This post gets a bit long, so let me help you out with a table of contents – feel free to scroll.
Part I – my long love of Apple products, and the events that lead me to trade in my iPhone 4S for a Samsung Galaxy Note II
Part II – the features I love on Androids in general, and the Note II specifically
- Home Screen Customization
- Battery Life (quite possibly Note II specific)
- The Need for Speed…and Google
- Swiftkey Flow
- Sharing Content and Multitasking
- S-Note (Note II specific) and Polaris Office
In my next post, I will detail how to make an Android phone play well with Mac products, so if that’s your primary interest, never fear – I’ll talk you through it. Check back soon.
My loyalty to Apple computers is fierce. They were my first, you know. I remember with great fondness typing furiously at the Apple IIe, making green dots simulate vaguely human forms running and jumping in Olympic Decathlon. I made similar green dots move around the screen to collect fruit (maybe) in space (I think) as part of some game I can’t quite remember and have had no luck Googling (anyone who remembers collecting space fruit, which I believe you later sold at a market, please do comment and let me know what that damn game was called). I also, you know, typed papers and stuff.
While I switched to PCs in my mid-20s because the school district I taught in used them, once technology finally brought an end to the dark “if you type something on a PC, you can’t open it on an Apple” days, I began what can only be called “binging” on Mac products. The MacBook Pro, the iMac, the iPad – I bought (and loved) them all.
The one piece missing from my Apple stash was the iPhone. You see, my loyalty to Sprint is strong as well. They have been my one and only cell provider for over 14 years, and they have provided me with excellent customer service. Back when smart phones were finally enough of a thing that I knew I was going to have to get one sooner or later (probably around the time of the iPhone 3), Sprint had an amazing unlimited data plan on the smartphones they offered…but the iPhone wasn’t one of them. With a good deal of reluctance, I took the advice of the Sprint associate and purchased an HTC Evo.
I loved it, I did. But when Sprint announced they would be carrying the iPhone 4S, I knew I’d drop that Evo like a hot potato. I mean, I loved all my other Mac products. Loved the look, the feel, the fact that they never crashed and they were wicked fast compared to every other non-Mac product I had ever used. Surely, I would love the iPhone just as much as I loved everything else Mac. I mean, this was the phone everyone wanted. The camera! The iCloud! The Siri! The iPhone had to be better than my silly ol’ Android, right?
Thing is…no. No, it wasn’t; at least not in my opinion. My disappointment began almost as soon as I took the tiny little guy out of the box. It just felt weird. When I started using it, I missed all the fun Androidy things like widgets and live wallpapers. I felt sad.
I stuck with it though, and came to love certain things about it – you can probably guess them. The camera more than lived up to the hype, the battery life put my Evo to shame, and the ease of integration across Apple products was amazing. Plus, the whole world loves an iPhone. Hotel rooms came with iPhone compatible alarm clocks, there were iPhone cases for every possible mood, interest, and color preference. This was our time, Mac owners. We were officially the cool kids. Everyone was talking about us. We had style and substance.
It was easy to feel…content with the iPhone, if for no other reason than that everyone else seemed so happy with it.
So, I was somewhat by surprised this January when I began researching Androids online. I was really surprised on a random Tuesday in February when I drove myself to the Sprint store to “just look” at the Samsung Galaxy S III. I was downright flabbergasted when I found myself trading in my iPhone 4S and using my upgrade in exchange for the Galaxy Note II.
And, the most mind-bending surprise of all? Even in the middle of trying to figure out how to get my iTunes songs onto the Note (which I will explain in my next post), I never once regretted the decision.
Before I begin extolling the virtues of the Android, let’s be clear: the iPhone is a great phone. Almost anything you can do on an Android, you can do on an iPhone (and, I’d like to point out, vise verse). What I’m talking about here are primarily, although not exclusively, preferences of an aesthetic nature.
If you want to read an excellent review of the Galaxy Note II that gets all-technical-like and has lots of research involved, go here and read CNET’s in-depth piece. I’m just going to talk about what I like, because…well, because you’re not the boss of me! I do what I want!
