In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I talk about the new Android phone that I got a couple weeks ago and why I made the switch from an iPhone even though I’m a big Apple fan.
You can also listen to the episode online by clicking the play button on the player below this. (If you don’t see the player, click here.) It’s about 22 minutes long.
Why I Switched to an Android Phone from an iPhone [DPP046]
Hey everyone, I’m Tristan Higbee, recording today again in Bangkok, Thailand, and this podcast is all about the things I see and would like to see in the world of digital publishing, including blogging, ebook and video creation, podcasting, and other things relating to internet business and online marketing. You can find a full transcript of each episode of this show at DigitalPublishingPodcast.com. I’d really appreciate it if you rated this show in iTunes. Just go to itunes.digitalpublishingpodcast.com and then click the blue “View in iTunes” button in the sidebar to rate and review the podcast in iTunes.
This will be yet another episode in which I cover a single topic for the duration of the podcast, which is not usual for the Digital Publishing Podcast. Usually there are 4 to 6 unrelated topics in each episode, but not today. Today I’ll be talking about why I bought an Android phone a couple weeks ago and why I, as a happy user and admirer of Apple products, didn’t get another iPhone. I’ll also talk about the pros and cons of both Android phones and iPhones. But before I get to that, you might be wondering why I’m talking about phones on the Digital Publishing Podcast at all. Shouldn’t I be talking about blogging or ebooks or something like that? I generally talk about those things a lot, of course, but I think that hardware plays an extremely important role in the world of digital publishing today.
As digital publishers, we need to be aware that the information or content we put out there does not just flow from our minds straight into our readers’ minds. It passes through a prism of mobile phones, computers, and tablets, and that prism is a lens that really can change how people see what we create, whether that be blog posts, ebooks, videos, podcasts, magazines, or any other form of digital content. People consume different types of content in different ways on different devices, and our content looks and sounds different on different devices, so that’s why I think it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in the computer hardware world, especially when it comes to mobile devices, since laptop and desktop sales are plateauing or dropping and smart phones are still experiencing hockey stick growth.
So let me start off by saying that I am a very happy Apple customer. My first Apple product was an iPod Shuffle that I bought several years ago after having used probably half a dozen different MP3 players of varying brands before that. The Shuffle was so much better than everything else I’d tried before that, and I was so impressed with it, that I bought an iPod Nano about a year later. Again, it blew away every other MP3 player I’d tried. It was just so easy to use and such a beautiful device. I loved it.
Mid-2011 rolled around and I was in the market for a new computer. (And I promise that this will eventually get back around to phones, so please bear with me.) At the time, my Sony laptop was essentially unusable. Its battery was shot. If you nudged the power cable at all while it was on, it would shut off completely. The optical drive didn’t work. A few of the keys on the keyboard didn’t work unless you literally pounded on them. And it was incredibly slow. It had lasted for four years, but had had various problems throughout that time. So it was time for me to upgrade.
I hadn’t really considered getting an Apple laptop (or a Macbook as they’re called) because they’re so freaking expensive when compared to Windows laptops. You can get two or three very usable Windows laptops for the price of the cheapest Macbook, and I just thought the people who bought Macbooks were stupid and had too much money in their wallets. So I did some research and eventually ended up getting a nice $800 Lenovo laptop. Lenovo supposedly makes some of the best Windows-compatible hardware out there, and I didn’t mind spending more money on a good machine because I figured the computer would last me another three or four years and because I spend a lot of time on my computer. But when the laptop arrived, it had problems right out of the box. Some of the keys didn’t work, and I returned it.
That really, really frustrated me. There I was with a top-of-the-line laptop that had problems from day one, and that didn’t bode well. Around this same time, Apple updated its laptop line, which it does every year. The processors get faster, the prices on the previous models drop, and some minor improvements are added. Before this, I had been impressed with how small and downright sexy the Macbook Air was, but I had never seriously considered getting one because of how expensive they were (and still are). But the bad experience with the Lenovo left a really bad taste in my mouth. I was sick of having computers that didn’t work, and I’d been hearing good things about Macs for ages, so I started looking more closely into getting a Macbook. And that’s right when Apple updated its laptops. And I realized that because I did spend so much time on my computer and because it was such an important part of what I did, putting down more money for a better machine wasn’t the worst idea. And then I thought about how much I loved my iPods and how much better they were than the other MP3 players out there, and to cut to the chase, I ended up buying a maxed out 13” MacBook Air. With the Apple Care extended warranty, it cost nearly two thousand dollars, which is really expensive for a laptop, but buying an Apple machine was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In the 2.5 years that I’ve had the laptop, it’s worked perfectly, and it’s as lightning fast today as it was when I took it out of the box. For me, it’s the perfect computer, and I can’t see myself ever going back to Windows.
