August 9, 2016 · Android Windows Phone

Spending one month with an Android

A match made for eternity?

The truth is simple. Windows Phone 8.1/10 is the best smartphone OS currently available. There I said it. I've been using Lumia phones from their earliest incarnations on, and it was a special relationship. We were like two nerdy and misunderstood teenagers who found each other in a wild world of puberty loaded confusion. Secluded from the harsh reality, we spent a wild summer of love together. We had each other and needed no one else. No updates, no apps, no worries.

But it was a relationship that began to take its toll after the summer was gone. I matured while windows phone kind of stayed the same. We were still perfect for each other, but only if I never dared to play with all the cool kids anymore. Who needs a Snapchat app anyway if you have no friends to share them with?

So I stayed and I was mostly happy all of the time. I knew that we had something special going on, despite having Nokia phones failing on me now and then. It didn't matter. The phone is just a mere shell for the artificial heart I grew so fond of. Let me transplant it for you into a new body.

She is the latest in technology

Almost mythology

But she has a heart stone

She has an I.Q. of 1001

She has a jumpsuit on

And she's also a telephone.

(Electric Light orchestra - Yours truly, 2095)

Unfortunately windows phone's parents at Microsoft didn't seem to be too happy with our love. First they stopped providing good phones, then they let off quite a few of their staff and pretty much all remaining major companies stopped their development for the already barren windows phone store.

It is still around, but we had to part. While it still has all the appeal in the world to me, I knew, there was no future for us anymore - keeping this love alive would be for all the wrong reasons. Farewell and Godspeed, Windows Phone... for now.

Mom! There is an android in front of my windows

I was prepared for a change. I never liked the idea giving my contact and calendar data to a company like Google, Apple or Microsoft. In parts because of privacy but also to remain independent. So these data have long moved to OwnCloud, together with my cloud filesystem. App-bound data would move to a new platform without issues anyway, so I was confident in a seamless transition into the Android world.
As a weapon of choice I picked the just released One Plus 3. An intriguing piece of hardware with premium specs for a medium price, with a minimal operating system without bloated useless crap.

I knew I wanted to have a google-less phone from the beginning, so I disabled the Google store and all the other company apps and replaced them with an alternative store and apps. I've synced Owncloud without any problems and I was ready to go, for the moment.

I knew there will be a certain learning curve to get used to Android and its UI paradigm that is very different from Windows Phone. I prefer to say different instead of better/worse. There are no live tiles that will give me all the useful information at a glance. There are widgets instead. Little, very inflexible appearing boxes you can glue to your desktop. Each of them have their own look and their information are useless at worst and ugly at best. It feels like I took a journey into the early days of smartphone development and I immediately missed the sleek unified look of WP tiles that weren't just beautiful but useful, too.

Windows Tiles in comparison with Android widgets This graphic shows the differences of WP Tiles in comparison with Android widgets. Tiles are widgets and buttons at the same time. Android Widgets don't integrate as well and look more glued to a desktop rather than provide the foundation of the UI concept.

So maybe, an Android homescreen just isn't for having so much dynamic information and has its strengths in just loading apps. But if that's the case? Why do I have a full app starter just one click away? This seems very redundant to me. Of course, having shortcuts to your favourite apps is a productivity boost. We knew this since the olden days of Windows 3.1. I expect more, but I guess I will just have to get used to say farewell to a unified UI.

Oh my god it's full of apps

Apps, apps everywhere

At least, I finally have a choice. Apps, apps everywhere. Suddenly, each website I visit welcomes me with a friendly "There is an app for our site. Get it in the store". Ugh, no thanks? I certainly won't download the Android app for all those shoddy boards I end up visiting sometimes and this includes also major news sites. In fact, I have the feeling I don't even have a choice but to download, otherwise it will download itself. I know it won't, it just feels like it.

On Windows Phone you simply don't realize how harsh the mobile web world is, because they never cared for you and everybody left you alone. No annoying popups, even less ads. On Android you see the real world outside the matrix until you install an ad blocker.

