Switching from iOS to Android
This article starts a series of blogs on my ventures into Android land after having used iOS devices for 6 years. I have never been a strong believer in the Apple ecosystem, and my trials to convince myself to MacBooks and MacPros always ended with installing Linux on them, so I guess I wasn’t really the ideal target for iOS. Thus, my iOS devices were also permanently in jailbroken state, otherwise I would feel amputated. But as much as I disliked the lock-in and closed environment of the iOS world, it was from the user perspective surprisingly well done and smooth. So it was with a certain level of tension when I finally switched to Linux^WAndroid.
If you don’t want to read on, here the preliminary conclusion: Why didn’t I do it earlier! But before we go into details, let me start with my background:
History of my devices
Originally I was a big opponent of smart phones and preferred the Unix-way, one device for one thing. So I had a normal phone and (various) Palm devices (Tungsten X, Tungsten C, and above all my beloved Handera TRGpro). I loved the Palm world and considered it superior to the then smart phone world, until I came to Japan, where the challenge of a proper input method for Japanese and proper Japanese support posed a big hurdle. The Palm devices had a stick and written input fields, but Japanese input was practically impossible and a huge pain. Searching for a word in Japanese was more hurdle then looking it up in a printed dictionary.
In addition, I needed a phone in Japan, so I plunged into the smart phone world and got myself a iPhone (3g). What a world did open for me: easy typing of Japanese, dictionaries, on-the-fly translation, woooow! And above all, I discovered my most beloved and till now one of my most important programs: Flashcards Deluxe. Thanks, and I have to say to 80% thanks to this program my Japanese learning speed has accelerated considerably. There is nothing more important for me than getting drilled in a systematic way.
But I derail, anyway, having Flashcard Deluxe on the iPhone within rather short time I had about 10000 or more flashcards created, and moving on to a different architecture (Android) was for quite some time practically impossible without loosing years of statistics and learning, so I renewed my contract after 2 years together with a iPhone 4s. Another two years passed, and these years brought an Android version of Flashcards Deluxe, as well as Dropbox syncing, so I had no excuse anymore to remain in iOS land, wouldn’t it be for an iPhone 5s that was passed to me near the end of my forth year, so I again extended the contract for two years.
Finally, after 6 years of iPhone devices, this January I finally decided it is time to switch to Android. After lots of thinking, comparing, and requesting advice from good friends with more experience in the smart phone market I went for a Google Nexus 6p.
Google Nexus 6p
I will not repeat the specs of this phone as they are widely available on the net. My original plan was a Samsung S6, but after consultation with an expert I decided for an original Google phone for better security support. That left me with the option between a Nexus 5x and 6p, and due to prize differences (prizes of mobiles are ridiculously strange in Japan) I went for the 6p instead of the 5x. One point that made the decision for this slight too big device easy was the fact that it uses a great AMOLED display.
Moving the data
Since I was using Google Calendar and Google Contacts already on the iPhone, moving to the Android phone was far less a hassle than I thought. My contacts and events showed up without a hiccup. Most of the usual apps are nowadays available on both iOS and Android, so the most difficult thing was remembering all the passwords to log into the applications again (SNS like G+, FB, Twitter etc). The same is more or less true for messengers of all kinds (Line, WhatsApp, Threema, etc), but here one is advised to check with the respective web site first to make sure one does not loose all of the important data. Line for example is a stupid ***** that deletes all previous chats on the old phone and does not make them available on the new one. WhatsApp can be converted with a special conversion program. Threema, too allows for transfer of ids.
Move of applications
After that came the hunt for replacement applications for those that are not available as is on Android:
At first like probably everyone I used the shipped GMail program. It might be good for Google Mail accounts, but for anything else it is just a real pain. Thus, I have searched a bit and finally settled (for now) for K-9 Mail: it is open source, open development, feature rich, and more a hackers’ type email program, perfectly suited to me.
There is a commercial variant called K@-Mail that says that it improves the user interface and some usability items as well as features, but I didn’t see much of an advantage over the original version (which is completely free) and in fact some of my accounts didn’t work at all. So I remain with K9 Mail and I think this is a good decision.
