively shrink overnight. Requiring effort from developers to recompile to Windows will help a little bit over time. But having spent three months using an Android phone, it’s more clear to me now than ever that Microsoft needs to get extremely aggressive in closing this app gap.

For reasons, I will be going back to Windows phone for at least next week as I will have to give up my Android phone at the end of this week.

And I couldn’t be happier about it.

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