Can a week living with Android convince an iOS die-hard to make the switch?
16th Jun 2013 | 11:00
I want to break free (from Apple devices)
Hello. My name's Gary, and I have given Apple a lot of money. I've owned first, second and fourth generation iPads and the iPad mini, and between us my wife and I have owned every iPhone.
I've amassed an enormous library of apps and a few accessories, and I'm perfectly happy with all of it - most of the time. But there's a little voice that nags. Are iOS devices really the best devices for me?
Until fairly recently, the answer was yes: before Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Android won on the customisation front and lost on hardware, apps and media.
However, that's changed: Android phones have topped our Best phones in the world list for some time now, and devices such as Google's Nexus 10 are genuinely good - and aggressively priced - bits of kit.
So is the grass now greener on the Google side? If it is, will it cost me a fortune to change platforms? There's only one way to find out. Lock up the Apples!
Hardware and software
The brief is simple: swap my iOS devices for Android ones and get on with my life. I've swapped them for an HTC One, our current favourite phone, and a Google Nexus 7, and I'll use them for all the things I normally use iOS for.
I have mixed feelings about the Nexus 7. It's well made and represents excellent value for money, but coming to it from an iPad mini feels like a massive downgrade. Where the iPad mini feels like a small tablet, the Nexus feels like a really big and heavy phone - and its proportions don't really work in landscape orientation, which is how I prefer to hold my tablets.
The screen isn't as nice, text is sometimes blurry in the browser and the device feels rather underpowered: there's a noticeable lag between tapping something and the Nexus responding.
It feels surly, heaving a silicon sigh as if it doesn't really approve of my choices, and in some apps, such as Twitter, choppy scrolling gave me motion sickness. I grabbed a Nexus 4 to see if it's similarly afflicted and it isn't, so perhaps it's worth waiting for the imminent second generation tablet.
I've got no reservations about the HTC One, though: I'm completely sold. The latest Sense UI is really nice, the large size doesn't feel any odder than the iPhone 5 and the screen is superb for text, photos and videos.
Performance is silky smooth, the multi-shot camera is great (although I think the iPhone takes better photos in daylight) and - hurrah! - the headphone output is much, much louder than the latest iPhone, which doesn't adequately power my stupidly expensive headphones. At last I can hear quiet acoustic tracks on the bus.
It's not a bad-looking beast either. It's much prettier and more desirable than a Samsung Galaxy, and its finish doesn't look like it'll suffer from the terrible scarring my iPhone 5's anodised aluminium back managed to pick up, despite being ensconced inside a protective case.
The HTC's micro USB port means it won't play nice with my car charger or speaker dock. Replacing those would set me back around £40 all-in, since both the charger and dock are currently cheapies. I'd also need to replace my Apple TV box with an Android-compatible streamer such as the WD TV Play, which would set me back around £70.
I didn't particularly like Android Gingerbread or Honeycomb, but Android Jelly Bean is great - especially in its HTC-infused flavour, although stock Jelly Bean is friendly enough too. I particularly like multiple accounts on tablets, data sharing between apps, the Music app, notifications and the easy access to key settings such as Bluetooth and Airplane mode - something that iOS 7 has adopted.
Is there an app gap?
Over and above the obvious apps - web browser, weather, music, email and camera - I regularly use TomTom Europe, Paprika, Flickr, Fantastical, NextBuses, Zite, Netflix, Feedly, eBay, Dropbox, Evernote, my bank's app, Facebook, Tweetbot, GarageBand and a guitar tuner app.
Most of those apps - or very similar equivalents in the case of NextBuses and Tweetbot - are in Google Play for little or no money. Re-buying the TomTom app would cost £36.99, but I think Google's own navigation is good enough for my everyday needs.
The only everyday app I couldn't find an equivalent for is Fantastical: there are lots of calendar apps, but I couldn't find any offering the natural language processing that I've really come to love.
I did encounter problems with music creation apps. Apple doesn't make an Android version of GarageBand, and while there are decent Android music apps, it falls some way behind iOS - so for example music apps I use occasionally, such as Animoog and SoundPrism, aren't available on Android. Listening to music is covered, though: Google Play does what iTunes Match does, for free.
There's another problem. My daughter. The last time I counted she had over 80 apps, and some of her favourites once again aren't in Play: the Toca Boca apps she loves are missing, as are many of the book apps.
The apps that are there generally cost money because we try to avoid ones based around in-app purchases, so I'm looking at £2 or £3 per app (assuming I want to re-buy the ones she already has). Realistically to replace the must-have apps I'm looking at around £30-£50.
Money, money, money
Let's talk a bit more about money. Matching specs and contracts with my existing Apple kit would mean buying a £159 Nexus 7 16GB, a £389 Nexus 10 32GB and a £69.99 HTC One. The HTC One is a pound per month cheaper on Orange than my iPhone 5 is, so over two years that's a saving of £24, which brings the phone upgrade cost to £45.99 (provided, of course, that I'm out of contract - otherwise I'd have to pay to buy myself out of my existing airtime contract, or buy the HTC One SIM-free).
Buying new kit would cost me a total of £593.99, but I can make that back by trading in my old iOS stuff. Assuming no recycler shenanigans, I'd net around £261 for my iPad 4, £147 for my iPad mini and £262 for my iPhone 5. That's £670, so I'd be up by £76.01.
Replacing iTunes Match with Google Play Music would save me another £20, and if I used multiple accounts to share the Nexus 10 with my daughter I could save a further £159 by not buying a Nexus 7.
There are other costs too, of course. Replacing my speaker dock and car charger would cost around £40, and swapping the Apple TV for the WD TV Play would cost £70.
I'll go for the lowball estimate for re-buying my daughter's apps - £30 - and stick with Google's own navigation instead of spending money on TomTom again. That gives me a subtotal of £141, so moving entirely to Android would cost me £44.99. Or if I didn't bother with a smaller tablet, I'd actually save £114 by switching.
So would I do it?
To jump or not to jump
The music apps are a deal-breaker for me, but that isn't going to be the case for most people. However, music isn't my only reason for staying put. There's a great deal to like about Android, and the HTC One definitely gave me phone envy, but I felt that a move would be change for change's sake, not for any real benefit.
Were I coming to this with a blank slate I suspect it'd be a very different story, though. I can easily imagine choosing an HTC One (or a Nexus 4 if I were buying SIM-free) over an iPhone 5, and it would then make sense to get a Nexus 10 instead of an iPad 4.
Before Android 4.0 I wouldn't even have considered Android over iOS, especially on tablets. The operating system wasn't particularly pleasant, the available hardware was horrible and there was a significant apps gap.
Now, though, choosing between platforms is largely about aesthetics, not practicalities. While Android Jelly Bean wasn't quite sweet enough for me, I could well be tempted by some Key Lime Pie.