Ten reasons why Android is not at all working for me.

30 Dec
30/12/2009

On 26th November, 2009 I’ve started The Android Experiment as part of my work for The Next Web:

Given my known addiction for All-Things-Apple and my fairly open bias when it comes to Android with all of its attributed iPhone killer potential, I decided to give Android a fair chance to win my heart.

I handed my iPhone to my wife for her to store it in a secret place and force myself to solely use the Motorola Milestone.

The setup

The Milestone is the European version of the US market’s Motorola Droid and is known as a flagship Android based smart phone. It ships with the latest version 2.1 of Google’s mobile phone operating system and I got it bundled with a Vodafone flat data tariff.

I believe from the hardware & services perspective it would be fair to say that I’ve chosen a leading Android setup for my experiment, thus making sure that in case of a failure nobody blames the device or mobile operator.

Preface

Many reviews have been published about Motorola’s device, the Android 2.1 software in general and how both play together. While most of them acknowledge the somewhat ugly clunky overall user experience delivered by the hard- and the software, they generally tend to be positive.

For whatever weird reason the tech news scene tends to grant everything coming out of Google with premature praise.

I’m not going to add another full-blown review of the Motorola Milestone, if you’re looking for one, a Google search will reveal many great articles.

Why I learned to hate Android

Instead, here is my official list, why Android does not work at all for me, why I believe it’ll not kill the iPhone anytime near soon and why in fact I totally disagree with most of the hype that comes along with Android as a perfect smart phone platform.

Disclaimer: I consider myself pretty tech-savvy. There might be solutions, workarounds, tweaks and updates available for some of the issues, that I have not been able to find. However, I don’t consider it to be a consumer’s primary task to fix a flawed smart phone OS, so I gave up after four weeks of trying to workaround the many annoyances I’ve found in Android 2.1.

Should you be aware of anything that relates to my points and could help others, feel free to submit via the comments!

And now to the list

1. Initial Setup

It sounds almost unbelievable but unfortunately it’s true: Possibly the most serious bug kicked in right after I unboxed the Milestone and switched it on for the first time.

As part of the setup wizard you’re forced to configure a Gmail account. Android expects your phone to have Internet connectivity at that stage.

Now, here’s the deal: Possibly you’ve password protected your WiFi network and your mobile operator requires you to adjust Access Point Names (APNs) to use mobile data connectivity.

Hence, in the majority of the use cases Android will not be able to connect to the Internet while guiding you through the initial setup routine, simply because you haven’t had any chance to hook up to your WiFi network, yet, nor to configure the device for mobile Internet access.

Consequently the wizard fails and returns an error message complaining about a (quote) “unreliable data connection to Google servers”.

One could argue this should be no big deal, just skip the Gmail configuration part for now, set up WiFi connectivity and add the required account later. Well, quite obvious that’s what I thought, too, but I did not count in the single most annoying issue I’ve ever had with a smart phone:

2. Setting up and adding Gmail accounts regularly requires a hard reset!

Yes, you’ve read that right.

As outlined above I couldn’t set up Gmail connectivity via the setup wizard, so I went ahead and configured Vodafone APNs and connected the Milestone to my home WiFi network. Worked like a charm. Next firing up the Gmail app, entering my credentials and hitting the add account button.

After watching the progress bar for some three minutes, Android complains:

“Can’t establish a reliable data connection to the server. This could be a temporary problem or your SIM card may not be provisioned for data services.”

WTF?!

I’m 100% sure I set up everything correctly but let’s double check: Firing up Android’s browser and trying to surf the web works perfectly fine. Even using the Gmail web interface works like a charm. So data connectivity wise everything was fine. Maybe I’ve misspelled my Gmail credentials?

Back to the Gmail app, adding my account credentials (again) watching each character very carefully while I type… same problem. Android cannot establish a reliable data connection to the freaking Google servers.

Rebooting, double checking Internet connectivity and firewall settings of my home network, trying Gmail desktop apps on my Mac – you name it.

