Since January 2009 I had been an iPhone man. 3G - 3GS - 4S was my path. I had been reasonably happy at first. But there were things that niggled with me. Being a techy person I was frustrated at the limitations of the devices and the operating system.
So three weeks ago I purchased a Samsung Galaxy Note II (GT-N7100).
This post is a summary of my experiences switching from the iPhone/iOS world to the Samsung/Android world.
Some of my comments here will be the differences in the operating systems (iOS vs Android). Some will be differences between the devices themselves. Some will be the differences in the available software and what it can and can't do on each device. I have made no attempt to separate these out.
When it comes to screen size I am going to be fair and compare the Note II with the iPhone 5 seeing as that is the newly released equivalent (even though I only had up to the iPhone 4S personally).
Pros of switching from iPhone/iOS to Samsung Galaxy Note II/Android
- Ability to add flash memory: This is one of the things that bugs me most about iPhones. You can get 16GB, 32GB or 64GB but at each memory increase point there is a hefty price premium. From Apple the price difference between 16GB and 64GB (sim free) is £170. So effectively they are charging about £3.54 per extra GB. On an iPhone there is no ability to add any external memory. On the Samsung I only opted for the 16GB model but there is a slot for a micro-SD card which can be up to 64GB. As soon as I bought the phone I ordered a 64GB card for just over £40. Which equates to around 63p per GB, or less than a fifth of the price that I would pay per GB on an iPhone. So for a small extra amount over the purchase price I now have close to 80GB of usable space which is more than enough for dozens of TV episodes and films, every digital photo and home video I have ever taken over the last 9 years and plenty of room left over for music, podcasts apps etc.
- Massive screen: Probably the single biggest draw to the Note for me was the size of the screen. It is 5.5 inches diagonally across with a resolution of 1280x720. This is compared to the iPhone 5 screen size of 4 inches diagonally with a resolution of 1136x640. Of course the iPhone has a higher resolution screen as a result of this but I never notice the resolution difference. What I do notice is just how much more useful having a massive screen is. Web surfing, reading e-mails, typing on the software keyboard (more on this later), watching video, playing games. All of those experiences are hugely improved on a screen that area-wise is not far off twice the size of the iPhone. It does make the Samsung a bit more unwieldy but I can still hold it with one hand and the pluses hugely outweigh that slight compromise in ergonomics.
- Widgets: Having been very used to the locked down way the home screens on the iPhone work (icons only) moving to a system where you can have little mini-apps (widgets) running on the home screens has been a real joy. Weather, alarm, search bar, radio player, BBC News, Podcast shortcut, Twitter feed, video previews. They are just a few of the many widgets that are available. Perhaps the most useful one though (so useful I put it on my default home screen) is the "Assistive light" widget. This turns the camera flash on and off and makes it act like a torch. I had something similar on my iPhone but it took me running up an app, waiting a few seconds for it to start and then navigating through about 4 options to get to it. On the Samsung it's turn on and tap. 2 seconds maximum to a pretty powerful torch.
- Configurability: I was a bit annoyed the other day after I had tried several times to get the Samsung lock screen and PIN to act like they do on the iPhone. What I wanted was when I turn the phone off for the "swipe" screen to appear straight away when I turn it back on. That helps me for example to avoid accidentally opening apps when turning it on say by accident in my pocket. However I want a PIN too but only if say the phone has been off for 30 minutes, otherwise if I'm turning it on to check stuff more frequently than that I have to enter a PIN every time. Annoyingly there is no way to do this natively on the phone. But then I realised what I was doing wrong. I was thinking like an iOS person. Just because there is no way to do this natively doesn't mean there isn't an app for it. And 10 seconds googling found there is indeed something called "Delayed lock" available from the Google Play store. It works a treat doing exactly what I want and is even more configurable than the iPhone was in this area. Now it did cost £1.59 which is not ideal (that feature came free on the iPhone) but my point is broader than just this one annoyance. Whenever I came across bugbears like this on an iPhone (and there were plenty of them) there was no way around it (well apart from jailbreaking the phone but that can cause other problems with updates etc. so I didn't want to do this). I just had to put up with the limitations. Whereas on the Samsung there is often a third party solution. It is a mindset I need to get into more having been hidebound by iOS for so long!
