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Sunday, February 23, 2014

10 Things I Hate About Android Smart Phones

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10 Things I Hate About Android Smart Phones

After doing a nice little hit piece on the 10 things I hate about BlackBerry, it's time for me to do one on Android. While I struggled a bit coming up with flaws on the BlackBerry, I didn't have much of a hard time with this list. Just a quick overview, Android is the new OS on the smart phone block. It's very flashy and flamboyant. Android is a highly customizable platform and the main competitor to Apple's iPhone and iOS. Google's brainchild has reached mainstream status penetrating into the top 3 smartphone OS. Some people would say, being popular doesn't always make it good. Case in point: Justin Bieber. Because Android has made its way to one of the top 3 smartphone platforms, people are bound to have opinions. People love to hear the pros but lets take a minute and look at the cons.

1. Freezing/Force Close

No time to waste, lets get started. The first thing I hate about Android is the constant freezing and “Force Close”. Whenever an app freezes up or doesn't respond, you are prompted to force close the app. I wish I could say my experience was an isolated incident but it's not. Just by browsing some Android forums, you will read of many annoying incidents of force close. Even though Android is based on Linux, it feels more like a smartphone version of Windows Vista. Always crashing and freezing.

2. Terrible Keyboard

The stock Android keyboard is terrible. I know there are plenty of better soft keyboards out there. One of my favorites is Swype. Why can't the standard keyboard be good? The soft keyboard on Apple's iPhone is much better than Android's. The predictive text on the stock Android keyboard is terrible. The point of using a soft keyboard with predictive text is so you don't have to go back and fix all the jumbled words.

3. Fragmentation

One of the more serious problems with Android is their fragmented platform. Most apps depend on a newer version of Android which means you either have to upgrade your OS or buy a newer phone. Since most carriers take their time to release an upgrade, you are left behind while newer phones enjoy these cool apps. I suspect most carriers delay their upgrades in order to provoke people to buy newer phones. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised. Besides the different versions of Android, you also have manufacturer specific skins on top of Android. HTC has SenseUI, Samsung has TouchWiz, and Motorola has MotoBlur. Each manufacturer takes Android and turns it into their own unique version. This makes the experience on each device different. The result? Fragmentation.

4. Accept/Reject Meetings

Accepting meeting requests on BlackBerry is simple. After you get an invitation, you can either accept or reject it. This is a problem on some Android phones but not all. I don't want to dwell on #3 but this is another example of fragmentation. For me, the problem was specific.

5. Poor UI

The next problem I have with Android is its user interface. At first, I thought it was great. It felt like having a little computer in your hand. After using it for a while, I had a chance to objectively look at it. I found it to be very counter intuitive. After a while, it did become like a computer. I would often times have icons littered across my home screens. It reminded me of saving all your files to the desktop and quickly seeing lots of “trash” that needed to be cleaned. After I cleaned it, they were still unorganized in the huge menu. One could say that's my own fault and it may be so. Lets move on. Lots of Android apps function differently. When you hit the “back” button, you would expect to go to the previous screen. Keep hitting back and each app acts differently. Did the application close? Some apps will close when you hit back all the way but not all. Now you have to open up a task killer to see if this app is closed or not. Each app behaves differently from the back button and also the menu button. Each settings for each app is different so there is nothing intuitive or uniform about the UI.

6. Memory Hogging Widgets

Part of the reason I think Android has poor UI is widgets. Widgets are like micro apps that run on the “desktop” of Android. These widgets are memory hogs and they add to Android's messy interface. Lots of apps comes with widgets that you can put on your home screens. Android has some preloaded and HTC has many SenseUI widgets. These widgets are like early HTML pages. When the web was in its infancy, many people thought it was cool to build webpages with flashing text and neon colors. That's how I describe Android widgets. Some are plain, some are functional, some are ugly and some are just stupid. All of these widgets look out of place unless you follow a strict color scheme. Even then, consistency is still hard to achieve unless you have a theme. I used to have tons of widgets on my home screen until I found out they bogged my phone down, it was almost unusable. Widgets may be cool for computers but for now, they suck for phones.

