Bye Bye iPhone, Hello Android

As a direct result of Apple’s announcement, I went out and bought an Android phone.

Almost three years ago, I bought an iPhone 3G.  It was sort of an impulse buy, in the sense that once I understood its capabilities, I was sold, and I went out and bought one immediately.  Of course, that was after months of disappointment about other smartphones: the Treo to which I wanted to upgrade had issues, and I didn’t want anything powered by a Microsoft OS.  The iPhone was awesome when I got it.  However, I was forced into a series of iOS upgrades intended for later (faster) hardware, and now the device has become so slow it is nearly unusable.

I didn’t upgrade to the iPhone 4 because of the antenna problem (I don’t use a case, because it defeats the purpose of buying a thin phone).  I waited anxiously for the iPhone 5.  Earlier this year, Apple announced a bunch of new products, but no new iPhone, and I grew more anxious.  Lately, there were rumors that an iPhone 5 would be announced in early September.  There were even some leaked photos of cases that revealed a little bit of the phone.  All month I waited, and I blew my stack every time I tried to use the now impossibly slow Google Maps.

Meanwhile, I went smartphone shopping with a friend of mine a week and a half ago.  He knows I am an open source advocate, and he was chastising me about my choice to lock myself up with Apple, whose evil is well understood by many.  He was looking at the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G.  It was basically the hottest Android phone on the market, but not available from AT&T.  I told him I was holding out for an iPhone 5, and I defended my use of Apple products by telling him it wasn’t such an important life choice.

Yesterday, Apple finally made the announcement.  No iPhone 5.  Instead, an iPhone 4S.  As far as I can tell, it’s another iPhone 4 with the same broken antenna, but with a faster processor.  No thanks.

But I can’t wait any longer for an acceptable new phone, so I got online to check out the phone my friend bought.  One of the reviews I read ultimately caused me to discover that an AT&T version had been released just two days before the Apple announcement.  I have been a loyal AT&T customer for over a decade (right through the Cingular acquisitions), and unlike the Sprint version, this is a true “world phone”.

So I bought one, the same day as Apple’s non-announcement.  Again, sort of an impulse buy, yet sort of not.

This is my first Android phone.  Three years ago, I would have been afraid to get an Android, but the platform has clearly matured quite a bit since then.  I recognize a lot of commonality with iPhone in terms of user-interface, but it is definitely not as polished as the iPhone.  I have had it for less than 24 hours, so take this for what it is worth, but I am still struggling with a few things.

The main email app doesn’t do IMAP folders correctly, but apparently this platform isn’t supposed to lock me into the email app provided.  I will have to try out a few.  An important function for me is a checkbook register, and surprisingly, I can’t find one that does the job.  The keyboard support is limited (I use both Cyrillic and Japanese), and the Japanese app I really love is not available for Android.  I haven’t figured out where to store music and photos for them to be accessible, but I know it is possible.

On the other hand, there is a lot I am happy about.  It comes with both a built-in GPS maps program and a GPS navigator.  I haven’t played with the voice control, but I know it’s there.  I finally have a phone with an electronic compass, which is something I’ve wanted several times when I’ve been out in the field.  The web browser actually does Flash.  With the iPhone, I had grown accustomed to being boxed in for various reasons related to corporate greed, and now I am starting to wake up from that.

The hardware is great.  It is fast.  The screen is beautiful.  The touch screen works well.  There is the electronic compass I just mentioned.  The package is very thin, though longer and wider than my previous phone.  The battery life was identified as the phone’s major weakness, so I was a bit worried about it, but so far it seems to be performing as well as my iPhone 3G did.

I am quite happy with the phone in general, and I’m sure I will work out the kinks.  I may even do a little development this time, if only so I can have a decent checkbook.

Update: The verdict on the battery life is that it sucks.  My usage today is what I would consider normal.  The battery was charged when I got up this morning.  By lunchtime, the battery was below 50%, and by mid-day it was nagging for me to put it on the charger.  This is with Wifi and Bluetooth and GPS turned off.  It is roughly half the battery life of my iPhone 3G, which was already marginally acceptable.  I will have to get into the habit of charging it at work, charging it whenever I’m in the car, etc.  I am not happy about this.  Battery technology needs to catch up, and electronics manufacturers need to stop pushing the limits quite that far for the sake of size reduction.  Update: I disabled “Breaking News” on two news apps, and my battery life seems to have gotten a lot better.  They must have been polling internet servers constantly.  Apparently, an Android user must learn to take charge of the power consumption on the device.