I swapped from iOS to Android. Here’s what happened.
My first real smartphone was actually an iPhone 3G. Up until then I’d had Windows Mobile PDAs, and I’d had a ‘dumb’ phone. My friend got a 3G and I thought “Huh, that seems kinda cool.” So I went and got one. Ever since then, I’ve used iPhones and iOS. Ever so often, I’d dabble in a bit of Android – almost always by getting a Samsung flagship. I always went back… except this time. What changed? In a word: Google.
For the record, I think iOS is a fine mobile OS. In terms of tablets, I think iOS is fantastic and infinitely better than Google’s abortion of Android on tablet form factors. Then again, there’s not a lot that I really do on an iPad outside of work (where we now have a custom-built iPad app) – I mostly use it to read PDFs or browse the internet (and it did that very well). I’ve tried to use MacOS to bring myself into a full Apple world, but each time I couldn’t make the switch for various reasons (not least of all the ridiculous cost of Apple laptops).
This year, I bought a Samsung Galaxy S8+. Why? My friend (the same one who bought that first iPhone nearly a decade ago) bought one, and I saw it, and I thought it looked pretty freakin’ cool. So I decided to go get one. Not because I thought Android was better than iOS, but because I was using Google services more and more frequently, and as a result having a Google-based phone just made more sense.
I can say now I’ve finally made the switch and I don’t think I’ll go back to iOS. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing, and there’s lots of things I don’t like. As such, here are some pros and cons of my switch – and they may be relevant for your own efforts.
The Benefits of the Switch
5: File Management. Honestly, I didn’t mind not having complex file management on iOS, but it’s honestly easier to do things on Android with a bit of management. Want to copy a PDF across? I just plug my phone straight into the PC and copy it, or plug a USB stick straight in, or copy it across the network. Granted I use cloud services these days, but getting content onto or off the phone is a hundred times easier when I can just treat it like a mass storage device.
4: Reliable background processes. Ever tried to get something to do a task in the background on iOS? It’s fucking impossible for the most part. If you’ve got an app that needs to download extra content (like Star Walk or Medscape for example), you’re gonna have to leave that app open and the display on for it to reliably finish downloading. On Android? It just does it. I can reliably use other services like OneDrive without worrying about uploads or downloads failing because the background task has been suspended. The downside is that some processes run away with this power and chew battery life without your knowledge, but most of the time it works in your benefit.
3: Customisation. If I don’t like something about the software (and there’s loads of things I don’t like that Samsung do), I can generally swap it out. You can change keyboards on iOS but on Android I can swap out the SMS app, the dialer (though I don’t really trust anything except stock in that case), the default browser, the launcher… pretty much anything I want, I can change. I could root the phone and install custom firmware if I wanted to get really creative (I don’t) – it’s all possible. That said, the iOS defaults actually work reasonably well, so it’s not something I really cared for on iOS. The big exception is in the browser and things like music playback, where Android’s choices are much, much nicer.
2: Android Auto. I’ve installed Android Auto on my Mazda 3, a somewhat risky move but one that works reasonably well (given that it wasn’t designed for it). And it’s freakin’ awesome, mostly because of the talented community that patched it together. Google Assistant access, Google Maps, notifications, Google Music… it works remarkably well and it’s basically relegated the default MZD Connect software to the scrap heap. The fact that it just mirrors apps from the phone seems like a superior and customisable option to me than Apple’s all in one CarPlay service.
1: Google Services Integration. I really like Google services – except Google Docs, I think that’s still quite limited and prefer OneDrive/Office (which works just as well on Android). For my calendars, and email, and photos/videos especially, I prefer Google’s services – and being able to log into my phone with my Google account and have it all just work out of the box is freakin’ awesome. Yes, I can do this to an extent on iOS – but Apple’s stuff will always try its best to get in the way, and the level of integration just isn’t quite as good. On Android, Google Photos just seamlessly uploads my photos and videos without me even worrying about it. On iOS – sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes the app has to stay open… it’s unreliable. I also think Google’s AI assistant is better than Siri.
