iPhone to Droid X: Impressions of a Data Pig

Two weeks ago I pulled the trigger. Two days prior I had stopped in my local Verizon store, said I wanted a Droid X. The next day, the rep called and said he had one for me, as long as I was in the store by 5pm the next day, launch day. After dropping my kids at camp, I hustled in at 10am sharp. By 10:40 I was out the door with my new beast. So what has it been like?

The first pleasant surprise was that it didn’t need to connect to a computer to be useful. All I did was sign in with my Gmail account, and all my contacts, email, and calendars (which previously were syncing to my iPhone via Google’s ActiveSync/Exchange connector) came flying in. Thirty-second setup, at most. Even contact pictures came across! The only thing missing was the ringtones, but I expected that.

(A word about the Droid X: this thing is big. Which for me is a huge plus, as I am a big guy, with big hands, and was prone to dropping the damn slippery iPhone. And the screen size is reallllly nice. And the default battery gives better battery life than my 3GS out of the box. I will be first in line for the extended battery in August however.)

Apps, Apps, I love Apps!
Work intruded, as it will, but by the evening I had things well in hand. Amazon app? Check. Streaming Radio App? Check. Kindle? Twitter? Evernote? MLB At Bat? ESPN Radio? Slacker? Pandora? Check, check, check. Some are better than their iPhone counterparts, some are more clumsy, but all work. Note that by this time I still had not connected the phone to my computer at all.

The Android Market is just as messy to navigate as Apple’s App Store, but I think that is just baked in to the problem. Still, the only app I really miss is Lose It; there is no calorie tracking program for Android that comes close to Lose It. WunderRadio, which is good on the iPhone, sucks completely on Android. It looks like they farmed the name out to someone else, and the app is a mess, crashing, stuttering, timing out, generally worthless. Very disappointing. The RadioTime app is similarly sucky. The oddly-named Cherry RPlayer, on the other hand, is pretty good, though I wish the guys who did PocketTunes for the iPhone would do an Android version. And ESPN Radio’s app is splendid, as is the MLB At Bat app. At least as good as their iPhone counterparts, if not better.

To some degree, apps like WunderRadio that index streaming audio feeds are unnecessary on Android. You can just find the link online (I love http://www.thestreamcenter.com for this) and when you click on a link, you get a choice as to which app will open the stream (Cherry works for this too). And it all just plays in the background with no hullabaloo.

The backgrounding is not as huge for me as for some, as my 3GS was jailbroken for a while. So I’ve had backgrounding for a good amount of time. I never upgraded to iOS 4.0 to find out how it well it works; I really liked the jailbroken backgrounding paradigm. But on the Droid X, you never explicitly quit anything, just switch away and the OS will reclaim it if it needs to. Seems to have no impact on battery life.

Browser
The shipping browser is really good; Dolphin is even better regarding tabs. Either way, I find it a better browser experience than Mobile Safari, mainly because the Android browser reflows text more aggressively when zooming.

The ability to customize which app handles which kind of link is really powerful, and a big contrast from the iPhone. However, for some reason I can’t login to the free wifi at Barnes & Noble; it won’t let me click on the right button. True for Opera Mini as well. Weird.

Email
My GMail account works flawlessly, but the interface is not quite up to Apple’s mail interface. Still, it is more than good enough. Mail, Calendar, Contacts, it all just works.

But oh!, my work IMAP account is treated like a pedophile uncle at a family gathering. Really, the non-GMail email situation sucks rocks; there are two decent mail clients in the Market, and I ended up using the badly icon’d K9 (I say that while watching a Doctor Who episode on my TiVo), but it has a terrible interface compared to my iPhone. It works, yes, but it is a pile of rough edges. Ugh. We get it Google; Gmail is great, but some of us do use IMAP. Blech.

Home Screen
Within a day or two I went to LauncherPro for my home screen, but even for the stock Moto home screen, you can pick from a bunch of widgets to add. Widgets can be thought of as (visibly) tiny apps that sit on your home screens and show you status of things, like weather, stock prices, your email inbox, your twitter feed, etc. The only one I use is a weather one (I dislike a busy desktop), so I won’t comment much more on those.

A much bigger deal is that you can add a shortcut to damn near anything to the home screen. Bookmarks, apps, contacts, Gmail labels, rss feeds, a music playlist, a slideshow, folders, etc. This lets you customize your home screen to fit your brain, something which drove me crazy on my iPhone.

