In November 2017, I shocked my family and many friends by switching from an iPhone to an Android smartphone. Ten of the reasons why I switched are detailed in this post, but the main four were:
- Travel Security
- Lower Cost
- Extended Battery Life
- Google AI Technology in the Google Assistant
It’s been a good experiment, but I’ve been missing iOS and an iPhone for multiple reasons. Later today I’m throwing in the towel and purchasing a used iPhone 6+ for $120 from a relative. If it was possible to purchase a used, high end Android phone for less than $400 (like a Google Pixel 2) I’d definitely go that direction, but the finances of smartphones have brought me to the point where I view smartphones a lot like cars. Sure it’s wonderful to buy a new one, but who really needs a new one when a used one can offer you so much function and lifespan for a fraction of the cost? (That’s a big reason our family loves CarMax, btw.)
So, as I anticipate the return of iOS to my pocket, here are some of my key lessons learned from the past eight months of exclusively using and carrying an Android OS smartphone.
Basic Functions Harder: Phone Answering, Pocket Calls, Voicemail
A smartphone is a computer, but it’s also supposed to be a phone. Unfortunately, my Android phone has been comparatively more difficult when it comes to the basic phone functions of a smartphone. Yes, I have a low-end Android phone (Moto E4 Plus), but it’s not unreasonable to expect phone functions to work smoothly. Throughout my Android phone experience, I had a comparatively harder time answering calls, switching between calls, and even working with Voicemail which wouldn’t load as quickly or smoothly than it does on iOS. Early on, I also had a lot of trouble making pocket calls on my phone. These experiences were frustrating, and while tolerable, not something I expected for such a basic phone feature.
No OS Updates on Many Handsets
I was aware of the Android OS fragmentation issue, where most users don’t run the latest available operating system (OS), but until being an Android user I didn’t fully comprehend the “why” of this situation. With my Moto E4 Plus smartphone, I technically can’t upgrade my Android OS. There are two barriers standing in the way: My handset manufacturer (Motorola / Lenovo) as well as carrier (TMobile) would have to certify my device for an OS upgrade. They are NOT doing this. In fact, Motorola announced for next E5 line of smartphones, they’re not planning to let customers upgrade either. As an iOS user, this is almost incomprehensible and incredibly frustrating. I’ve learned with iOS to generally not upgrade RIGHT away, since there have been (especially lately) some bugs with new operating system updates, but generally after a few weeks these are worked out and if your iPhone model is certified for the update, it runs better and with more features after the update. Not so with Android.
I am thankful that my Android phone model didn’t come stuffed with tons of carrier bloatware, as many models do, but I have still been held hostage to the manufacturer as well as carrier for updates. The solution to this would be to purchase a smartphone directly from Google or another handset manufacturer which pledges support for updates, but as previously mentioned, those smartphones are not yet available with steep discounts as used devices.
The December 2017 HowToGeek article, “Why Your Android Phone Isn’t Getting Operating System Updates and What You Can Do About It,” has more background on this issue. I’ll go so far as to say if you’re going to buy an Android phone, in most cases you shouldn’t consider a model unless the manufacturer has publicly promised support for updates. The low cost of an Android phone like mine ($140 open box from Amazon) can make it a great travel or “burner phone” (if you really need one – which you might), so this advice is not for everyone. It’s critical to keep in mind that as smartphone manufacturers continue to want to promote “churn in the channel” (customers continually upgrading and purchasing new devices) this “feature limitation” is actually a sales strategy.
Not only is that strategy frustrating from a customer standpoint, wanting to take advantage of new OS features, it’s also dangerous from a security standpoint. Like all computing devices, smartphones need regular updates. Sadly, that’s not available for my Moto E4 Plus.
Missing Good Microphone and Speakers
I love to use my smartphone to CREATE media as well as consume it, so the comparatively poor quality microphone on my Android phone has been a big drawback. I like recording podcast interviews with my devices, but since the Moto E4 has such a poor quality microphone I’ve had to use my iPad for audio recording. I haven’t posted to my personal sounds blog in awhile, but if I’d had a better microphone I probably would have during our recent family holiday to Seattle and Mount Rainier. I migrated my 200+ short, eclectic audio recordings from AudioBoom to Anchor in the past year, and when I’m armed with an iPhone again I’m planning to resume my periodic posts there.
Apple Music for Android Works Well
One of the nice surprises during my Android smartphone experiment was learning that Apple Music is available for Android and works pretty well. The app isn’t as feature-filled as the iOS version, but it provides the core features I’m most interested in: All iTunes Match songs are available, playlists sync, you can like / not like songs, and family Apple Music subscriptions work. I considered giving Google Play Music a try, or YouTube Red, but since I’m so “digitally invested” in iTunes and Apple Music it wasn’t worth it. I’m glad Apple has decided to make Apple Music available for Android. If I was going to stick with Android long-term, I would consider migrating to Spotify or Google Play Music. We have 4 “Google Home Minis” at our house, and the fact that they don’t support Apple Music is a bummer. I enjoy and use Pandora for music, however, which IS supported on Google Home devices, and also listen to podcasts… so this isn’t a huge issue at this point for me as a music and podcast listener.
5000 mAh Battery is Awesome
The best thing about the Moto E4 Plus smartphone is its 5000 mAh battery. For comparison sake, my previous iPhone 6S had a 1,715 mAh battery. This meant I tripled my smartphone battery capacity when I went Android. Wow was this ever a big deal. Like many folks, I rely on my smartphone during the day at work to receive and send both messages and calls. Unless I charged during the day, with my iPhone 6S I would regularly run out of juice by 5 pm each day. My Android phone has so much battery, I can literally work for 2 straight days without a supplementary charge. On vacation, using Uber and Google Maps extensively, my battery life isn’t nearly that long, but it has been HUGELY better than my iPhone.
