iOS vs Android – which is better?

I often get the question about Android vs iOS and which is better. The short answer is: “neither” or “both” depending on if you want the pessimistic or the optimistic version.

Here’s the breakdown of it:

I’ve been using iOS since the iPhone 1. Just before the iPhone 5 was released, I decided to give Android an honest attempt. I saw that Apple had lagged behind on a lot of features: I had replaced most of the core apps with third party apps – Chrome instead of Safari, Mailbox instead of Mail, Fantastical instead of Calendar – and don’t get me started on the Podcasts app which I seriously hope the whole team at Apple got fired for. Twice. But even though I could switch the core apps out, that didn’t help much as Apple doesn’t let me set those as default. So links from other apps still opened in Safari, though Chrome was my preferred browser. I still had to configure the Mail app with my Gmail account, even though I mostly used Mailbox or the Gmail app to read and write e-mails.

I went for a Samsung Galaxy S3. At first it was awkward, but I thought I could deal with it. Every time I encountered a glitch an Android fan would be “hey, you should download X, it fixes exactly that”. And so I spent hours on downloading apps and customizing the experience so that it would be less awkward.

Using Android instead of an iPhone  was like having driven a sports car on a smooth highway, and then driving a different sports car on a bumpy country road. I ended up going back to iOS.

This year, I decided to give Android another go as the HTC One got really good reviews. That experience was much better and I realized that I didn’t hate Android. I hate Samsung. The HTC One experience was so good that I left my iPhone 5 until recently. What drove me back wasn’t Android or iOS per se, but the fact that a majority of the quantified self devices that I’m trying out only work with iOS.

Here are the things I’ll miss with Android:

– Apps being able to interact with each other, without having to build in explicit support for every app, in each app. I can use Feedly, and from there share directly to Flipboard and Buffer without having to exit the app. On iOS, the support for sharing to Flipboard has to be coded into Feedly (which it isn’t). This means that a new great app on iOS also requires updates for apps I already use in order for them to be able to interact.

– A clean home screen. My iPhone 5 screen looks as if it’ll explode if you just add another app. It’s cluttered and it’s impossible to get the clean, minimalistic look I have on my HTC One. Which is ironic, considering Apple’s minimalistic designs.

I use the same background on both phones. Which looks cleaner and more minimalistic to you?

– Widgets. I loved not having to open the calendar to see my calendar, I just swiped to the screen left of my home screen. Evernote? Don’t have to open it either, the notes are right there on the third screen. To do? Second screen to the left had a full screen Remember the Milk widget with all my todos.

– Google Now. I know that this is available on iOS too, but the whole point becomes moot when you have to open an app to access it. The Google Now widget is a much better assistant than Siri because it’s proactive. I love how, when I switch on my HTC One in a new country, I immediately get the exchange rate of currency X to my own, or a couple useful phrases translated to the local language.

– Voice recognition. Google’s default voice recognition is so much better than Apple’s – especially for me who has an accent as I’m not a native English speaker. The voice control experience is so much better on Android, as it is better of recognizing context and intent. I don’t have to tell it to “search the web” or “google” – Google Now does that automatically when it needs to.

– HTC One specific (I think): being able to snap photos while filming. Great feature, but on the other hand iOS 7 and iPhone 5S will also have this.

– The notification system. Being able to tweak notifications much better than in iOS was very valuable. My phone shouldn’t run my life, it should assist me and make my life easier. The notification system is key here, and Android’s is simply much better. I can choose to have sounds or have the LED blink in different colors, or have the notifications turn up in the notification center – where they are actionable as opposed to iOS notifications that simply start the app in question.

– The universal back button. This is perhaps the single best feature in Android. Being able to go back to the previous app using that button is gold.

Things I won’t miss with Android:

– Pocket dialing. This is an HTC One specific issue, but this is the first smartphone I’ve ever had that has dialled people, move icons around on my home screen and even deleted apps from the tray while the phone has been in my pocket.

– Another HTC One specific issue is that the remote control on the headphones can’t control volume. Nor can it activate voice control. This effectively renders voice control as useless as iOS does Google Now.

– Charging time and battery life. both the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the HTC One charge a lot slower (with the original chargers) than the iPhone 5 does. You can see a comparison chart between the S3 and the iPhone here

– The constant tweaking. Having to download another launcher, a third party keyboard, a screen brightness manager and a bunch of other apps just to get the phone up to a minimum standard is simply not okay.

