Recently, a news article that Android™ had reached a 75% market share of smart phones got my interest. I’ve been an iPhone user going back several years and I picked up an iPad about a year ago. But I’m also a supporter of open source software, and Linux in particular. Having never really messed with Android (other than an aborted purchase of an e-reader a few years ago), I wondered: What was I missing?
At the same time this news broke, a local big box electronics store had a sale on a name brand 7 inch tablet running Android 4.1, so I pulled the trigger and picked one up. I spent almost a fortnight working with it to see how it stacked up with iOS (and to be able to return it if I decided I didn’t like it).
My impressions? Its a good platform, but I like iOS better. While iOS is not perfect (and it could be I’m just used to its many foibles now) I don’t think that Android measured up as well. Coincidentally, I have the same feeling about OS X over Windows. Want a more detailed analysis? Read on!
- Speed. No doubt about it, Android is fast. Starting an app generally takes only a second or two and switching between them is just as fast. The small amount of memory in smartphones requires more efficient coding and it shows in how well apps perform. Plus because Android is open source, a whole lot of programmers have looked at it and tweaked it to run as well as possible.
- Expansion: From what I have found, you can add additional external storage to most Android devices. While the tablet I was using was an 8 GB model, I was able to add an additional 8 GB of storage by inserting an SDHC card. After a quick format of the card, the system recognized it and I was able to store data on it. Contrast that with an iOS device where you are locked into the amount of storage it came with.
- Price: Much like Microsoft concentrated on the software and left the hardware to others, Google is not trying to control the hardware end of the smartphone and tablet market for Android devices. The result is Android devices at prices ranging from $50 up to several hundred depending on the quality of the hardware. What a boon for consumers and I’m sure a major factor in the Android market share.
- Color: The 1.024 x 600 resolution screen looked great. It was clear and crisp, with no fuzzy edges. Perfect for gaming. Unfortunately, I don’t do a lot of gaming.
- Size: Due more to the specific tablet I was testing rather than the operating system itself I think, the 7 inch screen was too small for me for doing any serious work and definitely too small for reading for an extended period. When typing on the screen, the keyboard took up a lot of real estate, and the keys were still fairly small. While the table supported Bluetooth for adding an external keyboard, that does cut down on the portability.
- Fragmented app market: One of the things I do a lot of on my iPad and iPhone is access email. My work email and several personal emails integrate well into one application on my iOS devices but on Android they didn’t play so well together. The built-in email reader continually had problems with one email account, and occasionally had problems with the email account for this website. I also found that I could install an app to just read Gmail email, another one for Yahoo email, and many others. But I couldn’t find a way to integrate all of my email accounts into one of those other apps.
- Poor e-reader software choices: I do a lot of reading on my iPad and usually have a couple of dozen books stored on it at any one time (computer books for reference, several fiction titles, photography books). They come in a variety of formats (PDF, ePub, Mobi for a few). On the iPad, the built in iBookstore app allows me to keep all of them organized and available in one place. I couldn’t find an app for the Android that would handle all of the different formats, and the organization of the different titles was poor.
- Connectivity: Since for the most part I have used Macs, I’d prefer any tablet I use to be able to connect and integrate well with them. Being that an iPad and iPhones are from the same company, connecting them via USB is normally (about 99% of the time) not a problem. The Android tablet I was testing however didn’t want to play nice with my Mac. Even after trying several different apps on the tablet and on my computer, I couldn’t see the tablet via USB. I had to resort to downloading material to the SDHC card and then popping the card into the tablet. Not good.
Conclusions? I think the title of this article spells it out. Android is a solid performer. It has some good points, but not enough to get me to switch. Back the tablet went to the store after I was done, and back I went to my iPad.
Android is a trademark of Google Inc.