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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.