– Always being second or third. I felt that if someone said “The iOS app is out now, an Android app is coming soon” one more time, I’d go falling down on them. And then there’s issues like the Basis Monitor, who when releasing an Android app actually released a Samsung app.

– Stupid User Interfaces in apps. Android has got a lot of apps, and it’s got a lot of apps made by people who don’t really understand UX. They make apps for themselves, which is a very different thing. The frustration with some apps made me want to poke my finger through my eye, into my brain and swirl it around. Even apps that should be great (Evernote) aren’t. It’s not logical to have to tap a pen icon on a touch screen to edit a note. In Evernote on the iPhone it’s an intuitive tap in the note that allows you to edit it.

All in all: Android today is great. The problem isn’t Android, but clumsy third party vendors like Samsung that bloat it, or HTC that don’t think things through all the way. Had it not been for me trying out stuff like the Misfit Shine, W/Me, Heartmath HRV monitor and mostly any other Bluetooth enabled device, I’d have kept the HTC One as my main phone. Now the iPhone 5 is my primary phone and the Android is the secondary.

If you’re thinking about which phone to buy, and deciding between Android and iOS, I’d say that as long as you go for one of Google’s own smartphones like the Nexus 4 or Moto X you’ll most likely be just as happy as if you had gone for iOS. iOS constrain you more, but it also works better out of the box. Android allows you more freedom, but also requires you to tweak it more. And you’ll always be second when it comes to the great mainstream apps. But you won’t go wrong with Android.

(Unless it’s a Samsung.)

Life hack: make sure your phone only distracts you when it’s important

The problem with notifications

A while ago, a friend of mine tweeted “My favorite life hack: turn off all notifications on your smartphone. (Keep SMS if you’re cowardly and mail if you’re a complete chicken)” My first reaction was “eh, right” but a second later I thought “this is brilliant! You just keep them in the notification center.”

The problem with notifications is that every app and their mother wants to send you notifications. It makes sure that you keep using the app, which is important for apps that rely on advertising, in-app purchases and apps that are parts of networks that rely on a lot of active users. If you use a lot of apps, like I do, your phone quickly turns into something that resembles a pinball machine rather than a phone: buzzing, vibrating and making noises. But what good does it do? It draws my attention from what I’m doing right now. This is sometimes good, if what my phone is drawing my attention to is important. Like a text from my boyfriend. But the more apps you allow to send you notifications, the bigger the chance that the thing I’m being notified about is something that can wait.

Google are on a smart track here, where notifications are context based rather than always on. But until Apple gets with the context game (and they’d better, because if they don’t the’ll go the Microsoft way) there’s no way of knowing if the buzz in my pocket is because of something important, or something trivial.

So I turned off (almost) all notifications in my phone. But before we get to that, I’d like to go through what the notification styles really mean.

Banners, alerts, badges – what does it all mean?

The notification settings is one place where Apple have failed with the simplicity that is their trademark. Different apps will have different settings (for example, you can choose sound and vibration patterns for some apps, but not for most) and it’s unclear how the events affect each other. If you choose “alerts”, will they show up when your phone is locked? Does an app have to be “in the notification center” to be able to alert you? Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always had a hard time figuring out what is what in the notification center. Here’s a run-through:

Notification settings in iOS
These are some of the settings you can change for how an app can notify you of events, in this case the Phone app

The alerts can be divided into three types:

  • alerts that are pushed to your screen when you’re currently using your phone (your phone is not locked)
  • alerts that only show when you request it (the notification center that you access by swiping down from the top edge of the screen when your phone is unlocked)
  • alerts that show up when your phone is locked.

All three types can also be accompanied by a sound and vibration. You can also choose whether each app should show a little red circle with a number indicating how many events that app has for you.

A closer look at the different notifications

This is the notification center in the iPhone. Here you will see notifications from all apps for which you set “Notification Center” to on. If you haven’t changed the default “5 recent items” for the “Show” option, you see the five latest notifications from the app here.

Notification center in iPhone 5

Banner notifications. These are the ones that pop up at the top of the screen for a few seconds when you’re currently using your phone (meaning your phone is not locked). If your phone is locked, you will not get these – but you still can choose to let them show on the lock screen of your phone and/or in the notification center. The advantage of these is that they show you a preview of the alert (for example the content of the text message) without being too intrusive. You can immediately decide whether it’s important enough to quit what you’re currently doing to switch to the app. The alternative to banner notifications are alert notifications.

