Saturday, January 08, 2011

This is the Droid you are looking for

After about 2-1/2 years of being an iPhone user, I made the switch to an Android phone, the Droid X.  I also switched carriers, from AT&T to Verizon.  I've been using the Droid X for about 2 months and I feel that I've gotten a grasp on it enough to write a bit of a comparison.

App Comparison
When I started thinking about a new phone, I started poking around in the Android Marketplace, looking to see what apps were out there.

The important ones were out there - Remember the Milk, Evernote, Twitter, Facebook.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the full version of Angry Birds was free for Android.

In short, every app I had on my iPhone, I was able to find for Android with two exceptions, the Chipotle ordering app and the Starbucks card management app (there are a few that aren't written by Starbucks and cost, though).  But, I can do the same thing as both of those apps through my web browser, so it really doesn't matter, I'm okay with out them.

This was the first stage gate for Android readiness - were the apps I use frequently available, and yes they are.  The number of applications in apps stores are a frequently quoted metric and though the Android Marketplace still lags iTunes Music Store, in my opinion, there are plenty of good apps out there.

As a note, I do not use my phone to manage and play music. I have an iPod for that.  I've seen some apps to sync from iTunes to an Android phone, but I've got no experience with that.  If you purchase music from 7digital or Amazon MP3, there are some apps to get your music to the phone.

Integration with Google
This is kind of a no brainer, but with Google having developed Android, it works seemlessly with Google's web services, like Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, and Voice.  All I had to do was sign in with my Google Account (there's even a link to set one if if per chance you don't have one already) and my contacts were synchronized.  Not only can I see my calendar, but I can also see and manage my kids shared calendars too.

Android does a better job than the iPhone does in integrating with Google.  Google has instructions to setup your iPhone to connect to their servers using Exchange, as the iPhone has always had Exchange support.  It works pretty well when integrating with Google, but until recently, you could only have 1 exchange account setup.  The iPhone now supports multiple exchange accounts, which is useful for those that want a device that can manage both your work and personal life.

If you use Google Voice, you can actually set Google Voice to be the default dialer on the phone, so all calls are automatically placed with Google Voice.  That's a really cool feature, because I don't need to do anything special to have calls from my mobile phone show up with my Google Voice number.  This is a place where the Android phones hand down beat the iPhone, but why would Apple make its products integrate seamlessly with one of their competitors?

Integration with Exchange
My workplace, like many, uses Exchange for email and calendaring.  The two platforms support Exchange pretty well out of the box.   I think that they're pretty even on this front, though some of my friends recommended Touchdown, a paid app as it makes the exchange experience on Android even better.  I've been quite satisfied with the out of the box performance.

One of the notable things, though, my Android phone is my only device or program, including on my PC which can display and manage both my Exchange calendar and my personal Google calendars side by side.  I've got some apps where I can pull a snapshot of another calendar, but not a calendar I can update.

User Interface
The iPhone's user interface is much more polished that Android's.  You wouldn't expect any less from Apple, would you?  On the iPhone, screens grow out of the center, rather than just appearing.  When you set the time on an alarm, the iPhone displays the number choices in a scrolling wheel, which you spin with your finger.  Under Android, you have a text box with a + and - to add to the numbers.  It works, but its just not as pretty.

Accessing settings on the iPhone is pretty straight forward.  On Android, there are a few more layers of menus to dig through.  You have the same control, but you have to dig a little further to get there, unless you use Widgets.

Widgets are a pretty cool shortcut that Android provides (and you can get something similar for a jail-broken iPhone) to all kinds of features.  There are widgets that will show updates from your social network, but the ones where Android really beats out iPhone are the switches.  I have some widgets to turn off and on wifi, bluetooth and my GPS, all right from a home screen.  On the iPhone, you have to go to the settings and change it.  Again, same functionality, but a few more touches to get there.

Other Features
There are a few other features and differences worth noting.

Taking screen shots is an available feature on the iPhone.  As a blogger, its quite useful.  However, on Android, the only way (so far) to get screen shots is to use the SDK.

Android beats the iPhone, hands down when it comes to voice recognition.  Almost every keyboard has a little mic icon and you can use voice recognition for your input instead of typing.  There are 3rd party apps for the iPhone that do a great job of this, but Android does it better.  The phone even has all kinds of voice actions which are really useful.  This video gives a great overview.

Virtual Private Networking
Out of the box, the iPhone supports Cisco VPN, with shared secrets. Android's VPN support isn't fully there yet.  I'm not enough of a VPN guy to know what all that means, but with the iPhone, I could connect to my corporate VPN and I've not been able to do that with my Droid. Yet.  As Android is all based on Linux, I'm sure that the functionality will come.

It was great on my iPhone to be able to connect directly to my work network; however, my role has changed and I don't need to do that kind of emergency support work as frequently and secondly, with the wifi hotspot on the phone (more on this later), I can just tether my laptop, connect with VPN and use a full size keyboard for any remote work.  It may be a few more steps, but I can still remotely connect to VPN.

Carrier Comparison
When one of my friends asked me about having to switch to Verizon, I responded, "I don't think it really matters."

With number portability and the fact that I use Google Voice (mostly the latter), I had no strong ties to AT&T.  AT&T has one large dead zone on the main road to my neighborhood and their customer service isn't the greatest.  The phone is on a corporate account, so I don't gain any benefits by being a long-time customer.   I wasn't married to AT&T and was ready for a change.

With Verizon, I've had fewer dropped calls.  Most in fact, have been my fault, as I learn the new buttons on the phone or how to switch between calls.  AT&T's dead zone is alive on Verizon's network, so I don't have to wait until I get past that spot before making calls in the car.  I've been able to get a signal where ever I want it.

Verizon is much more amenable to tethering other devices to the phone in order to connect to the internet.  The Droid X has a wifi hotspot application, no jail breaking/rooting or 3rd party apps required. A few weeks ago, the internet at home went down and I was able to wifi tether to my phone and then use Skype from my laptop to call my ISP to let them know of their issue.  I'm looking forward to a road trip when we can connect our wifi devices while driving (not for the driver, though) and surf the internet or whatnot.

There are two downsides, or at least big changes, having left AT&T, though.  Firstly, AT&T has a lot of free to the the iPhone hotspots - no sign in required, the iPhone just connects on its own.  It adds a step in the connection process with my new phone, but Wifi Browser Login speeds that process up some.  Secondly, and I've only tripped over this once, AT&T's GSM network allows simultaneous data and voice connections, while Verizon's CDMA only allows one or the other.  Being able to be on the phone and look up an address and then tell it to my wife has been useful in the past, but I'll see how it goes without this one.

One of my friends recently asked my opinion about an iPhone versus a Android phone.  They are both great computers and the Android is a great phone too.  The iPhone definitely has the polish and looks, but the Android has all the features and more.

I really like my Android phone and am quite pleased with making the change.  Its definitely the right phone for me.

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