Recently, I decided to try out Android again and purchased a Pixel 3 phone.
I’ve always owned Mac laptops (my first was a 2005 14" iBook), but I haven’t always owned iPhones. After purchasing my first iPod Touch in 2007, I was so happy with the product that I upgraded from my Samsung flip-phone to an iPhone 3. I happily used the iPhone until its screen broke in 2011. At the time, it was in between iPhone product cycles, and I had heard positive things about Android, so I decided to give it a go.
I really hated using Android in 2011. It seemed like having the power to customize anything on an Android device was necessitated by almost nothing working as expected out-of-the-box. Simple things like syncing ~15GB of music to my phone was convoluted using apps like doubleTwist (remember that?!). The file-system made it almost impossible for me to find where any photos I took went, and the most basic things like texting with iOS users was flaky.
I happily switched back to the iPhone 5s after a few years on Android and subsequently used an iPhone 6s for another three years after my 5s was stolen.
But when I started looking into upgrading this time around, Android, and especially the Pixel phones, started to look really good for several reasons:
- Price: I just couldn’t fathom the idea of paying over $1000 for a new iPhone. The Pixel is $200 less expensive.
- Camera: The main reason I was considering upgrading was to get a better camera, and I heard that the Pixel’s is even better than the iPhone’s.
- Google ecosystem: Many of the primary apps I use, even on the iPhone, are Google apps like Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Photo. I even used the Google iOS app, which at some point gave me really useful updates, like the status of my flights and gate numbers when I was traveling (why does this still not appear even in Apple Wallet?!) or updates on when a package would be delivered. I noticed in the past year that those updates stopped working in the iOS app, and I was surprised by how much I missed them.
- Cross-platform apps for everything else: Other apps I use daily, like Twitter and Spotify, are all available on Android, so I didn’t feel I would be losing out at all by switching to the Android ecosystem.
- Innovation: There were a few features that really stood out to me on the Pixel, like their Call Screening feature which lets you screen phone calls in real time, and their Now Playing feature which is basically like always-on Shazam — it IDs tracks playing in the background and shows them directly on your lock screen, without you ever having to do anything. And Google Lens is cool too (it IDs anything in your pictures, like famous buildings, popular products, or even text to translate, which is handy for the Japanese snacks I try for my snack blog).
- Research: As a UX designer, I think it’s important to always be aware of different platforms and approaches to UI. Since I still use Mac products otherwise, I thought having an Android phone could be a nice way to educate myself on how Google design has evolved.
At the same time, I was nervous about moving to Android for a couple reasons:
- Messaging: I’m accustomed to using iMessage across both my iPhone and my Mac laptops. Because of my poor experiences messaging iOS users from Android in the past, I was unsure how well it would work out this time around.
- Mac compatibility: Other apps, like Notes, were handy to have synced across my devices too. Since Apple has a notoriously closed ecosystem, I was worried I wouldn’t even realize that I wouldn’t be able to do certain things until I made the switch. Though I didn’t use them myself, features like Airdrop and Handoff are useful, or so I’ve heard from friends who recommend these tools.
- Lack of in-store support: In theory, it seems handy to be able to walk to any Apple store to get your device fixed. I’ve done this many times with my Apple computers, but after I thought about it, I’ve never actually had to get my iPhones serviced.
Despite my concerns, I decided to go for it and purchased a Pixel 3. Overall, I’m glad with my choice and wanted to share a few differences I’ve noticed between Android and iOS. This isn’t a review of Android or the Pixel 3 per se, but I did want to point out things that I haven’t really seen elsewhere about the experience of switching from iOS to Android. This post is about all the little things, both pros and cons, and the surprising parts of using a new system.
The Good Things
The #1 thing I didn’t expect to be blown away by is how Android handles notifications. Since having the Pixel 3, I’ve noticed that the quiet way in which Android organizes your notifications actually has had a significant effect on my wellbeing to the point that I just feel calmer and much less stressed out about attending to less urgent alerts.
I set my Pixel 3 to have the display always-on, which you would think might lead to checking your phone more often, but actually I find myself unlocking my phone much less frequently. The always-on screen consolidates all my notifications into friendly avatars, so I know if I have mail or if someone has liked something I posted, but I don’t necessarily get bothered about the details until I hit the power button. This means I’m generally much less disturbed by my phone, yet I can easily see at-a-glance whether I have notifications to attend to. This is very different than iOS, where you see long list of cards showing you every alert, regardless of how important it is to you.
Similarly, there are no red badges with numbers on Android (or at least, not by default). I am definitely in the turn-all-the-badges-off camp, and seeing red badges with counters stresses me out. In Android, those dots are a friendly blue or pink, signaling that there is something new to see, but not making you feel that you have to address it right away.