About a year after that, I was in the market for a new phone. It was mid-2012, and I’d had a regular dumb phone up to that point. It was time for me to get a smart phone. After my great experience with my laptop, buying an iPhone was a no-brainer. I bought a used iPhone 4 and loved it. And to be honest, I still do. The iPhone is a beautiful piece of hardware and I love the app ecosystem. But in the year and a half since I bought the iPhone, what I used it for changed. Ever since I left the US and started traveling and living abroad, I’ve barely ever used it as a phone. I used it to read, listen to podcasts, and view local maps offline. Those three things probably made up 90% of my iPhone usage. And the more I used my phone to read, the more frustrated I grew with the iPhone’s small screen size. Even with the taller screen of the iPhone 5 and now the 5s and the 5c, you just can’t fit a whole lot of text on the screen. I feel like you really need more width for that.
I listen to a bunch of different technology podcasts, including several that are Apple-focused. I noticed that several hardcore Mac lovers and podcasters that I respect, like Andy Ihnatko, Leo Laporte, and Dan Benjamin, all started using Android phones. In general, the reviews of Android devices over the past year or so started being less and less terrible as the devices and the operating system finally started getting good. The so-called “phablets” in particular caught my eye. Phablet is a terrible word, but these are the big-screened smart phones that are kind of in between the traditional sizes of a tablet and a phone. Phone + tablet = phablet. I did and still do have a tablet. It’s a Kindle Fire tablet that I’ve had for a while, but I never use the thing except to test to see what my Kindle books look like on it. The software on it isn’t great and it’s heavy, so I never wanted to use it. I wanted a nicer tablet that I could read with. A few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted an iPad Mini.
This was about the time that I came to Southeast Asia and started seeing phablets everywhere. If you can afford only one device or want to go with only one, a phablet makes sense. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket or purse but big enough that videos look great on it and you can actually use the thing. The more I saw people use their large-screened phones on the street or on the metro, the more I liked the idea of having one. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I ultimately wanted wasn’t a tablet, but a bigger phone. And since Apple doesn’t make a bigger phone, I had to go with an Android phone. (I didn’t consider Windows Phone because it doesn’t have enough good apps.) And from casually reading about phablets over the past year or so, I knew that Samsung’s Galaxy Note II was the best-known and bestselling phablet. There are tons of Samsung stores here in Bangkok, so I went to a couple and played with their phones, including the Note II, and I was sold. I wanted that big screen. But I also didn’t want to pay the $500 or whatever it was for a new one, or even more for the brand new Note III. Instead, I went on Craigslist and found a Note II being sold for a few hundred dollars, and I went for it.
Android: The good
I’ve now had the Note II for about two weeks. I’ve also kept the iPhone so far because it’s good for Facetiming with my parents and everyone else in my family, since they all have iPhones. But overall, I do like the Note II. There are two main things that I like about it. The first thing I do like is the massive screen. It’s a 5.5-inch screen, which is a full two inches bigger diagonally than my iPhone 4. The whole of the iPhone can almost fit just within the screen on the Note II. It’s that big. The question is, is it too big? I’d say no. It is definitely a bit more unwieldy than the iPhone, but I freaking love having so much screen real estate. It fits perfectly fine in my pockets, and my pants and shorts are all on the skinny side. I love that I don’t have to keep swiping across the screen every 20 seconds while reading like I did with the iPhone. And reading things like PDFs is much easier on the bigger screen, since I don’t have to keep panning around the page. These comments here about the screen size apply to pretty much any newer Android phone with a large-ish screen, and not just the Note II. I played around with the Samsung Galaxy S4 a lot in the store, and its 5-inch screen was nice and big, too, and there are several other Android phones that have screens in this size range.
The second thing I like about the Note II is the inter-app communication. Apple’s iOS operating system that runs on iPhones and iPads is famously tightly controlled. The apps are all sandboxed, which means that there’s essentially no sharing of files or information allowed between apps. Apple does this for security reasons, and it means that one app can’t mess around with the system files or with other apps. That’s good. On the other hand, it also means that apps can’t talk to each other or become more deeply integrated with the phone itself. That’s not so good. Let me set up a scenario so that I can illustrate the point. I use Feedly to read RSS feeds. Feedly has apps for both iOS and Android, and they’re both great. No problems there. But let’s say I want to send an article I’m reading in the Feedly app to Hootsuite or Buffer or a social bookmarking service like Kippt. You can’t do that on iOS, but it’s a breeze in Android. There in the Feedly app for Android, I just press the share button and select Buffer or Kippt or whatever from the list of apps. I love it.
The increased screen size combined with the inter-app communication of Android has changed how I consume information. I used to very rarely use my iPhone to read RSS feeds or check email because it wasn’t a good experience. It was definitely doable, but not pleasant. The screen is just too small. But now I use my Note II more as I would a tablet. It’s the first thing that I reach for when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I touch before going to bed at night, and on it I cycle through my email inbox, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, two different feed readers, and YouTube. I use it to read my Kindle ebooks and issues of Climbing magazine that I’ve subscribed to via the Zinio app. I use it to schedule tweets of articles that I read and like. I like that the on-screen keyboard is big enough (thanks to the screen size) that I can easily type on the phone in portrait mode. Could my iPhone do all of these things? Of course, but it wasn’t necessarily enjoyable, and I usually did most of them on my laptop. Now I prefer doing them on my phone. As far as I’m concerned, any additional time that I don’t have to be at my computer for is great.