One hour and a half after switching on my first Android phone and I didn’t even get email going, gimme a break!

A Google search for the error message returns some stunning 211.000 results as of this writing. Thanks god – and for some reason sadly enough – I’m definitely not alone with this annoying behavior.

Turns out that the problem not only occurs during initial setup but users frequently report it when trying to add additional Gmail accounts after using the Android for a while.

But there is an official solution: Hard reset your Android phone!

I’m serious: Two years after this extremely serious issue has first been reported, an issue which effectively prevents you from getting push email and buying apps from the Android market, the only solution available to date is to hard reset Android – thus wiping all your data, eliminating everything you’ve configured and deleting all installed apps.

Even if there would be no other issue with Android, this alone renders it entirely useless for anybody who requires reliable access to his or her email account.

I “solved” the initial setup problem by temporarily disabling security for my WiFi network completely, hard resetting the phone and thus allowing Android’s setup wizard to connect.

Two weeks later, I ran into the issue again, when I tried to add my Google Apps based yourdomain-email address to the Gmail application as a second account.

Certainly, I had to hard reset the Milestone, lost all of my data and had to go through the nightmare of manually restoring my important apps from a backup. All of this because I’d wanted to add a second email account.

3. No multi-language keyboard

Roughly 60% of my daily written conversations happen to be in English, the rest in German. For whatever reason Google does not deliver an on-screen keyboard, that’s capable of supporting multiple languages.

This means that whenever I respond to a German email, tweet or Facebook post, I’ve got to go through settings, locale and switch the entire Android UI to German.

Now, if the next email happens to be from a US based friend, I gotta go through it again.

To the contrary the iPhone allows me to configure as many simultaneous keyboard languages as I need, switch between them right from the keyboard while I type and they do not impact the UI language.

Because of the many other minor flaws with the Android’s on-screen keyboard, there are lots of keyboard alternatives available on the Android Market. None of those solve the problem that potentially any international customer will face.

It kind of speaks for itself anyway, that developers seem to see a vital business opportunity in improving exactly the piece of software that’s responsible for something as basic as text input. I never felt I had to look for a “better keyboard” on the iTunes App Store.

4. No central place for application updates

Having worked around the crappy implementation of setting up Gmail on an Android powered phone I moved forward to Android Market, looking for some great apps (and a better keyboard).

While the Android Market looks & feels a bit like websites of the late 80s, purchasing and installing apps worked fine for me. The shopping experience is not as pleasant as known from the iPhone App Store, but from a technical point of view it’s been pretty seamless. You do need to be a Google Checkout member to buy paid apps.

When I read somewhere on a blog about major feature updates for some apps I had installed, I was starting to wonder how I could quickly download those.

The iPhone App Store provides a convenient view which lists all apps with available updates and allows you to do one-click updates or updating all at once.

I launched Android Market and searched for some similar functionality. By now you might already guess what: There is none.

In case you accidentally stumble upon an app you’ve got installed on Market again, it does let you know that there’s an update. But there’s no such thing as a central place for managing all application updates.

In light of the absence of yet another essential feature, another third party tries to fix Android and produced the strangely called aTrackDog app.

It’s one of the most popular apps on Android Market, so I guess many users would actually love to have a better handling of application updates build right into the OS.

(If you take a brief look at the aTrackDog website, you get an idea of how the Android Market feels…)

5. No good Twitter app

I’m pretty sure I’ll receive some flame responses for claiming that there’s nothing compared to what’s available for the iPhone when it comes to Twitter clients.

But those cannot hide away the fact, that iPhone Twitter clients are light years ahead of every single Twitter app for Android.

While most of the Android Twitter clients are entirely crap, there are two which frequently receive fantastic reviews: twidroid PRO and Seesmic.

I’ve tried both. If you’ve ever used Tweetie on an iPhone, you will hate the basic, unresponsive and complicated UI of twidroid PRO. Seesmic does a little bit better usability-wise but does not support multiple accounts.

These are essential for me, as I’m running my private @24z twitter account and the one for The Next Web Germany.

