Editorial

From Windows phones to Android: my adventure, 6 months later

This is a personal take on switching from Windows phones to Android, a feat I undertook about six months ago. That’s after using Microsoft’s operating system ever since it launched, while mostly staying away from Android devices.

What's the story so far?

During the last six months I’ve used Android as my daily driver, while still keeping a close eye on all the builds and updates that Windows 10 Mobile has been receiving. I first shared some thoughts on how the transition to Google’s OS was going a few days after the switch, and you can read those impressions here. Since that turned out to be popular, and sparked some interesting discussions, I’m following it up with a second, and final report after I gave Android a real try for a decent amount of time.

Oh, ok. Ready to come back to Windows phones?

Microsoft fans, of which we certainly have a few around here, will likely be disappointed, but the answer is an emphatic NO. Android has treated me very nicely for the most part and took most of the stress out of our relationship using my phone.

I’m swimming in apps, looking forward to Android 7.0 Nougat, getting ready for the next Nexus phones and enjoying some great Microsoft apps – there’s no reason for me to go back to Windows.

Which phones and versions of Android have you been using?

I’ve extensively relied on the Nexus 5X over the past six months. As I mentioned previously, having the most up-to-date OS and a pure, streamlined experience is very important for me. It’s the reason why I stick with crapware-free Windows and Insider builds on Microsoft’s side of the aisle, and it’s the same reason why I chose Nexus on Android. With some exceptions, which I’ll mention below, I strongly believe Nexus is the only experience that’s worth it on Android.

Besides the 5X, I’ve also used the new OnePlus 3, which is quite an impressive device, but I’ll go much more in-depth on that in a few days when we publish our official review. I’ve also played around with Samsung’s latest Galaxy S7, which I found to be a great device – but not for me. The combination of Samsung’s aesthetic and TouchWiz quickly gets to be too much and I soon run back to my comfortable Nexus.

I’m also considering buying the HTC 10. I’ve been a fan of the company’s flagships for many years now, but the combination of slow updates and overpriced devices, plus mediocre cameras, has left me disappointed. But if the HTC 10 continues to drop in price, I’ll more than likely pick one up.

As for Android itself, I’ve tried out the current version available on high-end devices, Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Back in my original “From Windows to Android” post, I mentioned how I enjoyed a simple, lag-free experience, something that in my own experience Windows 10 Mobile no longer offers.

Since that post, I’ve discovered I’m an addict and a glutton for punishment so I quickly abandoned the buttery-smooth Android Marshmallow, for the oh-my-lord-my-phone-is-on-fire Android Nougat preview. I’ve had mixed experiences with the beta of the OS on my Nexus, with Android N running very well for weeks at a time and then suddenly running into some critical issue that forced me to reset the device. Obviously, though, that was just a beta and the latest build has proven to be of very good quality, so those issues seem to be firmly in the past now.

The conclusion is that you’re safe if sticking with general availability OS versions, while betas and insider builds may bite you in the backside no matter which platform you’re on.

"Affordable flagships" like the OnePlus 3 are making Android very attractive

What’s the best part of Android?

Back in my original post on this switch, I mentioned how its popularity has turned Android into a great operating system because nobody can ignore it. Want that new Pokémon GO app that everyone’s going mad about? Sure it’s on Android. Want that new hipster service that delivers your kale ironically? It’s probably only on iOS for now, but it’s coming to Android next week. New website showing up? It looks great on Android, because nobody can ignore the platform. New Microsoft app? Yeah, of course it’s on Android. Windows phone support? What’s that? Our own platform? Oh!

Not feeling neglected, or hearing that every good app is coming “Soon™”, is a feeling Windows phone users have rarely experienced.

I also wanted to highlight another positive aspect. It’s one that applies to the mobile market as a whole, but which has disproportionately positive effects on Android. And that’s how the mid-range has become “good enough”.

It used to be that Android was a pretty good operating system on high-end, expensive flagships. But that experience would quickly turn nasty on low- and mid-range devices. Want a smooth experience? Get a flagship. Want a good camera? That’ll be $600+. Want to get a recent version of Android and not some 2-year old, unpatched, crapfest of an operating system? Certainly, just take out a second mortgage.

But that’s no longer the case. Starting a few years ago, devices like the OnePlus phones, or Motorola handsets, or Xiaomi’s own models or even some Nexus phones have brought affordable, high-quality experiences to the masses. You no longer have to go for the most expensive model to ensure you have a good camera, a smooth experience and a great screen. All of these features are now standard, and the Android ecosystem, which is full with choices, is benefiting greatly from this new wave of affordable devices. Even software patches are becoming more common, though still not as common as they should be.

Android's security is still of great concern

So what’s the worst part of Android?

I’ve previously mentioned how I’m not a big fan of its design or of its fragmented nature across devices. While those issues, alongside a very mediocre keyboard, are still on top of the list, the real major issue I’ve found myself concerned with is security.

As mentioned, I’ve mostly relied on Nexus devices for my Android experience, meaning that by many estimates I’m getting the most secure version of the OS. And in some ways, that’s still not enough. Popularity and a very full Play store are great when you’re looking for a specific service or app. But this can be a double-edged sword when it comes to security.

