The Android Experiment, Part 2: Hardware, Messaging, Apps and Notifications

Crocheted Android figure

GOOGLE ANDROID AMIGURUMI: FLICKR, KHAM TRAN

This is the second installment in my Android Experiment series and my first about my observations and insights on switching from iOS to Android. If you missed my introduction, you can check it out here. This week I’ll be focusing on the HTC First hardware that I chose, text messaging, a few apps that I’m missing from iOS and notifications.

The Device

I’m really enjoying my HTC First. The compact footprint, thin profile and light weight make it the perfect phone for me. It doesn’t feel as fragile as my iPhone—which never leaves its sturdy Otterbox case—so I haven’t needed a case yet for it. It’s easy to grip and seems to fit my hands well, so I don’t drop it nearly as often as I do my iPhone and the lack of glass front and back make me a lot less anxious when it does take a tumble.

Display

The display on the HTC First is bright and crisp, and the contrast is a lot higher than that on my iPhone. Though most Android devices have moved to onscreen buttons; the Home, Back and Menu buttons on the HTC First are built in to the device. This does make it feel a little antiquated, but gives me a little more screen real estate than comparable devices.

Camera

The camera on the HTC First is just okay. Without getting scientific, my iPhone 4S seems to have a slightly better camera, especially for low-light situations, but the HTC First isn’t as bad as I feared it would be and there are quite a few fun settings—such as Action, Night, Sunset and Party scene modes, manual exposure and white balance.

iPhone 4S vs HTC First camera comparison

Battery Life

Battery life seems comparable to my iPhone 4S. It easily lasts through my workday, and I charge it every evening. No complaints there!

Facebook Home

The HTC First is often referred to as the “Facebook phone” because it comes installed with Facebook Home. For this reason, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Facebook Home. The version of Facebook Home that came installed on my device* was active for less than a day when I turned it off. It seemed really strange to have the entire phone centered around Facebook. Even the app launcher was just a modal on top of Facebook Home. Also, my friends’ photos—ranging from abnormal insects to poorly photoshopped inspirational quotes to phone screenshots—aren’t something that I want to see every time I activate my phone. However, I really like Facebook’s chat heads feature, which allows quick access to active Facebook Messages sessions. I am continuing to use chat heads on my launch screens.

Facebook Home icon*Recently, Facebook released an update to Facebook Home—now just called Home—that allows you to use Facebook Home as a lock screen instead of a full launcher. It also enables you to connect to more than just Facebook—Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr—so I’m giving it another try and will see if it is any better.

Messages app iconText Messaging

I’m pretty thrifty and am unwilling to add $30 per month to our monthly AT&T bill for texting. iMessage was amazing for a few reasons:

  1. I’m bad at typing on my phone, and the Messages application on OS X allows me to send iMessages directly from my desktop, making my life just a bit easier.
  2. Almost all of my friends, and my husband, have iPhones, so it’s very easy to “text” my friends without paying for a messaging plan.

The Android equivalent to iMessage is Google Hangouts. Google Hangouts allows anyone with a Google account to gTalk or Google Hangout from their desktop computer or Android device. This has allowed my mom and sister, who do not have smart phones, to message me. Unfortunately, it still does not replace iMessage for sending mobile to mobile messages via a phone number.

Apps

iMessage isn’t the only app that seems to be missing from Android. While I am extremely impressed with the breadth of apps available for Android, there are still a few apps that I’m missing.

Reminders app iconReminders

I have a bad memory, and use the Apple Reminders application—which works across all of my Apple devices—a lot. I ask it to do things like, “Remind me to get the chicken out of the freezer when I get home.” or “Remind me to replace the furnace filters at 9:00AM three months from now.” I also use it to make “To Do” lists for everything from planning birthday parties to getting things done on the weekends. Google Now has been great for the “Remind me to…” events, but I’ve found myself missing the Reminders app for my “To Do” lists. On Sunday, I downloaded ColorNote which appears to be a fairly robust note-taking, list-making application. It allows the creation of both freeform notes and check lists so hopefully it will turn out to be a good replacement for Apple’s Reminders app.

Yummy Soup app iconYummy Soup

I invested in a recipe app that I really like called Yummy Soup a long time ago. Unfortunately Yummy Soup isn’t available for Android, so if I’m away from home and need to look up a recipe—this happens more often than you might think—I have to find wi-fi and use my iPad or iPhone.

Period Plus app iconPeriod Plus

Maybe this is a bit too much information, but I miss Period Plus for iPhone. I’ve yet to find a comparable app with a good UI on Android. (I’ve theorized that most UI designers and app developers are men who don’t want to think about such things.) I would love to see this app or a good alternative on Android.

Letterpress app iconLetterpress

I’m a fan of the iOS word game Letterpress (designed and developed by Loren Brichter). Unfortunately, because it utilizes iOS’s Game Center, it is also not available on Android. I only have a few games going right now, but I’m finding myself reaching for my iPhone to press a few letters.

Running with Friends app iconRunning with Friends

I don’t really love Running with Friends, and I’m not very good at it; but my husband does and is. Zynga hasn’t made this game available for Android yet, so when my husband tells me that it’s my turn, I have to reach for my iPhone to play. I’m having to do the same thing with Words with Friends as well, because this game crashes on launch on my Android phone.

Notifications

It’s taking some time to get used to Android’s notifications. I’m so familiar with the iOS approach now, that it seems weird to me that I don’t have numbers on the corners of my app icons or a list of notifications on my lock screen. In the notifications drawer, I really like that I can dismiss individual notifications and keep others. And I love that there isn’t the nagging immediacy that iOS seems to imply by lighting up the entire screen every time there is a notification. But at this point, I have to admit that I find myself missing texts and event reminders. Hopefully as I get used to the Android approach, this issue will go away.

Wrapping Up

Although I’m still getting familiar with Android and am missing some of my iOS apps, I’m feeling pretty good about my first couple of weeks with Android. In my next post, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Speech-to-Text and Voice Recognition, the Calendar app, typing and sounds.

Read Part 3:
The Android Experiment, Part 3: Speech-to-Text, Calendars, Typing and Sounds