1. Home Screen Customization: Widgets, Apps and Live Backgrounds
When it comes to customizing home screens, it’s hard to beat an Android. The fact that they tend to be larger than iPhones is part of what I love about them, although I do understand that for some iPhone users, a smaller size is part of the appeal. I want to see my stuff, however, and I want to see it easily.
Widgets are a big part of what makes those larger screens pay off. Most apps for Android devices come with widgets that can be configured to perform specific functions on the home screen without opening the app itself. They also serve as short-cuts to the app so that the full functionality of the app can be accessed, or adjustments made to its settings.
For example, I have an app called Audio Manager Pro for controlling the various sound levels on the phone – call volume, ringer, system noises, alarms, and media volume. Within the app, various profiles can be created, e.g. I created a “mute all” profile, a “loud coffee shop” profile for any time I’m in place that has a lot of ambient noise, and a “normal volume” profile. This app also comes with several choices for home screen widgets, including a 1×1 widget that can be tapped to implement any of the profiles without needing to open and navigate the app. (See below – it helps to click the picture to enlarge it)
There are also a number of options for calendar widgets (not connected to apps) that came with the Note II, and probably a million you could choose from in the Google Play store, many of which are free. I chose the big, 4×4 calendar widget so I can see an entire month at a time. I can interact with the calendar directly from the widget, or get into the app to adjust settings, etc.
While the functional widgets are great, my favorites are the fun ones. My Moon Phase Pro app places a picture of the moon in its current phase on a home screen at all times (see directly above). The Beautiful Widgets app provides users with customizable clock, battery, and weather widgets, with hundreds of themes as options. It’s just fun, I tell you.
Another nice feature of Androids is that apps don’t have to appear on any of the home screens if you don’t want them to. You can simply drag them to the trashcan and they leave the screen, but not the phone itself. You can always access them by going to the applications setting at the bottom of the screen. This is great for keeping home screens clutter free, especially from apps that you know you won’t use often (for example, travel apps that you only need when on vacation). There is also a way to create folders, of course. On the aesthetic front, I prefer the look of folders on the Note II to the iPhone, but they function the same way.
Finally, I love me some live backgrounds. The one I am using now mimics the current weather conditions and the rise and set of both the sun and the moon. You can see what I mean in the screen shots throughout this post.
2. Battery Life
Now, on this one I have to admit I’m unsure if this is an Android thing or a Samsung thing or a Samsung Galaxy Note II thing specifically. My very first Android, the Evo, had a terrible battery life, and using live backgrounds simply wasn’t worth it, what with needing to recharge every couple of hours. The use of a task killer helped, but not nearly enough.
I am truly stunned at how long I can use the Note II before needing to charge, especially considering I have it positively decked out with widgets and a live background. I have left the phone on, operating a white noise app, all night and discovered 80% of the charge still remaining in the morning. I have gone a full 24-hours of normal usage without having to recharge. My iPhone never got mileage like that.
It should be noted that I do not tend to watch a lot of media on my phone, even with something like the Note II, which is designed to be a cross between a phone and a tablet, and I do use the “power saver” options like making the screen a greyish color rather than white when using the web. I never feel like it’s going out of my way to do so, however. The Note II makes it easy to use those tools.
3. The Need for Speed…and Google.
Here’s something I didn’t know: phones can be even faster than iPhones. I am amazed at how quickly my Note II performs tasks. This is something I noticed first with the Google Voice recognition software. While my iPhone had to take time to interpret my speech before converting it to text, the Note II has the text appear almost immediately and with far greater accuracy than the iPhone.
And speaking of Google, the integration of it into the features of the phone, particularly navigation and Google Now, is absolutely phenomenal (again, I’m not sure if this is something that applies to all Android phones). It is not that I couldn’t use Google stuff on the iPhone, it is just that it never worked as quickly and seamlessly as it does on the Note II. Aside from the aforementioned voice recognition, the Google Now feature has some really pleasant surprises in store for anyone who isn’t super adverse to having a company know where you are at all times (for the record: you can turn the GPS off any time you like).
Google describes it as such:
Google Now gets you just the right information at just the right time.