No longer can I simply hand over my phone to a friend or my little brother and let them play around and download apps or surf the web without reservation. That used to be my experience on iOS and Windows phones, but it’s a different story with Android. Clicking a few nasty ads may infect your device, leak your data, copy your contacts and so on. Downloading a malicious app, even from Google Play is a real possibility, and getting your encryption broken is easy-peasy on most Android phones.

I went from having the peace of mind that even those who were actively trying to mess up my phone could do little more than install an annoying app or set my alarm for the middle of the night; to knowing that a few stray clicks and improperly given permissions may not only mess up my device but leak copious amounts of private data. In other words, my phone suddenly became a PC – and that’s not what I wanted my phone to be.

But all of this is worth it for the apps, right? Right?

About that ...you might be disappointed to find out that switching to Android doesn’t get rid of the “app-gap”, it just changes the game a bit. Those of you living in the US or UK or other such major market might be confused by this next part, but for those of us outside of those places, the struggle is real, and so is the app-gap.

While on Windows phone, I could never find apps because they didn’t exist, on Android I sometimes have trouble finding apps because they’re region locked. Microsoft services like Cortana, or new apps that have just launched don’t show up for those of us living outside of “privileged” markets. And while this issue easily crops up on other platforms as well, it’s also easily bypassed. Not so in the Play Store where Google has enforced an iron curtain around each region and country.

Even with Google’s own services, this problem popped up a few times. For example, the company recently launched the Podcast section on Play Music, finally giving users a native way to enjoy podcasts. But it’s not available outside of the US. Why? Probably because of the ads or licensing agreements Google is serving. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense considering I can get the same content through a third-party app. It just makes things a lot less convenient.

Of course there are some ways to get around this, but they’re fewer and fewer with each version of Android and each patch. And honestly the trouble I’d need to go through, or the risk I’d need to take with APKs found online is just too much of a hassle in most cases.

Then again, don’t get me wrong, the situation is infinitely better than on Windows phones. Snapchat? Here. Pokémon GO? Here. The Uber of kale delivery apps? Nope, sorry, still only on iOS.

Unlike Android, Windows phones include lots of basic features natively

Do you miss anything about Windows Phone or Windows 10 Mobile?

Of course. I’ve mentioned many times how I miss the design of Windows Phone and the consistency and the buttery smoothness of the whole OS. I won’t harp on much more about it.

But I will say that I also miss the simplicity, and the out-of-box experience. I’ve found Android, especially non-stock, non-Nexus Android to be a pain in the backside for the first few days of usage on any device. There are so many options that need to be set up, so many apps for basic functions that need to be downloaded – it’s just tiring and unsatisfying.

I’ve already mentioned podcasts above but here are a few more examples: scanning a QR code – literally one of the easiest things to do on Windows phones – requires you to download and sift through Google Play apps instead of being built right in; want to identify a track? Yes, Google can easily do that but it won’t remember it unless you go through its Music widget or rely on third party app. It’s little things like these that wear on the user and make everything on Android more tedious than it should be.

Any chance of coming back to Windows 10 Mobile?

Not this year, and to be honest as things stand, not next year either. If anything, since my original article, Windows 10 Mobile took another turn for the worse by destroying battery life on both of the devices I still own: the Lumia 930 and 830. There’s nothing on the horizon that could help Windows 10 Mobile devices and next year’s 'Surface phone' holds little interest for me.

Though I’ll likely be jumping from device to device, I’ll be sticking with Android for the foreseeable future.

Anything I should look forward to on the Android side that might get me to switch?

Android 7.0, or Nougat as it’s now known, is a nice upgrade that should be out in the next couple of months. It brings a bunch of new features though most of them will require new hardware. To that end, I’m very much looking forward to the unveiling of Google’s new Nexus phones. We already know quite a bit about them and they sound very enticing. If the company can get the design and price right, they might be the Android handsets to get this fall.

I’m also very curious to see where Google takes its Daydream VR platform. If this turns out to be more than just an experiment and the company pushes it forward, Daydream may soon be the more affordable way to get into VR and that’s very exciting.

Finally, getting back to devices I’m also curious to see the new smartwatches coming out of Google, rumored to also feature Nexus branding. Wearables, outside of the fitness sector, have failed to make a big impression on me so far, so I’m very curious to see whether Google can change my opinion or if I’ll wait for Microsoft’s Band 3.

Come over to the dark side, we've got apps!

So should I ditch Windows phones and switch to Android?

I’ll simply reiterate what I said in my first post: that’s your decision. If, right now, your Windows phone is working well and you’re happy with it, there’s not much Android can do for you. If any of the flaws described above seem like they might be a deal breaker than you’re likely better off staying with Microsoft.

If, on the other hand, any of the features mentioned seem very appealing, then yes, this is a good time to switch to Android. Low-cost, high-quality devices will ensure you don’t need to spend too much money on switching, while Android’s ubiquity will give you a comfortable ecosystem to jump into.

For me personally, I’ve found Android to be an attractive proposition, and despite its flaws I’m planning on sticking with it for the long term.

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