Other things about the Note II like the removable battery and ability to add a microSD card for external storage are nice, but they weren’t the reason I bought the phone, and not all Android phones have these capabilities.
Android: The not-so-good
So what are the cons of switching to an Android device? First of all, I thought that searching for something in Apple’s App Store was a pain, but searching for apps in the Google Play app store is even worse. I’ll routinely search for something and then have no idea why I’m being shown those particular search results.
Second, I’ve found that the quality of the individual apps isn’t as high as iOS apps, and Android apps are almost universally uglier.
Third, there is so much crappy carrier-installed software on my Android phone that I can’t delete. And yes, I know about rooting the phone and installing custom ROMs and all that stuff, but it’s not something I want to have to deal with, not least because my phone is actually a Korean model, and finding instructions on how to root it is hard. But there are enough crap apps on there that it actually negatively affects the phone experience. This would be solved if you bought a Nexus 5 or a Google Play Edition of an Android phone like the HTC One or Galaxy S4, but I can’t get those in Thailand. I bought my Note II used and got it for a good price, but there’s no way I’d buy a brand new Android phone from Samsung or through any carrier that loaded it with crappy apps.
Fourth, upgrading to the latest version of Android is a pain on some phones and impossible on others. With iOS, the updates are pushed out automatically to all devices.
Fifth, this isn’t a major reason that switching to Android sucks, but it is unfortunate that so much Android hardware feels cheap and plasticy. iPhones are things of beauty. My Note II feels like a big slab of plastic.
And finally, I feel that iOS is just a more refined and thought out operating system. Overall, I like the user interface of iOS more. Having now gotten used to both Command Center in iOS 7 (which is the half-screen window of options that appears when you swipe up from the bottom of the screen) and the pulldown menu on my Android phone (which does something similar), I can say that Command Center is just better for me. It doesn’t have as many options, but the options it does have are more useful to me and easier to toggle. That’s a theme that runs throughout iOS.
So was it worth the switch? Am I happy with my Android phone? Yes. Because I read so much with my phone, the larger screen alone makes it worth switching. If Apple does come out with a larger-screened iPhone, which I really hoped they were going to do this last time around but didn’t, I would happily switch back to an iPhone, though it would be crazy expensive. Inter-app communication in Android is awesome, but I’d be willing to live without it if it meant that I could have access to Facetime, iMessage, better hardware, better apps, and a more limited but more refined operating system.
For the near future, I’ll be keeping both of my phones, using my Android phone daily and my iPhone occasionally whenever I need to do something with it that my Note II can’t do. I will be selling my Kindle Fire tablet, since I can now use the Note II as the color-screened device that I test my ebooks on.
I don’t know if this was helpful or interesting to anyone listening to this, but hopefully it was. Getting an Android phone has thrown into sharp contrast the strengths and weaknesses of both it and the iPhone. Which one is best for you boils down to what you’ll be using your phone for most and just which one you prefer. Both do pretty much everything the average digital publisher would want a phone to do. If you have any questions about switching from one platform to the other, leave a comment or shoot me an email using the contact form at DigitalPublishingPodcast.com.
Pick of the week
And that now brings us to my pick of the week. This is where I pick one useful thing to share, and it can be an app, a website, a podcast, or anything else I find valuable. I’ll make this short and sweet, since this episode is already longer than usual. My pick this time is a quick tip for those of you who want to create multiple accounts for services like Twitter that require one different email address per account. I could have sworn that I’d talked about this in an earlier episode, but I couldn’t find it, so I’m going to talk about it again. Twitter doesn’t let you associate multiple Twitter accounts with a single email address. Other services have a similar rule. But it’s a pain to have to create a brand new email address just to register a new social media account. If you have a Gmail account, you can get around this. All you have to do is insert a period somewhere within the email address you use when signing up for the Twitter account. So if my normal email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, I could use email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or anything else like that. These email addresses are all the same to Gmail. To it, a message sent to email@example.com is the same as one sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. But to Twitter, they’re completely different. The result is that you can use periods in different places in your email address to make websites think you’re using a different email address, when in reality it’s the same email address, and you really don’t have to make a new email address at all.
And that’s all for episode 46 of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out digitalpublishingpodcast.com for complete transcriptions and other blog posts there at the blog.
Please don’t hesitate to email me any questions you might have regarding digital publishing. I love talking about this stuff, and I’d love to help you out. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.digitalpublishingpodcast.com. That will redirect you to my Twitter account, since my name is a bit tricky to spell. If you do follow me there, be sure to say hi. And again and as always, I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed this podcast, and thanks for listening.