This morning when I told my 14 year old I’d ordered a new phone for myself and it isn’t an iPhone, she said, “Now people are going to think you’re weird!” My response was, “Good, bring it on. I am weird!” As a long-time iPhone user and devotee, I realize this decision to give a near-baseline Android phone an extended try may come as a surprise to many. In this post, I’ll briefly outline the reasons for my decision. Technology companies WANT us all as consumers to believe we absolutely HAVE TO HAVE the latest and greatest smartphone to use, enjoy, and show off to others as a symbol of our affluence and life priorities. I’m ready to get off that train, and I hope the reasons for my decision that I’ll explain below will help you think about perhaps doing the same thing at some point.
The Cost of New Smartphones is Absurd
It is absolutely ridiculous that the new iPhone X base model costs $1000. As an Apple devotee and Apple technology evangelist since 1995, I’m willing to call this out. This feels a bit like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Few if any Apple fanbois want to say this or will say it, but we all should be willing to speak the truth in and to our consumer culture. The normalization of smartphones which cost as much or MORE than a VERY capable new laptop computer has been wonderful for Apple’s quarterly profits, but it hasn’t helped strapped family budgets. It’s also a reflection of what smartphones are and have always been: Small, mobile computers which also happen to make phone calls. Moore’s Law has been in effect for laptops and desktops for years, and consumers have been the beneficiaries of those economic and computational dynamics. I’m ready to financially enjoy the benefits of Moore’s Law in our family when it comes to smartphones, and that road is paved best by Google and its Android operating system. It is certainly not paved by Apple today.
As a parent in a family of five, I’m keenly aware of not only our monthly cellular phone costs (part of the reason we switched from AT&T to T-Mobile three years ago) but also our periodic handset upgrade costs. I’ve deliberated this for many months, and I’m ready to step off the Apple smartphone upgrade train. If this $146 “plus size” Android phone can meet my mobile computing and connectivity needs, I’m all for it. I’m ready to give it a try.
Multi-day Smartphone Battery Life is a Game Changer
Last night when I was reading a review of the Moto E4 Plus, the following statement literally jumped off the screen and hit me between the eyes:
With the E4 Plus, I have consistently been able to achieve battery life that would allow me 10 hours of screen-on time over twice the amount of time off the charger (around 36 hours). That’s insane.
I have an iPhone 6S, and even though I’ve worked to limit my apps which use GPS and other battery draining features, I’m rarely ever able to make it through a day at work without charging my phone. Yesterday in fact, my phone died about 3:30 pm, and I found myself working late in my office after 5 pm wondering why my wife or daughter hadn’t texted or called me to come pick them up. Then I remembered my phone was dead. Yikes.
Today we had a network interruption at about the same time of day, and I found myself alone in our school DMARC on my iPhone with our ISP and firewall technical support personnel with less than 5% of my battery remaining. Thankfully one of our IT staff came to my rescue after I texted him asking for a phone charger and cable. This situation is absolutely NOT acceptable, from a safety as well as productivity standpoint. Yes, I could start carrying a phone charging battery with me at all times, but I really don’t want to do that. I keep one in my backpack, but I don’t want to keep one in my pocket. The 5000mAh battery in the Moto E4 Plus is going to be a definite game changer for me in terms of daily phone battery life, and this new reality can’t arrive in my pocket fast enough.
Google’s AI Technology and Smart Assistant is Better Than Siri
One of the things I’ve been thinking about the most in past months, when it comes to smartphones, is the race for companies to develop AI powered smart assistants. (Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, etc.) These cloud-based anthropomorphic platforms are already changing the ways many people interact with their devices, with other people, with information, and cloud-based services. I think Google is poised to take and maintain a big lead in AI technologies, because of their access to huge troves of data which is needed for machine learning and AI.
To hear me elaborate further on these ideas, check out the audio podcast of my breakout session from G Camp OKC this past Saturday, “Teaching and Learning in an AI First World.” The shownotes for that podcast have several helpful articles on this topic, including “Google and Amazon are spearheading a quiet gadget revolution, and it’s going to put pressure on Apple most of all” from Business Insider on October 29, 2017.
Most of my Important Apps are Device Agnostic
Back in August 2014, I purchased a small Nexus 7 tablet running Android to give the operating system a serious try for the first time. I used the web, Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard, Book Creator, and even edited a video using WeVideo. I found it wasn’t nearly as smooth and easy to use for media creation as an iPad, but it was moving in the right direction. Since that time, that tablet has mostly gathered dust at our house and only occasionally is brought out as a novelty.
Android as well as Android apps have continued to mature since 2014, and I’m eager to give a full Android phone daily experience and workflow a try. These are the main apps I use every day or almost every day on my iPhone, and almost all of them are available for Android:
- PocketCasts (podcatcher)
- Echofon (Twitter client with Buffer support)
- YouVersion Bible
- Pray As You Go
- Pro HDR
- NPR One
- Web browser (Safari, Chrome)
The main iPhone apps I use regularly which do NOT appear to be available for Android are Adobe Spark Post and Fantastical, my favorite iOS calendar app. I generally use Adobe Spark Post to make several infopics per week, so that is potentially the biggest Android app shortcoming I can foresee. Hopefully Adobe Spark Post can run reasonably well in the Chrome web browser of Android, or I’ll be able to find an equally awesome replacement app for infopic creation.
