Personally Epic Android / iOS Battle

I have had an iPhone since the 3G. Before that, I had a Palm Treo 750. That was my first smartphone. I remember waiting for Palm to release the 750 on ATT, running Windows Mobile. It  hooked up with my Exchange server at work. I was in awe every time I picked up that Treo, marveling at the incredibly amazing feats I could perform with it. But that first sense of admiration at smartphone capabilities couldn’t hold a candle to my first experience with the iPhone. Apple’s seminal tech that changed how we all viewed such phones and raised the bar on mobile devices to impossible new heights. Quite simply, the iPhone changed the entire mobile phone industry singlehandedly. And while it hasn’t had quite the innovative leap of late as it did with its introduction, Apple keeps on refining the svelte device to make it perform better, smarter, and faster. I have the 4 now, having replaced the 3G with the 3GS, and then waiting in that interminably long line for the 4. To say that I love the phone (despite two battery failures on two different models) would be an understatement. Can’t wait for iOS 5.

However, I am now finding my attention divided. Little more than a month ago, I got a replacement for my aging Blackberry Curve, a phone I NEVER could bond with, no matter how hard I tried. My replacement? A shiny new LG G2x, an Android-powered (packing 2.2.2), dual core processing, 4G surfing, 4″ Gorilla glass screen wearing, 8 megapixel and 1080 p HD shooting monster. And now I find I have to make a conscious decision every time I reach for my phone.

The G2x is not without some difficulties. Apparently there are a few bugs in the current build, which hopefully will be resolved with the Gingerbread update scheduled for “summer.” I find that about every two weeks I have to pop the battery to wake the phone back up. But I don’t mind. Because when it is running, it is running FAST. Carl-Lewis-fast.

Look what showed up on my desk!

Why hello there, little (well, maybe not so little) phone

The box came with the phone, charger plug, separate USB to micro USB cable and battery. Well, whaddya know?A battery that you can remove and replace. Sure wish my 3GS and 4 had that. My first sense of the phone was that it felt bigger and heavier than the 4, which I can easily slip in my pocket. The G2x is a bit more of a shove – it doesn’t always fit nicely into the spaces the 4 can fit into.

When I fired up the phone, I was amazed by the big bright screen. I was greeted by the battery charge symbol, but a press of the power button on the top treated me to a cute little animation – a diminutive Android robot taking off, leaving a cloud and the G2x logo. O.k., no doubt I am easily amused.

The phone comes with 8 GB of internal memory, but it can support up to an additional 32 GB, with a micro SD card. I haven’t added one yet, as I haven’t needed to load much onto the phone directly (more on that later). A cool feature is the ability to send HDMI out – there is a micro-sized output, and you can get a cable to send to your TV or other monitor. With the high definition this phone offers, you can play some pretty awesome video graphics on the phone and see them on your gorgeous, big screen. Not to mention the games. I hear NFS Shift looks pretty amazing on the big screen.

HDMI out. Too awesome.

But hardware aside, the really neat experience for me is the Android OS. Of course, reviewing mobile apps as I do, I have been very eager to try out this operating system. The LG G2x apparently boasts a purer version of Android than many, with its stock Android OS  stripped of most of the usual carrier mods, bells and whistles. I personally consider this a benefit, and apparently it also means that the G2x will be nearer the top of the heap when it comes to OS updates. Although the Gingerbread update timeframe is still up in the air. Also, as a big user and fan of Google products, I love how Google’s apps are integrated so tightly into the mobile Android OS. Google keeps finessing these apps with greater functionality all the time. Setting up Google’s apps on Android is a complete breeze. Much easier than the hobbled iPhone implementations. A few clicks, entering your Google credentials and a sync with the Web and you have it. Many are included on the phone right out of the box; others you can add via the dedicated Android Marketplace app. Downloading is so easy – happens with a couple of clicks, and then you are notified that your app is installed.

 

The hard buttons at the bottom of the screen – menu, home, back and search are easy to figure out, and in some respects make more sense than Apple’s button arrangement. The phone with Google Voice integration is awesome – every time I make a call, I can choose whether to use my regular phone or my Google Voice number. I barely used Google Voice on the iPhone because of the clumsy methods necessary.

