The big smartphone switch: Paranoid Android

By Hedirman Supian
January 08, 2013

SINGAPORE, Jan 8 — Android-based smartphones have long piqued my interest, with their gargantuan screens and seemingly fast quad-core processors. I bet I am not the only iPhone user considering a switch. My iPhone 5 is indispensable but it is not perfect. It scuffs easily and the battery life could be better.

Android fanboys recommended I try a Google Nexus smartphone for the “pure” Android experience but since it is not available via local telcos, I picked the Samsung Galaxy Note II for its lauded stylus and generous 5.5-inch display. And within its giant size lay the first problem: It would not fit in my pants — it kept jutting out from, or slipping out of, my pocket.

File photo of people using Samsung’s Android smartphone the Galaxy Note II. — Reuters picFile photo of people using Samsung’s Android smartphone the Galaxy Note II. — Reuters picThe Android experience was also clumsy. After initial setup, I was greeted with a busy home screen. Widgets fought for my attention and there was a collection of disparate apps that had already been placed there.

When I tried to use a standard Android shortcut to tweet a screenshot of my newly-customised homescreen, I found that Samsung had implemented its own — swiping the side of your palm on the phone, which was not very responsive.

I wondered why Google would preload multiple apps that offer, in essence, the same function. The default Android browser (simply labelled “Internet”) pales in comparison to the Chrome browser. These two browsers look and behave very differently, despite being developed by the very same company.

Users would appreciate a more streamlined experience if just one superior browser was included.

There were also minor user interface details that irked me. For example, to unlock your phone using a security code, you will need an extra tap to input the code. If you have a burgeoning email inbox, deleting emails can be painfully slow because you have to stretch your thumb across the massive screen repeatedly to select and delete emails.

It becomes an annoyance when I had to do deal with these quirks countless times a day.

That said, I give props to Android’s ever-present Back button, which proved to be a fast way to switch between apps. I also appreciated having quick access to frequently-accessed features such as Wi-Fi and GPS via the notification screen, which also served to conserve battery. Not that it needed to because the smartphone could last for up to two days without recharging. Impressive.

The phone was hardy too. I dropped it on several occasions and it survived without a scratch. Google’s fast and accurate voice search was equally impressive. And I used it often to start surfing or searching for directions.

Apple’s Find My iPhone feature lets you track a lost phone on a map and remotely lock or wipe it or activate a loud sound and display a message so it could be found and returned. A feature called SamsungDive provided a similar feature. Non-Samsung Android users might want to download AVG AntiVirus free. It is a must-have and a glaring omission from Google.

One of the biggest bugbears of switching to a new phone is retaining backed up data. With Apple, you could make a carbon copy of a previously backed up iPhone when you set up a new one. With the Android, I could retain my contacts, settings and apps on my Google account, and the Samsung account backed up my messages.

Photos and videos were synced with Dropbox’s cloud-based storage service. But some data that resided in my apps, phone settings, and the widgets and apps I adorned on my homescreens were lost. You can get back most of your essential data but it is not quite a carbon copy of what your phone once was. You eventually need to cobble together your own back-up process since there is no free one-stop back-up solution that can help you back-up everything.

Google’s Android is usable on a daily basis but its quirks impeded some of my efficiency. It is far from intuitive too. I often had to search online to find if there was a gesture or a way to activate certain features. Less technically-inclined users might not share my patience.

The Android experience made me appreciate the greatly streamlined user experience that I had taken for granted on my iPhone — but I still miss the extended battery life. — Today