I’ve owned two Android phones in my life. The first was some HTC deal I got many years ago that had a little rollerball on the front. I owned it for about a week before realizing I could get an iPhone 3Gs. I don’t remember what the circumstances were but I jumped ship to the iPhone pretty quick. The second was a couple years ago when I decided to give Android a try just after my iPhone 4S contract ended. I switched to a Galaxy S4 seeking a bigger screen and only had it for a day before realizing I didn’t like it and returned it. You can read about that experience here. I got an iPhone 5C instead.
After my iPhone 5C, I jumped into an iPhone 6 with the AT&T Next program. One of those new programs where you can upgrade every year by turning in your old phone or keep it for twenty months and it’s paid off or just pay it off early. It’s basically 0% financing on the device and is a great program. I decided to pay it off early and sell it on the open market. Ended up making about $88 more than what I still owed on it. So that worked out. Based on what it cost me originally ($749) and what I sold it for ($350), it cost me about $31 a month or $1 a day. Not bad I guess.
So did I jump to the iPhone 6S? Nope. I decided yet again to give Android another try. But why?
The clearest answer I can give is video and photography functionality. I am a pro videographer/photographer. It’s how I make my living. While I’ve always enjoyed the photos and videos I’ve gotten out of the last few iPhones I’ve owned, I can’t overlook the fact that Android is pushing the boundaries more than Apple these days.
I decided to pick up an LG V10 which my buddy and co-worker Josh introduced me to. It’s a new phone as of October this year and appears to be the best Android shooter out there right now. What gives it its edge is the 16 megapixel camera with f1.8 lens that shoots both stills and video (UHD video) with full manual controls, including raw photos. Right out of the box the native camera app lets you change the ISO, shutter speed, white balance, focus distance, aspect ratio/size/quality, and exposure compensation. For video you can also change the frame rate to common speeds like 24fps, 30fps (FHD and UHD) and 60fps (FHD), as well as slow motion or even 1fps or 2fps for a different look. You can also change the bitrate, audio levels and even select the microphone sensitivity so it’s focused more in front of the camera or behind if you want to record more of your voice as the shooter.
When you switch to the front facing camera there are two cameras, not just one. Both are 5 megapixel cameras, one with a wide angle lens (for group selfies?) and one with a more normal focal length. Both will record 1080p video unlike the iPhone 6S which still only shoots 720p on the front camera despite it also being 5 megapixel now. As someone who has shot more than a few blog-style handheld videos using the front facing camera, this resolution difference matters to me.
That’s all really cool and hard to pass up as a guy who is into this kind of thing.
I’m not going to get into all the specs of the phone because that’s not what this is really about. But it would be silly for me not to mention some. The most obvious of which is the size. This thing is a monster in the hand. A 5.7 inch screen and if that wasn’t enough, they added a second screen above that which acts as a notification screen and quick app launcher. That second screen sits right next to the two front facing cameras, so it doesn’t go all the way across the way the main screen does. I actually think it’s pretty cool when I normally think this kind of stuff is gimmicky. But it’s so high up, you really need to use a second hand to get to it, which kind of negates the usefulness of it as a quick app launcher for any one-handed use. As for the phone’s overall size, it’s about equal to an iPhone 6S+. We put them up next to each other in the store. Even though the iPhone has a 5.5″ screen, it has such big top and bottom bezels that it equals out.
Personally I think the phone is too big. I would have loved to see a 5″ version with all the same specs including the extra screen. That would have been perfect in my hand. But I’m not a big phone guy to begin with. I thought my iPhone 6 was great at 4.7 inches. Although it’s hard to deny this 5.7″ quad HD IPS panel is nice to look at. Even if I am fumbling it around in my hand trying to find a comfortable way to hold it and reach what I need to reach.
The rear button/fingerprint scanner and volume keys are crap. I hate the location. It’s incredibly awkward and I’m always putting my finger on the camera lens rather than the button. Unlike the iPhone fingerprint scanner which allows you to just place your thumb on the button without pressing and it unlocks and opens at the same time, this requires to you place your index finger on the button plus double tap and then swipe the screen to wake it up. It’s a good thing I have longer fingers but even I feel like I’m going to drop it every time I do it. In terms of ergonomics it’s a major pain in the ass.
Aside from the size, that’s probably my biggest hardware complaint. Everything else seems alright.
There was this idea in my head as an iPhone user that Android is getting better and probably on par with iOS now, so I should give it another try. I had the same thought when I switched to the Galaxy S4 a couple years ago and discovered I was wrong then. I’m coming to the same conclusion now.