 

Now about those 8GB. Google does not appear to have the same fear of the cloud that Apple seems to. Froyo has all the pieces in place to support the connection between your device and the cloud (see Google Music discussion below). You can share information between Chrome on your desktop and your mobile easily, with the assistance of apps. Tethering, mobile hotspot and Flash support are built in. Let me say here, though, that the lack of Flash support in iOS has never troubled me. But, it is still nice to have.

 

Speaking of notifications, there is a reason iOS 5 is copying Android’s notification system. It is light years ahead of the clumsy implementation on the pre 5 OS. Instead of a pop up window that pretty much halts anything you might want to do on the phone (take a photo or video, send an email or text, or search the Web) until you manually send it away, Android’s notifications are tiny – they pop up at the very top of the phone’s screen in the Status bar and can be ignored until you pull down that bar, at which time you can either act on one or more of them or dismiss them all with the press of a button. Genius.

 

Another brilliant point to Android is Google Music. Of course, these phones aren’t entirely meant to serve as work horses. And, music does sometimes help move things along. I have access to the Google Music beta which is nice on the desktop but wholly amazing on the Android-powered  G2x. I can access my 11,000 song library anywhere I have data service or wi-fi. I use it in my car through my audio system. It works so nicely, I cannot imagine Apple beating this combination in the near future, particularly with the somewhat disappointing news of iCloud + iTunes + the Match service. I don’t need GB’s of space (nearly 40 to be exact) to house my music on the go – I just need a link to the Web.

 

I have not even really begun to take advantage of the geekier features of the OS. Without having to “jailbreak” your phone (what you have to do to free the iPhone from Apple’s closed prison and draconian app approval standards), you can root your Android phone and open up all sorts of customization possibilities. While this isn’t necessarily something that the average consumer might want to undertake, it is there and available and you don’t have to feel like a fugitive from justice when you do it.

Right now, I am driving this phone much like any consumer would. And that is how I started with the iPhone as well. I wonder whether I would find the Android phone as easy to master if I had started with Android and then moved to Apple OS.  There is no doubt that the Apple OS is targeted to the average user, with gorgeously designed applications and features pared down to their simplest form. I don’t mind that at all, even being a geek myself. I like easy, always have. While power users might chafe at iOS’ simplicity, the iPhone is not designed for them. Pressed to guess, I believe my learning curve with the Android would have been far steeper if it had been my first phone. Apple has definitely broken me in to the touchscreen, app-based interface and I still love its glossy shine.

Small pet peeve here with Android that favors iOS – I do not like the copy / paste function in Android at all. I don’t like the menu interface for it. Another pet-peeve for the particular version of Froyo (Android 2.2) and T-Mobile build that I am running – there is insufficient security built into the phone to pass my corporate security test. I had to download a Nitro app, Touchdown, for $20 to get our secured email / contacts / calendaring system to work on the G2x. Not terribly business-friendly, there.

It is true that Apple’s App Store has the better and larger selection of creative applications, many showing the marks of gorgeous design worthy of the phone. Android is still trying to catch up in that regard. There is something almost makeshift, almost underground to many of the apps I see in the Android marketplace. I cannot give up many of my iOS-only applications so I have no problem running both systems at all.

Where it really gets interesting is when I run the same apps on the different devices. I must admit, three of my favs – Facebook, my6sense and Feedly – actually seem nicer on the Android platform. I love the recent photo previews at the bottom of the Facebook notifications screen in Android. The nice big icons at the front page on my6sense give the app a more finished feel to it. Some of my settings in my6sense reset every time I open the app on the iPhone, but remain the same on teh G2x, so it runs better too. Don’t dismiss the Android market and App quality out of hand just yet – I feel the best is yet to come in this regard.

 

We are all learning how to live together and get along

 

So, I am betting you would like to hear which OS / device I prefer. I hate to disappoint, but I really can’t yet say. I like them both, and while many reviewers spew many a word pointing out their differences, there is much in them that feels similar to me. I remember when Android was first ascending – I scoffed at the infant system, assuming that nothing could unseat the iPhone and its impeccably-drawn OS and applications. At this stage, I don’t think a user can go too far wrong with either OS (or the iPhone 4 or LG G2x hardware for that matter). The winning feature  in both is the genius-phone aspect to these new devices and their ability to force the user to eschew traditional computers, desktops and laptops.  How can something so small pack so much punch? Apple needs Android to push the limits so that Apple can keep making its beautiful product even better and vice versa. Ultimately, consumers win. With either Apple or Google at the mobile-helm, I believe the future is looking pretty bright for our little pocket rockets.

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