No, Your First Impression Isn’t Wrong: Android ISN’T As Nice As The iPhone

Tried Android and feel it doesn’t measure up to the iPhone? TechCrunch would have you think it’s just because you didn’t try it long enough. It’s not the phone, you see. It’s you. And that’s bull.

Fair enough, it’s easy to go from something you know very well and be irritated that something else doesn’t work in the same way, in the way you think it “should” work. One thing I especially appreciated about Om Malik’s Nexus One review was that he lived with the thing as his primary phone. He spent time really getting to know it.

I might do the same with Android myself. And I’m somewhat hesitant to write against the TechCrunch “it’s you” argument as I’m still living with the Nexus One and trying to get to know it better. Then again, I already know enough to blow holes in that argument.

Look here:

iPhone, Windows Mobile & Nexus One Android, Side-By-Side

Those are my most three most recent smartphones. My primary phone is that iPhone on the left, a 3G version from when they came out in July 2008. On the left, the Nexus One from Google that I was given when I covered the Nexus One launch this week.

That one in the middle? That’s my Windows Mobile 6.1 device from 2007. Previously, I’d used Windows Mobile devices going back to 2004 (see Swapping My Treo 700W For The UTStarcom XV6700). Smartphones aren’t new to me. In fact, when the iPhone came out, I thought it was a joke. I had a phone that was faster than what the iPhone first offered, had a flash and a pull-out keyboard, which I thought was super important. I mocked the iPhone (see No 3G, No Keyboard, No iPhone — Thank You Very Much).

When the 3G version of the iPhone finally came out, I bought one for my wife, fully expecting I’d continue using Windows Mobile and mocking iPhone users. After all, my Windows Mobile phone could still do all the iPhone could plus doubled as a modem.

But after literally an hour or less of playing with my wife’s iPhone, I knew my Windows Mobile days were over. Any time I might save with a physical keyboard was totally wasted on the number of menus I had to go through to do anything on the Windows Mobile phone compared to the iPhone. On the iPhone, everything was easy, intuitive, time saving. And I soon learned that I didn’t need an physical keyboard. In fact, the last time I tried one was when I tested the Android T-Mobile G1. I hated not being able to do on-screen typing.

So now let’s shift to what Jason Kincaid in TechCrunch says today:

Imagine if you took a longtime Windows user and sat them in front of a Mac for a couple days. They’d probably complain about superficial things like the change in mouse acceleration and the “unintuitive” button placement (the Close button is on the opposite side of the window). It’s not until a week or two after you start using a Mac as your primary computer that you overcome these issues and begin to fully grasp some of the benefits it offers. No, it may not be for you, but there’s really no way you can tell for sure without taking the plunge and using one as your primary computer. It’s the same way with Android.

Look, I was a long-time Windows (Mobile) user. I was sat in front of Mac (iPhone) for a couple of days. Actually, an hour. I complained about nothing. I knew what to do very fast. So why shouldn’t that be the case for me going from the iPhone to Android?

Jason also wrote:

A week or so later, it clicked. When I want an option that isn’t already visible, I hit the dedicated ‘Menu’ button just beneath the screen. Need to jump to a previous screen in an app or the web browser? Hit the dedicated ‘Back’ button. In some ways, these are actually better than the soft buttons located in iPhone apps, because they’re always in the same place. It also saves some screen real estate.

Again, I didn’t need a week for the iPhone to “click” with me. It clicked almost immediately. And I think that’s the key driver to its popularity. Michael Arrington, when I was on the Gillmor Gang with him earlier this week (video will be posted here later), asked what was the killer app for the iPhone and for Android. I didn’t think there was one for many people, not one “I gotta have this phone because it runs….” type of thing. I thought the killer app of the iPhone was the user interface.

Look, the iPhone did not invent the smartphone. The iPhone, when it emerged, was well behind many smartphones in terms of its capabilities. The App Store? Please. Windows Mobile had plenty of “apps for that.” The problem with Windows Mobile apps was that you had to hunt them down. They weren’t organized in a nice, vetted location. They were scattered all over the web.

But the iPhone blew people away — and to me, it did so because it made a pocket computer that’s also a phone intuitive to use, just as Palm did for PDAs.

Android’s not as intuitive. I’m sorry. I wish it were, if only because I tend to dislike Apple so much because of its closed, controlling nature that I’d like a different phone to use. But right now, I wouldn’t abandon my iPhone for Android. For me, Android remains like some type of weird evolution of Windows Mobile, where you have to constantly go to menu options to get stuff done whereas the iPhone presents what you need when you need it.

Using Tweetie on the iPhone and want to write a tweet? With the iPhone, the compose button is right there at the top of the screen:

Tweeting On The iPhone Vs. Nexus One

But for Android, you have to go down to the bottom and push the menu button.

After you’ve pushed the Android’s menu button, then you have to further pick the Compose button:

Tweeting On The iPhone Vs. Nexus One

While you’re still trying to get the compose window, over on the iPhone, you’re already writing. (NOTE: Per comments below, this is the case with Seemic on Android, not with Twitdroid, where the UI is much nicer. But also see the comments about how my reactions to Androids aren’t based on just this one application).