Managing Calendars is one of the most important task for me. I have been a fervent supporter of DateBk4, DateBk 5, and DateBk 6 on the original Palm series, and when I left the Palm World it was with great pain that I had to loose DateBk. Not only because it was a simply fantastic calendar program that allowed me to keep track of all my climbing routes, festivities, in a much more advanced way than any other Calendering application, but also because the programmer of the DateBk series is running the Dewar Wildlife Trust, a Gorilla rescue group and a lot of the money he makes from the app sales is going to rescue Gorillas.
With the switch to iOS this option was gone, and I first used the built-in calendar application (which is so weak) and later and for long time Pocket Informant Pro. This is a very good program and probably the only one that can compete with DateBk with respect to functionality and usefulness.
During the time of me being locked in in iOS I realized that the world has moved on and a new version of DateBk series for Java was developed, called Pimlical. First only available on Windows, it became later available also on Android and Linux, too.
The following screen shot puts Pimlical on the left, and Pocket Informant on the right. I will write a more detailed comparison in future, in short: PInformant is more streamlined and polished, Pimlical has more configuration option. Practically everything can be adjusted to one’s need, and in addition there is also a Desktop application that sync either with Google and the phone, or only with the phone if you want to live off the grid.
So nowadays on Android I have both Pocket Informant Pro as well as Pimlical, but after a short time I have now switched practically exclusively to Pimlical.
Here there is pain – HUGE PAIN!!! iOS has an excellent applications for notes, called simply Notebooks. This little pearl was my work horse for everything (more or less) memorable. From poems and song texts to bus time tables, from PDF to GIFs, from MarkDown to HTML, everything could be saved into Notebooks, displayed, edited, ordered. And above all it had automatic background sync with Dropbox. So I could drop new files into the respective sub-folder of my Dropbox folder and could be sure I have the files available on my phone when I leave for a trip. And there is a huge bag of features that I haven’t even tapped into!
Android is unfortunately not on the list of supported architectures of Notebooks. So I searched far and wide, and without any success. There are all kind of notes, flash colors, overly simple, fast and slow, stylish and plain, but none of them did even provide half of the features of Notebooks. None, not even half.
I still hope I might find the ultimate notes application, or even better would be an Android version of the original Notebooks application (but this is not high on the developers todo list), but for now I am in despair …
As I said, most apps are nowadays available on both platforms, so there is not much more to do than download the respective Android app and log in again. That worked very nice across practically all apps.
Things I don’t like (i.e., which are broken!) on Android
Although a very convenient system and perfectly made to fit my taste, there are some things that are a huge pain (and a big shame on Google to not being able to fix that for long time!):
Japanese fonts when the device is in English interface language
In case you are a foreigner living in Japan and want your Android phone in English, but still read emails, news, etc in Japanese, then Android provides you with the worst, namely Chinese fonts:
This is a well known problem and I have blogged about fixing the very same problem on Linux (Debian), and the solution is a simple reshuffling in the fontconfig configuration files. There is even an application for it in the Google store, Kanji Fix, but it needs a rooted device (which I haven’t done till now – my failure!). I can only hope that Google fixes this completely stupid problem in a future version.
The ‘Me” problem
Another of these beasty problems: The Android Contacts application has an entry for “Me”, which unfortunately, no idea why, cannot be linked with my normal “me” in the list of contacts. There are reports all over the Internet, strange suggestions, and no real solution. Again, a simple thing that should work – but doesn’t.
Invisible Images folder in MTP mode
A more annoying problem is that the camera folder under Photos does not show up when connecting the device in MTP mode to my computer, and as consequence me being unable to copy photos from the device to my computer.
The solution I am using at the moment is moving the photos with a file manager to a new folder which is visible during MTP communcation, and copy the photos from there.
But this, too, should be something trivial, but alas, despite a lot of posts on the internet I couldn’t find a proper solution.
As written somewhere else, Google Music has switched from 5 star system to up/down system, which is a huge pain and PITA.
Things I do like (or I discovered) on Android
There are some things I haven’t been used/tried on iOS – they might be possible – which I really like:
Yubikey Neo support
I will write about this in a different blog, but nowadays I have my GPG keys on an hardware token (Yubikey Neo) and the application OpenKeychain on Android works nicely with both K9 Mail and via NFC with my Yubikey. That is a great tool!
Bluetooth on iOS devices was always a bit broken for me, so connecting my phone to my old car radio I needed radio transmitter that was connected to the cable port of the iPhone. With Android I use a Bluetooth Radio device (receives data via bluetooth, and sends music out via radio waves for a car stereo to receive them). Now if my monthly data limit wouldn’t be that low 😉
Debian on Android
Yes, you can have a full Debian system running in your terminal on Android. There are several applications providing this feature, and I am rather surprised how smooth it works.
