Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dabbling in Android

My school district recently switched from Verizon to Sprint for service allowing me to select a new phone to replace my Verizon Blackberry 8830. In the interest of understanding the Android camp, I choose a Samsung Epic 4g (Galaxy S) running Andoid Froyo 2.2.1. Based on release dates this puts the generation on par with my iPhone 4. My goal is not to replace my iPhone 4 but to understand if it would be possible and what I would lose (or possibly gain) in a switch to Google's promising mobile OS. 

Form Factor

My first impression of the Epic is that it feels massive and clunky. This model has a slide out keyboard (a district requirement) which makes the unit thick (1.5 times the thickness of my iPhone 4). I think the clunky feel comes from the fact that the keyboard tries to slide out a bit every time I put pressure on the side of the phone. I know there are thinner and smaller models out there but I don't think I will ever find a phone that feels like the iPhone in my hand.

Text Entry

As mentioned above, the Epic has a slide out QWERTY keyboard. I was surprised at how quickly I fell in love with having physical keys again. They layout is nice although some of the keys seem superfluous (really, a smiley key?). The on-screen keyboard is much more of a challenge. Without the pop-up of which key my fat finger has hit, I have trouble typing with any efficiency. Swype is where things start to shine. I am very impressed with the speed and accuracy I am able to enter data. Just for giggles, I try to swype out and it gets it the first time. Finally, the voice control capabilities are leaps and bounds above the iPhone. This is where Android starts to shine and I can understand why there is so much hype on Android.


I love the camera on my iPhone 4, it is so good that my wife and I brought only our iPhone's to Kauai to record our 10th anniversary trip. She took such great pictures with it that we blew them up and had them printed on canvas. People tell us they are amazed that they were taken with the phone. I haven't had the opportunity to take many pictures with the Epic but the image quality looks on par. The lens is much bigger and the LED flash looks larger as well. I predict that I will be able to take pictures of similar quality to the iPhone but can't comment yet. As far as accessing the camera, the Epic wins hands down. The dedicated camera button with half-push to focus takes me back to my Sony Cybershot days. I can't tell you how many pictures I have missed while tracking down the Camera app on my iPhone and then waiting for the camera to start. There are a ton of options that are completely missing from the iPhone as well. Anyone familiar with a higher level consumer grade digital camera will be at home with the features and interface that the camera app has.


Apple has the clear win here due to quality control. I have only purchased one app so far and the experience was awful. My daughter dedicated her hard earned allowance to purchasing Asphalt 5 HD so she could continue after getting addicted to the trial. $5 later the app is installed and won't launch at all. No support, just too bad, caveat emptor. There are also way too many app stores and payment methods, the whole process is chaotic to the first time user. Prices are everywhere, why are things $1.42 and $4.99 and anywhere in-between? Why does Asphalt 5 cost me $7.99 through the app, $4.99 on the Android Market and BOGO for $5 directly from Gameloft and includes Asphalt 6? It's just too much effort to have to price shop for apps when Apple has set the standard.

Update: I contacted Gameloft and was provided a link to download a version specific for my device. Kudos for good customer service. Again, I don't envy developers having to support multiple versions of their software.

I have several key apps that I depend on. Here is my take on making it happen on the Epic.

iHome - Alarm Clock

I wake up every morning to my iHome alarm clock, not the actual device, just the free app. It always works and works well. The main reason I use an app and not the built in alarm on the iPhone is that you can't use full songs as alarms. My Epic has an alarm that will play songs built in but I wasn't able to find a simple app that would do a nightstand dim clock. It looked like Night Clock would do the same thing but there was a warning about a complicated process to get the buttons to turn off on the Epic. I can't imagine being a Android developer, so many different devices would be hell. I also did some research into a nightstand dock for charging. Good luck, there is exactly 1 for the Epic 4g and reviews say it sucks.

Waze - Driving Alerts

I use Waze for information on my route to work including delays, traffic and police traps. It's available for Android and iPhone. That's good enough for me. Android also kicks butt in the navigation department. Google Navigation is fantastic and very close to TomTom which I bought for near $100 when it was released.

Instacast - Podcast listening/management

I love listening to various podcasts on my drive and I like a no-brainer solution to getting new episodes, downloading them and never-ever losing my place. Instacast does this for me. It looks like DoggCatcher and Podtrapper will handle the same features but $6.99 seems steep to my Apple trained $0.99 brain.

I doubt I will be making the switch anytime soon but it's good to get a feel for where the platforms differ. At this point I am very invested in the iDevices (2 x iPhone 4, an iPod Touch and an iPad 1) and have charging, media and docking solutions throughout the house and both vehicles. I have been working a little bit on getting my Linux based MediaPC to handle airplay and will try out the included AllShare to see if that will get me any further. Let me know in the feedback what you think or if anyone even read this. Sometimes it's like posting into the nether. Thanks.


  1. Jim,

    I enjoyed reading your take on the Epic 4G, quite objective and thorough. I read your post the day after the iOS 5 introduction and am wondering if some of your complaints about the iPhone; namely the will be relieved with the additions that iOS 5 adds. I'm hopeful that you'll update again in the fall when iOS 5 is released.

  2. Thanks for your feedback Tim.

    I think Apple is listening loud and clear and was pleasantly surprised by the announcement of button based camera app. All they need to do now is integrate system-wide voice control and Android will lose the edge it currently has.

    I will touch base with updates as I delve deeper into Android and when iOS 5 is released.