A rocky marriage with Android
After a long period of deliberating different devices, I picked the HTC One M8 - TechRadar's pick for one of the best Android handsets around. At first I was hesitant about making the switch, but I was excited to see the experiment through with the hope of moving over to Androids permanently.
Fast forward to the Apple launch where I found myself waiting for the new iPhone 6 to arrive in the mail where afterwards, I realized I would never go Android again. Here's why I went crawling back to the land of Apple.
The grass is always greener on the other side
The grass always looks greener on the other side. As part of the Apple camp I always longed for the freedom Android users had with customizing everything.
Everyone's iPhone home screen pretty much looks the same. Other than changing your background and moving around the app tiles, iOS offers few ways to customize your phone. The one advantage of keeping things homogenous on iOS made the interface feel much more fluid and snappier compared to Android.
Prior to my HTC One M8, I dabbled with owning a first-generation Nexus 7 tablet. I had no problems switching back and forth between my two devices despite the two different platforms. Looking through the Google Play Store, I could find almost every app I would use on my iPhone. Adding in the greater amount of freedom on Android made it alluring enough for me to switch.
With my mind made up, I decided to get my first Android smartphone with plans to fully assimilate myself into Google's ecosystem.
Like a honeymoon, my first month with the HTC One M8 was amazing. The hardware by itself was a major step up from my old iPhone with a better screen, more power under the hood and amazing stereo speakers. It was simply a flat upgrade across the board save for some issues with the camera, which I'll get into later.
I had more fun using Android than I ever did with my tablet. I spent hours arranging every screen on my phone to my exact liking. As silly as it sounds, it was liberating to be able to move around your app tiles the way you see fit instead of having everything bumped off to the upper right on iOS.
Google Now was perhaps the most surprisingly useful tool on Android. Unlike Siri, which is pretty much a voice-controlled computer, Google Now would intelligently prompt me with directions and restaurant suggestions all on its own.
I started to feel less excited as I spent more time with Android thanks to the increasingly obvious flaws. My biggest gripe was the lack of notifications on the lockscreen (a feature that will reportedly come to Android L).
I quickly fixed the issue by downloading a third party app called SlideLock, but then another problem cropped up with the tiny virtual space bar on the stock Sense 6 keyboard. Again I solved my nitpicking issue by installing a custom keyboard. In time, I replaced the default launcher, swapped Gmail with Dropbox's Mailbox, and practically replaced every stock application with a better third-party solution.
"Don't like what comes stock with Android? Just replace it," a fellow Android-using friend once told me; this seems to be the mindset behind Android, which makes it so amazingly customizable. Yet, at the same time it's an admission that Android on its own lacks the same level of polish compared to iOS.
You can call iOS drab and restrictive, but Apple knows how to make a good-looking and intuitive interface. The Cupertino company opening up to the concept of custom keyboards could be the first step towards a more customizable iOS interface.
The app war rages on
Apple isn't just leading in better UI design, it's still the top platform for apps. iOS users have access to a few more apps not available on Android - like Facebook's Paper, Tweetbot and Yahoo News Digest. On top of this, Apple's mobile OS also often gets first dibs on applications that have or eventually will make it to Android - such as Lightroom Mobile and Instagram's Hyperlapse.
Apps simply come to iOS first with Android being an afterthought for most developers. This is true of gaming as well. Despite Android being used as the backbone for gaming devices like Nvidia's Shield Tablet and the MadCatz Mojo, games are just as big as a part of iOS. Case in point, Hearthstone has still yet to arrive in the Google Play Store when it has been available for iPad since April.
Fundamental differences between Android and iOS
Life through the smartphone lens
My biggest personal gripe with Android wasn't with the mobile OS itself, but the HTC One M8's camera. In April our Mobile Editor, Marc Flores wrote that the HTC flagship has more than enough resolution to take great pictures. While I agree with Marc - that deliberate and well-planned shots can make the camera sing - it's terrible for taking quick snapshots, which is really what the majority of smartphone shooters actually care about.
It's a perfectly serviceable camera even with just 4MP and it works exceptionally well in low-light situations. However, add in even the slightest hint of bright lighting into the scene and the camera's dreadful dynamic range rears its ugly, ethereal face. Bright sections of the frame completely blow out the image, causing it to take on a soft focus with cloudy aesthetics.
The HTC One M8 isn't the only Android device with a bad camera. The Nexus 5 has had its share of problems, and Android cameras in general still range from just plain OK to good. Meanwhile, Apple kills it when it comes to great smartphone photography.
Although Apple continues to use an 8MP sensor while Samsung is blazing trails with 16MP technology, images out of the iPhone look remarkably better thanks to more refined image processing. Apple has made its platform even more appealing for serious iPhoneographers by adding system-level post-processing tools that eliminate the need to launch additional third-party apps.
Connecting other devices
If there's one thing Android is clearly better at, it's being a platform for other devices to connect to. With my HTC One M8, I could easily connect to anything whether it was a smartwatch or Wi-Fi enabled mirrorless camera.
This wasn't so with the iPhone 6. It was a much more annoying and convoluted process to pair everything with my Apple handset. For example, every time I wanted to quickly transfer an image from my Fujifilm X-T1, I had to activate the wireless on my camera, go to my phone's wireless settings, select the camera's ad-hoc Wi-Fi network and then finally activate the appropriate app. This same process on Android boils down to simply starting the app on the smartphone and hitting the camera's Wi-Fi button.
The same could be said about my Basis Carbon Steel Smartwatch. On Android, my smartwatch would re-sync every hour like clockwork. The wearable was even able to automatically re-pair itself with my smartphone after my smartwatch completely ran out of charge. In order to sync my fitness data to my new iPhone 6, I had to manually hit the re-sync button on the Basis. I also had to re-pair the devices together in case I reset either the smartwatch or Apple handset.
Google has invested heavily into developing its own Android Wear platform for wearables making Android the better platform for device connection, where it seems like Apple will continue to lag further behind.
Since the search company also acquired Nest earlier this January, Google's interest in developing a completely smartphone-connected household also looks likely.
The road ahead
This experience has merely been a glimpse into the differences between iOS 8 and Android KitKat where both platforms have their strengths and pitfalls. The mobile landscape has changed drastically over the last few years and mobile operating systems - either iOS, Android and even Windows Phone 8.1 - have all matured with every iteration.
iOS 8 opens up the platform to better photography, activity tracker support and the Apple Watch. Google has yet to unveil Android L, but it's poised to finally give the mobile OS a major graphical overhaul as Apple did with iOS 7, lock screen notifications as well as a host of improvements to increase battery life and performance.
Ultimately the combination of better camera features and more apps lured me back to iOS and for the time being, that's where I'll stay.
- In another iOS versus Android fight we pit the iPhone 6 Plus against the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in a clash of titans