I think my investment in Apple’s iTunes Match and Apple Music playlists may be one of the more challenging aspects of my Android conversion experience. Time will tell. Google Play Music or Spotify may have import options which will make this an easier transition than it might be. If you have insights or advice for me on this front please let me know with a comment below or tweet to @wfryer.
International Travel and Mobile Carrier Flexibility
One of the reasons I started considering buying a cheaper Android phone most recently is an upcoming trip I’m taking to Egypt to speak at the 2nd EduForum in Cairo. We’ve talked on The EdTech Situation Room, the weekly technology news analysis show I co-host, a fair bit about the risks of traveling with a smartphone logged into your social media accounts and loaded with contacts as well as email. Here are a few articles which have headlines that will give you the flavor of these concerns:
- I’ll never bring my phone on an international flight again—neither should you
- Federal agents can search your phone at the US border — here’s how to protect your personal information
- Want to protect your data at the border? Delete it
- How to Keep Your Smartphone Safe While Entering the United States
- Is it legal for officials to search your phone when you’re traveling?
The March 2017 New York Times article, “Crossing the Border? Here’s How to
Safeguard Your Data From Searches,” specifically recommends the Moto G4 Android phone as a travel smartphone compatible with multiple cellular carrier technologies. The author noted:
It’s a wise idea to invest in a so-called travel device, a cheap smartphone or computer that you use only abroad: You don’t want your nice equipment to get lost or stolen while traveling, anyway, let alone searched by border agents. So leave your fancy equipment — along with your photo album, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter apps — at home.
I’m likely going to erase my Android phone before arriving at the airport to depart or return home from Egypt. This level of concern for having my smartphone data copied by customs officials might seem paranoid, but we all need to remember that ANY digital data can be hacked and repurposed. I don’t have anything to hide in my smartphone data, but I also value privacy and don’t want my entire digital life in the hands of foreign or domestic customs agents.
More Knowledge About Android Capabilities
I remember back in 2009 when I experimented with inexpensive netbooks and hackintoshes, facing questions from friends among the Apple faithful about why I would foray into such blasphemous computing territory. When I worked for AT&T from 2006 to 2008, I used Windows PCs in my office and had access to a personal Windows laptop. While I didn’t enjoy using Windows like I did and do enjoy MacOS, I certainly benefited in all those cases by learning more about usage and benefits/drawbacks of a different operating system. Similarly, I see the opportunity to “use Android full time” on my smartphone as an experiment which will, at worst, leave me better educated and informed to compare different smartphone capabilities.
We all are subject to baby duck syndrome. The first computing system we learn to utilize is not always the best, however, and “best” is a contextual term that can vary widely in meaning. I was a Palm Pilot and Palm Treo user before the iPhone was invented, and have been an iPhone user since witnessing Steve Jobs’ live on-stage demo of the original iPhone in 2007. I’m keeping my Macbook laptop and iPad, and will keep creating Sunday sketchnotes and narrated sketchnotes with my iPad, Apple Pencil and Procreate. I’ll just be doing my smartphone work on an Android device… until further notice.
Our Phones Reflect Financial and Life Priorities
We all have different priorities in life, and those priorities are often reflected on our calendars and in our bank registers. I love “powerful technologies that just work,” and this is one of the reasons I’ve been an outspoken evangelist for Apple computing products for years. Google products definitely fall into this computing category as well, however, and for this reason I’ve been enamored with Chromebooks since I first started one up in 8 seconds in 2011.
While I’m a fan of powerful tech tools made by Apple and Google, I’m decidedly NOT a fan of consumerism or unchecked consumer culture. I enjoy going to the mall sometimes with family members, but part of me laments the fact that going shopping and spending money has become a favorite hobby and pastime of many in our present age. Capitalism has brought many benefits of affluence in the United States to large numbers of people, but it also encourages folks to misplace their priorities and value things more than people or ideas.
As a fan of Conscious Capitalism, I think it’s wise and healthy for us to introspectively consider the choices we make with our personal resources. In this spirit, I’m glad to hang my hat with those who believe it’s better to save or spend money elsewhere rather than on the latest and greatest bleeding edge smartphone. This is especially true when that latest smartphone retails at $1000 for the baseline model.
Bigger Smartphone Screen is Appealing
My eyes are getting worse with age. I’m up for an annual eye exam this month, and it’s going to be the year I get bifocals. A larger smartphone screen is appealing to me, so I’m excited to be able to try a 5.5″ model without spending an arm and a leg to do it. It’s both an age and a pocketbook thing.
Learning More About Chromecast
I love the function and reliability of AirPlay for teaching, presenting and working with other learners in the classroom. Google’s Chromecast technology is not yet as ready for enterprise use as AirPlay, but it’s hopefully going to get there. By having an Android phone, I’m sure I’ll be doing more testing and experimenting with Chromecast capabilities and technologies. As a school technology director, eventually I want our Chromebook using students to be able to mirror their devices on classroom screens. This needs to be done in a way that does not compromise network security segmentation, or overwhelm limited wifi capacity. I often need a catalyst to learn more about a new subject, and an Android phone will serve in that role for me in many ways on different topics, including wireless streaming.
Jason Says Android is Cool
For over a year now on Wednesday nights each week, I’ve been spending an hour talking about technology news with my Montana friend, Jason Neiffer. (@techsavvyteach) I respect Jason’s opinions, and he says getting to know Android is a worthwhile and cool experience. What other reasons do I need for this switch?!
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