One advantage of moving to an iPhone 6 Plus (versus other iPhone models) is that it’s battery is 2,915 mAh. That’s about 5% larger than the 2,750 mAh in the iPhone 6S Plus. I’m expecting the processor of the iPhone 6 Plus to feel snappier than my inexpensive Moto E4 Plus. I learned to keep my location services off entirely on my Android phone if it wasn’t needed, more-so than I’d done with my iPhones, so if I keep up that battery management discipline I’m hopeful I’ll still find this battery experience to be better than what I had on my iPhone 6S.
What’s App Good for Secure Messaging
One of many helpful things I learned traveling to Egypt last year was that the free, encrypted messaging app “What’s App” is fantastic. I not only used it for text messaging with family back home, but also for videoconferencing since FaceTime isn’t available for Android users. (I was even able to videoconference with my wife and youngest daughter from the pyramids… Probably my coolest videoconference moment to date.)
Cross-platform software functionality matters. Yes I know Apple would like everyone in the world to use iOS and the iPhone, but that’s just not going to happen. The lower cost, adequate function, and open licensing model of Android OS mean lots of folks will continue to use “other platforms” besides iOS. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to need a cross-platform videoconferencing solution and to “discover” (personally) the benefits of using “What’s App.”
On the security front, I think people generally are far too ignorant about the dangers of unencrypted messaging. This is something I’m going to take on with our family and our own messaging, in part to educate our kids (as well as ourselves) about alternatives and the benefits which come with encrypted messaging. This is something we’ll do no matter what smartphone platform any of us are using today or choose to use tomorrow.
Beneficial to Merge AppleID and Google Contacts
Saved digital contacts can be a mess. My own contacts, prior to my Android smartphone experiment, were a fragmented mess shared between my AppleID, my primary personal Gmail account, and my school Gmail account. In migrating to an Android phone, I learned to export my AppleID contacts as vCard files, and then import them into my Google contacts. When I move back to an iPhone today, I’m going to keep my AppleID contacts OFF and just enable Google contacts. Hopefully that will help down the road if I ever choose to move (temporarily or more permanently) to another non-iOS smartphone platform.
More Regular Restarts Required with Android
All computers need to be restarted periodically, but I found my Android smartphone needed to be restarted more often than my iPhone. With my iPhone I might only restart once every 2 or 3 weeks. With Android, I had to restart at least once per week. Things would get slow and sluggish on the Droid after 5-7 days, and a restart would get everything working snappier again. Not sure if this is true of all handsets, but it definitely was for my Moto E4 Plus.
Google Assistant: Good but not Spectacular
One of the biggest reasons I wanted to give Android a try was my perception that Google is leading and will win the race to an amazing smart assistant powered by artificial intelligence (AI). I do like the Google Assistant and use it every day at home with our Google Home Mini devices, but I found the response time on my Android phone to be less than spectacular. As with other performance issues, this may be largely attributable to the low-end hardware specs of my phone. I was expecting to use and love using the Google Assistant more on my Android phone than I did… and I think this technology just needs to continue to mature further.
I love the “broadcast” feature of Google Home devices, which turns them into one-way paging devices, and am thankful that functionality can work from an iOS device / iPhone just as it does from an Android phone. The Google Assistant works differently on different devices, but thankfully that function appears to be universal / not device-dependent.
Miss AirDrop and AirPlay on Android
As the lone Android user in our family, I have missed being about to AirDrop photos to and from family members, especially on our recent vacation. I’ve also missed the ability to readily mirror my iPhone to my computer or to an AppleTV at school using AirPlay. I will need to do this in August when I lead back-to-school workshops for our faculty and staff, getting up to speed on the features of our new cloud-hosted Jive phone system.
AirDrop and AirPlay are two technologies with which Apple continues to have BIG superiority over other competing platforms. AirDroid is an Android application with similar functionality, but it doesn’t enable the ready-sharing of photos and files between different Android devices the way you can with AirDrop for iOS. At our recent family reunion, we showed some of our relatives how to AirDrop contacts between their iPhone and someone else’s, and you’d have thought we were Houdini’s apprentices showing off his latest magic trick!
I’m looking forward to having my AirDrop and AirPlay powers restored to my smartphone!
Overall, I’m happy and thankful I’ve been able to “live” an Android smartphone experiment for the past eight months. As I said at the outset, the two most likely outcomes were that I would either love it and want to stick with Android, or I’d become much more knowledgeable and aware of the relative limitations as well as benefits of iOS versus Android. For part 1 of this blog post series, see my November 2017 post, “Why I’m Switching from iPhone to Android (Part 1).”
Throughout this process, I’ve tried to help members of my own family understand that “Android is not the dark side” and I’m not a traitor to some unwritten family code of conduct by using something other than an iPhone as my primary smartphone. I’m glad we’re an Apple family, but as an educator and an educational technologist I think I have an ethical obligation to remain open to new changes and innovations in computing hardware, both at school and in my personal life. I definitely have a deeper understanding and appreciation for Android OS, and look forward to continued iteration and improvements in it as Google (and other companies) keep pushing our digital communications revolution forward. For now, however, I’m glad to be returning to the ranks of iPhone users.
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