It tells you today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, when the next train will arrive as you’re standing on the platform, or your favorite team’s score while they’re playing. And the best part? All of this happens automatically. Cards appear throughout the day at the moment you need them.
The cards that appear are far more helpful than I would have anticipated. For example, not only did I get a card reminding me of my flight on Tuesday, but a recommendation on what time to leave to get there based on current traffic, and a quick link to the map for navigation. This appeared not only on my Google Now page, but in my notifications drop down menu.
We can have the “is privacy dead” debate if you want, but I figure there’s a good chance that anyone with a cell phone can be traced at any time anyway. Might as well make it work for me.
4. Swiftkey Flow
By far my favorite thing about the Android is Swiftkey Flow, which changes keyboard typing in ways I never imagined. It takes some getting used to, but it is life changing after that. No words can do it justice – just go to this link and watch the video, or watch the video below, but make sure you watch past the 35 second mark to get to the good stuff.
This feature is one I particularly love with the S-Pen on the Note II. No longer do I feel the need to wait until I’m at a computer to type e-mails or long, detailed notes to myself. I have to imagine it’s only a matter of time before Apple can use this technology, but in the meantime, Android users have something to feel totally superior about. This. Is. Awesome. It wins over the iPhone keyboard in every way possible.
5 . Sharing Content and Multitasking
Patrick Morehead from Forbes.com puts this as succinctly as I could, so I’ll let him to do the talking:
Sharing content like photos to multiple social media sites is very easy. With my iPhone I need to open the app then I can pull in content like a photo or video with the exceptions of Facebook and Twitter. With my Android phones I can share a photo or web link to Instagram, Dropbox, Evernote, Sugarsync, Foursquare, Google+, Google Drive, Flickr, HootSuite, Messenger, Picasa, Skitch, SkyDrive, Skype, WordPress, and many more.
Android lets the user control everything about multitasking, more like a PC or Mac. This came in real handy when uploading photos in the background to cloud storage or social media sites. It also works great to have a fully refreshed phone with the latest data from Pulse, Podcasts, and Evernote. To not kill power, many of the apps give you a choice to only upload during WiFi connection or when plugged in. Sugarsync is smart enough to stop uploading photos when the battery gets to 25%. My iPhone just doesn’t do this.
6. S-Note and Polaris Office
S-Note is note taking software specific to Galaxy Note II. Essentially, it’s a program that allows users to write notes in various formats, draw pictures, color, and do all sorts of fun stuff using the stylus pen that fits neatly and securely into the phone itself. If you want to read lots about it, you can go here and read Kevin Tofel’s piece on gigaom.com.
Polaris is the office software for Android; it can open, modify and save Word documents, as well as pdf files (not sure about PowerPoints and Excel documents yet). This is another place where the bigger screens come in handy, making the Note II really shine. Being able to use the pen in Polaris and S-note makes things easy and fun. Plus, it looks cool.
There are other little things I prefer about the Android, but those are the big ones.
In my next post, I’ll discuss how to use the Android with Mac products, including computers and iPads. I’ve managed to make it work and believe me, if I can do it, so can you. Once you get a few things set up, you will be able to share across devices seamlessly. It can be done, iOS users!
We’d love to hear your thoughts on your Android or Apple products. Anyone else out there cheating on Mac with an Android? Cheating on your PC with an iPhone? Still using a beeper? Don’t be scared. Let us know your thoughts; we don’t judge.
Stuff we geek out about…
- A Little Something for the Fellas (2)
- A Little Something for the Ladies (9)
- Avengers Boot Camp (9)
- Before the Movie – Trailers (13)
- Editorials and Reviews (136)
- Interviews (19)
- Miscellaneous Geekery (48)
- Nostalgia (17)
- Sandman Re-Read (11)
- Three Favorite Things (4)
What we JUST said…
- They Can’t All Be Buffys-Zombieland the Pilot
- All the Posts I Meant to Write this Month, Abridged
- Hemlock Grove-A New Guilty Pleasure
- Deborah Harkness and A Discovery of Witches
- Syfy’s Defiance- Hope They Didn’t Blow the Budget on a Song
- Cover Reveal for the New Liz Long Novel Witch Hearts
- From Gen-X, To Chris Hardwick With Love