Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wither RSS

Sure enough, just a month or so after I posted my thoughts on RSS, Google goes and decides to decommission Google Reader, forcing me to find an alternative. However, I'm not quite ready to give up RSS yet, so after experimenting with Twitter and such. I've jumped shot over to Feedly. It's a good reader, a bit heavier than Google Reader was, but it gets the job done and stays out of the way for the most part.

I think the RSS still has a place in our media world today. Or even if RSS as a standard needs to change, the basic paradigm of RSS should remain. The ability to have news articles queued up in a special area, so that you can come back to read them later, is a useful feature. If you step away from things like Twitter you run the risk of missing a great deal of headlines. Social sites like Facebook and G+ often try to "smartly" chose what to show you, which isn't useful either. So having the ability top scan all my headlines, pick which ones I want to read, and then mark all the rest as "read" is still a really efficient way for me to consume my news.

Who knows how long Feedly will keep RSS going, but for now it works for me.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Great Experiment

Recently, a tech journalist that I've followed for many years, and who is an Apple fanboy, posted a series talking about why he switched from an iPhone to an Android phone. It's a good read, and worth the time to see why he made the decision he did. Since I have a Verizon Galaxy Nexus sitting on my desk as a Wi-Fi device, I thought, "What the heck, let's give this a go for a week." So for the past week I've shelved my trusty iPhone 5 and have delved deep into the world of stock Android 4.1. So in the spirit of "copying is the sincerest form of flattery" here's my write-up of my experiences with Google's mobile OS.

First, I need to make one caveat. After using the Nexus for a week I have to say that I do NOT like this device. It constantly loses 4G signal, and the battery life almost makes it unusable. I could barely make it to lunch before I was at 20-30% battery. So in the spirit of fairness, if I truly wanted to switch full time to Android, I would have returned this one to the store and gotten something different. Ok, with that disclaimer out of the way, let's proceed.

Things I missed from iOS:

  • Badges on icons
    One of the things I really like about iOS is that I can visually see on an icon how many new items I need to look at (badges are those little numbers in the corner of an icon). I know other skins for Android provide a bit of this functionality, but the uniformity of iOS is really nice. Stock Android doesn't even have a badge on it's icons for number of new text messages. 
  • Robust proxy configuration
    My place of employment requires the use of a proxy server to get on our corporate wireless. However, the ability to selectively turn on a proxy for one wireless network, and off for others, is something that Android does not have out of the box. This is the first occasion where I ran in to the dreaded comment, "Well, you can root it do get that functionality." For my test experience this week my one stipulation was that I would not root the phone. I wanted to experience Android the way it was intended by the developers.
  • Battery life
    Again, this is dependent on the device, but on the Nexus, battery life was abysmal. One complaint about iOS is that Apple locks everything down so much, but for the sake of battery life, I think I can accept that trade off. Now, on other people's Android devices they get much better battery life, more akin to my iPhone 5. But, from my observation, even they still don't quite measure up. 
  • Lack of silence button
    Again, this is very device dependent, but for the most part a lot of Android devices don't have a nice quick physical switch to enter vibrate mode. I like the ability to simply reach in to my pocket, feel for the switch and flick it without ever having to pull my phone out. Personal preference, but it's something that I found annoying about the Nexus. 
  • Siri
    Although Google Now is a decent interface, for what I use Siri for it falls short. The most common thing I use Siri for is reading and dictating text messages. Having a physical button means I don't even have to look at my phone to start telling it what to do. I was able to get Google Now to act in a somewhat similar fashion, but it was always much more distracting than Siri.

Things like like better than iOS:

  • Choice of apps to use
    Why oh why can't I pick a different mail app? Or a different browser? Or a different X app for opening file types of Y? The fact that I was able to completely strip out the stock apps, and tell Android to use the apps of my choice was a refreshing change. That's a nice simple customization I wish I could have in iOS.
  • Customization of screens/Widgets
    I don't need to have all my apps on screens. I love the ability to make my home screen have just the apps I want, and then fill the rest with widgets. Being stuck with a grid of icons for my home screen is annoying and a relic of iOS 1.0, and I wish it would change. Major points for Android on this front.
  • Notifications
    Although iOS notifications have gotten better, I still think that Android has the upper hand here. The pull down menu, even in it's stock configuration, is clean, simple, and easy to clear out after you've scanned your new items. I know on various flavors of Android that the pull down menu is even more robust. Again, something I'd love to see more control of in iOS.
  • Quick settings controls
    Seems silly, but having the quick controls available as a widget is such a great idea. I hate having to hit multiple menus every time I want to turn on Bluetooth. Apple, PLEASE fix this!
  • Google integration
    Pretty obvious that this would be the case, but integration with the Google suite of apps is stellar on Android. Everything works, and works well. Plus the addition of apps like Google Talk makes Google the clear winner in this category.

Toss up:

  • App switching
    I put this one in the toss-up category because, although the iOS app switcher isn't as nice and easy to use as the Android one, it still functions almost the same way, and gives the same functionality. I'd still prefer Apple to come up with something better, but the iOS one is still quite nice.
  • Built-in apps
    Since it really depends if you're a Google user or not, I didn't pick a "winner" for the built-in apps. Plus, the fact that many Android phones come with pre-installed apps kinda stinks. For the most part though the built-in apps work well on both platforms.
  • General usability
    For the most part, I was able to use an Android phone just as easy as I was able to use my iPhone. Both have come a long way in improving usability to the general user, and both provide enough visual cues to help people figure things out without having to look up an answer.
  • Video chatting
    Both iOS and Android provide ways to video chat with others. However, for my iOS is superior because the people I video chat with are on iOS devices, meaning Facetime integration. The video chats in Google Talk on Android are fine, and work as advertised, so this one is really a toss up based on what service your family/friends are on.
So at the end of the week, I've now gone back to my iPhone 5. Although, I do so with the knowledge that with the right device, one that has much better battery life for example, I could live just fine in Android. This was a fun experiment to do, and it gave me reasons to really look at what I needed my phone to do, and what was just fluff. I will probably miss the larger screen a bit on the Nexus, and maybe someday Apple will go a bit wider, but for now my iPhone 5 does what I need it to do, and does it well.