I’ve long considered it inevitable that I’ll someday have an iPhone. The realization makes me sad, because though I appreciate Apple’s design sensibility and marvel at its business acumen, I’ve always been uncomfortable with Apple’s tight control over every aspect of the user experience.
That’s why I’ve clung to my Blackberry Torch for more than two and half years. It was terribly dated, slow and clunky, but it still did what I absolutely needed: phone calls, text messaging, social media, photos and videos, excellent email. Even when things started to go wrong, I worked around them. In the last couple of weeks, it became obvious I wouldn’t be able to ignore the signs any longer. It was time to upgrade.
It didn’t take long to narrow down my choices: iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 920, Samsung Galaxy SIII.
I’ve been living with my Galaxy SIII now for about a week, and I can say now that I’m very happy with my decision.
Why Android? First, the ability to skin and customize to my liking really appealed to me. If I want my interface to look like a series of icons a la iPhone, I can do that. If I want it riddled with active widgets, I can do that as well. Instead, I’ve opted for a slick time and weather widget. I’ve added only the essentials to my main home screen, so it looks simple and elegant.
This is flexibility neither iPhone nor Windows Phone provide. In my opinion, iPhone is the least attractive of the lot, and certainly the least personal. And while Windows Phone offers super slick live tiles and the ability to choose color schemes, it’s nowhere near as flexible as Android.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the selection of apps available. Despite what you may have heard, almost anything available for iPhone is available for Android. The camera on this thing? Brilliant. Not only does it take great pictures, it takes better than great pictures. And the built in technology — smile detection, face detection, burst shooting, macro settings — all mean I probably won’t need to spring for a new point and shoot any time soon. The display is nice and big, making it a pleasure to use. And while the size took some getting used to, it was really only a matter of a day or two before it seemed natural, and picking up the old Blackberry for comparison’s sake felt clumsy and uncomfortable.
Is an Android phone right for everyone? Not quite.
I’m a gadget nerd, and even so it took at least two days to set the phone up in a way that made sense and was comfortable for me. Inexplicably, the phone ships with several active home screens, and at least a couple of them were blank. deleting and adding screens is a breeze, but I had to google to figure out how to do it the first time. One frustration of the iPhone for me has always been scrolling through pages and pages of apps — a frustration somewhat assuaged by the ability to use folders. I’ve found, however, that Android’s handling of folders is more elegant. I’m down to just two home screens now: a main home screen with the most frequently used functions and a second screen where apps are neatly organized by function. I’m now happily zipping around the device. The effort was worth it, in my opinion. But some may not have the interest, and that’s really the downfall. I’ve seen a number of people running the phones exactly as they shipped, and the device can be so much simpler and prettier.
Another concern is battery life. I was alarmed the first couple of days to see how fast the battery drained. This was my fault, of course. In my rush to try all the cool things Android offers, I stuffed the phone with live wallpapers and persistent apps that just never stopped running. I’ve since uninstalled the biggest offenders, and have seen a marked improvement in performance.
One big bone of contention, from a design standpoint, is the apparent lack of design standards for widgets. Some widgets are nothing more than links to launch applications, and yet they don’t fit well with the design of the standard icons of other Android apps. Some can be resized, which helps, but not all. This gives the interface a really jumbled and confused feel. My solution? I just don’t use many widgets.
In the final analysis, the Samsung Galaxy SIII has allowed me to put off the inevitable for another year or so. This time, however, I don’t feel like I’m missing out.
I’ve been a gadget nerd for close to forever now. Most of the time, I’m carrying an iPod Touch in one pocket, a BlackBerry in another and my laptop in my bag. I actually own three laptops, an iPad and a desktop. I’ve got a DS, a Wii and an Xbox 360 (with Kinect, thank you).
My newest and most favorite gadget is the Kindle Fire. It has joined the elite group of gadgets I carry with me at all times, and I use it more than any other gadget in my collection.
If you’re wondering whether you should get one, the answer is yes.
Here’s what I love about it:
1. No Apple. My biggest frustration with the iPad and iPod Touch is Apple, and my inability to do what I want with my devices. I can’t understand Apple’s app approval process, either. While we’re told it is to ensure we get the best apps, the App Store is chock full of garbage. The Kindle has a different master — Amazon — but I’ve been in Apple land so long that it just feels good to get out.
2. Android. The Kindle Fire runs a heavily modified version of Google’s Android operating system. It’s easy to use, responsive, and generally makes lots of sense. The Kindle doesn’t seem to get bogged down and clunky the way early-gen Android phones did. After a few days of interacting with the Fire, iOS started to look its age — old and outdated, by tech standards.
