Thursday, November 29, 2012

OP ED: BlackBerry vs Android vs iOS vs Windows Phone 8 - Part 2


My first Android device was the original Motorola Droid on Verizon. I loved having a touchscreen and a slide-out keyboard, but it wasn't a BlackBerry so that run was short lived. When business picked up for my company, I needed two phones. I got the Motorola Droid 2 on Verizon and used the BlackBerry Bold 9700 on T-Mobile. When the economy took a hard hit in 2008, I had to eliminate one of my lines. I got rid of my T-Mobile line and replaced my Droid 2 with my Verizon BlackBerry Storm2. I would eventually try my hand at android again with the HTC Incredible, the HTC Incredible 2, the HTC Thunderbolt, and the HTC Rezound. The longest time I used an android device was on the Droid 2 followed closely by the Incredible. Alas, the Froyo and Gingerbread updates were always lacking, slow, and buggy.

Enter the Motorola Droid Razr. I got this phone in the summer of 2012 before the Ice Cream Sandwich rollout. Once again the gingerbread update kept me away from Android even though this Droid ran on 4G. Finally, ICS arrived and the user experience changed for the better!

First, let me give you my impressions about the device itself. Motorola has always been my preference for Android even though I've had more HTCs than Motos. The reason I like Motorola is because they think beyond just the phone. They cater their cases to accommodate their devices and to work well with docks and charging stations all without having to remove the case. Things changed with the Razr just a bit (no more docking station) but its okay. The Razr I got is blue. Just there I was happy to have an actual choice of color versus shades of black or white (ahem, Apple). Blue made me feel cool. The device is light to hold, compact yet big and powerful. The camera is a bit disappointing but still better than any camera that I've used on BlackBerry. My only quality complaint about my Razr was a creaking sound along the back plate. That's how it came right out of the box. No matter because I snapped on an OtterBox case on that puppy just in case the "built to take a beating" kevlar backing and Corning Gorilla glass wouldn't stand up to my stress test.

Three major drawbacks about the phone were experienced almost instantly.
  1. The screen on the phone is 4.3" which also means the device itself is larger. Compared to my BlackBerry Bold 9930, this phone is a behemoth.
  2. The battery - oh, the battery! - where is it? After 4 hours of usage I had to plug it into the charger before it died out on me. The battery cannot be swapped out.
  3. Even during normal usage the phone heated up pretty quick.
Now, moving on to the software side. As many android fans would note, the ICS update on the Motorola Droid Razr is as vanilla as it gets. MotoBlur is gone (Yay!) but the Verizon stock apps remain (Crap!). ICS runs great on the Razr, but I ask myself where the dual-core processor is because even after doing a hard reset, installing the ICS update, and loading the device with my Gmail account and Google Apps, the device slowed down. There would be lag going to a homescreen from an app or a slow app launch. Sometimes its just a cold start from a power up. Still, its obviously a software problem since Android 4.1 (code name Jelly Bean) promises to bring a more "buttery" experience. Let's hope "Project Butter" pulls through.

At any rate, the OS update truly improved the android user experience for me by making things more streamlined. I hated the different and inconsistent user experience with previous software builds. ICS brings a better keyboard, better speech recognition, upgraded Google Apps, and new app launcher among other things. (I'm not going to list all the upgrades. There are other websites for that. I'm only emphasizing the items that matter to me as a user.) There are still many 3rd party apps that need to update their user interface to a more ICS-experience and that's what bothers me. Google has been trying to reduce fragmentation for sometime now but its not happening as fast as I wish. I hate going into an app and have to apply different gestures for the same command as, say, the native apps. For me as a business power user, every second matters. Its no joke.

Strike one: Phone calls are important too. 

Sadly, android doesn't have a good call experience. I'm not talking call quality here. I'm talking about phone calling experience. Normally, I don't go through my contacts book to find someone to call. I simply launch my phone app to place a call and rely on the contact filter that comes through dialing the first few digits. "Speed dial," you say but no. Speed dial is just other sets of numbers for me to try to commit to memory. The native call app on Motorola sucks that's why I go the 3rd Party route with the Dialer One app, but even that app has smallish icons that sometimes I hit the wrong button or command. The HTC calling experience is much more refined, in my opinion. Anyway, making a phone call shouldn't be complicated so in this department android has always failed me. This is the main reason I have always thought of Android as optimized for tablets rather than phones. Oh, and a powerful phone such as a the Droid Razr, especially while running ICS, should not be freezing during call pick ups. Sigh.

Strike two: the email app.

The email app on android - though far improved from previous iterations - is still bare bones compared to what I am used to: BlackBerry. No unified inbox is a killer!

Strike three: battery life. 

I couldn't stand staying with Android after draining the battery twice during one work day. There are backgrounds apps that never stay shut off. Sure, you can remove or freeze some these apps by rooting the phone, but should I have to trouble myself to attempt such a risky task? There are settings I can change on the email app and social networking apps to improve the battery life, but waiting 15 minutes for an email notification is epic in my business. Gmail has push but our email servers run on Yahoo Small Business servers. I missed a few important messages one evening that required a prompt response. Why didn't I get it? Because I last checked my phone right before plugging it into the charger. After plugging it in I left it to charge for a while as I busied myself with other tasks.


These three tasks, which should be the easiest tasks on any smartphone, killed the ICS android experience for me. The phone has access to at least 500,000 apps, has a powerful enough processor to play very graphics heavy games, includes many features and functions not available on any platform, but what good is a NASCAR when I can't drive it well enough on city streets? Add to that the annoying ringer/media volume controller problem. Sometimes I think I'm lowering the media volume when its actually the ringer volume. When I realize what I've done, I adjust the media volume but forget about the ringer volume after exiting the game or media app. So what happens when a call comes in? I don't hear it or its too loud during a meeting.

I don't expect to be in the majority here, but I know I speak on behalf of many users - mainly BlackBerry users - that are so used to the efficient communication experience that is often times truncated when switching platforms. If this hurdle is passed, a user like me can than appreciate and enjoy the many other features Android has to offer that no platform can offer at the moment. I truly rely on Google for my personal tasks so there's nothing better than android for Google, but when it comes to managing my business and personal, android is just too inconsistent and clumsy for me.

Up Next: The Apple iPhone 4s

Click below to read previous posts to this series:
Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

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