You merely adopted the ad-free internet

But still, having so many apps to choose from is a relief. You can finally engage in your friends activities, if you are into that. That I've removed the Google Store has only affected me slightly. At first it feels odd to download APK's from random sources but once you find a trustworthy source like apkmirror.com or rely on F-Droid it is actually not that uncomfortable. It's a good trade-off for not having to give Google your data, anyway.

Some more oddities

As a disclaimer: I really don't want to start nitpicking. I would find a million things Windows Phone sucked at, But today the spotlight is on Android.

To me, the worst issues aren't features that aren't simply available on one platform but on the other. It's features you have on both platforms, but one of them just doesn't get them quite right. Let's take the "glance" feature for example. A great invention no doubt. Whenever you swipe over your light sensor or pop your phone out of your pocket, the screen will light up and provide you with features like the time, your next appointment or whatnot. It is supposed to be a passive feature, for those moments you don't want to actually use your phone, but still want to see what's going on.

On Windows Phone it does just that. On Android, you have access to buttons like "Play" or "Next" in case you are listening to music. With a click on the notification bars you can access an app. Sounds like a good feature at first, even if it breaks a UI paradigm when you can become active in a passive UI mode, but who cares.

This is more an issue, because at least on my One Plus 3, this feature runs havoc sometimes. Countless times music started playing while having the phone in my pocket. Sometimes the screen even turned on and I had random icons displaced on my screen, all because of a non working glance feature.

At first I considered disabling glance, but I started looking for a cure, which I hoped to find in an app called "pocket lock". It kinda promised to prevent unwanted actions while the phone being in your pocket. Unfortunately it wasn't just shitty at doing it's job - it has also introduced a truckload of other wonky behaviour when swiping over the light sensor.

In short, it made the experience even worse. I will probably disable this feature soon.

You had one job, really

Notifications are a lot of work

I'm not done yet. Let's talk a bit about notifications. I might get on a slippery slope with what I'm saying here, because there might be a cure for it. But hear me out first. My prime complaint is targeted towards the Whatsapp notifications.

You get a new message and you see a preview of this message. Great. You get a second message and all you see is "You have 2 messages in 2 chats". Thanks captain obvious for such a useless message. How will I ever be able to judge the importance of a message without opening up the app? Oh yes, there is still a super ugly widget to get a preview. But in any case I'll be forced to leave the app I'm currently using. That doesn't make sense at all!

It's more Whatsapp who's to blame here instead of Android. But how come there is no user feedback about this UI flaw?

I can only assume that many other applications don't provide a lot of useful notification. From what I've seen so far this might be the case. And what's up with that constant cleaning up of the notification area?

Each day you need to swipe away so many wasted notification boxes which contain zero information about downloads and what not. Sure sure, you can disable notifications for certain apps, but why not push older notifications to the background. There is a lot to learn from the Windows Phone approach of having a list of recent actions ordered by application. It's clean, simple and requires no user interaction.

The end of all things

Yes, it's easy to complain about everything. It's easy to cry and miss the good old days. And indeed, some things were better for me under Windows Phone. In fact, the only thing so far compelling to me under Android is the huge amount of apps. Everything else is either on par with Windows Phone, worse or just different. You can flat out feel that Android's UI paradigm is older than that of Windows. And you can also feel that it is a platform which had freedom in mind, too. Yes, there are so many ways to customize Android, to turn it into whatever you want it to be. And yet, I can't turn it into a Windows Phone.

Maybe I'm just stubborn.
Maybe I can't see the appeal of Android yet.
Maybe, I haven't become a convinced follower of the tribe yet.
But maybe I'm just that kind of outcast Windows Phone's were made for.

Living far away from the smartphone master race of IPhone and Android users, in the barren corner of a technological desert, impenetrable by apps and advertisement. It's a lonely, yet beautiful place.

Although her memory banks overflow

No one would ever know

For all she says: "Is that what you want?"

Maybe one day I'll feel her cold embrace

And kiss her interface

'Til then, I'll leave her alone.

(Electric Light orchestra - Yours truly, 2095)

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