My preliminary conclusion is that the switch to Android at this time was perfectly timed, and from the technological side I should have done much earlier. In future blogs I will discuss particular instances of this transition in more details.
If you have any suggestion for me, in particular for a good notes taking application, please let me know!
Interesting timing of this post. I’ve been considering a switch in precisely the other direction lately. I’ve used android for a long time (since the original Motorola Droid) and have had a number of different devices. All of these have ended up running custom firmware images at various times.
My issues with android are numerous. Here are a few:
Although it is apparently getting better, the android app permissions model has traditionally been terrible.
Android itself, while technically “Open Source,” it is so only in the shallowest possible sense. Development is not done in the open, and new release come all at once and always from Google. Over time, many of the previously Open Source components have been abandoned, replaced by closed components provided by Google.
Google Play Services is basically an unrestricted backdoor into the phone for google. Even android forks of android like Cyanogen typically run this service by default. Even variants that don’t often wind up running it before too long, as it’s necessary in order to run any of the official Google apps like GMail or Maps, or even the Google Play Store.
Apple’s recent pushback against the FBI’s request for access to a specific encrypted device is also appealing. Although there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical of Apple’s public messaging, I doubt that Google would push back any harder. Indeed with their business model basically predicated on knowing as much as possible about you, it’s unlikely that the FBI would even need to get access to the contents of the device-local storage in most cases. Google would already have it and would be able to provide it under court order without needing to involve the device at all. (One has a certain amount of control over what data leaves the phone, but it’s clear by looking at storage trends on the Nexus devices in recent years that Google is trying to discourage that.)
Anyway, I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do. For now, I keep using android because it’s what I have and what I’m familiar with. Your post has provided an interesting alternative perspective.
Thanks for your very interesting perspective. Indeed, privacy is a big concern and I have to agree that Google is very invasive. OTOH with the latest Android I have comparably lots of options to restrict access and permissions per application. Sure, the Google services are hard to control, but I guess that is not much different on iOS.
Depending on what notes app you use on your laptop/desktop, if the files are plain text/markdown (ZimWiki is excellent!), you can easily sync them to your phone via OwnCloud/Synthing/FolderSync Lite.
I like Zim too, but Dropbox for Android is kind of a pain in that you need cumbersome (slow!) third-party applications to sync whole folders.
Foldersync Lite is solid though and I suspect Syncthing will be decent too – I’ve not tried it yet… Never used Dropbox seriously!
thanks for the suggestion. For text only notes there are loads of programs to select from. I use one called simply Notes, it does automatic Dropbox syncing.
The application I used on iOS allowed for text, markdown, HTML, PDF, images, practically everything, even binary data. All synced in the background, most of the stuff searchable, etc etc etc.
Furthermore, I don’t like to use a specific program for editing my notes, just vim is my friend.
Hi Norbert, if you’re on zim, you shouldn’t have any problems getting a solution going for android with a text editor and syncing app…
It’s just a simple essay I’ve written for my friends, but I have a page on using free and open source applications from F-Droid to replace software bundled by Google with Android, which you may find of use as a general list of basic Android, software, here: http://outcasts.referata.com/wiki/Free_Android
interesting read – I see there are still lots of things to find out, of course. Several of the applications mentioned there are already on my list of standard apps. I would recommend you to add Pimlical/Android. It is not free, but can be installed via apk, and can sync with the Desktop application, no need to connect to Google for events.
If you care about free software, privacy and security you should use an alternative ROM. Either Replicant (no proprietary drivers, possibility of adding proprietary firmware blobs) or Cyanogenmod. Both of these include Privacy Guard which allows you to block applications, even system ones or Google from accessing or doing many things, it’s way better than iOS or Android stock options. No proprietary apps by default. You can also install Open GApps Pico version to minimize the amount of Google bloat without loosing Google Services and Google Play. I recommend adding this gapps-config.txt file to the dir with the gapps pico zip file:
It will delete all that’s not needed and can be replaced by free alternatives.
Turn off all the location/sync etc. options of everything and use F-Droid to search for apps before using Google Play.
Thanks for sharing such an awesome article.
Good article! Yeah, android is more free to changes nether iOS. And of course free apps, music, etc. It interesting to know how to go from iOS to Android.