Switching From iPhone To Android: Why I Did It And First Impressions

I finally bit the bullet today and did something I’ve been thinking of doing for a long time: I’ve made the switch from an iPhone to an Android phone, specifically the HTC Desire.

The iPhone 4 isn’t available in Australia until next week, but you’d have to be living in a cave to have not noticed the negative publicity the phone is receiving. Whether all that publicity is true could be open to interpretation, but when Steve Jobs gets on stage and offers a refund or a case due to a design fault, it doesn’t inspire confidence.

I’ve been an iPhone user since the first model was released (I purchased it in the United States and jail broke it to work in Australia) and it radically changed by mobile experience. I am by all accounts an Apple Fan Boy: along with 3 iPhones, my house also has an iPod Touch, a Macbook, Macbook Pro, Mac Pro and Apple TV.

But my iPhone 3GS wasn’t great.

Sure, the camera was better, but it was little things: like the GPS being completely borked half the time, more so in recent months. As a Foursquare user I can think of nothing more frustrating than the GPS thinking I’m 10 kms from where I actually am, even when I’m out in the open. Apps would crash or freeze at random as well, signal would be lost and I’d need to restart the phone…minor annoyances maybe, but it didn’t inspire confidence with me when it comes to Apple’s build quality with phones, particularly given the iPhone 4 stories.

But of course (in my finest Steve Jobs voice) there is another thing: the closed nature of the app store worries me as someone who believes in the open nature of the web. And the only strong alternative to the iPhone App Store is the Android Marketplace.

HTC Desire

Local media reports in Australia suggest that Android uptake here has been far lower than that in the United States, and there’s a very simple reason: a lack of handsets, and universal availability of the iPhone across all carriers. Where as in the United States you’re stuck with AT&T if you use an iPhone, the four major carriers here all carry it. But trying to find a wide choice in Android hansets isn’t so easy: they are available, but only in limited varieties, and usually tied to one carrier or the other.

I needed to (wanted to…) change from my current carrier Optus because of their data network, which primarily left Vodafone and Telstra. Vodafone offers the now all but discontinued Nexus One, Telstra offers the HTC Desire or the Sony Erricson X10; the latter phone only offers Android 1.6 with no word on when it might be upgraded, where as the Desire comes with Android 2.1; hence I ended up with the Desire.

First Impressions

I’ve played with Android phones a couple of times in the past, but never extensively, so I’ve come to the new phone blindly. Visually the HTC Desire is about the same size as the iPhone, but has more buttons. It’s an attractive looking phone.

Setup was nice and easy, with a walk through asking you for things like your Google account details, and the phone autosyncs into your Google account (contacts, email etc.) You’re also asked for your social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook etc) for syncing. For social media junkies it’s a nice touch.

The screen looks nicer than the iPhone 3GS, and while I’m sure there’s a technical explanation for that, this is a post about impressions. A clock/ weather widget automatically set itself up with my location, which is rather handy.

Learning Curve

One thing I’d read about Android phones was that there is a learning curve because the menu layout system isn’t as simple as the iPhones. This is both a blessing and a curse: it’s great because the phone is way more customizable that the iPhone, but it also means that finding settings and items takes longer.

I’d add a screenshot with an example, but here’s something else I’ve only found out: Android doesn’t natively support screenshots. There is a technical solution to that, but I’ll set that up another day.

Once you get past the basics (like how to install apps, and actually put them on a front page menu) it’s not super hard, although it’s just not as simple to use as an iPhone.

Positives

Having installed a few apps and played around with online services, one thing stands out vs the iPhone 3GS (not having an iPhone 4 I can’t compare): it’s quick. Apps load quicker, maps work quicker, pages (at least appear) to load quicker. Earlier Android phones were reported to stutter and have load issues, but at least with the HTC Desire it would appear to be a thing of the past.

The GPS is super accurate vs my iPhone 3GS, and combined with a superior Foursquare app, it makes checking in pleasant again.

The use of widgets are a handy value add: it makes certain items more accessible and adds another dimension to the phone, vs the tired old icons on the iPhone.

Multitasking is supported natively, and unlike iOS 4, apps properly multitask because they’ve been designed that day from the beginning.

Conclusion

I’ve had the phone for three hours as I write this, so more extensive study of it is required, but so far it’s a pleasant phone with a lot of potential.

Sure, there are a few apps on my iPhone I haven’t been able to get in the Android Marketplace (Tweetdeck in particular) but there are plenty of new apps I’m yet to discover.

I’ll be back during the week with more data on making the switch, and with some tips on how to do things as I work out how to do them myself.