Having recently decided to abandon my iPhone in favor of an HTC One X, I’m in the unique position of being “behind the enemy lines” already. If you’re as frustrated as I am by Apple’s recent policies and lack of innovation as I am, here’s what you need to know about switching to Android. It’s not an easy ride, but it’s fun, and I hope you join me.
Picking your device
Unlike the one-size fits all Apple policy for phones, Android devices come in a gamut of shapes and sizes. Before choosing a device, it’s important you consider quite a few factors first:
- Do you want an original Android experience with the latest updates, or would you be ok with a slight delay?
- How much travelling do you do? Is a user changeable battery essential?
- How important is the camera?
- What exactly is your usage case?
- Are they any absolute essentials for apps, or features?
- What kind of screen size would you like?
I would say price is an important consideration too, but if you already own an iPhone then you likely either don’t care too much about the cost, or you’re going to be getting the phone on contract and therefore heavily subsidized – so I’ll assume you’re looking at top tier devices here. If you are looking for something cheaper than an iPhone, then your experience will be less than satisfactory; obviously, cheap devices don’t perform as well as more expensive ones.
It’s essential that when you’ve narrowed down your choices, you go out and actually play with them; test out the interface responsiveness, the basic look and feel. Do read as many reviews as you can, but try to pick out similarities between reviews and ignore subjective comments – the Android community is just as full of device fanboys as Apple.
Personally, I narrowed the choice down to either an HTC One X, or a Samsung S3. The key differences I found (from both online and playing with the devices) were:
- Samsung S3 has user changeable batteries
- In terms of UI customisations, I preferred HTC Sense interface
- The Samsung device feels a little too “plasticky”, and a poorer (perceived) built quality
- HTC has more camera features, like built-in panorama
- The screen on the S3 is slightly darker
Android versions are vastly different, and manufacturers complicate things
If you’re searching for a tutorial or reading about cool new features in Android, you need to bear in mind that each Android version tends to vary significantly. In iOS, we’re used to fairly smooth upgrade paths – anyone familiar with iOS5 would be right at home in iOS6; it basically looks the same and even settings tend to stay in roughly the same place.
However, the same is not true with Android – version upgrades tend to mean a major overhaul of the graphical interface, as well as significantly underlying changes to both features and settings. In other words, looking up a tutorial designed for Android 4.1 is not going to help if your phone is running 3.0.
To further add to confusion, handset manufacturers add a further level of customization on top of the core Android OS; only Nexus phones will have the “original” Android experience – that is, a stock install. If you have an HTC handset like mine, you have what’s called Sense UI; if you have Samsung, it’s TouchWiz. Tutorials for one manufacturer and features found on their handsets can be radically different from those on another; even basic things like swipe gestures.
My advice: always be specific when looking up anything about Android – look first for your exact phone model (“HTC One X camera guide” rather than “android 4.0 camera guide”), and if that doesnt work try a more generic search for the manufacturer.
You can install anything you want – but don’t
You may find you need to install unverified packages at some point – applications not found on Google Play – a prime example being the Amazon App Store. However, be careful when doing this from anywhere else – it’s an easy way to get malware.
Generally speaking, you’re safe from malware if you only install Google Play apps; this isn’t always true, but true enough to not worry about too much. However, once you start installing packages from any old website you find, you’re running the risk of exposing all your personal data to anyone who wants it. That’s not a good thing. Be especially wary of downloading pirate apps, as this is a surefire way of catching something nasty.
Also take note of the permissions you grant an application when you install it. If that little “noise maker” app is asking for permission to access your contacts, your photos, and to send SMS on your behalf – that’s a good sign all is not right.
It’s probably best to install some free anti-virus software anyway; yes, this might seem ridiculous when you’re coming from the safe streets of iOS, but this is the price you pay for freedom.
Swype is awesome
This is one feature iOS certainly doesn’t have; the Swype keyboard. Installation is a little bit tricky and it is technically only beta software, I swear your mind will be blown once you install this. Put simply, you don’t type; you swipe your finger around the keyboard, moving over the letters you want. It sounds silly, and takes a little while to get used to, but once you do, you’ll find it much faster and more accurate than typing. It’s a special kind of black magic that makes this work, so don’t ask.
In fact, there are lots of neat little features you’re going to discover in Android; but I’ll leave that to you to find out.
Have you made the switch from iOS to Android? Do you have any other advice for both myself and fellow readers? If you could pick one amazing feature that your Android phone has and iOS doesn’t – what would it be?
Image Credit: sakjosep, Flickr