What do you look for in a ‘phone’ these days? - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

What do you look for in a ‘phone’ these days?

ADAM BERNSTEIN has been devoted to his iPhone but decides to give an Android device the once over – and asks some serious questions about the advantages of one over the other…

IT is quite remarkable to think of the hold that Apple perceptively has over the smartphone market. Coming from nothing in 2007 to where it is now, controlling almost 18% of the market, the iPhone has many ensnared in the Apple ecosystem, myself included.

For anyone with Apple kit – Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and so on – the design of the products, software and hardware, is considered second to none. However, the trade-off is the pervading “Apple knows better than you” perspective that governs what users can and cannot do, especially with devices such as the iPhone.

While this means better levels of security compared to other systems, it also means that often simple tasks are rendered impossible, or at least very difficult.

So as an experiment, this dyed-in-the-wool Apple fan surrendered his iPhone for a week to see how he got on with an Android device, in particular a Samsung Galaxy S3 which, until the S4 launched at the end of April, was probably the most successful Android phone, ever.

I use my iPhone for so many different things that it’s hard to detail them all here, but as you’d imagine, the main uses are e-mail, diary, tasks, contacts, web, banking, music, camera, navigation.

With muscle memory and five years of iPhone and IOS engrained into my being, and of course Apple’s strict control over its IOS operating system and apps, I know precisely what I’m doing and how to accomplish what I want to do. Any alternative device and system is going to be a hard act to follow.

Environmental differences

But before we make any comparison, it needs to be noted that unlike Apple’s IOS, Android is an opensource operating system owned and backed by Google.

The result is that there are countless different flavours of Android out there, each tinkered and tailored by handset manufacturers and, to an extent, nerdy hackers.

IOS, unless jail-broken (where Apple’s controls have been removed at the expense of the iPhone’s warranty) is uniform – there are no variants.

This review is based on the Android experience of a Galaxy S3 (running Android 4.1.2) so the experience on other devices will differ slightly. It’s also only fair to point out that IOS 7 has just been previewed (with an autumn release) and will shake things up a little. However, for the sake of consistency (IOS will change before release) this piece concerns what is available now.

Taskmaster

So looking at the most important tasks for my smartphone – e-mail, diary, tasks, contacts and phone, how does Android compare?

Apple’s interfaces are clean and simple. For example, e-mail headers and message lists are easy to read and importantly, e-mails open to a whole page view. Android’s e-mail app is dark, awkward and with overly large text in the message lists that makes it hard to see all of the detail relating to the message. Further, messages generally open to a zoomed in view and it’s sometimes impossible to get a full page view, depending on the email.

A similar approach applies to IOS for tasks, diary and contacts. But with Android, users get a far more complex experience – which can sometimes feel richer yet possibly overly complicated.

Take the diary app in both devices: in IOS it’s simple to make an appointment and set the time by spinning a dial. In Android, the layout can appear simple (list view) or complex and untidy (month view) and setting times involves tapping buttons a number of times. It’s not quick or intuitive.

Apple’s phone app looks pretty and just works. But it lacks something so simple as Android’s T9 predictive dialing. To find a contact in IOS requires flicking through a contact list or searching via a different screen.

It’s quite irritating compared to Android where tapping numbers in the phone app that correlate to letters within a name returns all of the appropriate matches.

Web browsing differs too. IOS won’t load pages or elements that feature Adobe Flash, Android will. I found it difficult to adjust to the Android method of having to physically scroll back to the top of the web page whereas with IOS it was a simple matter of doubletapping the top of the screen to get back to the top of the web page.

Entering text on an iPhone means tapping away at keys that can be a hit and miss affair, especially with autocorrect.

Android offers various methods including Swype. Simply put, users swipe between characters to form words, leaving the spellchecker and the S3 to make sense of the entry. It’s fast and very accurate.

Going home

The home screen is a key part of the smartphone experience and to my eye, Android is the way to go. With IOS 5 in 2011 Apple finally started to get the idea of a pull-down menu on the home screen that offers shortcuts. But the shortcuts only access notifications, the weather and fast access to Twitter and Facebook.

Android’s pull-down menu offers access to notifications and settings and on/off switches for 3G, Bluetooth, wi-fi, mobile data, mute. It’s also configurable. Some say that this is because Android isn’t too good at managing power and users need to be able to easily turn things on and off. I say it’s something that Apple needs to copy.

But Android’s home screen has more to offer than pull-down menus, it can be tailored. Many apps offer widgets – such as weather, a torch, voice search, news and time – that can be placed for easy access and viewing.

Password control on Android is better. IOS only offers either a simple (four number) or complex (alphanumeric) protection. Android allows these options plus facial and voice recognition and also a swiping of dots.

When facial recognition has been set up (in all light levels) it’s just so easy and quick to gain access to the device.

Photographic memory

Ever since Philippe Kahn, in 1997, connected a mobile to a camera to broadcast photos of his newborn daughter, cameras have become a key feature for mobiles. Apple has embraced this move and like all manufacturers has improved its camera technology over time. But apart from the addition of (an excellent) panorama feature and HDR (that takes the best from several frames to create a new image), little in the software has changed – it’s very much a point and shoot affair.

Android, by comparison, at least on the S3, offers so many choices including a burst mode, best face, effects and, for me, better results through a faster shutter speed. I took two images in good light in my office, one from each device: the iPhone was blurred but well exposed, the S3’s was virtually perfect.

Navigation

With smartphones featuring GPS and mapping, Apple seemed to have the world at its feet until its ridiculous decision in 2012 to move away from using Google map data at its core. Apple’s (own) new map app is rated between average and useless and led to several firings, an apology and publicity for alternative apps.

Its only saving grace is that when it does give the correct location it works well, especially when the iPhone’s homescreen is locked. Android is so much better out of the box at navigation; it offers voice searching for addresses, a simple button to switch between routes and is so clear to use and follow. No other third party is really necessary.

Feeling ’appy

Of course, all mobile ecosystems now offer app stores. Barring two apps – one controlling a USB TV stick on my mac and the other my Apple TV – anything that I could do on an iPhone I can do as well if not sometimes better on Android.

Both the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores offer plenty of options for purchasing apps. Interestingly, only Google Play allows developers to upload trial versions of their apps. Some are fully featured but time limited.

With iTunes, it’s all or nothing. Either pay up and take a chance – there are no refunds – or don’t bother. Apple needs to allow trials. Eve n at a base price of 69p for an app, it galls to pay for something with no chance of testing or refund.

Auto update is another bonus of Android. While IOS allows for updates of apps, it’s notification only. Android, on the other hand, automatically downloads new versions of apps.

Time for a change?

So at the end of the day, would I change? This is easy and yet at the same time difficult to answer. Apple, to an extent, has me firmly within its ecosystem. Everything works so well together. My iPhone syncs wonderfully to iTunes, yet I hate the way one iPhone is linked to one computer.

The simplicity of IOS is fast and easy to use, yet it’s hamstrung compared to Android and I really find the lack of T9 dialling a pain. I love the lack of variance between iPhones in experience, yet different Android devices from different manufacturers can offer so much more.

Why can’t I have an FM radio in my iPhone like the one in the S3? Why can’t an iPhone be waterproofed like the Sony Xperia Z? And why do I have to be limited to the onboard memory and the one in-built battery? An S3 can take MicroSD cards and the battery is swappable.

I guess we’ll see what Apple does with the next iPhone and the latest version of IOS, both of which are expected this month. But I’m tempted to jump

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