Twidroid recently added the ability to handle multiple accounts but lacks overall usability for quickly tweeting stuff.

None of them support the official Retweet function.

All of the prominent iPhone Twitter apps do all of the above perfectly fine and come with a beautiful user interface.

Seriously, anybody who states that there are better Twitter clients for Android as compared to those available for the iPhone is simply lying.

6. No easy way to take screenshots

This post lacks first hand images.

I would have loved to show you more, but unfortunately something as basic as taking screenshots requires you to install the Android SDK, configure a debug connection and run a command line tool on your computer! For those who don’t mind the hazzle, a good tutorial is available by another third party.

Remember: On the iPhone it’s pressing the Home and the Power button and you get a beautiful photo sitting right in your camera roll waiting to be shared.

I would have loved to show you some screens, but frankly didn’t want to spend another two hours of my time to set up screenshot capabilities just because Google decided to not give us a convenient way.

7. Just three home screens

When I first encountered this, I thought it’s me doing something wrong.

Why on earth should Android only provide three home screens given the Android Market and the potentially hundreds of fantastic apps I’d like to have neatly arranged on my mobile desktop.

Well, I don’t know why, but Android seriously limits the number of home screens to three, providing space for a maximum of 48 apps. One page to the left, one to the right, that’s it.

If you’re adding widgets to the home screen, this number gets even smaller.

It comes as no surprise that Android Market offers complete Home Screen replacements. The ones I tried all sucked heavily, caused frequent crashed and significant performance decreases.

8. Inability to install apps to the SD card

Many Android powered phones ship with SD card support which potentially allows you to upgrade to anything from 2GB to 64GB.

But: Google does not support installing apps to the SD card (and likely never will), so developers are limited in what they can create. For most applications, we want a small file size to limit the download times. When it comes to 3D games though, we need a ton of space for all the high-res textures, audio, and video.

Have you seen all the awesome iPhone and iPod Touch games? Hardly any of them would ever make it onto an Android phone. It is not uncommon for popular titles to easily exceed 100 MB. For example, the game Myst takes up a whopping 727MB.

Having installed only Seesmic and Twidroid on my Milestone the amount of space left to install apps is already down at as little as 139MB.

Maybe that explains the three page home screen limit: You cannot install that many apps on an Android anyway.

(I am aware of hacks and workarounds that include rooting your device and will then allow you to transfer apps to the SD card, but as stated before, I don’t want to waste my time to make up for fundamental Android architecture flaws.)

9. Android’s fragmentation

Many have praised Android’s openness.

I’m generally a strong believer in openness but only if project owners have a clever strategy to prevent fragmentation. This is clearly even more important when we specifically talk mobile operating systems. We already have a situation where Android is not like Android and I’ve seen many apps on the Android Market that do require not only a specific device but also a specific minor version of Android.

That raised the question of how to update the Milestone operating system itself. I am running on 2.1 which is considered the latest and greatest as of today, but what will happen if Google rolls out a major update?

Let’s see. We’ve got Settings > About phone > System updates. After confirming that normal data rates may apply I get:

“Unable to connect. The device is unable to connect to the server. Try again later.”

Thank you. By now, I don’t have to mention that checking for an update never worked so far. Not later. Not later than later. Simply never.

While this specific issue might be more Motorola’s fault than Google’s, frankly, I don’t care.

It’s Google’s freaking operating system and they should have imposed at least basic means of quality assurance to make sure that Android partners provide a consistent experience to consumers.

I’m not asking for simplicity, easy of use, a beautiful user interface, consistency in applications and all of the other stuff, the iPhone does right, but a working mobile operating system in key areas would be a good start.

10. Java exceptions

I have to admit that I did not experience many crashes. The once that did occur, though, were ugly.

Having installed some 25+ apps from Market, I regularly ran into Java exceptions not only in the downloaded apps but also in native Android apps. The only option given was to force quit those processes.

One particular case finally made me drop the Milestone entirely and beg my wife to hand back to me my iPhone 3GS: An unresolvable crash of Android’s email app.

