Remember that long post about Android phones? The one that was basically an iPhone vs Android comparison? Well, this is an update to that.
Along the way to finishing that entry, I came to the conclusion that the Android phone lives and dies by the amount of freedom it grants the end user. That freedom comes at the cost of added complexity. I think the moral of my previous rant was that Android is an awesome and viable alternative to the iPhone, but it's far from perfect.
Well, I've had some time with this phone now, and I think I can really start to explain why I like Android better than iOS. In principal, both are solid operating systems. The difference is that the learning curve for Android isa little steep. This fact is probably a boon for cell carrier tech support gurus, as it keeps help-seeking customers in ample supply. Since Android is slightly less user friendly, people who are technologically impaired would be well advised to either stay away from the Google powered devices, OR be sure to have a techy friend/relative around to help you learn. That being said, what follows is why I think Android is pretty awesome.
As previously stated, Android's strength lies in its flexibility. Of important note to this attribute, a lot of that comes from the fact that Android is open source. If you remember, open source means that the code for the operating system, as well as the phones that are being produced, is available to the public. This one little fact, in my experience, is the salvation of the Samsung Fascinate.
Experiences like mine aren't limited to this one device, but I feel it's a pretty poignant example. Over the course of my ownership of this Android powered smartphone, I've experienced a wide range of emotions. Upon first playing with the phone, my mind was blown by how awesome it was to have portable internet, a music player, a phone, all wrapped up behind a gorgeous 4" screen. From there, i started to encounter quirks of the device. Samsung made a mistake, a lot of Android geeks say, with one of the technical details of the Fascinate. If you're familiar with what a file system is, in relation to a media storage device (i.e. hard drive, usb drive, sd card, internal cell phone storage, etc.,) Samsung goofed. Certain file systems are considered better than others in the world of smartphones. Think of the file system like a transmission. A lot of the transitions and actions taken in a smart phone involve different files in different locations. The way the file system is configured will affect everything from the smoothness of the device to the stability of the entire system. Going back to the transmission analogy, Samsung did the equivalent of putting a 4 speed automatic transmission from the 80's in a modern Ferrari.
This is the part where the awesomeness of open-source and the Android community came to save my phone from its maker. There are people, whom are referred to as "developers," who devote their time to the optimization of Android devices. Oh, here's a little detour...
Now, before I go on, I want to state clearly that any problems with the Samsung Fascinate are not because the phone is running an Android OS. My axe to grind is with Samsung. By gimping this device with a clumsy file system, and a far from optimized kernel (the set of instructions by which the operating system communicates with the hardware of the phone), Samsung messed up. Some might point out that were it not for the open source nature of Android development, Sammy wouldn't have had the opportunity to mess up the phone (let alone develop one,) and that wouldn't be completely unfair. Cell phone manufacturers and cell carriers hold sway over details in Android phones in a way that AT&T does not have with the iPhone. All I can say is that you have to take the bad with the good. Since every hero needs a dragon to slay, the developers of the Android community would be mighty bored without devices like the Fascinate to "fix."
Diving this deep into technical issues with the phone is warranty voiding. It's extremely risky and the learning curve for this stuff abruptly heads for the stratosphere. The reason tinkering on this level happens is two fold: first, it's because if you give a bunch of nerds the source code to a shiny gadget, they're going to mess with it; second, neither Samsung nor Verizon can help you with this kind of stuff. The support just doesn't exist for "my phone is laggy as shit and has poor battery life" type of problems.
Enter: the Android developers. My knights in shining armor. These individuals do a lot of this work for free. We're talking hours and hours of scouring code, doing experiments that destroy their devices (also called "bricking",) all just because they enjoy it. Read that again. There's a community of people working, for free, to make YOUR phone better. Faster. Stronger. Suck it Steve Jobs, that's the coolest part of Android and the main thing Apple can't touch with the iPhone. Sure, there's a community of devoted nerds standing behind the iPhone. Ask them to get you the source code files for iOS, or the kernel for the iPhone 4. The tweaking capability of Android devs is on a whole different plane of awesomeness. Below is a series of images representing a visual transformation my phone has undergone since the day it came out of the box.
These images represent a completely stock Samsung Fascinate. As it was, the phone ran decently. The thing I most wanted to improve upon was speed and stability. A stock Fascinate is, in my opinion, too laggy for a 1ghz pocket sized computer. That lead me to the Android community and the flock of developers eagerly tweaking this phone. My phone. They had the same gripes as me and more. In addition to finding hordes of people who wanted the phone to perform to its hardware potential, I found an endless supply of visual modifications to play with. The whole "when there's no limit to what Droid gets, there's no limit to what Droid does" thing, despite it being a chest-pounding-chevy commercial gone Android, is pretty apt. If the developers are the heart and soul of Android, the applications and widgets that make up the not insubstantial Android Marketplace are the personality and looks of the OS. Below is a pretty good representation of what is possible with some simple downloads, and a little trickery:
To put it simply, such a visual metamorphosis is completely impossible on an iPhone. This degree of customization definitely isn't played up enough in the current Android marketing scheme. Regardless, with the right resources and help, doing the above to your phone isn't really that difficult. If you run into problems, or run out of solutions, there's an army of people on the Internet that can and will help you make your phone as awesome as it should be.
Aside from the visual changes to my Fascinate (which I love,) I've also given those systematic shortcomings I mentioned earlier a kick in the pants. A single developer was able to conceive two creations (called a ROM and a kernel) to completely transform the performance of my phone. While the installation is complicated, instruction guides and helpful Android users abound. On more than one occasion, I had a complete stranger spend hours (hours!) of their own time helping me understand the right way to do some of this stuff. The abundance and eagerness of the available support is staggering.
I know what you're all probably thinking: spending hours doing "warranty voiding modifications" to a cell phone isn't something the average user will do. You're right. The basis of my iPhone vs Android is still validated, regardless of the amount of people who flash a custom ROM or try an optimized kernel. The community and it's creations validates Google's open source philosophy. It's both it's greatest strength and it's boldest act of defiance against Apple. You don't have to utilize this vast resource of creativity to enjoy your phone, but if you do, the ability to completely transform your device is there. iPhone users aren't so lucky. That is why I'm finally and truly glad that I went Android instead of iPhone.
I hope you enjoyed,