Notifications
Much has been written elsewhere, but what they say is accurate: Android’s notification system is so nice it makes you smile. Every time some little icon of information pops up onto the status bar, you’ll be tempted to giggle. It manages to both inform and not interrupt, whereas many notifications on the iPhone manage to interrupt yet not inform. Sweet.

Music
This was interesting. DoubleTwist is emerging as iTunes-for-Android, but it flat does not work for me; my music is on a network-mounted (ssh) drive and DoubleTwist just doesn’t support such a thing. Too bad, because it looks really nice. Where to go? MediaMonkey of course. The Monkey is an awesome piece of software (Windows only, alas) that has no trouble with my 40+gigs of music sitting elsewhere (DoubleTwist), never complaining that it wants to crawl the contents of all the songs for gapless analysis (iTunes), or invalidating the entire library (and playlists!) because I started it without the drive being mounted (iTunes again). Indeed, the best thing about Android is I was able to delete iTunes.

Playback is more of a pain. The default Music app is really primitive, and if there is one thing I liked on my iPhone it was the iPod player interface. Luckily, bTunes is a music player app designed for iPhone refugees, including lock screen controls, and headset controls. Works for me.

Instant Messaging
Instant messaging is a sore spot for me. AOL/Yahoo is always easy, and the stock AIM client is good enough. For multi-client, IM+ and Meebo look nice and offer lots of features. But they suck mightily for corporate Jabber as they don’t support group chat,something I use daily. Just like on the iPhone. And just like on the iPhone, I have to use a second Jabber client, the strangely named imov Corporate Messenger. On the upside, imov works perfectly, though you can’t bookmark group chats. On the downside, why can’t IM+ or Meebo get this working? Is mobile group chat NP-complete or something?

Swype
On the Droid X, you can choose Swype or keyboard input, and I really, really like it. I understand you can’t just get it for any arbitrary Android phone, but it was on the phone, so I tried it. Really, really good idea. Works better than you’d think. Recommended.

The All Powerful Menu and Back Buttons
This is the most jarring conceptual difference coming from the iPhone: buttons. You can’t use the OS without at least these two buttons. (There are two others, Home and Search, but you can ignore them if you want.) Menu brings up a context specific menu (until I realized this I thought Android apps were not allowed to have settings), and the Back button is an OS-wide back operation. This latter concept is brilliant; you can be in Twitter, open a link in the browser, then follow to a mp3 stream, then hit back to go back to the browser, then back again to get back to Twitter. The fact that it seamlessly follows you across application boundaries is fabulous, and blurs the line between individual applications in a way that is super effective. Yes, you are somewhat at the mercy of developers properly implementing the functionality, but man, it works well. And it makes a huge difference in usage pattern from the iPhone.

The Network
I live in the Baltimore/Washington area; I drive highways to Baltimore for work several times a week, and drive through somewhat hilly rural areas around my county. For me, the iPhone was a barely adequate phone. I dropped calls constantly. My boss, my wife (on T-Mobile for her work BlackBerry), my mother, my kids all noticed and complained that my iPhones (there were three) dropped so many calls. Call quality was ok, but quality suffers a drastic drop when the call, er, drops. Other people have other experiences, YMMV.

That said…

I haven’t had a single dropped call in two weeks. I get solid data connections in areas that were black holes in the past. I can listen to a radio stream while driving either of the Baltimore tunnels, no interruptions. I kept up a 2 hour phone call last week, driving to-and-fro across the county (two kids, two sports camps, two different locations, two different schedules) no problem. Call quality is great. It’s … amazing. Revelatory. I can rely on my phone to be a phone. Wowzer.

There are niggles. After AT&T, you do feel a bit confined when you are in a call, with no data connection. And Android is much less adept at switching between Wifi and 3G, or 3G and voice. It gets there, but there is more interruption than the iPhone had.

Niggles I can live with. Hello, Moto!

Finally, my Smartphone is a phone again.

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27 Comments on “iPhone to Droid X: Impressions of a Data Pig”

  1. Mark Says:

    “However, for some reason I can’t login to the free wifi at Barnes & Noble; it won’t let me click on the right button.”

    Set focus to a control before that button, tab to the button and hit enter.

    • designbygravity Says:

      Now that’s clever; I’ll have to try it.

      I could do a whole post on the pointless annoyance of those click-to-login pages.

  2. Julian Says:

    Interested in your IMAP problems – I’ve got an HTC Desire with 2 IMAP accounts (as well as GMail that I don’t really use) and they both seem to work fine. I also ended up using K9, but it was mostly out of curiosity. What issues did you have?