I ultimately set up email to handle four IMAP accounts and Microsoft Exchange integration. It worked for almost two weeks. Then it crashed for no obvious reason. Checking memory consumption and clearing the cache for all Google applications (both of which I never ever had to perform on my iPhone), did not help.

I had to revert to the final solution and the only one, which seems to help with many Android issues:

Hard resetting the phone. Losing all my data. Losing all my applications. Losing all my settings.

Well, this time it came in handy. The Milestone is now perfectly prepared to be sold on eBay.


Tags: ,
6 replies
  1. Vibhor Goyal says:

    That is an excellent article, I truely believe that Android is a great platform, but hasn’t been executed fairly yet. Let’s hope Nexus One would bring some love.

    Reply
  2. Jeff Brandt says:

    You make some good point, especially from a non US customer. But most of your comments could be retorted, but I will not at this time. You also mention that you are a “True Believer” of Apple which tends to jade people opinions at no fault of yours own. FYI, I am typing on a Mac with an iPhone and Android phone at my side.

    I see iPhone and Android both as very good first generation platforms that will be changing a lot in the near future to the point of wondering why we are having this discussion.

    You may what to read my blog on why doctors should choose Android for Medical.

    http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2009/10/doctors-choose-google-android-iphone-medical-apps.html

    Reply
  3. Anon says:

    I think this is a horrible article and you sound like you started off not expecting the Android to do well at all. I’m not saying your an iPhone fan boy, but you seem to be leaning in a certain direction.

    A lot of the points you bring up are one off exceptions. The network connection wasn’t a problem for me as I had 3G service before I left the store, I opted to setup the Gmail account later, which was an option, not a requirement.

    The fact there isn’t an option for a multi language keyboard was another issue I don’t face as I am uni-lingual.

    You have the need for screen shots because you are writing an article about the phone. I’ve had an iPhone 3G since it came out and have never needed to take a screen shot. I’ve had the Droid for a few weeks now and have yet to need a screen shot for it either.

    The fact there are only 3 pages to the homescreen isn’t an issue for me either. I do have quite a few apps and widgets on the main screen, but the rest is in the slide out. Do you honestly use 48 apps/widgets so often that you’ll fill the screen up? I seriously doubt it.

    While games on the phone are nice, I don’t think they are needed at all. If I wanted a game system in my hands I’d buy a PSP or a DS or something specific for that. It’s fine to play games on your phone, but I personally think it’s stupid. My opinion only since I’m old enough not to “need” that.

    While there is an inability to install apps to the SD card, again, I don’t think that’s a problem. If you’ve got so much crap installed you fill up your phone… do some house cleaning. If you neeeeeeed that much crap… get a freaking computer.

    I’ve never had Java exception, that’s not to say I wont… but I haven’t yet. Then again I’m using my smart phone as a smart phone, I’m not trying to break it for a blog post.

    The fragmentation is a natural side effect of open systems. Just as there are a brazillion flavors of linux, each with their pros and cons, there will be many different versions of the OS that come out based on the needs of the hardware manufacturer or cell company. With openness comes innovation, so I think it’s a good thing.

    I could go on but I think I’d be wasting my time. If you don’t like the phone and it’s not for you, then go back to the iPhone. It’s a great phone and you sound like you need to have your wife unhide it. I like competition and I think the different versions of the droid for different carriers is nice since the iPhone doesn’t have that type of openness.

    The reason I switched to the Droid from the iPhone, the battery wouldn’t hold a charge. Apple told me it would cost $80 US to fix it and I’d be without a phone for weeks until it was fixed. Droid… has a battery I can take out. It may be heavier and not a polished looking, but I’m not getting screwed by Apple.

    Reply
    • ralf.rottmann says:

      Anon, thank you so much for your feedback!

      I don’t consider it a (quote) “waste of time”. I very much appreciate valuable feedback and you’re making some very good points. I took the time to comment on each one below. So, here we go:

      “I think this is a horrible article and you sound like you started off not expecting the Android to do well at all. I’m not saying your an iPhone fan boy, but you seem to be leaning in a certain direction.”