Banner notification in iPhone

Alert notifications. These come up when you’re currently using your phone (meaning your phone isn’t locked) and require you to interact with them before they go away. These do not appear when your phone is locked. I see very little point in these notifications – there are few things so urgent that I have to quit what I’m currently doing on my phone and take care of them. One example when they would be useful is calendar reminders.

Alert notification in iPhone

Badge App Icon. These are the small red circles with a number showing how many notifications this app has for you.

Badge app icon in iPhone

Sounds. By default, sounds are accompanied by a vibration. For most apps, you can only choose whether the alerts will be accompanied by sound or not (sound on or off). For the apps that only have sound on/off you can’t choose which sound should be played, nor which vibration style should be used.  For some apps (phone, messages, the default calendar, mail accounts, reminders) you can choose which sound should be played, and you can choose vibration pattern. Sounds can accompany any alert style. You can also choose only to use sound/vibration and nothing else.

Lock screen. If you allow an app in your lock screen (show in lock screen on), the alerts will show when your phone is locked. This is independent of whether any other alerts are enabled. Immediately after an alert shows up in your lock screen, the “slide to unlock” function changes to “slide to view”. I find this very irritating for  apps where alerts are more FYI (“someone liked your photo on Instagram”) than actionable (Text asking “What do you want for lunch?”). The function goes back to “slide to unlock” once the screen goes to sleep mode. You can always slide the app icon in a lock screen alert, in the same manner you can slide the arrow in the lock function. This takes you directly to that app. This is handy when you have several alerts from several apps.

Lock screen notification in iPhone

Let your phone distract you only when it’s important

Like I wrote, I turned off almost all notifications in my phone. The default setting for any app is that it’s only allowed in the notification center. That way, I can turn on more intrusive notifications for apps that are more important. Here are the other notification styles and which apps are allowed:

Alerts

Phone, Reminders, Calendar. I use Reminders (the app) for a reason, to send messages to my future self. This is true for meeting reminders from the Calendar app for example.

Banners

Messages and Mail from VIP contacts. Banners are intrusive, and if you accidentally tap them you switch apps. But they do show a preview of the alert, and this is perfect for messages – I can immediately decide whether that text needs an action asap.

Lock screen

Phone, Reminders, Calendar, Messages. All apps that are allowed to send me Alerts or Banners are allowed here, no other.

Sound/vibration

Phone, Messages, Calendar, Reminders and Mail from VIP contacts. I don’t want my phone to sound or vibrate unless it’s important. I turned it off for mail, since I get mail so often that my phone would vibrate and make noises every five minutes.

Badge App Icon

I allow a lot of apps to show badge app icons, but not all. For example, I use the default mail app for e-mail, and I can see how many e-mails I have on that badge, so I don’t need the Gmail app to show it. I can easily ignore badge app icons, but if you’re stressed by them I’d advice you to turn them off altogether.

Advanced vibration tip

Did you know that for the apps that you can choose sound for (Phone, Mail, Messages, Calendar, Reminders) you can also choose a vibration pattern. And you can create your own vibration patterns. If you have multiple e-mail accounts (private and work for example) you can set different sounds and vibration patterns for each account. If you use the VIP contacts function in the Mail app, you can set a separate sound/vibration for these. This would allow you to tell who you got e-mail from just based on the vibration – no need to get the phone out of your pocket if it’s not a VIP.

How do you use alerts? If you have tips, I’d be happy if you shared them!

Photo Credit for header image: Vectorportal via Compfight cc.

The Galaxy S3 challenge: processor speed

As part of my test to see whether the Samsung Galaxy S3 could make a decent replacement for an iPhone 5, I noticed that the S3 experience felt a little bit slow and sluggish. For example, starting the phone app – one of the core functions in a smartphone – often resulted in a noticeable lag. So did switching to “recent calls” or “contacts”. I decided to take a few apps I often use and film the time it takes both phones to run these.

It was surprising to me that the Samsung Galaxy S3 is that much slower than the iPhone 5, considering that the Galaxy S3 has a faster processor (at least on paper). I’m sure that anyone who never has used anything else would label the Samsung Galaxy S3 as “fast”, whereas iPhone users like me are much more likely to label it as “slow-ish”.