Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Android and Galaxy S3 Loves and Woes

There's only so much research you can do on a certain topic. Eventually, you will need to get your feet wet and try it out...whatever "it" turns out to be. Well, I did it. I jumped to Android by getting the Samsung Galaxy SIII on AT&T. It's a great phone, and at the same's terrible.

Disclaimer: I came from an iPhone 4. I need my Apple ecosystem intact. My blog (The Great iPhone to Android Migration) details how I could meet those food groups by switching to Android and the Galaxy S3. In ways, The S3 was excellent at meeting my requirements. In others, it failed miserably. Allow me to share my month-long relation with the latest Android super phone.

  • Sharing content to anything
    • Open a document, video, photo, webpage...pretty much any piece of media...and share it via Facebook, Twitter, text, email, Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi Direct, Google+, Dropbox, Evernote, KakaoTalk, Skype...basically any sharing app or service on the device.
    • This is one of those cool features that you just can't get with the iPhone. Share the current photo/video/song/contact/etc via any sharing app you have installed on your phone.
  • Expandable storage via microSD card
    • Currently expanded to a 32GB microSDHC. Could go up to a 64GB microSDXC. Tons of storage for music, photos, apps, backups, and videos.
  • Display
    • The Super AMOLED colors are deeply saturated, which is beautiful. For photos and videos, at times the colors may seem a little unrealistic, but it is so pretty it doesn't matter. The excellent contrast and deep black level that you get from turning each pixel completely off is nothing short of amazing.
    • Large screen - Shows a lot of information in a web page, when reading, or when managing notes, and I love that the back button and menu buttons don't take up any screen real estate, allowing for max screen usage. However, see "Woes" below for cons...
    • The bezel is very thin, but thick enough to avoid accidental screen and capacitive button presses.
    • The display is very high resolution. Text is crisp and videos look awesome.
    • The screen is amazingly oleophobic. You might even say that oil and finger prints are afraid of the screen because they run and hide screaming. The display is very slick to the touch and grime is rarely visible unless you just put on some girly greasy lotion...and even then it is pretty. 
  • Phone app
    • I really like how the phone app is laid out. Swipe right on a contact to call. Swipe left to send a text. Photos of your contacts are displayed by default (this is possible on iPhone but requires jailbreak).
  • Voice dictation input
    • Displays as you dictate, not just when you are complete with the phrase. However, sometimes dictation fails when the web service dies. When Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) is released, dictation can be done offline.
  • Titanium backups (Root required)
    • Great backup/restore tool that can backup all your apps and app settings, and then restore them if you wish. This is great when installing new ROMs. I kind of equate this tool to PkgBackup for a jailbroken iPhone. I used PkgBackup and loved it on the iPhone. It was essential when installing Apple updates, then re-jailbreaking and restoring all jailbreak apps and settings. Titanium is used when installing a new ROM but then being able to keep apps you loved on other ROMs, although restoring settings from ROM A to ROM B is ill-advised because it my crash your current ROM. Nobody likes a brick for a phone here people.
  • Nandroid backups (Root required)
    • Unlike Titanium, Nandroid is used to make a complete image of your current ROM. It makes a complete copy of all data, apps, settings, boot loader...everything that has anything to do with the ROM's current state. Nandroid then allows the ability to restore to the backup of that exact point in time.
  • Very Thin
    • Phone is overall extremely thin, light, and solid feeling.
  • Camera
    • The camera takes great photos, especially for a cell phone. The wide angle lens lets you get a lot of content in the photo. The video is also very good, although the audio is a bit muffled. 