3. Form. The Kindle Fire is the perfect size. I’ve spent quite a lot of time going from iPad to iPod, frustrated that one is too big and the other is too small. The iPad is just too heavy and bulky and slippery to be used comfortably as a reader. And playing games that require two hands in nearly impossible. The iPod Touch is nice for playing some games, but too small to be a reader. I use my devices often for Netflix and YouTube. While Netflix looks great on the iPad, you need to prop the iPad up or suffer carpal tunnel syndrome. The iPod Touch is so small that you’ll need to hold it fairly close in order to enjoy what you’re watching. The Kindle fire, however, can be comfortably held in one hand at a distance that isn’t awkward. In addition, the non-slip back on the Kindle Fire makes it easier and more comfortable to hold.
4. Amazon. If Apple’s iTunes and App Store have any competition, it’s Amazon. The Amazon Marketplace includes apps, music, movies, books — in short, all the media you care to consume is right there for the taking. And there’s plenty of free content as well, especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member. The Kindle makes it easy to shop Amazon for non-digital items, too.
5. Price. Without a doubt, the Kindle is the best value on the market. Yes, it’s less powerful than the iPad. It’s smaller, it doesn’t have the fancy screen resolution, and it isn’t made by Apple. But at $200, you can get two Kindle Fires for the price of one low-end iPad, and still have $100 left over. Better yet, consider the annual updates Apple makes to the iPad. If you were to buy a new iPad each year for five years, you’d shell out $2,500. Five Kindle Fires? $1,000. Considering that this is the first edition of the Kindle Fire, I have to assume there are many improvements to come. Frankly, I don’t mind dropping a couple hundred dollars each year to get a new Fire. An iPad? It just isn’t worth the money.
It isn’t all roses, however. Here are a few things I dislike about the Fire:
1. Amazon. I really dislike being locked into any single ecosystem, which is why I’m one of the few dinosaurs who still carries a BlackBerry. I enjoy tinkering and playing with free apps found out in the wild. I’m smart enough to mess with my devices without messing them up. I don’t want to have to jailbreak a device in order to get it to do what I want. Amazon’s decision to lock the Kindle into its own ecosystem, for me, causes problems like….
2. Access. There’s no Facebook app for the Kindle Fire, but the Fire comes loaded with a nifty Facebook icon right on the home screen — cleverly added to your favorites — that links you to Facebook’s mobile site. There is, however, a Facebook app for Android. Unfortunately, you can’t get it, because it isn’t in the Amazon Marketplace. But there’s a Twitter app, which works quite well. The problem here is that Amazon obviously picked a favorite by including Facebook in the favorites, even though there’s no dedicated app available. And Facebook, thinking you’re running a regular Android device, prompts you regularly to download its Android app — which doesn’t exist on the Marketplace, and therefore can’t be installed. Amazon needs to fix such things. To me, this is clearly the biggest frustration.
3. Options. There really needs to be a 3G option here. I generally use my Kindle at home, but I’d love for it to be more portable. Unfortunately, when I’m on the go, I find myself forced to reach for my BlackBerry for Internet access, when I’d really like to grab the Fire. That being said, I could easily get around the problem with a mobile hotspot — which is likely what I’ll do.
4. Carousel. I don’t even know what it’s supposed to do. I thought at first that it was for negotiating through open programs. It seems, however, to be a running history of what you’ve recently had open. That’s okay, but I’d like the ability to change its function, so it doesn’t keep everything. If there’s already a dedicated link (like the web) or there’s already a favorite, why clutter up the carousel with those things? It looks neat, but functions…meh.
Anyone who is in the market for a tablet needs to understand an important point: Tablets are for consuming, not creating. A tablet is a great device to use if you’re watching video, surfing the net, reading a book, playing games. But it is a miserable device to use for actually working on. Typing on the iPad or Kindle is awful. Both have unfortunate autocorrect issues. Both are uncomfortable and inefficient. Both are terrible for editing text. But neither is truly meant for that. They’re meant to be used for consuming information, for flipping through photos, for reading. Apple markets the iPad otherwise, but I can’t imagine editing a book or writing anything longer than a short email on an iPad. Drawing? Maybe. Creating music? Perhaps. But most humans don’t work in creative fields; standard office work with a tablet is not a good time.
So that’s my take on it. If you want a tablet, go with the Kindle Fire. Simple as that.