- Swipe keyboard: This sort of fits into the previous point in that you can select different keyboards so it is configurable. However the swipe keyboard deserves a mention all of its own. I recall listening to the PC Pro podcast a couple of years ago when their technical editor Darien Graham-Smith was going on about how great this was. Just from the description I could tell I was going to like it but as I was on iOS I had no chance of using it. And lo and behold it is one of the best features about the Samsung. Instead of pecking away at the keyboard you simply swipe your finger around the keys you want to type almost drawing a shape between them. It is amazingly accurate. Not 100% but well over 95% in my experience and it does seem to learn too. Even when it gets it wrong there are several substitutes in a menu above the keyboard with a drop-down to access more if necessary. Makes text messages and knocking out e-mails on the phone so much easier. I would almost say switching has been worth it for this feature alone.
- Notification screen: Soooo much better than the iOS one. Massive amounts of configurability on there and quick easy routes to the apps reporting as well as shortcuts across the top for all the most obvious toggles like WiFi, GPS, Sound, Screen rotation, mobile data etc. Also a very handy shortcut to the settings at the top right.
- Settings: Again much more configurable than in iOS and also much more information available about every application from the app manager including permissions, breakdown of where the data associated with it is stored, cache, launch by default etc.
- Back button: Such a simple thing but at the bottom right of the device is a hidden button that only becomes visible when you tap it. It is the functional equivalent of a browser "back button". So in an app if you've gone to a sub-menu and you tap it it will go back to the higher screen. If you've jumped from one app to another (e.g. tapping on a link in Twitter that has opened a browser session) tapping back will take you back to where you were in Twitter. I would say 90% of the time this button operates in exactly the intuitive way I would expect. Occasionally it does something a bit unexpected but I am still getting used to all the quirks and compared with the iPhone which has nothing like this (no the Home button does not count!) it is a huge leap forward.
- Context button: In a similar fashion to the Back Button, on the left hand side of the phone is a context menu button. Depending on which app you are in this will behave differently usually bringing up various menu options but again very very useful and a big leap forward compared to the iPhone which again has nothing like this. Context options on an iPhone appear in all sorts of different places in apps. This is a known, set place for them an most apps take full advantage of it.
- It looks at you!: Now this one may be a bit freaky to some people but it turns out to be a very useful feature. When reading on my iPhone in bed at night I used to have to lock the screen rotation to portrait if I was reading on my side with the phone tilted. But with the Samsung there is an option called "smart rotation" which uses the phone's front-facing camera to look at your face, determine where your eyes are and decide what rotation is best given the orientation of your face! And it works surprisingly well, especially in the dark which is when I tend to need it most.
- File system access: As a techy it always used to irritate me that on the iPhone I had very little access to the file system. The only area directly accessible was the photo folder. Whereas on the Samsung I can access almost everything. This means I can plug it into my PC and treat it essentially like a USB drive copying files to and from it. It takes a bit of nous to know where things need to go but it is mostly intuitive e.g. a folder called "Music" for music etc. It's very fast copying too. Films can be copied onto there in less than a minute. Oh and there is a built in app (and also proprietary ones) that allow access to the file system directly on the device too so you don't need to be plugged into a PC to browse it.
- Apps update in the background: RSS feed apps, podcast apps and anything else that needs to be regularly updated have the ability to update in the background. So for example I have my RSS feed application update every 30 minutes periodically. My podcast application (Beyond Pod) updates at 3am every morning and I have configured it to only download when there is a WiFi connection so I am not going to find when I am away for the night somewhere without WiFi that it burns through my mobile data allowance. It is a world away from how I used to update my podcasts using iTunes and having to sync all the time. Which brings me to...
- No need to sync: In fact there is no sync application provided. I believe there is one available to download but the phone, applications and the entire ecosystem is designed never to need to. Three weeks in and I am not missing this at all, indeed it is a real bonus not to have to continually remember to sync my phone with my PC. I now plug it when I want to e.g. to copy video onto it.