      Admittedly, I am an iPhone fan boy. :) While I am used to handling the iPhone OS since Day 1, I really did want to look into Android without any intention to force it to fail for me. In fact it was a truly disappointing experience for me to find out about it’s still very Linux-ish overall look and feel and poor usability. I’ve invested the full price into a contract free Motorola Milestone to evaluate the status-quo of Android. I didn’t do this because I wanted it to fail.

      “A lot of the points you bring up are one off exceptions. The network connection wasn’t a problem for me as I had 3G service before I left the store, I opted to setup the Gmail account later, which was an option, not a requirement.”

      Strongly disagree. There’s a serious bug with setting up Gmail or Google App based accounts in Android ever since the initial version. If you do a Google search you’ll find hundreds of thousands of people reporting this in and outside the US. It’s also in all of the vendors support forums (check Motorola as an example.)

      Even with the initial setup working, I later stumbled into the same annoying bug when trying to add an additional Gmail account. It needs to be addressed and it’s totally not understandable while Android fails in such a basic area. Lack of quality assurance?

      “The fact there isn’t an option for a multi language keyboard was another issue I don’t face as I am uni-lingual.”

      Obviously if you’re English only you’re fine. Not implementing a decent multi-language keyboard means bluntly ignoring almost everybody outside the US and United Kingdom. I don’t think that ignoring international customers is a good habit for a company that aims at creating a leading, open mobile platform.

      “You have the need for screen shots because you are writing an article about the phone. I’ve had an iPhone 3G since it came out and have never needed to take a screen shot. I’ve had the Droid for a few weeks now and have yet to need a screen shot for it either.”

      At the end of a day, everything has to do with individual requirements. If you just want email, BlackBerrys are fine for you. My point though is, that needing to root your device (and void warranty) to do something as basic as taking a screenshot is just not state-of-the-art these days. You do agree, or?

      “The fact there are only 3 pages to the homescreen isn’t an issue for me either. I do have quite a few apps and widgets on the main screen, but the rest is in the slide out. Do you honestly use 48 apps/widgets so often that you’ll fill the screen up? I seriously doubt it.”

      Point taken. After using the Milestone a bit more, I got pretty much used to the looooooong list in the application drawer. I’d say I can access everything as fast as on my iPhone.

      While games on the phone are nice, I don’t think they are needed at all. If I wanted a game system in my hands I’d buy a PSP or a DS or something specific for that. It’s fine to play games on your phone, but I personally think it’s stupid. My opinion only since I’m old enough not to “need” that.”

      Again: If you do not have that requirement, you won’t miss anything. When comparing capabilities with the iPhone, reasonable support for 3D graphics is an aspect. An Android largely fails. (The Nexus One might change this, though.)

      “While there is an inability to install apps to the SD card, again, I don’t think that’s a problem. If you’ve got so much crap installed you fill up your phone… do some house cleaning. If you neeeeeeed that much crap… get a freaking computer.”

      Well, this is no argument at all. Not leveraging the SD Card (and support encryption for piracy protection) is stupid and remains stupid. Whether you need more apps or not does not change the fact.

      “I’ve never had Java exception, that’s not to say I wont… but I haven’t yet. Then again I’m using my smart phone as a smart phone, I’m not trying to break it for a blog post.”

      Well, you already outlined that you do almost nothing with your Android phone. No games. No screenshots. No serious emailing. Not so many apps. I do not doubt that you’ve got an overall pretty stable experience. This changes if you actually start doing stuff. Again, do a Google search and you’ll see what I mean. (I actually wonder why you’ve gone for an Android anyway, if nothing of what it offers seems to be a requirement for you. :) )

      “The fragmentation is a natural side effect of open systems. Just as there are a brazillion flavors of linux, each with their pros and cons, there will be many different versions of the OS that come out based on the needs of the hardware manufacturer or cell company. With openness comes innovation, so I think it’s a good thing.”