Finally, after two clicks, you finally get the compose window and can do your tweet, as shown below. But also below, I’ll address something else that Jason raises, how handy it is that Android has a “Back” button always in the same place:

Tweeting On The iPhone Vs. Nexus One

On Android, in the Seemic Twitter app, you can go back by either using the applications Cancel button or using Android’s dedicated “Back” button that I’m pointing to at the bottom. On the iPhone, you’ve got to guess — the Cancel button in the top left will let you do it.

But you know, you guess once or twice, and then you know. I rarely struggle trying to understand how to use my iPhone apps even though they might not have some dedicated buttons in all the “same” places. I think that’s in part because I’m usually only shown buttons I actually need. Also, how many apps do you really use, where you have that much trouble learning how to do things? And don’t forget — on Android apps, the menu options you get after pushing the menu button aren’t all the same nor in the same place.

How about email. I email a lot on my phone. Let’s do some email:

Email On iPhone Vs. Nexus One

On the iPhone, I push one button down in the lower right, and boom, I’m writing email. On Android, I have to push the menu button at the very bottom. After I do that, then I have to push a second button to start writing.

I don’t know about you, but for me, having to push twice to do something doesn’t make the phone twice as good. It makes it twice as annoying — and I don’t need a lot of “livability” time to understand this. Moreover, with the Nexus One, you can’t even have the type of time Jason’s talking about to understand it. You can’t touch it at all. It sold online only. You can, of course, return it if not happy within 14 days. That’s a nice policy and provides plenty of time for living with it.

As for browsing, which is one of the most important things I do on my iPhone, there’s no contest. Without multi-touch, without the ability to pinch and zoom in or flick and zoom out, the Android just feels clunky. Worse, I keep hitting that damn magnifying glass at the bottom of the phone (it’s the fourth one over on the right, at the bottom) thinking it’s a zoom button. You know, because a magnifying glass is an icon often used to represent zooming. But it’s not. It’s a search button. I know, search is often represented by a magnifying glass, too. And I know, I just need to get used to the Android. And get used to needing to tap some place on the page I’m viewing that doesn’t have a link to get the real zoom in and zoom out buttons to appear. Then keep pressing on them to do things that are far easier on the iPhone.

There’s a lot I do like about Android. The built-in voice recognition gets better and better. I’ve done about 20 searches this evening by only speaking into the phone, and the accuracy has been amazing. FYI, as I joke, I cursed into my Nexus One. I discovered it will recognize curse words and replace them with ####!

The screen is beautiful. I love that there’s a removable battery plus removable storage (and even better when you can actually install apps on that storage). The trackball, which I found useless to worse in some instances (who knows where it puts you on the screen sometimes — it has a mind of its own) was actually awesome when using Street View on the Nexus One. Turn-by-turn navigation. Well, as long as I trust the accuracy of Google Maps, maybe I won’t need a new GPS.

Multitasking sounds great but in reality, I’ve yet to see it that useful. I had multitasking in Windows Mobile, and it was nice to toggle between different apps quickly. If there’s a fast toggle with Android, I’ve yet to stumble upon it. If I hold the home button down long, I will get a list of recently accessed apps. But that doesn’t seem to be the toggle between running apps that I was expecting. For the most part, so far, that’s not a killer for me over the iPhone.

Someone asked me if I’d recommend the Nexus One right now. My advice would be to wait until it appears for Verizon, if you really want the Nexus One because you don’t want or need a physical keyboard. I was a long-time Verizon subscriber, and the broadband network was awesome even years ago. I still use Verizon to access the web when traveling with my USB card. It consistently gets me connected in places where my iPhone often won’t.

And T-Mobile? I’ve never used them (in the US, that is — I did use them in the UK). But they seem to have a much less robust 3G network. Right now, if it seems better to AT&T users (and remember, all the world does NOT live in San Francisco, New York or attends CES), that’s because it’s not overloaded with all those data-hungry iPhones out there. But the data hungry Android users will come, and I suspect T-Mobile will encounter AT&T like problems. I’m not sure I’d want to commit two years to T-Mobile. Nor would I want to buy a Nexus One now that becomes a 2G-only brick if you shift to AT&T and which won’t work on Verizon at all.

Would I recommend the Nexus One it over the iPhone? It depends on who you are and what you need to do. For someone new to smartphones, I still think the iPhone would be the way to go. For a more power user, the Android (in particular the Nexus One) is pretty awesome. Certainly if you did get the Nexus One or any of the newer Android phones (say 1.5 and above), you’ve got an excellent phone. You shouldn’t feel a need to defend it against the iPhone.

I know Android will only get better. I hope it does. And I plan to write more about the Nexus One in particular, highlighting some of the things I do like. But this “you’ve got to learn” it stuff. If that’s the defense of Android, then it has already lost — at least this version.