Android users will of course debate me on this. Die hard users will tell me I’m an Apple fanboy and that iOS sucks because of x, y and z. But there are two sides to this coin where neither are right or wrong, it just depends on your preference.
Every time I step into Android I feel like I just installed Windows 98 on my brand new desktop.
In the real world, installing Windows 98 on a brand new desktop would be a blazingly fast experience, but this version of Windows 98 is a bit sluggish at times and hiccups here and there. Even with many cores and 4GB of ram, I’ve noticed that certain things just don’t feel as responsive as iOS. Switching to the messaging app for example was surprisingly slow.
In terms of how it looks, as my girlfriend Melissa (an iPhone user) said to me last night (and I’m paraphrasing) “It looks like MySpace just invaded your phone.” Sadly she’s right. There is just something about Android that looks like it was designed by a bunch of programmers who have little regard for ergonomics and usability while trying to throw every possible option in there because functionality is king to them. For people who are wired like this, I don’t think they see any problem with that philosophy. The more options you can get, the better, and they would probably argue that as a result of that I can customize my phone to look and feel how I want it to. They’re right. The problem is the amount of time and energy it takes to get to that and even after a few hours I’m still not happy.
The truth is, when it comes to phones and me, it’s not about being thrilled, it’s about picking the lesser of evils. My perfect phone would be a slick looking 5″ device, water resistant, removable SD card and battery, killer camera with manual controls and raw shooting, built in FM radio that isn’t disabled by the carrier (like it is on the AT&T LG V10), running an official version of iOS that allowed some on-screen widgets, side-loading of apps not obtained via the app store, and saves images to different folders depending on the app that acquired them like Android does, which I love. Plus the ability to drag and drop files flawlessly between the phone and my mac using just the finder and not some special app like iTunes or Photos. But that’s a pipe dream. Instead you get one extreme or the other. Either the complete wild west that is Android or the locked down “use it our way” philosophy that is Apple. No perfect blend. Nothing in the middle for a guy like me that wants nice and easy to use with a bit of options when he feels like it.
So that’s how it is and I here I am. Up until this point I’ve been alright with the Apple way. I’ve sacrificed some functionality I’ve wanted over the years like UHD recording and a bigger screen in order to stay within that well organized walled garden that is iOS. Granted iOS now has bigger screens and UHD recording, but still I desire more. For now that more is manual camera controls and raw photos. It may be that that iPhone 7 and the next iOS offer those. But for right now they do not and like every spoiled first world patron, I want them now and can get them now on Android. So why not?
Still, I’m not grinning. I’m treading this path carefully.
I’ve had this phone now for less than a day. I’m not sure how I’m going to like it long term. But what makes this time different than the last time I used Android is the camera. Again, I can’t overlook those controls. But it’s not just that. My iPhone was getting harder to connect to my mac. Apple has been trying to force us into using their new Photos app which launched every time I hooked up my iPhone or popped in an SD card no matter how many times I disabled it. I like to manually organize my photo folders. I used to be able to easily import my iPhone images using Image Capture; sorting by aperture or location. This helped me weed out images I captured on the camera versus images saved from the internet, since most images on the internet don’t have aperture or location metadata. In the latest OS X release (El Capitan), Apple disabled that kind of sorting in Image Capture. Frustrating! On top of the fact that this OS release has been nothing but buggy for me on both my macs. Easily the worst release I’ve ever seen Apple put out. So I’m starting to tell myself that maybe it’s time I moved away from Apple in general.
While I’m typing this on my late 2008 macbook, I’m doing so in Chrome now. I’ve decided to even move away from Safari as my main browser. Part of that is Android and the fact that I want to keep my desktop and mobile browsers in sync to some degree.
Of course I say all this now but who knows, maybe in a few days I’ll be frustrated as always with Android and looking to jump ship back to my trusted iPhone. But I have to admit, things do feel a little different now. I’m not just trying Android like I was in the past, I’m frustrated with the direction Apple is going in with nearly everything they’re doing. This includes the new keyboards on the macbook, the constant desire to integrate everything, allowing no hardware upgrade paths, like the ability to switch out your ram. The ever increasing price and limited availability of their machines with dedicated GPUs. The list goes on and on. I’m at the point where I want to say “fuck it all” and sell off my mac mini and my macbook, build a new desktop PC and buy a new PC laptop. I’ve even been shopping for the new laptops lately. Seeing what is out there. It’s time for an upgrade anyway. The switch to an Android phone is the first shot fired.