7. Awful Battery Life

Probably my biggest complaint with Android is its terrible battery life. It's pretty consistent across all manufacturers. When I had an Android phone, I would be lucky to get a full day's use out of it. I had to buy extra chargers for work and the car just to trickle in a few watt hours into these little lithiums. 8 hours of use is common. I would pull my phone hot off the charge at 10AM and it would be red by 6pm. What good is a huge touch screen and all these smartphone luxuries when I have to turn off WiFi every time I leave my home? Why do I have to turn my brightness down just to squeeze in an extra hour? Why do I have to get a task killer and babysit these background apps? Probably the biggest question that comes to mind is why do companies make these awesome smartphones and put tiny batteries in them? All touch screen smartphones should have at least a 2Ah(2000mAh) battery. At LEAST! Most smartphones have at the most, a 1500 mAh battery which is pitiful considering they're powering GHz speed smartphones. Those that say their Android's battery life is fine is kidding themselves. No one should expect 8 hour of real-world usage. A smartphone should last at least a full business day. Each person has their own requirements but suffices to say, 8 hours was not good enough for me.

8. Feels Sluggish On Good Hardware

Speaking of GHz speed processors, I still feel new Android phones aren't living up to their spec sheets. Back when 528MHz processors were the standard, we should be thankful we have 1 GHz processors. The problem is things still feel sluggish with 1GHz Snapdragons, Hummingbirds, OMAP's, and whatever the new Arm A1000 architect they've released. I love watching countless 'iPhone 4 vs Latest Android” videos. The iPhone often holds its own with weaker hardware. I'm not an iDrone by any means. I don't even own an Apple product. However, I can appreciate Apple optimizing their software with their hardware. This means many Android phones feel sluggish with good hardware. Yes, the new breed of GHz speed processors are fast but I always detect a hint of stutter here and there that bothers me like a hangnail.

9. Shady App Opt-ins

Most third-party Android apps have a weird opt-in that requires you to give up your privacy. These apps often get access to your data and location. Why does a third-party app need to know where I'm located? The problem is you cannot install these apps without giving them access. After a while, it becomes so common, you don't even think about it anymore. Click next, next, accept, install. You want access to my GPS location? Sure! Why not...

10. Illusion Of Being Open

One of the bigger things I don't like about Android is the illusion of open. Android is free and open-source. The phone carriers and manufacturers lock down the OS. This isn't exactly a new thing. RIM and Apple do it too but it's not a secret. When they install preloaded apps like SprintNav, VZ Navigator, and other bloatware, its not a surprise. With Android, I can't remove this bloatware unless I root my phone. Rooting is Android's equivalent to jailbreaking an iPhone. In Linux talk, getting “root” access means getting administrative access. Think sudo. For example, I can't install software unless I am root. This requires me to type in a password. Back to Android. They market themselves as being free and open but that is only half the story. In order to get root access, you'll need to perform risky ROM flashing that may brick your phone if not done properly. I had to root my Android in order to get a flashlight app to work because it needed root access to control the LED flash. The procedure was easy to follow but it can be intimidating for newbies. Because Android is so “open”, cell phone carriers are capable of modifying and locking it down. Don't believe me? Look at AT&T's first Android device, the Motorola Backflip. They modified Android's default Google search and replaced it with Yahoo! search. I'm sure you can think of other examples. The point is, if Android is so open, why do I have to Flash a different ROM in order to get administrative access? Last time I checked, I purchased an “opened” phone. That's their illusion. Their marketing. Sure the platform is inherently open but the carriers lock it down. By the time it gets into your pocket(literally), it's closed. Don't like having a Vcast app? Too bad.

Final Thoughts

These are the 10 things I hate about Android. While some are more serious than others, I think its a good thing to evaluate the flaws before we, as consumers, make expensive purchase decisions. No platform is perfect and I don't claim that. I wrote this in order to inform consumers and possible fanboys that Android is not perfect either. Lots of people develop an emotional attachment to their phones in which they'll defend it with prejudice. While being popular doesn't mean it's good, I cannot deny the huge impact Android has on smartphones. I hope they work hard to improve their platform for consumers. Enough about what I think. What do you hate about Android?

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