Galaxy S4 vs iPhone

So my girlfriend and I decided to upgrade our iPhones to Galaxy S4 phones a couple days ago. I had been pining for a larger screen phone for some time. In fact I almost took the leap to the Galaxy S2 before getting my last iPhone. An iPhone 4S. But I didn’t feel that Android was up to par yet, so I waited and bought the 4S instead. My girlfriend joined me on a family plan and picked up the same phone. Her iPhone in white and mine in black.

For the last 18 months we’ve been using our iPhones. This was her first iPhone and my second, having previously used a 3GS for a couple years. Although to be fair I did own an original iPhone for about a month. But at the time it was AT&T only and I was on their goPhone plan. It ended up being too expensive for me to keep at the time. So I’m not even going to count that, except to say that I was impressed enough with it that I knew I wanted to go back when I could. So I did with the 3GS.

20130904-103001.jpgWhen looking at the specifications and the screen size, it appears at first that the Galaxy S4 is a stellar phone that has the iPhone beat hands down. Admittedly it is a nice phone but both of us knew by the second day that they were not the phones for us. So we ended up return the Galaxy S4 phones and going back to our old iPhones.

Some would say we didn’t give it enough time and that we would have gotten used to the differences. That might be true. But why should we? What I’ve learned over time that there really are three different types of mentalities when it comes to computers, be them desktops or smartphones. There are the people that are just cost conscience and almost care less. They go for what seems like a good deal and what is sold to them by store clerks. This group is most certainly the majority. For them they typically use PCs and Android phones. Because when they walk into a store, the majority of computers and phones are PCs and Android devices. Most of these people aren’t going to for the top shelf devices either. They are going for the best deal.

The second group are the techies and programmers and tinkerers. These people also go for PCs and Android devices. They like to customize and root and more than anything are sold on specs. They go for the top shelf devices.

The third group is where I discover myself. Even though I built my first PC back in 1998 and several others since, I ultimately ended up switching to a Mac about 5 years ago beause I got tired of always needing to deal with system upkeep on a Windows box. Today I value usability more than specs. Every once in a while I need to remind myself of that, like a did a couple of days ago when I picked up the S4. I quickly discovered that I didn’t like the overall interface and the way things worked on Android. While it has made many improvements since I first looked at a Galaxy S2 over 18 months ago, it still wasn’t where I wanted it to be. In fact it probably never will be because the philosophy behind the two operating systems is vastly different.

As an iPhone user and a mac user, my biggest issues with the S4 revolved around usability. It’s not that the S4 or most high end Android devices are not capable of doing the same things as and iPhone, because they are and so much more. You can customize those system till kingdom come. The problem for me was that it was a pain in the ass to do things my iPhone made simple. For example, loading music onto the device was not as simple as just syncing it to iTunes and getting all my playlists as well as books, movies and podcasts. Instead I had to jump through a few hoops. As a mac user I had to download some Android file transfer application which would only recognize my phone about 25% of the time. I kept having to reboot both my phone and my mac mini before I could get it to recognize. Once it did, it presented me with just a folder to drag and drop files into. No playlist syncing, no podcasts, no books, just a jumble of files. Far from easy or a good user experience. I also attempted to try DoubleTwist and Winamp, but again I faced a brick wall. DoubleTwist required the phone to be in a file transfer mode my S4 won’t allow without rooting the phone. Winamp (for Mac at least) doesn’t support syncing yet. So I was stuck without any way to get my content to my phone. Maybe there were alternatives, but by that point I was already fed up. If I was going to have to jump through hoops every time I wanted to do simple things like this, this was not going to be a positive phone experience for me.

There were other aspects of the phone that also annoyed me. The lack of a hardware mute switch being one of them. I was not a fan of the stock earbuds the phone comes with. I don’t care for the in-ear style earbuds to begin with. They sound nice, but I don’t like how they muffle outside sounds and create vibrations when the cord hits something. The volume and play/pause controls aren’t as responsive as the Apple earbuds and they only work with the native Samsung music player unless the other player (like Winamp) is front and center. If you’d doing something else on the phone, while listening to winamp, the controls don’t work. I also noticed some hiccuping of the music when jumping from app to app. Something I had never experienced on an iPhone.

The straw that finally broke the camels back for me was when I was listening to the BBC app in the car and a text message came in, shutting off the BBC radio feed. This caused me to have to grab the phone, unlock it and navigate back into the app and into the radio panel/button to turn it back on. All while driving. Annoying. That was only one text message. What I was getting multiple messages coming in? Would I have to keep repeating this process.

I noticed other problems as well. The Netflix app for example started the show I was watching all over again after navigating away from the app and then back to it. It might have been a one time occurrence, but being that I had never experienced that on iPhone, it left a bad taste in my mouth for Android. Especially my first day with a brand new phone.

I was also rather annoyed by the lack of text messages lighting up my screen. The phone will light up the screen and show the text message or app notification front and center the next time you turn on your phone. The S4 on the other hand, was keeping the screen dim, and barely beeping. When going to the phone, half the time the new messages weren’t showing up on the lock screen. I missed a couple text messages and nearly missed a few others.

There were several other smaller issues I won’t bother mentioning, like my alarm clocks not going off and causing me to be late to work. But that was probably just user error on my part.

Don’t get me wrong though, there were some things I did like about the S4. The gallery for example is wonderful. I love how photos and images get saved to albums automatically based on the app they are coming from. I like how Google+ and Facebook albums get pulled in. I discovered some old photos I hadn’t seen in a while.

I also found that I liked the screen a lot. It wasn’t bulky in the pocket because of how thin the device is. My iPhone 4S feels like more of a bulge even though the screen is much smaller. But as much as I had been dying to get my hands on a larger screen, I must admit that from a usability standpoint I see now why Apple has held off. Most of the time I am a one-handed iPhone user and I’ve got longer fingers and thumbs. Big American hands. But even I had issues with the S4 when reaching for the upper icons or the notification screen. There were a bit more martial arts involved in using it one handed and I found myself using two hands more. This is not horrible. It’s something I would have gotten used to. But ideally I realize now that something around 4.3 to 4.5 inches is probably better for me personally.

The screen size and resolution from a viewing perspective is wonderful, but the AMOLED technology is harder to see in bright sunlight and the phone always seemed to favor a dimmer setting than the iPhone does when set to auto mode. So the iPhone screen is viewable in more conditions than the S4 was. The iPhone also looked a tad sharper, even though the PPI (Pixels per square inch) is less. The reason for this has to do with content. The S4 screen is pushing a lot of pixels so when viewing images online that are lower resolution they are getting blow up more making them not as crisp. My girlfriend also complained about the graphics in her game looking too saturated and bleeding too much.

Overall the experience going from the iPhone to the S4 for me was not a positive one. My girlfriend felt equally as strong and it was kind of funny how both of the came to the same conclusion at the same time, miles away from each other. In fact she was the one that text me first and said “this phone is not working for me. I want to go back to the iPhone.” I felt the same way.

So we ended up returning the phones and getting our old iPhones turned back on. Deciding to wait until the Apple iPhone announcement next week before jumping into new iPhones. We’re both happy again. As if we had come back home from a bad vacation. Happy to be in a place we know,

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