I wanted to write about something which Android folks probably take incredibly for granted, but which might be a bit perplexing to users coming from iOS. And it’s one of these things that, as I write it, seems incredibly silly yet it’s really not. In fact, it’s one of those twist of irony things that make Android an attractive option in the first place. First some background.
As written previously, I’ve been learning on a Motorola G4 Play which I picked up on Amazon Prime for around $149. I really love this particular device, it’s small, it’s light-weight, texture wise it’s easy to grip, and you just can’t beat the cost. Still, one thing that’s been frustrating me is that occasionally, when I double tap something, the phone doesn’t register a double tap. In addition, I find that sometimes I’ll swipe my finger from left to right and yet the phone will act as if I hadn’t swiped at all. I was complaining about this to a friend of mine, David, one night.
“gosh,” I complained, “how can anyone take Android seriously when it can’t even reliably recognize a swipe gesture?””
After a bit of a pause, David cautiously replied, “do you think it could possibly be your hardware?”
Honestly, in my frustration, I hadn’t even considered the hardware angle and how that might have a real functional impact on things like gesture recognition. But it stands to reason that the hardware differences between my $149 Moto G4 Play and David’s $649 Pixel just might be a factor somehow.
Going down the rabbit hole
I wanted to get an idea of just how much of a difference different hardware configurations might make, especially in terms of device accessibility. Obviously devices with faster processors and more RAM are going to perform at greater speeds, but what about touch screen sensitivity, ROM customizations and anything else that might impact accessibility?
I started out by purchasing an Asus ZenFone 3 Laser because not only is its metal construction extremely solid, but, well, it just has a really awesome name. OK all that is true, but I really bought it because it has a larger display, more RAM and a slightly faster processor than my Moto G4 Play. After getting through the setup process, I was introduced to what Asus calls ZenUI 3.0. ZenUI is basically the Asus customization of Android including a number of applications and widgets, a redesigned home screen, customized dialer, custom sound effects for things like locking and unlocking the screen, and notifications and other tweaks to make their phone unique. Coming from iOS, the idea that the entire home screen, notifications and even the phone dialer can be customized is very unsettling. After all, if I talk to another iPhone user, I can walk them through how to place a call because I do it exactly the same way on my own device. The asus customizations, however, were so significant that I was unable to figure out how to access my menu of applications. I want to be clear here, I’m not saying necessarily that finding the application menu is inaccessible, it just wasn’t at all intuitive and definitely wasn’t the same experience as on my Moto G4 Play. What I soon learned though is that Android allows for the installation of what are known as Launchers. My understanding thus far is that Launchers basically define things like the home screen layout. After installing the Google Now Launcher, which is apparently installed by default on my G4 Play,my application menu appeared where I was expecting it and some of the other random dialogs that had started popping up simply went away. In the end, I experienced similar frustrations to those I had been facing with the G4 Play with the additional frustrations of figuring out how to get my home screen and other aspects into a state where I could use them. As awesome as its name is, the ZenFone soon found its way back to the store.
Next up, I purchased a Blu 5R which is also a solidly built phone — yeah, I tend to gravitate toward phones that are solid, heavy and which feel like they won’t fall apart at the drop of a hat. As with the Asus model that I returned, the Blu phone has a larger screen and slightly better specs than my G4 Play. While the Blu had its share of customizations, such as rather cute startup and shutdown sounds and a number of pre-installed applications, my experience was a very positive one. Although not perfect, I experienced fewer issues with gesture recognition, I loved the finger print sensor (the G4 Play doesn’t have this) and the speaker, once I realized it was initially covered over by a sticker, is really fantastic. If anyone reading this is looking for a budget entry-level phone, the Blu 5R should definitely be considered. I wound up returning mine, but only because I couldn’t justify it given that I already own the G4 Play.
And so it was with great anticipation that I awaited the arrival of my latest phone from somewhere in China, the OnePlus 3T. I’d never heard of the company, OnePlus, but they are a startup specializing in high-end, high-performance devices at mid-level prices. The specifications of the OnePlus 3T rival those of the Nexus at just over half the price and the reviews are fantastic. If I decide to seriously make the switch to Android, the 3T, with it’s super fast battery charging capability, 6 GB of RAM, convenient slider to quickly enable do-not-disturb and amazing form-factor is a device I could see myself using day-to-day. More importantly though, gestures are definitely recognized, accurately and consistently.
What have I learned?
I’ve actually learned a lot over these past few weeks, beyond the fact that my local electronics shop has a really great return policy. First, when purchasing a new Android device or when seeking assistance, it’s important to remember that Android devices can be different, sometimes vastly so. If you’re coming from iOS, this is extremely important because for the most part, iOS devices and how they operate are pretty similar across the board. Another thing I learned is that when an Android user says, “hmm, I’m not experiencing that issue,” it could really mean that, given their specific hardware/software which may be different than yours, they’re really not experiencing the same issue as that which you may be experiencing. It’s been my experience that sometimes, when an iOS user says that they’re not experiencing an issue, it’s meant as a mild rebuke: something along the lines of, “I’ve got the same hardware as you, I’ve got the same software as you, it’s working fine on my end, clearly it’s a problem on yours.” Looking over this paragraph, I realize I’m over-using the word experience, but in a way, that’s exactly what we’re talking about here. One of the very things that makes Android such an attractive option is the flexibility to customize just about every part of the experience. This comes at a cost though, the cost being fragmentation between what I might experience and what you might experience.