Overall, this way of handling notification is like a gentle nudge, yet it’s still super informative. I far prefer the way Android handles notifications to iOS.
Many Google applications are superb at handling multi-tasking automatically. If you’re on a call, you can minimize the call to a little floating dot and check other things on your device, while still being able to quickly switch back to the call.
For Google Maps, once you’ve started navigation, you can have the map visible while still searching on your device. For example, I can pull up navigation information for a restaurant while still looking up reviews for other spots, in case I find something even better.
And for YouTube, you can always minimize a video so you can continue watching even while you have other apps open.
Literally while I was writing this blog post, I got a call from an unknown number and was able to use the Call Screening feature exclusive to the Pixel 3. Call Screening basically lets you use Google Assistant to answer phone calls you’re not sure about. Google Assistant transcribes the responses in real time, so you can decide whether or not to take the call.
I’ve been able to use the feature many times since I got the phone, and it’s been super handy!
There are some nice UI touches on Android, like showing full-screen album art on the lock screen. I kind of miss when iOS did that – I guess normally I had so many notification cards at any given time that the art probably would have been blocked anyway.
Double tap to launch camera
With the Pixel, you double tap the power button to launch the camera, even when your cameras locked. Suddenly, taking a photo became so much faster. I can’t really imagine not having this shortcut now.
The Not-So-Good Things
Like the newest iPhones, the Pixel 3 does not have a headphone jack. It does come with a pair of USB-C headphones, but they are just not very good. The earbuds are too big to stay in my ear, even if I’m just walking, so there’s no way I would ever try using them while exercising. And the build quality does not seem up-to-par even with old Apple earpods — the clicker feels cheap, and the cable is thicker but not in a way that makes it feel more robust. The sound quality is noticeable worse as well. I feel silly doing it, but I use the wired Apple earbuds with the USB dongle on my Pixel because I prefer them. Things like switching tracks or changing volume don’t work unfortunately, but you can still access Google Assistant and play and pause using the button.
Somehow, the auto-correct does not seem as good as on Android. I find it doesn’t seem to correct my typos as frequently. And one of the first things I did was change the keyboard styling on the Android because I prefer having clearer containers for each of my keys.
Google’s complex file system is still in place, and while I like Google Photos, its integration isn’t quite there yet. For example, for my snack blog Tasty Snacking, I like to create an album of photographs for all the snacks I need to review. I currently do this in Google Photos. However, when I go to select a photo using a file input field in Chrome, it doesn’t let me select photos from any albums in Google Photos and instead relies on the file system. Because Google Photos are all in the same place locally, the album-system is pretty much useless outside of the Google Photos app. On iPhone, I could create albums in the Apple Photo app and select from this album whenever using a file input field from any apps, so it was more convenient.
I had to get an unlocked Pixel because I use AT&T. I didn’t even realize that visual voicemail is not something that comes by default on smartphones since I’ve been using it for so many years. When I got my first voicemail after switching to the Pixel 3, I had to call my voicemail box, enter in my pin, and listen to an automated machine read me my voicemail, like the technological stone age. I got Google Voice set up shortly afterward, but it was crazy to me to not have visual voicemail just built in.
The photo quality on the Pixel is a big jump from my iPhone 6s, especially in low light. The photos below are completely untouched. They aren’t meant to be exemplar examples; you can see where the camera washes out some details, for example. But in general, the Pixel’s low-light shooting capabilities are very good.
However, I heard that the Pixel camera uses AI to determine the content in the photograph and then adjusts the quality of the photograph accordingly. I dislike this “feature” because it leads to oversaturation for content like food. For example, in the photograph below, I can assure you that the roe was not nearly that red:
I haven’t figured out if there’s a way to adjust the crop of the photographs while you’re composing. For example, I want to be able to shoot square photographs for my snack blog, but it seem like I can only edit photos after-the-fact to crop them to square dimensions, so I need to eyeball whether or not anything might be cut out of the photo when I eventually crop them after taking the shot.
I guess I got really used to being able to scroll through emoji super quickly on iOS by dragging my finger across the different categories. The emoji on iPhone seem to be in one continuous, scrollable container. On Android, it’s much more tedious as it doesn’t automatically scroll to the category as you drag your finger (you need to tap) — it’s more like the UI is paginated than scrollable. But at least there’s integrated search.
Some final thoughts
At the end of the day, using Android instead of iOS is really no big deal. I wouldn’t say I have a strong preference for either OS, but the biggest difference for me has definitely been the way Android handles notifications, which in my opinion is far superior. I do miss iMessage though.
P.S. If you have any tips that solve any of the problems I described above, I’d love to hear.