      Everybody agrees that being open is good in general. I don’t state anything different. I cannot repeat enough that mobile does not equal desktop computing. And in mobile fragmentation has never been commercially successful. We’ve seen this before with Windows Mobile. A truly multi-vendor mobile platform. One that even builds on the tremendous success of its Windows desktop roots. A complete commercial failure.

      The one thing I see many people getting wrong is the “open” aspect of Android. Yes, it’s open source. That does not mean anything for end users. They never deal with the Android source code anyway. It’s important to get many diverse device vendors on board. And that’s exactly where the openness ends. Customers are again locked into a vendor relationship. If T-Mobile decides to keep you on Android 1.6 for quite a while, you will not be able to use a single app designed to run on Android 2.0. In fact Google might progress heavily with Android to support its (now) own devices. We will see lots of innovation.

      But while Android at the heart is an open system, you as a typical customer might not be able to benefit from it simply because your device vendor decides to not go with the latest and greatest as fast as the rest of the market.

      Android kind of tricks customers into believing they get a truly open system, while they are not. All of the device manufacturers make very clear that once you run an open source variant of Android on your phone which has not been delivered, modified (locked) by the vendor, you totally lose warranty.

      Not all that open, or?

      “I could go on but I think I’d be wasting my time. If you don’t like the phone and it’s not for you, then go back to the iPhone. It’s a great phone and you sound like you need to have your wife unhide it. I like competition and I think the different versions of the droid for different carriers is nice since the iPhone doesn’t have that type of openness.”

      No waste of time. I love the conversation.

      “The reason I switched to the Droid from the iPhone, the battery wouldn’t hold a charge. Apple told me it would cost $80 US to fix it and I’d be without a phone for weeks until it was fixed. Droid… has a battery I can take out. It may be heavier and not a polished looking, but I’m not getting screwed by Apple.”

      I never had battery problems with my iPhone. This might very well be a one-time event on your side. Sadly enough. Apple should be more generous in terms of customer service. I agree. But that’s a different story.

      Reply
  4. Vibhor Goyal says:

    Most of the people argue that they prefer Droid over iPhone mainly because Droid has a physical keyboard. My only answer to them is: Dude! you have never used iPhone.
    There are a lot of advantages of iPhone’s keyboard over the real keyboard. First of all, it can be programmed, so you will see only those keys which are required, lets say when you are using an app which needs numeric input, u will see only numbers, when you have to enter an web address you will see a special key with “.com” and so on.
    This surely can’t be done with actual keyboard.
    Next as far as usability is concerned, you give iPhone’s keyboard one day, and you will find yourself extremely comfortable with it.

    Now some people argue that even droid got the similar on-screen keyboard. But hey wait a minute where’s the multitouch in keyboard and not just that, it’s nowhere as slick and useable as iPhone’s keyboard.

    Few others say that it uses up space on the screen. But programmers do program the background view as scrollable and making the needed part visible.

    Frankly, I was never in favor of touchscreen phones before iPhone, mainly because I hated typing on those li’l non responsive keys and using stylus. But iPhone definitely revolutionized the concept.

    Reply
  5. jay says:

    You are a ignorant fool.

    You are not tech savvy and your argument is flawed in so many ways you continuously compound ignorance with stupidity.

    Default is 3 screens but offers up to 9.

    If you can’t setup Gmail without a hard reset, you have no clue what you are doing.

    Obviously you love your iphone, take it to bed with you and really are an apple lover as you claim so how is anyone to take what you have to say as unbiased?

    Have you forgotten all the issues apple has had? Of course not, you are so obviously slow that you can’t really handle any device that isn’t going wipe your ass for you when you soil yourself.

    And TECH SAVVY…stop lying and deluding yourself. You are anything but tech savvy if you had this many problems with a device that walks you through the set up and you can’t even find the menus to alter the device to suit your needs.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

© Copyright 2013 by Ralf Rottmann. rottmann.net is a work in progress by Ralf Rottmann. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
If you would like to make use of any of the content you see here, please contact the author.