5: It needs to be customised – Stock Samsung is awful. That customisation I mentioned above? For me, it was mandatory. TouchWiz is shit and I hate it. I’d rather have stock Android but that isn’t really feasible, so I’m stuck with changing the launcher to something else (I use Microsoft’s Launcher, heavily customised again). The default SMS app is awful, so I replaced that. I hate the dialer too (but I don’t trust third party apps for that essential function). I had to hide Samsung’s bloat to get to the best parts – mostly Google services and better replacements. On iOS, I didn’t really need to do much because the Messages and Phone apps already work exceptionally well, and the iOS home screen is very functional if boring. It took me longer to get the phone set up to something I’d consider usable. Granted, it’s better than iOS once it’s done, but it’s still an annoying process.
4: I’m more worried about malware. On iOS I pretty much never worried about malware. With Adblock support, I rarely worried about being bombarded with advertisements. On Android? Different story. There’s no native ad-blocking and Adblock won’t play nice with mobile data connections. Malware has made its way onto the Google Play store (despite Google’s best efforts) more than once. I see many, many more advertisements including some malicious redirects that I didn’t see anywhere near as often on iOS (and sometimes resort to using a VPN with a dedicated block list simply to avoid these annoyances). Android isn’t inherently insecure, or less secure than iOS, but the open nature brings with it greater risk.
3: Sometimes, the Google Play Store is lacking. By and large I haven’t wanted for apps on Google Play – pretty much anything I’ve wanted to try has worked fine. But there are times where I can’t find something that I think is decent or matches what I had on iOS. For example, I haven’t found anything that holds a candle to GoodReader for PDFs. Similarly, I haven’t found a decent scanner app (at least one that I consider decent) like I had on iOS (which I used to digitise books). There are alternatives, but sometimes they feel like compromises rather than true replacements. By and large this isn’t much of a problem, because the vast majority of what I need is on Android. But every so often I’ll wish I had X or Y.
2: Updates are slow and that’s bad. The current release of Android is Oreo. When will my fairly new S8+ get it? Nobody knows! Maybe in the next 2 or so months? Maybe longer? Maybe around the time the next Android version is due? Samsung are notoriously slow with updates and carriers like to screw around with them too. Under iOS, you just get updated as soon as the new OS is ready to go. Under Android? It’s a frustrating wait to see if your device is supported, and then when you’ll get the update. It creates significant fragmentation across devices as well as leaving plenty of room for security vulnerabilities to continue unopposed. This is by far one of the most significant problems facing Android. Yes, you can just get a Pixel/Nexus device – but the other flagships tend to put out better handsets.
1: It feels stuttery and slow at times. This used to be one of the biggest complaints with Android, and while things have gotten much better since my original Galaxy Note in 2012, there are still times where things stutter and just seem off. Every so often things will just slow down, or I’ll see obvious stuttering, or the phone will feel a bit unresponsive. Granted, iOS occasionally has these hiccups too, but it’s far more frequent on Android (even on my S8+, a flagship unit). It somewhat cheapens the experience, which is a shame because the rest of the experience is absolutely awesome. But you can’t help but feel a little annoyed when that app doesn’t close quickly, or there’s stuttering while scrolling.
Overall? Few Regrets.
Do I regret leaving iOS behind? In many ways – no. As I said, I live in a Google world for the most part – although I make heavy use of Office and OneDrive too – so having a phone that natively supports Google services and doesn’t penalise me for using other services is great. There’s many things I like about Android that have finally, after nearly 10 years, won me over. Is it perfect? No – far from it – but by and large the positives of this swap has outweighed any of the problems or issues I’ve faced. Many are just matters of preference – others (like slow updates) are real, fundamental issues that need to be fixed for the platform to adequately grow.
With that said though, I’m generally more productive on my S8+ than I was on my iPhone. There are lots of neat little touches that I appreciate and make use of, and having apps work reliably in the background sounds ridiculous until you notice the difference. I’m not overly fussed about customisation, but I do appreciate having that option. All in all, it’s been a good move for me.
That said, there’s nothing iOS did particularly worse than Android that I actually care about; and by the same token, there’s nothing Android does particularly better that significantly changed my workflow – it’s just that it works better with Google services and has proper background app functionality. Strip that away, and they’re both basically doing the same thing.
To be honest, I’d probably lean away from Samsung these days; Bixby is fucking awful, they’re slow with their update rollout, and Touchwiz is an abortion of shitty ideas paved with good intentions (I suppose). I’d probably pick up a Pixel phone so I could get that sweet stock Android, or maybe something by HTC. In any event, Android finally managed to win me over. If you’re looking at switching, and are tied to Google, maybe you should consider it too!