Neat, but less of a big deal
  • Back button and Menu button -  I like how screen real estate is not taken up by menu and back buttons that are needed in almost all apps. When hitting a link to another app, tapping the back button in the current app brings you back to the previous app. This is handy for multitasking, as it closes the current app and brings you back to the previous app. If you launched this one from the home screen, then tapping back kills the current app and brings you back to the home screen. However, sometimes this is annoying...when you think hitting the back button will bring you to a previous screen, and accidentally you close the app.
  • Keyboard choice - The stock Android keyboard (I got mine from flashing the Cyanogenmod 9 ROM) is actually very good! It is reminiscent of the iPhone keyboard, which allows me to type very quickly with two thumbs and very rarely have to go back and correct a mistake. No Swype in this keyboard, but I find Swype to be a gimmick that actually slows me down quite a bit. Others swear by Swype so your mileage may vary. I love the double tap a word to select potential replacements. I think this keyboard is MUCH more elegant than the stock Samsung one. 
  • Android Beam sharing via NFC and S-Beam sharing via NFC and Wi-Fi Direct - probably cool, haven't tried it - These are a little more gimmicky to me, as sharing a photo/contact/video via email and mms is still pretty darn convenient.
  • Maps/Navigation - I love the seamless integration between Google Maps and Navigation. Get directions from Maps, then hit the Navigation button to switch to turn-by-turn directions, and vice versa. I also like the feature of clicking on a destination or point of interest and getting general info about it (e.g., phone number, address, hours of operation, short description, link to website).
  • Quick data access - Was in LA and got a taste of what AT&T 4GLTE would be like. 40Mbit download speeds are nothing short of amazing. Even the "faux" G (4G) coverage is very reliable and quick enough for normal use.
  • Overall speed - the device is just plain fast. Switching apps, loading apps, refreshing web pages, etc happen almost instantaneously. I'm not even sure this speed comparison is worth mentioning, though because the iPhone 4S is very quick in its tasks, and I can only imagine how quick the iPhone 5 will be in its daily grind. EDIT: As my month went on, the device has seemed to lag a little since day 1. I have killed apps and ran Antivirus scans...nothing seems to make it faster. Touchwiz's fault?
  • I Like how your Google account is present throughout the OS. Open an app for the first time and you can usually login with your Google account automatically.
  • Google Play store - on the phone
    • Easy search
    • Nice graphics
    • Video previews
    • Screenshots
    • User reviews
    • Shows similar apps
    • No need to enter password when installing new free apps and updates
  • Google Play store - web version
    • Access to Google Play from any web browser (e.g., desktop PC, tablet, laptop PC)
    • Download and install to device straight from the browser
  • Phone case
    • This really has nothing to do with the phone itself, the Body Glove case I have is pretty great! It is anti-microbial (so it doesn't get all grimy with use), is slim, provides great grip, and good protection despite its slim profile.
  • Customizability
    • The home screen is ridiculously customizable with launchers with different row/column layouts, fonts, themes, folders, Widgets, etc. 


Honestly if you want to mess with that stuff, go right ahead because you can spend days...literally days customizing your home screen. It's cool I must admit. However, after spending 4 hours trying to find a launcher I like and realizing my favorite features are across 3 different paid-for launchers and 2 separate ROMs (granted you can install separate .apk packages for some features), I'm less than happy with the amount of customization you can do. "Look at the 1000 different ways I can ALMOST get my phone to do what I want it to!" I must admit that a lot of the features I want enabled on Android were ones I enjoyed on my iPhone (albeit jail broken). This is only natural. It is also a testament to how many things that Apple has done very well. I will stand by the opinion that Android can do A LOT of things. But sometimes they take 1000 different camera settings to do what Apple camera does without the user having to do anything. And when Apple has that certain feature, you can bet that it will be done in a more elegant, not half-baked fashion. I feel like I'm comparing apples to Apples here because some of the features I enabled on the Galaxy S3 are only available by rooting and/or ROMing the device. Very similar to jail breaking the iPhone. Which leads me to the woes...



