Written by Dan Gleibitz
I’m no stranger to Android. I’ve bought and discarded a wide variety of Android-based devices over the last few years, from TV boxes to cheap tablets and KIRFy mobile phones.
This experience is supplemented, somewhat against my will, by tight-fisted acquaintances – for some reason I still get lumped with the setup and support jobs for friends and family who ignore my best advice and buy cheap Android phones.
Case in point: in the last few months my sister in law and my aunt bought cheap Samsung Galaxy phones.
One is a Samsung Galaxy Play, the other a Samsung Galaxy Y or something.
These nasties are common here in Australia, given away for free on budget phone plans or sold for $150 or less on prepaid.
The amount of difficulty I had merely entering my WiFi password and their email addresses and passwords was enough to fill me with horror that people are actually buying these, and that they are included in ‘smartphone’ statistics.
They are truly awful devices, and I pity anybody who uses one.
I’ve written all these devices off as a waste of time and money. You buy cheap, you get cheap. And nasty.
Last year I bought a Nexus 7, having read glowing reviews both on The Verge and from Apple stalwarts – MG Siegler, John Gruber and others. I’d long been a fan of smaller form-factor tablets, and Apple had not yet produced one. So it was a day 1 buy for me. The best hardware running the latest Android build for a couple of hundred bucks? What could go wrong?
My sample was physically excellent, suffering none of the hardware issues that plagued early units. As expected, I found the smaller form much better for reading and lugging around. But it was very soon apparent that it wasn’t going to replace my iPad.
I found the janky scrolling irritating. I couldn’t type on the on-screen keyboard without it having a minor fit and inserting strings of random characters (this was fixed some weeks later). I couldn’t properly select text for editing within text-boxes on websites because Android’s interpretation of my taps and swipes lacked the context-awareness that made these tasks a breeze on iOS.
But that was nothing compared to the apps. Many apps I tried to download told me they were not compatible with my device. Not compatible with the latest stock Android running on the latest Google hardware? Eh? Others downloaded and failed to launch. Two others worked fine, until an automatic update rendered them unable to open, and several weeks later, unfixed, were deleted. I’m not talking backyard apps here, I’m talking Ski Safari.
The ‘scaled-up phone apps’ complaint is both real and valid. I found most apps simply stretched small menu items and buttons that would work fine on a small screen across the much bigger screen. Fine, I guess, but then what’s the point of the larger screen when the same app shows the same amount of information on a smaller screen, without looking so bad?
I wanted a simple match-3 game, addicted as I was to Bejewelled 2 at the time. Bejewelled was on the Google Play store, but again, ‘not compatible with your device’. I side-loaded a pirated APK, which ran, but the graphics were glitchy and corrupted. So I looked for alternatives, and found many. None were very good. But what really bugged me was that the scaling issue was drastically worse. Bitmapped graphics for backgrounds and gems were stretched indiscriminately to the larger screen, looking blurred and low-res, and mechanics designed for the smaller screens just didn’t work well scaled up.
The big problem though, was that I couldn’t get stuff done with Android. Google’s first-party apps were mainly superb. Cross-platform apps were mostly okay, where they existed. The Kindle app, for example, though lacking compared to its iOS version – more on this later – did what it’s supposed to do, as did Rdio (though the audio output from the Nexus 7 is rotten) and Twitter. What let me down was the lack of high-quality apps I’d become accustomed to using on my iPad. There wasn’t even a decent dropbox-syncing text editor, a simple niche that is filled many times over by top quality apps on the iPad. And I hadn’t realised how much I relied upon some iCloud apps until I didn’t have them – iMessages, Photostream, Music Reminders, and iCloud Backup.
And so, within a few weeks the Nexus 7 had become nothing more than a Kindle reader, and since the iPad mini arrived, it hasn’t even been touched.
The Nexus 4:
I bought a Nexus 4 a few weeks ago. We needed a second mobile phone in the house, as my wife’s employer decided she didn’t need a new one and her ancient Nokia had broken. I was waiting to trade my iPhone 4S for an iPhone 5S, and couldn’t justify the steep price of an outdated iPhone for only a few months of use. So I ordered the Nexus 4 – The best hardware running the latest Android build for a couple of hundred bucks? What could go wrong? ( I know, right?)
As it turns out, very little. It’s a very nice device.