- Downloading files: On websites now when there is a file available to download I can click it, see it download in my notification screen and then when ready open it. If it's an MP3 it can be listened to, a PDF can be read and so on. iPhones are so locked down you cannot do this in this way.
- Choice of apps for opening files and links: When clicking on links or files you are usually given a choice of which apps to use and the ability to say "Always" or "Just once". So much better than iOS which if it was able to open would simply use the default (usually its own application).
- Pop-out video player: When playing videos you can tap a button and the video pops out into a small window that can be moved around and stays on top while you use another app. E.g. I can play Solitaire while watching a downloaded TV episode or film.
- Split screen: Some apps (only a small subset at the moment) can be run split screen at the same time as another one. The split runs horizontally across the middle of the screen or vertically if you have the phone rotated. I believe this feature is only available on the Note because of the large screen size and to be honest at the moment it is of limited use until more apps are programmed to make use of it. Could be very useful eventually though.
- Pen: Or as Jennie Rigg calls it "The poking stick". A bit like the PDAs of yore the Samsung has a built in stylus or "Pen" as it calls it. This allows you to scribble notes, draw pictures, annotate calendars and do all sorts of other stuff. There is also a fascinating feature within the Note application that allows you to go into "formula mode". There you can write out formulas (e.g. y=x2) which will then be recognised and with a tap on the "Search" button it will take you to Wolfram Alpha, look up the formula and provide you with information such as solutions, graphs and all manner of other useful stuff. I've even tried it with differential equations and it is surprisingly good at interpreting my scrawl. I've no idea how far this scope goes but it seems like it is very wide-ranging indeed. Now I have not done maths like this since university in the mid-90s so this is a curiosity for me rather than something I would use for anything practical but I suspect there will be students all over the world that will find this invaluable. I know I would have done when I needed to know this stuff!
- Miscellaneous niceness: Animated backgrounds, built in FM radio (only when headphones are plugged in - they are the antennae!), when headphones are plugged in a bespoke menu with relevant apps appears, flash websites work.
- No mute button: This is irritating. I used to be able to mute my phone just by reaching into my pocket and flicking the very handy mute switch. Now I have to turn the phone on swipe down and tap. Might not sound like much but I do miss my mute button!
- Crashes: My iPhones were not immune from crashing but the Samsung seems to do so more often. I also sometimes find when installing apps that they behave a bit oddly until I reboot. For example I noticed this with the "Delayed Lock" app mentioned earlier. I guess it's the downside of a more open system. Also the "TouchWiz" built in Samsung front end for Android seems to throw its toys out of its pram a couple of times a day. I am hoping that once I stop installing so much new stuff this will settle down but it is a (minor) annoyance.
- Ergonomics: The iPhone because of its smaller and more compact form factor was easier to handle. There were some games (e.g. Drop7) that I could play on it single handed. That is not really possible on the Samsung. It generally requires two hands to do anything more simple than selecting a podcast or reading on it. This is a trade-off for all the benefits having the bigger screen brings.
- The Pen is too sensitive: One of the "features" of the pen is that the phone senses it even when you are just hovering it above the screen. This makes it harder in my view to accurately write, draw and scribble stuff with erroneous etchings appearing in places I didn't intend them to. I cannot find a way to turn this sensitivity down/off either although I am willing to concede there may be a way that I have missed. I looked pretty hard though!
- Noises: I can't find a way to turn the noises off when e-mail arrives. Minor annoyance and I am quite getting used to it now but it wasn't ideally what I wanted. Maybe there is a way to do this but I am buggered if I can find it. The obvious setting by the way before anyone comments does not work.
- Tap to top: Supposedly you can double tap on the top of the phone and this will scroll to the top in e-mail, twitter etc. like tapping on the top of the screen does on an iPhone. Doesn't work. At least it doesn't on mine and looking on forums I am far from the only one. Maybe I've set something wrong but I don't think so. Living with it at the moment. A moderate niggle.