  • Apple Integration
    • AirPlay
      • Photos - works, but need to send each photo individually to AppleTV. On the iPhone 4, simply view a pic on your phone, hit the Airplay button, then swipe through your phone's library to view everything on the TV. On the Galaxy S3, hit share and then AirTwist to beam the pic to the AppleTV. Then if you swipe on your phone, you must hit share and AirTwist again for each photo. Imagine doing this for the 100 photos you took on your vacation.
      • Music - works, but no song data is displayed on the TV, just a blank black screen. A little less than elegant. iPhone displays artist, title, album, album art, and a progress bar for time lapsed.
      • Video - Started to queue up, but never actually played on the TV. There may be other apps out there that may do this, but after already spending hours trying to get this to work, I was too frustrated to keep at it.
    • iTunes Match iCloud
      • Through iTunes Match and iCloud, I have access to every single one of my 8,700 songs in my library. All 44GB worth. I can still store all my most-listened to tracks on local storage, but this allows me to stream any others via iCloud. This integrates seamlessly in the iPhone's music player. Not present at all on Android.
    • Bose StereoDock Portable
      • When the iPhone is docked, with the Bose remote I can play, pause, skip tracks, go to previous track, fast forward, rewind, change playlists, and adjust the volume up and down. With the Galaxy S3 connected to the Bose via Aux-in port, I can only control the volume. Plus the music app sometimes stops working and a force close is necessary. I can't think of a time the iPhone music app EVER crashed.
  • Apps close for no reason.
    • Why does "Early Bird," one of my favorite games from the iPhone constantly crash on Android? It's a great game, and it loads really quickly when it works. But why do these apps randomly crash? Instability is a very un-fun feature, especially when all you want to do is turn your brain off and play a quick game.
    • I love DoubleTwist's functionality for what it tries to iTunes replacement, but it just doesn't perform or stay open. It also sometimes lags when navigating between screens.
    • DoubleTwist is the only solution right now that will sync play counts, ratings, etc from the phone back to iTunes. (EDIT: I have not tried iSyncr. That very well may work, but once again I expect it to just not be as elegant, which is very annoying.) If I used the stock player or some other player, those stats would not sync back. I need that to keep my whole house of music in sync. And I love to rate songs as I listen to them on the phone. Apple just does this better.
  • WiFi
    • WiFi receiver has weaker reception than iPhone 4's. I'm not sure why, but it is definitely noticeable that I can't be as far away from the WiFi router as I can with the iPhone 4.
  • Browser
    • Bookmarks
      • Firefox bookmarks do not sync correctly with chrome android app. Sure I could use the Firefox app, but that thing is so buggy, it crashes on me all the time, and there is no copy/paste in it. Seriously Firefox?! No copy/paste!? Sad sad. Further, (going with the "there's so much choice" theme), I tried Chrome, Dolphin browser, and the stock Samsung browser. Bookmarks don't sync properly even in Chrome. Now, I use Chrome at work and at home. Why don't they sync? Why does it take so much work to get it to the way I want it, and then it STILL doesn't work properly? With iPhone, use iTunes to sync your Xmarks bookmarks to your Safari bookmarks. Done.
    • Lag
      • Also in Chrome, it takes a second or two for it to open to be able to tap the URL bar to search for something. Not sure why. Am I impatient or just used to Safari opening on an iPhone and working without issue?
  • Video chat sucks
    • Sure you can fire up Google+, Tango, or Skype, but nothing is anywhere near as good as Apple's Facetime. Once you've tried it, no other video chat seems relevant. The picture is clearer, the motion is near real time, and the audio is crystal clear. Plus, with iOS 6 (or now with jailbreak), this will be doable over your cellular data.
  • The 4.8 inch screen is also a con
    • It's difficult to navigate the phone with just one hand. Try to hold it like you normally do; now try to reach 4 inches straight up and slide down the notification bar. Yeah I have carpal tunnel just thinking about it. Of course if you have large hands, this may actually be a pro for you.
  • Addeth features and taketh them away
    • I hate that when I install a new ROM (e.g., Cyanogenmod 9) all of the Samsung features go away. S voice? Gone. Accuweather widget? Gone. Granted, you can find some of them on the web as installable .apk files, but not all. Jailbreaking never took functionality away. It only ADDED it.