    In general I find that on the phone I’m reading, viewing attachments, composing short replies, deleting and moving messages to folders. Possibly you’re doing more than that.

  3. Tate Says:

    Sounded like a lot of caveats to me.
    How is the overall experience better?

    • Steve Says:

      Depends how you view it, when I read it I see a large number of comments on things that couldn’t be done on the iPhone and how things were frequently much easier with linking and setup and multi-apps. I.E. a number of caveats he had been living with on the iPhone. It’s amazing what perspective can to do perception.

  4. tudor Says:

    Check out the Fring app, I have a beta version that does a great job of integrating Twitter, Aim, Gtalk, MSN Live, Sip phone, ICQ and Yahoo into one interface, love that, nothing on my desktop comes close (Trillian was okay but a bit flaky, suggestions welcome!)

    • Steve Says:

      This won’t help currently but I thought I’d throw out that Trillian 4.2 so far has been brilliant for me, but more specifically with version 5 they are working on an Android client as well, and all of their clients will automatically cross-synchronize all chat histories no matter the source. Something to watch for in the future.

  5. Droid Forums Says:

    Great review sounds pretty unbiased.

    I hope you are aware of these two sites that cover the Droid X:

    http://www.droidforums.net

    and

    http://www.droidxforums.com

  6. Mark Says:

    I liked the article, mostly in that you seem to have rather painstakingly researched comparable replacement apps or apps that fill an “expected” or “necessary” gap that would not otherwise be handled by the OOB phone.


  7. […] this link: iPhone to Droid X: Impressions of a Data Pig « Design By Gravity Tags: active and-all and-calendars came-flying contacts google Iphone most were-syncing Respond […]

  8. Glenn Says:

    Great review!

    I’ve been looking for good comparisons between the iPhone and the Droid X.

    Overall, I’ve heard nothing but positive things about the user experience and flow.

  9. Adam David Says:

    Ok, but what about issues of short comings on the Andorid OS as a whole. I’m tying the Samsung Captivate.I think it’s a great phone. There are a lot of things I really like, but a few possible deal breakers. First The GPS does not work, this is an issue that is know in the forums, and Samsung and ATT will hopefully resolve with an OTA update, if not, the phone is going back within 30 days. My other main issue is the ability to copy/paste from the mail applications. You can’t do it, if you can, let me know what I’m doing wrong.

    • Steve Says:

      I can perhaps offer one tip for the GMail app… when you have an email open tap the Menu button, tap More, then tap “Select Text”. You can now highlight with your finger and it will be copied to the clipboard. I will say though that process could be polished a bit more.

  10. Adam David Says:

    One other thing, for exchange mail, you can’t move mail to another folder?


  11. […] iPhone to Droid X: Impressions of a Data Pig Two weeks ago I pulled the trigger. Two days prior I had stopped in my local Verizon store, said I wanted a Droid X. […] […]

  12. Mike Says:

    The back button on Android isn’t universal. You get the impression that it is from Google’s docs, but it can be overridden on an app by app basis, and frequently is.

    If you read the docs, back is supposed to exit a running app (eventually, after possibly many presses) and Home is supposed to force the app into the background. You’ll find the more apps you try, that while Home behaves as it should, Back doesn’t.

    Just one of the little UI thins in Android that irritates me.

    • Julian Says:

      The better quality apps all seem to implement the back button correctly, and I’ve noticed several that didn’t get it right to start with fixing that in an update.

  13. Alex Says:

    Ya how is the ecpirience ?

  14. alamin Says:

    I was looking for few excellent blogs for my project. Yours is one of them. It was very helpful for me. Thanks a lot.

    Thanks
    Md.Alamin Khan

  15. Vetdoctor Says:

    Since you WordPress have you tried posting from the Droid or using the WordPress app?

    In the first case I can’t log in from my Evo and in the second it pretends to work but when I go to my post I get a 404 error

    • designbygravity Says:

      The WordPress app seems about as capable as the iphone version, except that it includes stats. On the iphone I used a separate app for stats.

      I haven’t posted from it, but all my comment replies today have been via the Android app, which has worked fine.

  16. Jane Says:

    NICE READ 🙂


  17. […] Design By Gravity Things work that way because the universe wants them to « iPhone to Droid X: Impressions of a Data Pig […]

  18. Daniel Says:

    Nice post. My caveat with the Droid X is exactly its size.


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