Yesterday I picked up an HTC First with Facebook Home and have been using it almost exclusively. This is my second Android device (I had a Samsung Galaxy Tab at Mozilla for a little while) but the first phone and first device I’ve used with any consistency. My first smartphone was an iPhone 3G four years ago and I’ve since owned an iPhone 4 and 5, so I’m writing from that perspective. I am currently employed by Facebook, so I’ll try to focus on Android itself and not go too much into Home.
Since this is an experiment and I haven’t switched completely, here’s how my current phone setup is working… iPhone 5 with my personal number forwarding to Google Voice. HTC First is my work number, but set up to use my Google Voice number. SMS/iMessage is not forwardable, so I have been carrying my iPhone with me to check those occasionally. I convinced my wife to message me via Facebook and that’s 90% of my texting, so that’s been good enough for the past day.
In a word, it’s “bad”. Some of this is due to my muscle memory of key spacing on my iPhone. But far from all of it.
Typing an email address is fucking difficult. Let me tell you what is not a valid character in an email address: a space. Let me tell you what takes up most of the bottom row of the Android keyboard when typing an email address: the spacebar. On the right of that there’s a tiny target for the period, which it turns out is actually necessary. So I’ve typed a lot of “name@email com”. And then I’ve needed to fix that, which means trying to get the caret right after that space, but that whole process is pretty bad too, so I usually fuck that up on my first try.
Also, did you know you can crash the keyboard? And then you can’t get it back without restarting the phone… yup.
I noticed this a lot in the Play Store, but it seems to be a more systemic issue. Click targets are often small, often not well marked, and sometimes both.
The First ships with Chrome, but I also installed Firefox (obviously). Being able to choose a browser has been pretty cool. Both of these are synced with my desktop browsers so passwords and history are shared (with their respective desktop counterparts, there’s not good cross-browser sync yet that I know of). So overall my experience has been positive, except for one thing…
I have a bunch of tabs open because I clicked a link in Facebook or Twitter and it opened in the browser. And then I went back and opened another. Browser choice is great, but the apparent lack of one-time-use support has been annoying. iOS apps mostly solve this by having an embedded browser (which has it’s own drawbacks).
It’s there. And it’s annoying. It’s noticeable every time I swipe. It causes accidental clicks.
The Back Button
As a concept, it’s kind of cool. “The back button always goes back to where you just were*.” But then you read the fine print… “* except when it doesn’t”. For example, if you open the Play Store and press the back button it takes you back in it’s history stack until it has no history left, then it takes you to the launcher. If you open the Phone app and press back, it takes you to the launcher. In a day it’s taught me that I should never completely trust it.
The Menu Button
I spent 5 minutes trying to figure out how to remove a phone number from a contact (which my face somehow managed to add to a random person when I tried to call the number…). Then in some other app I accidentally hit the menu button and I found a bunch of hidden stuff. Turns out that’s how you edit a contact without accidentally calling somebody.
It’s Not All Bad
Most of the apps I needed to use were available. I listend to music with Rdio, bought a movie ticket with Fandango, and rented a Zipcar. There isn’t too much more I need from a phone that I couldn’t get on Android.
I’ve actually used the notification area on Android to quickly turn wifi on/off. I know iOS’s Notification Center was pretty heavily influence by Android’s and I would like to see more come from that.
Google Now seems pretty cool. But also borderline creepy. I knew Google was doing something with my search history, but “shown before flights that you’ve searched for” makes it pretty obvious. It was helpful to have updating commute estimates so I could let my wife know I was going to be late. I look forward to seeing how this plays out over the next couple years.
At the end of the day, Android would be a major upgrade from a feature phone. But to me it’s a downgrade from iOS. I’m not rooting my phone. I’m not turning my phone into a server. Don’t get me wrong, Android is great if you want more freedom with your phone. The fact that Chat Heads can exist is really cool and I would love to see that sort of feature become available in iOS.
I’m going to keep using it though — let’s see if I feel differently in a week or so.