  • Display Brightness
    • Auto
      • Auto brightness is strange. In sunlight, it does not get as bright as possible. In darkness, it does not get as dim as possible. In other words, take off auto, and you can manually adjust the display to dimmer than the dimmest that auto will make it. Likewise, you can manually adjust to brighter than the brightest that auto will make it. This becomes annoying...come from a brightly lit room into a dim room, and you have to adjust it accordingly.
    • In the Dark
      • Overall, the brightness just can't seem to get down to a reasonably low level when viewing in the dark. I believe this is to be a limitation of the OLED display tech.
    • In Daylight
      • The Super AMOLED screen also cannot seem to get bright enough in sunlight to be as readable as an IPS LCD display.
  •  Battery management is terrible (sometimes)
    • Week 1 and 2:
      • Even in standby, it seems to just kill the battery, even with Juice Defender enabled (battery saving app).
      • Requires too much manual intervention. Turn off WiFi, Bluetooth, 4G, mobile data, and GPS when not in use. On iPhone, just leave them all on and the phone manages the service automatically.
      • Disable push on Exchange email accounts. Some recommend setting my 3 email accounts to only check every 30 minutes or once an hour instead of pushing the notification as it comes in to the server. I say pish posh. I want it pushed to me the second the server gets it. Especially for work emails, you need to get these ASAP, or your customer is gone. On the iPhone, all of my email accounts were set to push, and battery life didn't suffer because of it. I should say...battery life wasn't horrendous (looking at you Galaxy S3) because of it. I want to use my phone, not have to baby sit it and disable useful functions.
    • Week 3:
      • Day 1 and 2 - After I flashed the CyanogenMod 9 ROM (and realized that S-Voice and camera functionality was gone), I re-flashed the Nandroid backup of my Samsung ROM. The two days following I achieved awesome battery life! After HEAVY usage (using navigation, google searches, music playing, texting, calls, etc.), I still had 13% battery life after 16 hours of up time. I did have Juice Defender enabled, but I even had all radios enabled (WiFi, GPS, 4G, NFC). I was very impressed.
      • Day 3 - Back to "normal." Battery seems decent, but needs to be babied from time to time.
    • Week 4:
      • Battery seems decent. Under normal use, it will last a day. Nothing much more. Looking at the battery logger, most of the power is consumed by standby and the display. Some might say "you get used to managing it." That's like saying you get used to sneezing with allergies. iPhone was my Claritin.
  • Keyboard choice isn't always a good thing - Keyboard correction is awful. Prediction sometimes works. Fixing an error is annoying. This is strictly speaking about the stock Samsung, Slide-it, and TouchPal keyboards. The stock android ice cream sandwich one seems actually pretty decent, but it does not support the "swyping" feature that some prefer. Once again, this is comparing these keyboard features that of the iPhone's. iPhone users may not be given a choice in keyboards, but the stock one works very well.
  • No Visual voicemail -  so I thought! On AT&T it exists as a free downloadable app (AT&T Messages) on Google Play. T-Mobile also has one. I wish it were built in to the phone app like the iPhone has it, but this is a small gripe. However, having this enabled gives me duplicate text messages...extremely annoying. I since disabled this.
  • Lag
    • Some apps run with a lot of lag. When playing Super Stick man Golf, why does the screen freeze/lag every time I hit a super shot? Didn't do that on the iPhone. In any game where the screen pans, why does it lag and skip? Didn't do that on the iPhone. It's just part of the seamless experience throughout the use of the device that I've come to know and expect.
    • Even going to the homescreen after hitting the home button seems to take too long, sometimes a full second. This may be Samsung's ROM or Touchwiz launcher, as I do not notice the lag as much with Go Launcher. I also found this more responsive in the Cyanogenmod 9 ROM, but that ROM wasn't quite fully baked yet (e.g., camera doesn't work).


It was a great "1 month stand" with Android's greatest. I loved trying something new and exciting. However, it has made me realize that the Galaxy S3 is very flashy, but it's not classy. The screen is pretty, and it has a lot of features, but the features that Apple implements are just done more elegantly. Too many of Android's features felt half cooked to me. So where does this leave me? I think I'll be waiting for the new iPhone. In the meantime...I wonder what Windows Phone 7.5 Mango is like...